Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara. Nothing has changed at the Transito shelter in the five and a half years that it has served as home to 138 members of the beleaguered Ahmadiyah Islamic sect.
A sixth successive Idul Fitri in cramped conditions without even the most basic of amenities beckons, with no word on when they will be allowed to return to their home village of Gegerung in West Lombok, from where they were driven out by fellow Muslims in February 2006.
The electricity to the shelter was cut off three years ago, food aid from the government — which has perpetuated their limbo by refusing them the right to return home or register as residents of Mataram — was halted last year, and sanitation facilities are non-existent.
A stipend from the state was stopped in 2007. Not being registered residents, they have been denied the free gas stoves distributed by the government to all citizens, and they now resort to gathering scrap to burn as fuel.
“It’s the durian season now, and people are throwing out lots of durian husks. We’re collecting those to fire our stoves,” says Munikah, one of the shelter’s inhabitants. “We can’t afford to use kerosene because it costs Rp 12,000 [$1.40] a liter.”
The women band together in preparing the predawn and sunset meals during Ramadan, crowding the shelter’s corridor as they toil over smoky stoves. The meals themselves are basic, heavy on starchy ingredients to mask the lack of vegetables or meat. However, they carry on fasting like most other Muslims.
Clothes for the Kids
The rest of the country may be in a festive mood with the approach of Idul Fitri — and its attendant indulgences such as family reunions, hearty meals and the buying of new clothes — but at Transito, it will be just another day of trying to scrape by.
All that Munikah is hoping for before then is that her husband can bring home a little more than the Rp 25,000 per day he typically makes through cutting hair at a nearby market.
“It’d be nice if he got a little something extra for Idul Fitri so we could at least get the kids some new clothes,” she says. “But if that doesn’t happen, they won’t be too disappointed.”
After living so long at the shelter, the Ahmadiyah children have grown more accepting of their situation, says Basir Aziz, a local Ahmadi elder. “There are 50 children here, 16 of whom were born in this shelter,” he says.
“This year they seem a lot more resilient and upbeat. They don’t feel marginalized. They’re showing a tremendous passion to study and practice their faith, despite all they’ve been through.”
The life at the shelter is the only one that 6-year-old Ida knows. Asked if her parents had bought her new clothes for the holiday, she responds with a maturity beyond her years. “I’ve got the clothes from last year. They’re still fine,” she says with a smile.
Nor do they complain about the partially collapsed ceiling in their prayer hall, or the fact that all 33 families here are forced to share crowded living quarters, with only flimsy partitions of cardboard and rags mounted on bamboo frames giving privacy.
No More Tears
“When the kids play, they’re never sad,” says Hairudin, an Ahmadi who earns Rp 5,000 a day as a coolie at the local market.
“They’ve become used to all this after almost six years. We’ve got no more tears. We have to take what we get.”
For Hairudin and the other Ahmadis, sorrow is an emotion they dare not indulge. “If I broke down in sadness just thinking about how we got hounded out of our homes, I wouldn’t be able to go to work each day, and that would be the biggest problem for my family,” he says.
“That’s why we don’t think about that anymore. Tears are a luxury we can’t afford. All we can do now is just think about how to get through each day.”
H. Mahmulludin, an Ahmadi elder, agrees there is no use being bitter about the past.
He bears no grudge against the local authorities, who last year raised the ire of human rights activists with a plan to exile all Ahmadis in West Lombok to a remote island and bar them from plans to develop the region as a top tourist draw.
“The governor has resolved all the differences between us in a peaceful manner,” he says. “The violence against us has stopped, and that helps a lot.”
What also helps, Mahmulludin says, is a weekly stipend from local community leaders.
But that pales in comparison to what they would have received if the government had agreed to compensate them for the homes they left behind in Gegerung.
In what activists have highlighted as just another example of discrimination against the Ahmadis, they have been denied compensation or the option of selling their homes, even as the government bars them from going back to inhabit them.
Despite this, there have been several attempts by some of the Ahmadis to return and farm their land while keeping a low profile. However, they have been routinely chased out by other villagers, who have branded them “a stain on this village” that “must be cleaned out.”
In the most recent incident, last November, local authorities themselves led the pogrom of the Ahmadis, forcing men, women and children to flee with their belongings.
Those who remained behind had their homes burned by a mob, while others vowed to keep coming back to farm their land.
“If I farm, at least I’m making a living, whereas at Transito I have no hope for a meaningful life,” said Sarim, one of the Ahmadis targeted last November.
Nobody was prosecuted for the attack, and the local administration did not compensate for losses, which the victims estimated at Rp 735 million.
For Munikah and the other mothers forced to watch their children grow up in what has become a refugee camp, the hope that there will ever be a resolution to the community’s plight and that they may one day return to their homes has dwindled along with the sadness.
All that remains, Munikah says, is a sense of resignation and just an iota of optimism that maybe — just maybe — Idul Fitri this year will herald a change for the better.
Copyright 2010 The Jakarta Globe