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Forgotten heroes: Indonesian independence war veterans fall on hard times

Channel News Asia - August 15, 2019

Kiki Siregar, Jakarta – Sitting in a white plastic chair in his home, Mr Soewarso Warsosoewito tried to remember what exactly he did when he fought against the Japanese in 1945.

The 95-year-old Indonesian war veteran, who suffers from senility, lives in a 60 sq m house with his second wife Karni in the slums of Jakarta.

A sign in front of his house read: "Veteran". When CNA visited in early August, a big rat scurried around the place.

"I was guarding the Kraton palace in Solo from the enemy (in case of a Japanese attack)... but I can't remember much, it's been so long ago," he said in a soft voice.

He also suffers from some gallbladder problems, according to his wife but they live on a tight budget and cannot afford the best healthcare.

"We receive a monthly allowance of around 2 million rupiah (US$140) from the government because my husband is a war veteran. Other than that, we don't really get anything else," she said.

Despite the circumstances, both said they were reluctant to ask for more help. "We don't want to take what is not within our rights to begin with," they said.

Mr Warsosoewito guarded the palace of the Solo kingdom in today's Central Java province when Japanese troops occupied the region from 1942 to 1945.

On August 17, 1945, Indonesia gained independence from Japan after 42 months of military occupation.

After Indonesia's independence, the Netherlands, which prior to the Japanese occupation ruled in Indonesia for 350 years, tried to regain control over the archipelago, forcing Mr Warsosoewito to once again take up arms.

As Indonesia celebrates its 74th national day on Saturday, those who fought for independence are finding it hard to make ends meet.

The country has around 100,000 veterans out of its population of 260 million people, according to government data.

Colonel Eko Natalius, head of the Veterans Admin Management Agency for the Greater Jakarta Area said all veterans receive an allowance of around 2-3 million rupiah per month, depending on their services and ranks.

But he acknowledged it's not enough. "Two million rupiah if you live in a village in Indonesia is more than enough, but if you live in capital Jakarta or other big cities where the living expenses are much higher, it's most likely not enough."

Jakarta's 2019 minimum wage is 3.9 million rupiah.

He called on Indonesian society to do more in helping veterans, whether financially or simply showing care and attention to them.

More recognition needed?

Some independence veterans also hope for more recognition from the government.

Mrs Soekasti, 90, who goes by one name, hopes the government would honour her sacrifices by inviting her to the Presidential Palace where the main celebration of Indonesia's Independence Day takes place every Aug 17.

"We sacrificed a lot. Everything was dangerous. I could've been killed," she said.

She served as a courier to Indonesia's famous war hero General Gatot Soebroto. "You can say I was a spy," she recounted with a laugh.

She is fortunate in being financially independent after retirement but notes that Indonesia now faces bigger challenges than before, especially in the areas of drugs, hate speech and politics that are dividing the people.

Veterans who served post-independence also face challenges

Those who worked in the military shortly after independence also face financial woes.

Mr Nawawi Sa'Ad, 86, lives with his 34-year-old daughter in Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta.

Together they live in a six by seven metres house made of cement floor and woven bamboo walls, on land which belongs to the government.

Mr Sa'Ad said officials from different agencies have inspected his house to ascertain if it can be renovated. But once they discovered he has no permit to build a house on the land, they said there's nothing they can do to help him.

Just like Mr Warsosoewito, Mr Sa'Ad also receives a monthly veteran allowance of around 2 million rupiah. But it's not sufficient to renovate his house, let alone to buy the land.

He fought against the Dutch in the 1960s in Papua, eastern Indonesia, and was stationed in a submarine for 10 months.

"Every time I saw land, I was so happy. But my feet never touched land during those 10 months. I spent my days living underwater," he told CNA.

Civil society steps up

The need to give Indonesia's veterans more attention has been a priority for Jakarta resident Kriswiyanto Muliawan Wiyogo.

Together with his friends, he founded a foundation called Sahabat Veteran (Veterans' Friends), also known as SaVe.

Since 2010, SaVe has held various activities to show care to Indonesian veterans, from renovating their houses to giving free medical check-ups.

Mr Wiyogo said their activities are highly dependent on donors or communities who would like to help veterans or even getting to know them.

Many of the donors are big companies that have corporate social responsibility initiatives, but there are also teenagers and even kindergartens who would like to meet the veterans.

He said that the younger generation cares about social issues, but they often do not know how they can contribute to society. In this regard, SaVe bridges and connects society with the veterans.

"Without the veterans, there is no Indonesia. Because of them, we exist. One could say, they are our parents," he told CNA. – CNA/ks(aw)

Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/indonesia-independence-day-veterans-hard-times-recognition-11804638