On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Abuse in land of milk and honey


I AM in Penang to convince my elderly parents on why they should engage an Indonesian maid. My father is 85 years old and my mother is 79 and they live in a double-storey house.

The house in Kampung Melayu, Air Itam, where I grew up, faces a busy road and that means the windows have to be constantly sealed off to prevent the dust from flying in.

Without an air-conditioner, the house is like an oven but decades ago, it used to be a breezy and leafy area with coconut palms and rambutan and guava trees. The stream nearby used to be clear with plenty of catfish.

My parents need domestic help to keep the home clean and also to care for them but they are reluctant – they have heard too many horror stories of Indonesian maids.

A neighbour complained that her maid regularly pinched her mother, with enough bruises to show, while another grumbled of thefts committed by the maid in the home.

This is enough for my old folks to distrust maids, even though they know that domestic help would make their lives easier. There are many like my parents’ neighbours.

As for Malaysian employers, many have to put up with dishonest workers from Indo­nesia besides dealing with countless cases of serious crimes committed by them.

But there are also happy stories. I have had the same maid for the last five years. She doesn’t make calls home because her parents have cheated her of her hard-earned money.

She has her quirks and weaknesses, like anyone else, and although my other family members think that she needs to show discipline and better mannerisms, she is a competent worker.

The point is this – Malaysia is making the bad news in Indonesia again following the Ambalat and Manohara controversies.

The picture painted by some sensational Indonesian media is that Malaysians are arrogant and inconsiderate folks who exploit their people and treat them as inferior beings.

Last week, it was widely reported that Siti Hajar, a maid from West Java, was regularly beaten up for three years by her employer, who even poured boiling water on her. The pictures of her scars outraged both Malay­sians and Indonesians.

Malaysia and Indonesia are also involved in territorial claims over the Ambalat waters, said to be rich in oil and minerals, off the coast of Sabah.

Then there is the highly published case between 17-year-old socialite Manohara Odelia Pinot and the 31-year-old Tengku Temenggong of Kelantan, Tengku Mohamad Fakhry Sultan Ismail Petra.

He has lodged a police report against his ex-wife and her mother Daisy Farajina, 44, both of whom have made serious allegations against the prince, including abuse.

The case has become a media circus in Jakarta with the ex-model appearing on TV shows and competing with Ambalat protesters for attention outside the Malaysian embassy.

She reportedly shouted Ganyang Malaysia! (Crush Malaysia!), the slogan coined by the late President Sukarno during the Confron­tation days.

Her flamboyant celebrity lawyer Hotman Paris Hutayea, a self-confessed playboy with flashy sports cars, has added more spice to the case, according to reports.

The series of bad press reports about Malaysia isn’t helping as there is an election coming up and politicians are queuing up to project themselves as national heroes. The horrific press reports have been godsent to these politicians for whom whacking Malaysia is easier than having to answer issues like poverty and unemployment to the masses.

It’s emotional and attention-grabbing with little need to be accountable to the voters and can only further strain relations between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Whatever is said and done, Malaysia continues to be the land of milk and honey to Indonesians. The fact that there are two million Indonesian workers here – about half of whom are illegal immigrants – speaks for itself.

In any case, Malaysia has the largest number of workers from Indonesia in the region and, even if the highest number of abuses has been recorded against Malaysians, it is natural given the huge base.

Few people realise that the movement of illegal Indonesian migrants to Malaysia is arguably the second largest in the world after the US-Mexico border, according to researcher Joseph Liow, in Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol 25, 2003.

Let me make it clear – Malaysians do not condone any form of abuse against any worker, local or foreign. It is inhumane and unjustified and certainly guest workers must be protected.

We must also acknowledge that without the Indonesians, the Myanmars, the Bangla­deshis and Nepalese, the nation’s economy would be badly affected as they play a crucial role in our economy.

But we are also paying a heavy price for the presence of this large number of foreign workers.

At the risk of being accused of being xenophobic again, the fact is we have had to face a host of problems, from social and health issues to crimes committed by these foreigners.

Police statistics show that Indonesians were responsible for 1,073 of 1,849 cases of violent crimes last year and for 1,400 of the 3,034 crimes involving properties.

I am pretty sure I would fail in my mission to convince my parents they should hire an Indonesian maid.

I have a decent maid and the fact that she renewed her contract, although she could earn much more in Taiwan or Hong Kong, has proved that I have been a good employer.

In spite of the developments, Jakarta continues to be one of my favourite destinations and I often tell my friends how far the city has come without many of us noticing.

But let’s not be too hard on ourselves because there are always two sides to every story.