Seminar on “The Trial of Fictions: Islam, Laws, and Literary Works”

In this seminar, Ms Okky Madasari examines and compares two controversial Indonesian short stories written five decades apart.

Indonesia Studies Programme Seminar

Wednesday, 5 February 2020 – Recently, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a talk on fiction, delivered by Indonesian novelist Ms Okky Madasari. Dr Norshahril Saat, the Co-coordinator of Indonesia Studies Programme chaired the seminar. The talk drew 28 attendees from academics, diplomats, writers, and the public.

Ms Okky Madasari (right) examines two cases of literary works in Indonesian history that were brought to trial. Dr Norshahril Saat moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Compared to the Suharto era (1965-1998), the Indonesian literary writers in the post-reformasi period seemed to be given more freedom. There are no more censorship bodies for books and print publications. However, in 2010, the Constitutional Court issued a decree permitting any book banning or book raiding based on the Court’s judgements. Nevertheless, book raiding by military officers and civil society groups, as well as intimidation to the book publishers to withdraw their books, have exposed the degree of unofficial, self-vigilantism in the country.

Ms Madasari examined two cases of literary works in Indonesian history that were brought to trial. Both are short stories, one written by Kipanjikusmin (1968), ‘Langit Makin Mendung,’ and the other by a student in Universitas Sumatera Utara (2019), ‘Ketika Semua Menolak Kehadiran Diriku di Dekatnya’ published by a campus media Suara USU. A piece by Kipanjikusmin (1968) was accused to be blasphemous and insulting to Islam, as it personifies God and the Prophets in the story. Criticism came from other writers, including Hamka and Taufik Ismail, and protests from the public. In April 1969, the court sentenced J.B. Jassin for one-year in prison after he refused to reveal the real person behind pseudonym of Kipanjikusmin. Ms Madasari mentioned that Kipanjikusmin’s case was a power contestation among different interpretation of religious scriptures within Islam and the charge of blasphemy was based on subjectivity.

In the case of Suara USU, the short story published by a student through campus media was accused of promoting pornography and LGBT-Q. The university rector dismissed all 18 editorial members and dissolved the editorial board. Months later, the students filed a lawsuit against the rector’s decision at the regional court, but the Court rejected the lawsuit and gave full authority to the Rector to solve the case. Ms Madasari assessed that Indonesia does not have anti-LGBT law, yet the anti-pornography law was occasionally misused as evidence in the case of Suara USU.

Ms Madasari discussed the issue of limited freedom on literary works in Indonesia. Although a lawsuit is perceived to be a legal act in promoting democracy laws and law enforcement are often used by elites with power and interests. In these cases, the religious elites used blasphemy laws on anti-pornography to censor artistic and literary works to promote their conservative interpretation of religion.

There was an engaging discussion after the presentation. Questions asked were not limited to education pedagogy of arts and literature in Indonesia, the power dynamics between religious elites and groups in censorship, contextual differences and strategies of resistance used by authors, the identity of literary men in Indonesia, and the future of the literary industry in Indonesia.

The audience engaged the speaker on a variety of questions including education pedagogy of arts in Indonesia and the future of the literary industry, amongst others. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)