Jakarta – When a family of four in Kalideres, West Jakarta, was found dead in their house in October, the incident sparked many questions. Of these, one question was fundamental: Why did no one in their neighborhood notice their absence earlier?
The deaths of Rudyanto Gunawan, 71, his wife Margaretha Gunawan, 68, daughter Dian Febbyana, 42, and brother Budyanto Gunawan, 69, remain a mystery. Police have said Rudyanto and Margaretha died in May, while it its unknown when Dian and Budyanto died.
Neighbors, including the neighborhood unit (RT) head, said the Gunawan family led very private lives. They were rarely involved in community activities or long conversations. They kept to themselves. Neighbors chose to respect their privacy to the point that no one questioned when the family's cars and motorcycles disappeared one by one. No one asked questions when the family had not been seen for a while, thinking they might have moved out.
Two elderly brothers were also found dead on Tuesday in Taman Sari, West Jakarta, after neighbors complained about a smell. The younger brother, known as LSM (71), was last seen ordering food at an eatery near his house last week. Police said the older brother died first and that the brothers had died from illness.
The cases of the Gunawan family and the brothers in Taman Sari remind us how important it is for neighbors to regularly check on one another, especially elderly people who live in solitude.
Indonesians pride themselves on their spirit of gotong royong (mutual assistance). Knowing and caring for thy neighbor is a basic social skill that has been passed down for generations.
But modern urban life has changed that. Most people are too busy to spend time getting to know their neighbors. The Taman Sari brothers could have been found earlier if anyone had raised the alarm that they had not seen the siblings for a couple of days.
This raises the question of whether a community is respecting the privacy of their elderly neighbors, or is simply too busy with their own lives to care for their neighbors. The line is thin.
In several other instances, we have seen ignorance among neighbors that has allowed terrorists living in the area to plan an attack unhindered. The neighbors only realized that they had been living alongside cold-blooded bombers after many were killed in the blasts.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, we heard stories of people sending food to neighbors who were self-isolating because of infection. The spirit of gotong royong was strong as people united to fight the pandemic. But as the pandemic subsides, people are returning to the old, daily routine of modern life and to individualism.
If you have elderly neighbors who live alone, knock on their doors on occasion to make sure they are all right. If privacy is an issue, then at least notify the RT head and others if you see any worrying changes in the people next door.
You might just save a life by caring for your neighbors a little bit more.