For most Indonesians, the tradition of mudik – returning home – is very special. Millions go home during the latter weeks of Ramadan, as Idul Fitri approaches. The exodus from Jakarta begins as early as ten days before Idul Fitri.
Pemudik – people returning home – have many options: boats, buses, trains, cars and motorcycles. According to the Ministry of Transportation, the annual exodus from Jakarta during Idul Fitri is 9.7 - 11 million. Nationwide, it is about twice that number.
But every year, this massive movement of people is marked by a spike in traffic accidents, many of them fatal.
"Last year, 908 people died in traffic accidents during the two weeks of the Idul Fitri holiday," National Police spokesman Ronny F. Sompie told Khabar Southeast Asia by phone.
The accidents increase as Idul Fitri nears. On August 3rd, the Indonesian Police (POLRI) recorded 60 deaths and 71 injuries in traffic accidents, a 55% increase from the day before, according to The Jakarta Post.
SBY urges travelers to be safe
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) has expressed concern about safety during the mass exodus, calling repeatedly for travelers to be careful, and monitoring closely the situation at Tanjung Priok Port in North Jakarta, the Senen train station, and other major terminals.
"I am from Pacitan, and some of you may travel in the same direction. It's a long trip, and therefore, please be ready. Make sure you are healthy so you can see all of your family at home with happiness," he told the public while visiting Senen on August 5th.
"Your safety is more important than the visit. Please be sure you are prepared for this trip," he advised.
Transportation Minister EE Mangindaan said that the government is deploying more traffic safety officers and offering to transport up to 30,000 motorcycles for free aboard trucks, boats and trains, in an effort to get them off the roads.
Of 5,233 accidents over Idul Fitri last year, 72% involved motorcycles, he recently told a parliamentary committee.
Idul Fitri "should bring happiness"
The deadly numbers have led some to advise travelling home at some other time of year.
"This is very saddening. Idul Fitri should bring happiness and not tears because you lost a family member. It is time for the government and Imams to remind all citizens that mudik is not obligatory in Islam and that our safety is more important," said Wulandari Suryanti, a 57-year-old resident of West Jakarta.
"Most of my relatives are living in Yogyakarta. However, I told them that I could not return home every year. I can go home at any time but not during Idul Fitri. We need to change our attitude about Idul Fitri," she said.
Ahmad Buzari, an Islamic cleric in West Jakarta, agreed, saying, "Islam appreciates being together as Ummah (family) during Ramadan. But safety is an immediate need. The number of people who have died in traffic accidents during Idul Fitri is even higher than the number of people who died because of terrorists attacks.
"Is it necessary to die going home? I encourage everyone to stay safe. Returning home to do silaturahmi doesn't need to be conducted only during Idul Fitri. We have 11 other months besides Ramadan and Idul Fitri," he said.
Despite the safety concerns, 26-year-old Iwan Wirawan said he is going home to Purwokerto, Central Java, by motorcycle.
"I know it is dangerous, but if you are careful, we should be okay. I have been doing this for years, and I am okay. I don't like using buses; it is longer and boring," he said.