The Trials of Fiction: Literary Resistance and the Religious Elite in Indonesia

About the Seminar

As a nation, Indonesia is moving towards uniformity. In religious life, for instance, more Muslim women from almost all walks of life are putting on the hijab, and in politics, there is a concerted move to eradicate political differences and opposition, with most political parties and organizations now rallying behind President Joko Widodo under the mantra of unity and economic development. At the same time, Islamic fundamentalism is also on the rise. The country is preserving the notorious blasphemy law which it inherited from the Dutch colonial rule. It also continues to apply the pornography law because both laws can be used by the political and religious elites for their own interests. Combined with their ability to issue their Quran and Hadith (narrations of the Prophet Muhammad) interpretations, the religious and political elites have applied these outdated and draconian laws to censor and shut down literary works and opinions critical of religion.

This seminar examines and compares two controversial short stories written five decades apart. The first is a short story titled Langit Makin Mendung (The Darkening Sky) written by Kipandjikusmin in 1968; and the other is a 2019 piece titled Ketika Semua Menolak Kehadiran Diriku di Dekatnya (When Everyone Refuses My Presence Near Her) by Yael Stefany Sinaga, a student of Universitas Sumatra Utara (USU). The former is a social critique, which includes a plot showcasing Prophet Muhammad being sent to check on Indonesia’s condition. The latter is a story about a lesbian girl and her girlfriend. Both cases ended up being heard in court, and they showed the ruling religious and political elites inherent intent to preserve their grip on power and curb any moves that undermine their authorities, by shutting down both short stories and prosecuting the authors.


About the Speaker

Okky Madasari is an Indonesian novelist and currently PhD Candidate at the Department of Malay Studies National University of Singapore (NUS). Okky is well-known as a social critic through her fiction, which highlight social issues such as injustice, discrimination and humanity. Her research interest is on literature, censorship and freedom of expression, and sociology of knowledge. Since 2010, Okky has published 10 books: five novels, one short story collection, three children’s novels and one non-fiction book. Her latest book (2019) is Genealogi Sastra Indonesia: Kapitalisme, Islam dan Sastra Perlawanan or “Genealogy of Indonesian Literature: Capitalism, Islam and Critical Literature”, which is published online and can be downloaded from her website Okky’s novels have been translated into English, Germany and Arabic. She regularly writes for the Indonesian and international media on issues in line with her interests reflected in her fiction and her academic works.

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Feb 05 2020


10:00 am - 11:30 am


ISEAS Seminar Room 2