Pasuruan is a small, undistinguished town in East Java. Known nationally in Indonesia as the hometown of popular female singer Inul Daristuta, it recently filled the headlines for a much different reason.
One of the few wealthy families in this largely poor community announced that they would fulfill their Islamic duty and donate alms – zakat – to the poor. Women and children traveled from miles around, many on foot, to receive it.
A crowd of hundreds formed and tried to approach the house through a narrow alleyway. Panic spread and a stampede ensued in which 29 women and children were killed.
And for what? The measly sum of 30,000 rupiah – equivalent to £1.75.
Two hours before sitting down to write this I visited one of Jakarta’s many food courts. A bowl of seafood soup cost me 30,000 rupiah.
How would the “wretched of the earth” have spent a similar sum?
One survivor, who had walked miles to the site, told the Jakarta Post that she needed the money to feed her children and put them through school.
East Java is no stranger to tragedies and man-made disasters.
For over two years there has been a constant flow of hot mud from a drilling site belonging to a company, Lapindo Brantas, belonging to a cabinet member Aburizal Bakrie – the so-called coordinating minister for people’s welfare.
The mud has inundated farmland, smothered villages and ruined livelihoods.
Despite constant campaigning, most of the displaced residents from the nearby Sidoardjo district have yet to receive any significant portion of the compensation promised.
Bakrie remains a member of the cabinet. And why?
We need look no further than the fact that his wealthy Bakrie Group bankrolled the last presidential campaign of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Meanwhile, the holy month of Ramadan will be a time of grief and suffering for the Lapindo mud victims and the families of the Pasuruan victims.