November 21, 2012
Shia Muslims who lost their homes to communal violence in late August are in their third month of living in the indoor tennis building in Sampang, Madura, facing uncertainty, boredom, and pressure to abandon their beliefs.
The families lost everything when a mob of Sunni Muslims attacked the Shia community in Karanggayam village on August 26th, killing two Shia men and torching 37 homes. Three months later, their lives are in limbo.
"At the moment we don't know where we'll be moved to. The plan was for us to relocate to Surabaya, but we rejected it, because our birthplace is here, in Sampang," Rasyad, 45, told Khabar Southeast Asia. Rasyad, who once worked as a pedicab driver in Surabaya, said he would happily return there if it meant he could support his family again.
"If there's work in Surabaya, I want to move there again. But we're waiting for clarification from the government about what will happen to our family here," he said sadly.
Safe, but frustrated
Security at the temporary shelter is tight. People who have no specific business there are forbidden from entering. Reporters have to register at the door; visiting hours end at 9pm. Although calm has returned to the area, the security forces are taking no chances.
Children in the facility have not returned to school. A team of volunteers has been working to help them heal psychologically from the trauma they experienced, with songs, games and stories.
Volunteers also set up an area where married couples can go to have some privacy, under a staircase, outfitted with a mattress, condoms and wet wipes.
"It's a good thing we have that space. If we didn't, married couples who want to have intimate relations wouldn't know what to do. There are dozens of married couples here," said Ummi Hana, 42.
Umar, 43, is grateful for the aid being provided, but tired of being cooped-up and getting hand-outs.
"Alhamdulillah, conditions here are pretty good. The government and community bring us aid every day. Our need for food and drink, bathing, washing clothes -- even our medical needs –is being met. Fortunately since we've been here, we've hardly been sick," Umar said. "The problem is that we can't work, so we've had enough of being in this condition. We can't do anything, except receive help from others," he said.
Uncertain food aid
For two months, the local government provided a steady stream of meals for the displaced Shia. Then abruptly, the food aid stopped.
Financially drained by two months of feeding 198 people and staffing a sizeable security force, the Sampang government said it could do no more. Ready to eat meals were halted not only for the Shia Muslims but for 1,000 security personnel guarding them, local officials said.
"Our aid budget was swelling, if you add the clean water and medicine we had to buy. We haven't gotten any help yet from the central government and East Java Province," said Malik Amrullah, head of the Sampang Regency Department of Social Affairs and Employment.
Learning of this, the provincial government stepped in and said it would finance meals for a month.
"If the Sampang Regency government has set a two month range for disaster relief following the riots in the Shia village of Sampang, then we will issue disaster relief for one month. We will supply food and drink for the displaced three times a day starting November 5th," head of social services for East Java Province Sujono said on a visit to the shelter that same day.
Private individuals filled in the gap with donations of instant noodles, a stove, pans and cooking oil, according to Ummi Kulsim, wife of Sampang Shia leader Tajul Muluk, who is now in Sidoarjo prison serving a sentence for blasphemy.
Forced to convert?
Word of fellow Shia Muslims abandoning their beliefs has reached the people living in the sports facility. According to media reports, some of Tajul Muluk's followers have returned to Sunni Islam. The conversion was reportedly facilitated by Sunni clerics and local government officials.
According to Iklik Almilal, the leader of the displaced Shia Muslims, those conversions were forced.
He said the majority of the Shia Muslim community is not living in the sports facility and in order to return to their homes, they had to sign an agreement.
"There were 15 people. This happened on November 4th, 2012. At that time some Shia people who still live in the village were called to the home of a Muslim scholar (kiai). There, the Shia people were asked to sign an agreement to return to Sunni Islam. It was claimed that the agreement was a sacred thing that would protect them. The villagers said that based on this document they would not burn their homes," he said.
Maksum, 44, told Khabar he was disappointed to hear about Shia community members outside of the shelter being forced to change their beliefs.
"I heard about that, but what can be done? These are our beliefs. We don't want to be forced. But if we hold on to our beliefs, who knows when we can go home," he said.
Ummi Kulsim said she hoped the government would care for the Shia Muslims not only in the immediate aftermath of the violence, but for the duration, until they return home.
"We got a lot of attention right after the attacks, but after things calmed down, we've been abandoned in this shelter. The government should care for us here, especially since we have lost everything," she said.