[Note: This article was published in CRITIQUE, Vol-1, Issue-3. Critique is a Quarterly brought out by the Delhi University Chapter of New Socialist Initiative (NSI)]
By Ken Ndaru
THE CAMPUS LIFE OF THE 90S
Back in the 90s, a campus life was one of a surefire way to move upward in the social ladder. Especially for those who enjoyed the opportunity to enroll in a state university. We were hard working students, yes; we were dedicated to getting as many A’s and B’s as possible. The competition was fierce. We had no time for life outside the three realms: Books, Love and Campus’ Parties. (The campus parties were mandatory in what we call today ‘network building’.)
This situation was the direct result of a decree in 1978 by the then Ministry of Education and Culture, Daud Jusuf. The decree called for a “normalization of campus life” (“NKK”) and the formation of “student coordinating bodies” (“BKK”) that would be headed by the Rector’s Third Deputy. Both entailed a blatant stomping on political life within all Indonesian campuses. Anyone caught carrying out political activities in campus would be expelled, with a further risk of getting his/her name into the good book of the feared Command for Security and Order Recovery (KOPKAMTIB, the extra-judicial arm of the Indonesian Army).
With news of Security Operations everywhere in the country, and the summary killing spree in the capital city that was dubbed “mysterious shooting” by the media—targeting those who the security forces called “outlaws”, the students chose a philosophy of “hearing no evil, seeing no evil and speaking no evil”. We simply ignored the life outside the campuses.
We had, after all, a bright future. As long as we ploughed our way diligently. And heeding the siren call of the regime.
Nevertheless, such a life is considered decadent by some. They were only a handful. And they worked in utter secrecy and they were almost invisible. It took them a full year to assess and approach me before asking me to join them. And I joined for the simplest reason that I was bored with the campus life. And I was angry. The discrepancy of what was taught in the classes and the stark reality of life staring us in the face every day when we got back to our lodgings or rented rooms was too great to ignore. Maybe most of the students were born with innate ability to shrug off inconveniences. But for a tiny minority those facts were not just “inconveniences”. They were real.
And so we were. The angry young people of our generation.
A TIME FOR STUDY
After the NKK/BKK decree, politics died in all Indonesian campuses. Students’ ringleaders were either jailed or expelled. All other activists “went to ground” to avoid persecution. Nobody talked politics in campuses. Even the student organizations formerly associated with politics, and were instrumental in toppling of President Sukarno in 1966, now dissociated themselves from the word “politics”. They had used the term “ormas” (organisasi massa, or mass organization). After the NKK/BKK, they changed the meaning of the term “ormas” into “organisasi kemasyarakatan” or “public organization”. When I enrolled into one such “public organizations”, they even advertise themselves as “preparing students to have more competitive value at their future jobs”.
And so, the disgruntled students held political discussions in the rented rooms or lodgings. By canvassing, the student activists visited the “prospects” one by one, holding a brief discussion on the current campus affairs, pretending to be interested in the personal affairs of such prospect, inviting the prospects to card games, and eventually asking the prospect to review a very obscure document—with no name printed as the publisher, no date, and very political. That was how the Study Circles were organized in my day as a freshman at the Agricultural Institute of Bogor (IPB).
Study Circles were the main method of organizing the student movement then. It was not very efficient, only less than ten recruits every year for each such circle. But it was thought to be the safest way of organizing. We wanted politics, but we also wanted to be as far away from the military secret detention centers as possible. And we still wanted that lucrative jobs waiting for us after we graduated.
This “safety first” mentality proved to be the death knell to the Study Circles. Around the time I joined one, the Study Circles has been entering a prolonged process of stagnation. What we did seemed to bear no impact on anyone. The older members graduated and then the movement lost them as they got their jobs, married and settled down (not necessarily in that order). In short, Study Circles organized just to preserve their existence, nothing more.
But things were about to change. Soon after I joined a study circle, a whole new series of books were published in Bahasa Indonesia. Most of them were on Latin American experiences on social policies. The “openness policy” promoted by the New Order in the beginning of 1990s in order to open the country to a new influx of foreign investment interests also opened the country to what happened in other countries. The EDSA revolution of 1986 in the Philippines that overthrew Marcos regime, in particular, was of a great interest within the student movement. Many student leaders went to live a short stint in the Philippines. And soon afterwards, new circulars calling for more “direct actions” were distributed among the study circles.