By Udan Fernando –
Work took me to Indonesia a few times during the last couple of years. On all those occasions, I flew Mihin Air though I usually avoid the airline due to the negativity that surrounds it. I found the flight from Colombo to Jakarta and back wasn’t bad. Actually, the service of the airline staff is good. So I took a Mihin flight again on Monday early morning to Jakarta.
Though the flight originates from Colombo, very few Sri Lankans are on board. In fact, on one occasion I was the only Sri Lankan on board. The large majority of the passengers happen to be relatively young Indonesian women travelling back home. Mihin brings them from a few Middle Eastern capitals to Colombo and then lumps them on to this flight to Jakarta. These are the young Indonesian migrant workers in Gulf countries. Mihin operates a few flights every week and the flights are reasonably filled up and occasionally, even full.
An Indonesian woman should be at least 30 years to be able to work abroad. But this is grossly violated or the law turns a blind eye. The women, if they are married, should get permission from their respective husbands to leave the country to work as migrants. A single woman should get permission from her parents. It seems that Sri Lanka has taken a leaf from Indonesia. About a year back, Sri Lanka introduced a new regulation that made it mandatory for married women leaving for work in the Middle East to get ‘clearance’ from either their husband or the Grama Niladhari.
A fundamental rights case was filed in the Supreme Court by a lawyer on behalf of his client a few months after the new regulation was introduced. The bench was presided by none other than the Chief Justice himself. If this were another country, a Chief Justice presiding at the bench when such a crucial case is submitted would be considered a rare privilege. But we are different, you know! The Chief Justice had allegedly called the attorney closer to his bench and whispered “now tell me the truth, what will you do if your wife is leaving the country to work for a few years without your consent?” And the case was “thrown” after that conversation! Imagine, this is the pinnacle of the Temple of Justice. The case was one which mattered not only to that single woman, but to thousands of women who keep Sri Lanka’s economy going by bringing in billions of Dollars. A case of such an importance to the economy and women’s dignity and rights was not granted leave to proceed.
The notoriety of the Indonesian military and intelligence is well known. And it sends shivers down the spine when one thinks of Sri Lanka – newly graduated to Middle Income Country (MIC) status – ascending to similar heights.
In 2004, a well-known Indonesian human rights advocate, Munir Said Thalib, was killed by an unbelievably schemed conspiracy. Munir was on board a state-owned Garuda flight from Jakarta to Amsterdam. Munir was approached by a former pilot, Pollycarpus, while the flight had a stop-over in Singapore. The former pilot offered Munir a first class seat as well as glass of orange juice. When the flight recommenced, Munir was feeling ill and subsequently died, two hours before the flight landed in Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. The autopsy found excessive traces of arsenic and an investigation was instituted. The former pilot was found to have left Singapore and returned to Jakarta, after the completion of his ‘mission’ to offer a drink to Munir. Subsequently, Pollycarpus and two flight attendants were convicted for the murder of Munir. It was alleged that Pollycarpus placed the arsenic in Munir’s orange juice, upon orders from Garuda’s CEO at that time. Later the former CEO too was convicted. Munir’s colleagues and supporters claim that the chain of command can be traced further upwards to where the government, the military and the intelligence sit. Sounds spicier than a Nasi Goreng with an extra portion of Sambal-Oleak, eh?
Indonesia can be a good culinary inspiration for Sri Lanka. But when it comes to many non-culinary matters, Indonesia is definitely a bad egg. Things have changed to some extent. But the bad smell of such rotten food is still in the air of history mixed with the nauseating gasoline emissions in Jakarta. Nasi Goreng can widen the limited Sri Lankan taste buds. So promoting Indonesian food in Sri Lanka would be a good idea. But Sri Lanka needs to find a different recipe book from another country when it comes to social policy, governance, freedom and human rights.
Correction – The Chief Justice did not whisper, but asked the question from the lawyer in a way that the entire court room could hear.