By : Julia Suryakusuma

Why do we like to mock and bully others?  Psychologists say it’s due to our having low esteem, so it makes us feel “superior” to put people down.

According to a recent article in Tribun Jabar, a West Java newspaper, eight out of ten kids in Indonesia have experienced bullying. Bullies as kids, bullies as adults? It certainly points to us being a nation of insecure people.  Sad, as Trump, the biggest bully of them all, would say.

But when Ratna Sarumpaet, a member of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, tearfully and convincingly contrite, admitted she lied about having been assaulted, she set herself up to be mocked and ridiculed.  It turns out that she had had liposuction to reduce her chubby cheeks – hence her swollen face.  She claims she used that excuse to avoid telling her family about her plastic surgery. She is also suspected of having used funds raised for the victims of an overloaded ferry that had sunk in Lake Toba, Sumatra, in June this year, for her facial beautification. However, according to Jakarta Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Argo Yuwono, with regards the misappropriation of funds, up to now there is no strong evidence of it yet.

The alleged assault was deemed to be politically motivated, so naturally Prabowo denounced the attack. Imagine his embarrassment when Ratna admitted she had lied, which led him to apologize “for amplifying a false claim by his campaign team member”, and to promptly expel her from his team. Talk about losing face (sic!), not just for Ratna, but also Prabowo and many others who had defended her.

Has Ratna always been such a provocative drama queen? Yes, in fact, she has. She  was an acclaimed actress, playwright and theatre producer, but in the past her theatrics were done in a positive, creative way, not the melodramatic histrionics she seems to have descended to now.

In 1993 she  started using her artistic vision as a tool to fight against any form of human rights violation. Her name shot up in 1994 when she wrote an original monologue  Marsinah: Nyanyian dari Bawah Tanah (Marsinah: Song from the Underground), a tribute to Marsinah, a fearless labor activist who had been brutally murdered for demanding a pay rise. Marsinah is a classic, as it was also  a critique of capitalism in Indonesia which places profit over human lives – this is often the case up to now.

Ratna wrote a drama on child trafficking commissioned by UNICEF in 2003 which she turned it into a film Jamila dan Sang President (Jamila and the President), released in 2009. Her last ouvre was a novel,  Maluku, Kobaran Cintaku, about sectarian conflict in the Moluccas.

Ratna also had a high profile as a pro-democracy activist during the Order, was imprisoned a few times and has put her life on the line for her activism.

There are many conspiracy theories as to why she started behaving in this crazy manner: that she has hypomania, that she was a decoy, that she has the backing of powerful political actors/groups, etc etc. There is also the speculation that her hoax will cost Prabowo Subianto and Sandiaga Uno,  his VP candidate votes, and even to cause them to be disqualified from the presidential race.

Maybe we should speculate less and reflect more,  as  in many ways she is a personification of us, and a symptom of many of Indonesia’s ills.

Politically she flipped. She was a pro-democracy activist who at the end of 1997 formed Siaga, an alliance of 46 NGOs, the first organization to openly demand that Suharto step down. Now she backs Prabowo, Suharto’s former son-in-law, a military strongman, who  alleged committed human rights abuses. But so have many of my erstwhile activists  friends who have done exactly the same and now support Prabowo. But that seems to be the trend: since about 2015, democracy in Indonesia itself has stagnated, giving way to populist Islamic conservatism or populist ultra-nationalism.

Ratna may have committed corruption. Hey, join the club! Corruption is the most persistent problem that plagues the nation. In 2017, Indonesia’s rank in the latest Corruptions Perception Index compiled by Transparency International was 96 (down from 90 in 2016), with the House of Representatives (DPR), the judiciary  and the police among the most corrupt institutions in the the country.

Ratna was recently awarded the title of “Ibu Hoax Indonesia” by Lembaga Pemilih Indonesia, a political NGO. Now that’s really unfair to the millions of others who created fake news which cost former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja  Purnama his freedom, which caused President Joko Widodo to produce his marriage certificate to prove he’s not Chinese, a Christian or a communist,  and tons of other dangerously misleading hoaxes that circulate daily since 2014.

“Where memes could kill: Indonesia’s worsening problem of fake news”, is the title of a Time Magazine article by Yenni Kwok. She writes that it has become a massive problem in Indonesia, “inflaming ethnic and political tensions…[and] .. is potentially deadly”.

Ratna wears a jilbab, a symbol of religious adherence. Instead of doing good things for humanity, religion is increasingly used as a political tool for the corrupt and power interests of various groups, whether sectarian or political.

Instead of mocking and bullying Ratna, look in the mirror, my fellow Indonesian compatriots. The image you will see is a damn sight uglier than Ratna’s bruised, swollen face. And that’s the truth, not a hoax.