People with Disabilities in Yogyakarta, From Magical to Medical

Slamet Thohari

Yogyakarta is one of the important cities in Indonesia. It is the smallest province located in the island of Java that is still governed by a traditional Javanese king, Sultan Hamengkubuwono. The area of Jogjakarta is about 3.185, 2.80 KM, and consists of five cities, Sleman, kota Yogyakarta, Bantul, Kulon Progo, and Gunung Kidul. According to Official Survey The basic economics underpinning Yogyakarta is agricultures (32.09 %), and other industries include small business such as groceries, vendors, etc (21.91 %). in may, 27, 2006 there was a big earthquake killing more than 5700 people, and over 156000 houses and other structures were totally destroyed and economic losses were estimated at over $3 billion

There are 27.119 people with disabilities in Yogyakarta Most of them do not have any equal access as other people. Most of public services, schools, transportation markets, universities, museums and other public buildings are not accessible to them. Almost all of them also have very low incomes and education. It is difficult for them to get a job due to their disabilities and many rules and laws that are implemented by companies or the official government that restrict the number and type of jobs available to them based on their disabilities. As a portrait of their condition, according to Kompas, a national newspaper, now there are 1.400 children, who do not have education at all.

In Yogyakarta, stereotypes also determine how people with disabilities face their lives. In addition, people with disabilities are more regarded as an embarrassment, and as burdens for the family; they are isolated from abled-society, and most of them are put in special schools for their education. In many cases, disability is also believed to be given by God, which means it should be accepted without complaint. However, some people believe that people with disabilities are possessed by supernatural spirits and are therefore special people who can hold the world in equilibrium, that God gave them specialties and peculiarities and made them more special than other people—abled people.

The perceptions and concepts of disability are very persistent in Yogyakarta Traditional belief states that disability is magical and supernatural. Therefore, people with disabilities are regarded as people who have a supernatural power and should be respected, as stated by Benedict Anderson, people with disabilities and midgets could be found in Javanese castles. These special persons strengthened the position of Javanese kingdom and the power of the king

The concept of power in Javanese society is like a shining lantern and its the center of everything. People with disabilities are heirloom that strengthens the power of those who have power, the king. Furthermore, the group of people with disabilities or polowijo is always being around of the king. It’s could be seen from many ritual ceremonies in Javanese kingdom in which people with disabilities being significant elements and involved as a symbol of power and care protecting all people.

Java was a society that regarded people with disabilities as having magical powers that could not be parted from day-to-day life. We can see how the annual parade in Javanese kingdom always put midget as the paramount part of them. People with disability also became an important aspect of Javanese life and were regarded as people with the gift of prophesy. It was believed that they could pick winning lotteries and gambling bets. People often consulted with the disabled to acquire luck or to find out the winning lottery number for the next day

The power of people with disabilities is also implied in many stories of Javanese society in wayang (puppet) and also in serat (classical writing) that describes many people with disabilities who becomes people who save the world. ThePunokawan, an original story created by Javanese society adapted into the Ramayana and Mahabarata wayang (Puppet) performances, are people with disabilities who are actually gods with super-powers. Wayang is an imagination underpinning the mind-site of Javanese people. It is basic to Javanese philosophy and has established disability as a power to keep the world in harmony. Wayang references to this idea was to be found in references in daily Indonesian lives
The power of disabled also could found in how the Javanese people believe in Semmar, a disabled God who become the essential element underpinning people’s life in Java. In addition,Semar is a prototype of wisdom, a portrait of inner-life who always guide the people into happiness. Clearly, semar is the essensial thing in the world-view of Javanese society.

However, these old perceptions have been shifted into new paradigms that were brought by the Dutch. Since 1621, western-trained doctors have been sent to Indonesia to treat their soldiers and to offer their services to the Dutch people in Indonesia. It was from this period that disability began to be seen medically and regarded as a sickness that should be taken care of by the doctor. A civil hospital or stadsverbandhuizen for the first time opened in 1820 proposed to help elderly people and crippled people. The idea of the biological etiology of disability was expanded in Jogjakarta, since Jogjakarta was a significant city that was the capital for Indonesia.

One of the most well-known and most significant centers for rehabilitating people with disabilities in Indonesia is the YAKKUM or Yayasan Kristen Untuk Kesehatan(Christian Center for Public Health). This center offers an approach that is still in line with the medical approach introduced by the Dutch. YAKKUM Rehabilitation Centre was established in 1982 by Colin McLennan, a development worker from New Zealand, with medical and dental, physiotherapy, assistive technology or aid tool assistance, education and vocational training. YAKKUM took many people with disabilities, diagnosed them with medical approach povided therapy and trained them with many handicraft skills such as sawing, carving tatting and so forth, with the hopes that people with disabilities could participate in the society with specific skills to help them survive.
The other evidence to convince how the medical approach treated people with disability can be seen from many policies that were implemented by most educational institutions and other institutions that state that “physicaly and spiritually health” as an admission criteria. This admission absolutely deters the dreams and the access of people with disabilities to get the same opportunities that are available commonly to others, such as what happened in what Admission to universities, application for driving licenses, and getting a job either in the private or public sectors involve such prejudices for those labeled as “disabled”. It is therefore extremely common for government to see the disabled as a problem, thereby cementing the image of their “abnormality”. This perception and image is not justifiable.

Besides that, Islam is also a significant tradition influencing society and contributing to people’s perceptions toward disability in Javanese society, since it is one of the main religions in Yogyakarta. For Muslims in Indonesia, people with disabilities are people who should be treated specially. Islamic tenets state that they should be respected. However, their positions are subject to abled-people who have to help them. Then, people with disabilities are seen as objects of charity. Since the belief is that people with disabilities are weak, and most people in Java interpreted that these people should be helped, they become an object of philanthropy. Many charities argue for action for the disabled using religious ideas, chief among which are those found in Islam, the most dominant religion in Indonesia.

There is always an effort to make equal rights for people with disabilities. In the 1990’s some people were concerned with social justice expressing grievance on the condition of people with disabilities in Indonesia. They analyzed the problem of people with disabilities and struggled to deconstruct many dominant perceptions discriminating people with disabilities They introduced the new term “difabel” which means “differently abled-people society”. For them, changing the term is definitely changing the paradigm, which would definitely be followed by the changing of policies to be more democratic. Currently these people are very influential in Indonesia and have become the vanguard of the disability movement in Indonesia.
The most important person giving basic ideology of “difabel” is Mansour Fakih, an intellectual organic, and an activist of human rights. In his book, he believed all people are the same. Every person has differences, neither people with disabilities nor “abled-bodies people” they have capability to do something, so that the term “dis” is not appropriate, besides, the term difabel is more appropriate. Disability is a social construction, produced by dominant power which is a normal power. Being disabled is due to social oppression.

After 32 years becoming an authoritarian country, Indonesia had a remarkable transition to a democratic political system in 1998. It is a moment when many groups of civil society and social movement organizations took advantages for their concerns and purposes. So did disability movement in Indonesia, particularly in Yogyakarta, had more space and chance to express, argue and promote their purposes for their new paradigms expressed in the label “difabel”

Hence, Yogyakarta is a space of conflict for disability concepts. There have been many disability concepts involved and adhered within the daily lives of people with disabilities. These concepts are contesting and influencing the people’s ways of thinking, they are also contributing to policies toward people with disabilities. These conceptions are significantly important in deciding the future of the people with disability rights in Yogyakarta in particular and generally in Indonesia.


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