“Gita, can you make me an Eid greeting card for my office, please? I’m really busy taking care of your younger siblings and my job,” my mother asked me on May 23, 2020 at night, where by telephone I heard the sounds of prayers from the mosque near our home in Indonesia.
“Where did Ms. Yati (our housekeeper) go?” I asked.
“Ms. Yati is going home to her hometown. Tomorrow (05/24) is Eid and she wants to meet her family,” she replied.
As a country with the largest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia has a ‘Mudik’ tradition every year. Mudik or going back home or to the village is a phenomenon in Indonesia where people who do not work in their native area will return to their family or relative’s house to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr together, which is usually done by Muslims after fasting for 30 days in commemoration of the holy month of Ramadan or non-Muslims who do have a day off, a few days before Eid. However, this year’s Mudik is different from usual, accompanied by a COVID-19 pandemic.
Restrictions and bans on traveling within the country
With the pandemic this year, the government was trying to reduce the number of victims of COVID-19 by imposing restrictions and bans on traveling within the country, not least at the moment of Mudik 2020. Java is the most populous island in Indonesia with a population in January 2020 of 152 million people, 56% of Indonesia’s total population that is 271 million. Of this number, as many as 25 million residents usually do Mudik every year, which means there is a mass movement simultaneously on the island of Java. Therefore, the government conducted inspections at 58 points on the island of Java, the majority of which was done in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. In all these points, there were integrated security posts that were guarded by members of the police, army, and related agencies, which were carried out from April 24, 2020 to May 31, 2020. The inspection was an act of manifesting Transportation Ministry Regulation No. 25/2020 which prohibits the public from doing Mudik using private cars and motorcycles, public busses, trains, ships, ferries and chartered and scheduled flights in two provinces (Jakarta and West Java) and 22 cities in Indonesia, and restricts on the use of private and public transportation throughout Indonesia.
If the Indonesian citizens might and could do Mudik, they were required to do self-quarantine for 14 days. For residents who have already purchased tickets, they can get a full refund. The government exempted the ban on vehicles carrying leaders of state institutions, police and military vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, hearses and vehicles transporting logistical supplies, staple goods and medicines.
Passengers or drivers who did not follow the rules would be subject to sanctions that are returned to their area of origin and paying a fine. Whereas for land, sea and air transportation businesses that did not implement regulations and were still operating, they would receive sanctions in the form of warning letters until the revocation of operating licenses. But the application of sanctions was very much a gray area. It was still not clearly stated what will get sanctions, so the execution was still confusing.
With these restrictions, Java lost 160 trillion Rupiah or around 10.061.680.000,00 Euros from canceling the purchase of public transport tickets, travel, accommodation, hospitality and other expenses from travelers.
Conversation with an old friend
Considering that day (05/24) was Eid Al-Fitr, I also tried to contact my old friend, Dian, who is a Muslim and celebrated Eid with his family in our city, Bandar Lampung, which is located on the island of Sumatra even though he was studying on Java island.
“Ramadhan this time is different, Git. Thank God I was still able to go home because I went home 2 days before the rules (restrictions on traveling for Mudik) came into effect,” he said when I asked him how he was doing and how Ramadan was this year.
“Usually before breaking fast, I buy something at the market to prepare the breakfasting with my family, but now I am afraid to do something or go somewhere. In the market there are not many Ramadhan food sellers. Even if there are vendors, they only wear masks, they don’t wear gloves or use disinfectants. They ignore the recommended health protocol,” he continued.
Dian’s fear was based on the increasing number of Coronavirus cases in Indonesia which is increasing every day, especially during Ramadhan and Mudik (April 24, 2020 – May 24, 2020). During this time period, there were 8.211 cases on April 24, 2020 and 22.271 cases a month later, with the most widespread map of COVID-19 cases in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, at 23.7%.
“Then, does this pandemic affect your worship?” I asked him.
“Of course, Git. Usually I go to the mosque every night after breaking my fast to pray there with my family, friends or neighbors. But now Indonesia’s Ulema Council and Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesian’s largest Islamic organizations, have closed large mosques in Indonesia and forbid mass worship in smaller mosques around residents. They recommend worshiping at home, and if you really want to go to the mosque, you must maintain a distance of 1 meter between prayers, wear masks and use disinfectants. But for me personally, my worship has not changed. I still pray from home with my family. Especially now in the technological era, there have been many opportunities to do anything online, including praying and listening to holy lectures from religious leaders. My faith is still the same, Git. I keep praying to God that this pandemic will pass quickly and still follow the health protocol so that God’s help is implemented well,” Dian said as the closing of our conversation.
The prohibitions and restrictions of movement during Mudik was an attempt by the Indonesian government to reduce the COVID-19 case in this country of 229 million Muslims. In practice, this control was far from perfect. There were still many Indonesians who traveled between cities, between provinces and even between islands to continue to carry on traditions that have become ingrained from year to year. Legal uncertainty that occurred in Indonesia made its citizens can find loopholes to continue to be able to do Mudik. The assumption that family is the highest priority urged most Indonesians to return to their hometowns, even if it meant risking themselves to be exposed to this virus. Countermeasures for COVID-19 must go in the same direction and simultaneously, and be on the same page between the government and its citizens. By making clear regulations with strict sanctions, and obedience of Indonesian citizens in following them, it should be able to provide an understanding that tradition is customary and can be changed. And now, with adjustments to the actual conditions, it is time for Indonesia to change one of the traditions of Indonesia’s ancestral heritage, Mudik.
Author: Ni Luh Gita Gayatri Sumantra
*Dieser Beitrag ist im Rahmen des Kurses Krisenmanagement in der globalen Stars-Cov2 / Covid19 Krise entstanden.