The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Rough and bad – but still committed to democracy       

Overseas observers of Indonesian politics should not be too disheartened by the divisive Jakarta gubernatorial election campaign despite the trauma and the result, according to religious peace activist Yenny Wahid (left)

“The campaign and result will be seen badly by the rest of the world,” the director of the faith-freedom watchdog Wahid Institute told Strategic Review.

“Radicals did not control their excesses.  We are not happy that politics is being driven by religious sentiment.

“It opened a Pandora’s Box but it’s also important not to jump to conclusions.  Investors should stay engaged. We are still committed to democracy and the protection of minority rights.  We must keep talking to each other.”

The campaign featured mass protests - one drew a crowd of half-a-million – organized by Islamists fervently opposed to Governor Basuki (Ahok) Tjahaja Purnama. 

The ‘double-minority’ politician (he’s an ethnic Chinese and Protestant) conceded defeat to Muslim candidate and former Education Minister Dr Anies Baswedan after the 19 April election when unofficial quick counts showed a 57-43 percent result.

Turnout was just under 78 percent of the Indonesian capital’s 7.2 million registered voters according to the General Elections Commission.
The campaign was interpreted by some foreign media as a ‘triumph of prejudice over pluralism’.  The Jakarta Post dubbed it ‘the dirtiest, most polarizing and most divisive the nation has ever seen’. 

Stirring the mud was a blasphemy charge against Ahok. In a stump speech last year he allegedly suggested a verse in the Koran was being misused to mean voting for a kafir (unbeliever) was sinful.

The radicals claimed the Jakarta Governor had insulted the Holy Book and should be jailed; Ahok responded that his targets were preachers using religion in politics.

“What we’re seeing, more or less, is an Indonesian version of the US with the Trump win, the Brexit vote in Britain and the rise of (National Front leader) Marine Le Pen in France,” said Wahid.

“The economic gap is getting wider everywhere and people are frustrated… they feel left out of the system and the structure doesn’t allow them to move up a level.”

(This year Oxfam reported that the four richest men in Indonesia have more wealth than the poorest 100 million and that ‘inequality is slowing down poverty reduction, dampening economic growth and threatening social cohesion’.)

The Jakarta-based Wahid Institute is named after Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) who died in 2009.  Prior to becoming Indonesia’s fourth President in 1999 he led the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization with 40 million members.

Wahid helped her father during his 21 months in office.  She has a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard and worked as a journalist for Australia’s Fairfax newspapers.  In 2009 she was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. 

She’s become the face of religious harmony in Indonesia with her views sought by international leaders.  This month [april] she met US Vice President Mike Pence and will talk to the Pope in the Vatican next month. [may]

Wahid, 42, constantly addresses all faith groups to promote respect for diversity.  Freedom of worship is guaranteed in the 1945 Constitution which holds that the nation is secular.  There are six government-approved religions.

However Indonesia is also the world’s largest Muslim country with around 88 per cent of its 250 million population as adherents.  Extremists argue these statistics warrant an Islamic state. In 2005 the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI Council of Indonesian Scholars) issued a fatwa (religious instruction) outlawing pluralism, secularism and liberalism.

“It (being director of the Wahid Institute) is hard emotionally because I have family commitments with a husband and three daughters,” Wahid said.  “It might be easier if I was a man in this macho society, but then the pressures could be physical rather than mental.

“I get my values and spirit from my Dad.  He said ‘be brave, don’t hate and don’t lie’. I feel that I have to work for religious understanding – it’s an obligation.

“Dad followed the Javanese principle of sumeleh which means love of God and acceptance when all things that can be done have been done.  It’s not fatalism.

 “Of course we were disappointed with the election result. We expected Ahok to be given a second chance.

“But I was surprised to discover many older Chinese voted for Anies because they feared the whole brouhaha of the campaign and personal intimidation if Ahok won.  Some human rights activists voted against Ahok because they disapproved of his forced slum-clearance policies.”

 Baswedan, 47, a US-educated former university rector, has been labelled a moderate. He is now expected to be either a contender in the 2019 Presidential election or use his power base as Jakarta Governor to champion former army general Prabowo Subianto, 65 who narrowly lost to Joko (Jokowi) Widodo in 2014. 

Subianto’s Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement) Party supported Baswedan’s campaign.
Wahid rejected the suggestion that strict Islamic sharia law would be enforced in Jakarta to placate the extremists who helped defeat Ahok
Gerindra is basically a secular party and they would be the first to feel the heat,” she said.  “They would push back vigorously against sharia. Many members and backers, like business tycoon Hary Tanoesoedibjo, are Chinese Christians.
“How do you answer this (conundrum)? I’m told that if anyone other than Ahok had made comments about the Koranic verse there would have been no worries.
“As a former journalist I understand why editors pick photos of fist shaking radicals waving posters over pictures of nice moderates – but the political situation in Indonesia is not clear cut or as bad as some think.
“There are many versions of Islam. Indonesian Islam in its moderate form can bring enlightenment to the world - and show that there are other ways than extremism. Despite the Jakarta election campaign that’s the message I want others to hear.  We just have to work harder.”


First published in Strategic Review, 25 April 2017:

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Farewell the pioneer parachutist                                        

She was Kartini with a gun – bold, brave, and determined to compete in men’s traditional areas.  First journalism - then the military. 

Herlina Kasim (right, with President Soekarno) was the only female parachuted into the Papua jungle behind the colonialists’ lines.  This was during the 1961-62 Trikora (Tri Komando Rakyat - strategy for mobilizing the nation) campaign led by General Soeharto who later became the Republic’s second president.
The young writer turned warrior was also an exemplar of selfless patriotism. After being rewarded for her exploits by President Soekarno with a belt secured by a half-kilo gold clasp she was known as Srikandi Pending Emas (the gold buckle heroine).
Then she astonished the nation again by giving the prize back to the Palace.
She explained her gesture by saying that fighting for her country was honor enough and that the State needed the money for development.
When she died earlier this year from diabetic complications aged 75 her passing was little noticed. 
As a feminist she was way ahead of her time, a tomboy before the term became acceptable. In early photos she looks self assured as though wearing khaki was as natural as a floral dress. In one group she audaciously thrusts hands in pockets.
Herlina was born in Malang, East Java in 1941, the third of six children. Only one was a boy. After completing basic high schooling in Jakarta she left home in search of adventure in the Moluccas. It’s not known why she wanted to put about 3,500 kilometers between herself and her family.
In Ternate she worked as a journalist on a weekly paper and got involved in anti-colonialism campaigns.  It was a time of gross chauvinism.
Emboldened by shipments of Russian weapons and the backing of so-called ‘non-aligned states’, Soekarno started Trikora to wrest Irian Jaya from the Dutch.  Western diplomats thought the real purpose was to divert attention from a collapsing economy.
Volunteers were sought to fight behind enemy lines. Herlina offered her services and must have had a silver tongue because she persuaded the generals that girls could also be guerrillas. 

This was decades before women became active combatants in Western nations, with restrictions remaining in some armies.  Last year the US finally announced that all roles are open to females.  In Indonesia women in the armed forces are usually assigned to administrative and welfare duties.
After minimal training Herlina was parachuted into Irian Jaya along with 19 men.  Like an earlier seaborne assault which turned into a rout, the drop was not a professional operation. She missed her target, was knocked unconscious and came too in a field of mud. She then set out to find her companions not knowing some had been killed.
After a week of fruitless wanderings and supplies running low she met local tribesmen and was led to a fishing village. Three weeks later Herlina was ferried to an Indonesian island. She hadn’t fired a shot or seized territory.
Trikora cost 400 Indonesian and 126 Dutch lives.  But it showed Indonesia was serious about recovering colonial territory and the Dutch no longer had the stomach for war. Under international pressure they ceded the province to the UN.  In a later referendum selected Irian leaders voted to join Indonesia. 
By then Herlina had left active duties. For a while she worked in Jakarta as an educator in the Women's Army Corps, then as a press secretary in Foreign Affairs. There are reports that she was involved in a fake news campaign during Konfrontasi when Soekarno sent in the army to oppose the creation of Malaysia, but these can’t be confirmed.
She also married and had two sons, Rigel Wahyu Nugroho (born 1962) and now a trader, and five years later Aurigea Bima Sakti who works as a commercial pilot.  Both men live in Malaysia.
“My Mom had a very strong character,” Rigel said by phone and e-mail.  “She was disciplined, straight forward yet a very humble person.  She liked to help people, especially the poor.

Herlina with son Rigel

“She hardly ever wore her army uniform but didn't tell me why. She didn’t care much about her rank - not like others.
“After she left the army she was involved in a few businesses as well as social work together with my Dad Harkomoyo.  (When Rigel was nine his Mom divorced, later remarried but had no more children.)
“In the early 70s she got involved in sports and built the Caprina Football Club.  Again it was not for business but for social activities.  It was very successful. 
“She selected about 24 junior players and gave them accommodation and education.  She also ran a club for under 14s.
“After a few years the club joined the Indonesian professional league.  It was based in Bali and renamed Caprina Bali FC.  It also had a boxing team.
“I think my Mom was the only women who had a football team in Indonesia and maybe in the world.”
Nationally Herlina kept a low profile until 2011 and the 50th Anniversary of Trikora. She reportedly asked President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to change the name of Papua back to Irian.
It seems her motive was to negate the influence of the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, Free Papua Movement) because she believed its independence campaign damaged the reputation of Trikora.  Irian Jaya became Papua in 2002.)
Herlina was laid to rest in Jakarta. Her family was offered a place in a heroes’ cemetery but she had stipulated an ordinary plot in a public graveyard.  To the end she stayed determined to do things her way.
All pictures courtesy of Rigel Wahyu Nugroho.  

(First published in The Jakarta Post 20 April 2017)

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Learning to be mates, step-by-step       
Numbers are still low and the hurdles remain high, but Dr David Reeve (right) is cautiously positive about building relationships between Indonesia and Australia through education.
The Australian academic’s optimism is not a cosy motherhood statement from a novice booster, but a hard-nosed observation from an old hand.
He believes the ceaseless predictions that Southeast Asia’s largest economy will continue to grow (the World Bank is forecasting 5.2 per cent this year against Australia’s 3 per cent) are pushing students who want to be part of the action. 
Reeve expects the drumbeat of business will draw the doers and dealers of the future to the archipelago seeking the rhythm at its source. In the past 18 months Australian government ministers have led two big trade missions to the Archipelago.
“Interest has moved away from the arts and humanities,” Reeve said. “Learning batik painting or ethnic dance can be done in spare time, as a hobby; it’s not the principal attraction. 
“Visiting Asia is no longer exotic – it has become routine for the young.  Some of these kids are miles ahead of earlier generations in relating to difference.
“The demand is in areas like economics, law, politics, development, sociology and feminism. Students want the whole experience - often taking short in-country courses and following these with work or internships. Tertiary institutions need to identify the possibilities.
“A few are already aware.  Yogyakarta’s Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) has courses in disaster management and conflict resolution attracting foreigners. In Manado (North Sulawesi) marine biology is an obvious area.  Unfortunately market research is seldom done.
“There are difficulties.  Visas to study in Singapore and Malaysia come through in two or three days. In Indonesia it can be two or three months. This has been the situation for too long.”
Reeve  is well credentialed to comment. Apart from being a Visiting Fellow at the University of New South Wales he’s also Deputy Consortium Director and Study Tour Coordinator for the Australia Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies.
This is a non-profit organization helping students enrol at Indonesian universities for one or more semesters earning credits recognized by their home institutions. Around 2,000 have used the scheme in the past two decades.
The success of ACICIS has cleared the scrub for the Australian government’s New Colombo Plan (NCP). In the past four years this has supported about 17,500 to study in more than 30 Indo-Pacific countries through ‘mobility grants’ and scholarships. (The original Colombo Plan last century helped students from ‘developing countries’ study in Australia and other Commonwealth nations.)
This year 105 won NCP scholarships.  Only 14 have chosen to study in Indonesia – most are at UGM.
Reeve says the scheme is attracting quality and another reason why he’s more plus than minus about Australians starting to better understand their northern neighbors.
The numbers are tiny when compared to Asians in lecture rooms Down Under.  This January (the latest figures available) more than 382,000 overseas students were enrolled – most from China and India. Around three per cent are Indonesians according to Australian Government statistics.
Reeve argues that Australian undergraduates who go to education institutions abroad are “opening up a new constitution and building personal contacts that will serve them well in their future careers.” 
The government promotes the NCP in similar terms:  ‘Internships, mentorships and practicums … provide students with opportunities to enhance their skills in real life situations, build cross-cultural competencies and develop professional networks that can last a lifetime.’
That’s been the case for Reeve who first came to Indonesia as a diplomat.  “I’d studied French so I was sent to Jakarta,” he commented wryly.  His doctorate analysed Golkar, the government party which dominated politics under second president Soeharto’s authoritarian rule till this century – and remains a major force
He’s lived in Indonesia for eleven years, and worked at four Indonesian universities. He was a founding lecturer in the Australian Studies program at Universitas Indonesia in the 1980s.
His experience has proved the wisdom that in Indonesia personal relationships trump official positions.  Even in university rector’s suites visitors can be asked about the offspring of their loins ahead of inquiries about intellectual output.
“Few campuses have built bilateral relationships that last,” said Reeve. “Australian universities have files of MOU (memorandum of understanding) that are going nowhere.  It’s very hard for head offices to make these work and maintain the links.
“Inter-campus relationships that are a success tend to come about at the departmental level where the bureaucracy is not so obstructive and where dynamic individuals operate through friendships built over the years.  There are signs this reality is being recognised.”
Because such deals are powered by committed individuals flying low they seldom get noticed and promoted by government publicity machines.

Vicki Richardson (left), Dean of Languages at the private co-educational Tranby College in Western Australia is an example.  In 2010 she set up an exchange program with a school in Surabaya.  The arrangement flourished.
Building on her contacts she is now English Coordinator in Senior State Schools in East Java.  It’s a volunteer position she created herself with support from the local government which provides a car, a driver and an advisor.
Richardson visits schools across the province that are below the national standards in English.  Sometimes backed by students from Australia she helps teachers with second language classroom strategies and encourages learners to build conversational confidence.
 Few instructors in state schools have visited English-speaking countries so have limited understanding of daily language use. They rely on grammar-based pedagogy which tends to bore.
Richardson hopes her initiative will be recognised, supported and expanded by the Australian government now she has shown what’s possible.

Reeve agreed, but concedes that the “signs remain mixed” regarding relationships between the Republic and its southern neighbor. 
An outrage like the 2002 Bali bombing or clashes of policy, like Australia’s involvement in Timor Leste’s independence could uproot the path that’s been laid.  Nonetheless Reeve stays smiling. “Anxiety levels are dropping,” he said. “Green shoots are starting to appear.”

(First published in Strategic Review 14 April 2017)

Monday, April 10, 2017


Those were the days                                                 

Indonesia is an historian’s mother lode – a vein of dazzling riches.
From the bloodletting and intrigue of the Majapahit dynasty to the adventures and betrayal of Prince Diponegoro through to building a nation; the mix of mystery and fact continues to yield high quality ore. Some stories feature European adventurers.
Probably the most famous was K’tut Tantri, aka Surabaya Sue, aka Muriel Walker, the Scottish-American Bali hotelier who supported the nationalists.  Tortured by the Japanese she became a broadcaster and speech writer for Soekarno. and told some of her past in Revolt in Paradise. Though not all. 
Less famous and less coy is John Coast though his past is almost as fantastic. Had his biography Recruit to Revolution (first published in 1952) not been reissued by a reputable publisher and edited by scholar Dr Laura Noszlopy it might have been considered suspect.
Coast’s story starts in pre-war Britain where he worked as a bored bank clerk who loved to watch ballet. He enlisted and was sent to defend Singapore two weeks before it fell.
As in The Lunchbox film about the Dabbawallahs of Mumbai ‘sometimes you have to get on the wrong train to get to the right station’. 
For more than three years Coast toiled on the 418 kilometer Death Railway linking Thailand with Burma.  He slaved with thousands of European prisoners and maybe up to 300,000 romusha, conscripted Indonesians; he found them more likeable than the ‘blackguard’ Dutch. 
Despite the appalling conditions (about a third of the workers died) Coast spent his time usefully.  He discovered Balinese dance and organised performances to entertain the men. 
He also studied Dutch and Malay, arousing suspicion as he had the ‘fantastic idea’ of Indonesian independence. Instead of crying in his cups during the long sea voyage home after release he wrote about his experiences. Railroad of Death was published in 1946 and did well. Coast mixed with Indonesians in London and assembled a Javanese dance group to stage tours.

 Coast helped his friends agitating to get the Dutch out of the East Indies through cultural activities, translations and lobbying. Although Independence had been declared after the Japanese surrender the colonialists had returned and were engaged in a guerrilla war.
During this time Coast met key players including the Moscow go-between Suripno and the Sorbonne-educated economist Sumitro Joyohadikusumo, who later became Minister of Finance. He and Coast were the same age – both born in 1917.
 According to Noszlopy’s introduction, Joyohadikusumo was also associated with the Socialist Party of Indonesia.  The reminder may not please his son, failed presidential aspirant Prabowo Subianto now Gerindra Party boss.
The closest Coast could get to Indonesia was the British Embassy in Bangkok. He was supposed to be handling public relations but spent time developing contacts with Indonesians.  He quit after a year to work for the new Indonesian government. Coast claimed his former employer considered him ‘unstable’ and a ‘nutcase’.
Long before security clearances and plastic name tags hampered adventurers, oddballs like Coast could get into what he called ‘the thick of things’. He was also a speedy learner, prepared to adapt and dilute his personal beliefs. Keen to be seen as egalitarian in the post-colonial era he wore shorts and walked. 
A Javanese friend who understood the protocols of appearances trumping abilities offered advice: Wear long trousers and a tie; use a car; mix only with top officials and wear glasses to look older.  The ploys worked and Coast then got treated with respect.
His job was organising clandestine flights of goods and guns into Indonesia past the Dutch blockade which was making the Republic a ‘dirty, shabby, isolated, barren, vicious-minded place.’
American pilots flew old Dakotas from Thailand to Bukittinggi and Jambi in Sumatra, and Yogyakarta.  To earn money the revolutionaries exported opium – another awkward piece to fit into the jigsaw of the nation’s history.
Coast met the leaders of the new government and was impressed with their qualities. He formed a close relationship with Agus Salim who cleverly organised support for the new Republic from Arab states using his credentials as an Islamic scholar.
Coast accompanied the Indonesian delegation to the 1949 Round Table Conference in The Hague which led to the Dutch withdrawal from Indonesia.  He was then smart enough to realise his job had been done and there was no place for a foreigner in the new nationalism. 
He moved to Bali to become a concert promoter taking an Indonesian dance troupe called Peliatan (named after a village near Ubud) on a successful tour to Britain and the US.
Coast wrote about his experiences in Dancing out of Bali and for some time was seen as an Indonesian expert. He worked with people like the naturalist film producer Sir David Attenborough on BBC documentaries. Coast’s essay on East-West relationships ( is as relevant today as it was when written in the 1950s.
What this book doesn’t say is that Coast had allegedly been a pre-war fascist and Nazi sympathiser, a background only recently revealed through the release of official papers.
The omission is strange as the information was published in 2015 – and also because Coast was later linked to left-wing activists and causes. Although allegedly of interest to the MI5 spy agency Coast was never arrested though some friends were jailed.
Two years ago Britain’s Express tabloid commented that ‘it is unlikely they (Attenborough and other celebrities) would have wanted much to do with him (Coast) if they had any inkling of the depth of his anti-Semitic fanaticism.’
Was this true – or a Dutch intelligence smear? Fortunately Indonesians saw the man for what he was – a genuine anti-colonialist with the determination to help the new nation through his skills and contacts. Coast married a Javanese (Supianti) and died in 1989, and as the conservative newspaper reluctantly notes, with his reputation intact
Recruit to Revolution                                                                                                                             by John Coast, edited by Laura Noszlopy                                                                                         NIAS Press 2016      

(First published in The Jakarta Post 10 April 2017)                                                                                                                                  

Wednesday, April 05, 2017


Seeing the bigger need       

Blind supporters of the Arema Football Club
Few came alone to the birthday bash.
Pairs seemed mismatched, little kids and older men, mothers and adult daughters, relatives and friends holding hands though not side-by-side. More often one person was being led in front or steered from behind with a shoulder grip.
They shuffled uncertainly into the hall even though the welcomes were genuine, the seats prepared and the chocolate cream cake looked splendidly yummy.  All to celebrate the tenth birthday of Pamitra, the association representing blind people in Malang.
Though lunchboxes were bakery-warm the invitees carefully sniffed every banana-leaf package.  Not for freshness, but identification.
There was an energetic band with boisterous back-up singers; the amplifier man ensured everyone within a kilometer knew a special show was underway for some special people.

“Please don’t treat us as though we are stupid,” said former educator Erni Suliati (left with mother Mestika). ”We may not be able to see like you but that doesn’t mean we’re not capable. We can do more than just manual work.”
However in Indonesia there’s a tradition which slots the blind into performing music or becoming a pijat tunanetra a traditional masseur. Some seek a broader choice; Suliati, 38, was an elementary school teacher before brain tumor surgery two years ago went wrong and robbed her of sight.
“I can still care for my two children though I depend on my mother, Mestika, to help me get around,” Suliati said. “I don’t blame anyone for what’s happened.  This is a test for me.”
It was the same with other handicapped celebrants; whatever misfortune had brought them to this point in life they faced the future with resignation, frequently saying that their blindness was from God – so what could they do?  It was a response that litigious Westerners seeking someone or something to blame might find difficult to fathom.
Told of the situation in Australasia where the disabled are paid a regular allowance and given access to special training and facilities, the blind and their carers reacted not with envy or disbelief but wan smiles. This was the stuff of fantasy, like trips to Mars.
“There are no guide dogs because Muslims are not allowed to have dogs,” said helper Puji Rahayu. “Some people have canes but the sidewalks aren’t suitable.”  The smart sticks which use sonar to warn of hazards would never stop pinging on Indonesia’s cluttered and dangerous streets. Pedestrian crossing signals which beep to alert the blind would be ignored by motorists.
So reliance has to be on other people. Rahayu only became aware of the need when a neighbor turned blind.  So she started leading him to shops.  “I’m OK and have a good life and business,” she said. “When I understood his situation I thought it was my responsibility to help.”

That man is Hendro Setiawan (right) and now head of Pamitra. His wife is also blind; their two sighted children are committed to school so for special events he calls on Rahayu.
“As a community we care for each other in many ways, though it would be better with more government help and our own meeting place,” he said. “We even organize futsal the five-a-side indoor soccer.” (The ball makes a jangling sound and players shout their intent).
Pamitra’s network includes becak (pedicab) drivers who are understanding and patient for some members are doubly disabled like Anis Hidayati, 29. She was born blind and later turned deaf. If her doctors know why, they haven’t told their patient.

Hidayati’s father died when she was three so she relies on her stoical Mom Musyarofah (left).  Now aged 60 the position has reversed and she depends on the income her daughter earns through massages using a table and training provided by the local government.  Sometimes Hidayati makes Rp 30,000 (about US $2.40) a day.
To be more independent and communicate with clients Hidayati carries a card where the alphabet has been written in capital letters with the shapes pricked out beneath, a home-made version of Braille. The sighted person asks questions by holding Hidayati’s finger and touching the letters to spell words.
Her mother bought a wrist watch with raised digits over the numbers so she can tell the time. There are now handphones on the market with similar markings.
“Everyone wants to be successful but my destiny is to a masseur,” said Achmad Jazuli, 60.  “I hope that someone develops a device to tell the value of rupiah notes.  I have to ask friends to tell me how much I have.”
The principal hosts for the event were the local departments of Social Welfare (Dinas Sosial) and Tax (Dinas Pendapatan) backed by a couple of small businesses. Malang Mayor Muhammad Anton was expected but failed to front.
Dinas Sosial head Pipih Trastuti said her agency was helping about 80 sightless people through training courses and gatherings like the birthday party. “People should never underestimate the handicapped,” she said. “The blind often have more acute senses, like being able to smell and hear better than you and I.
“When you can’t see a face you have to rely on voice to assess whether someone is friendly or otherwise. The blind identify me and my staff from our footsteps.”
Around 1.5 per cent of the population has a serious sight problem; that’s more than three million people. According to the World Health Organisation about half the cases are genetically transmitted or the result of accidents and diseases like glaucoma. 
The rest are caused by cataracts.  These can now be treated through relatively simple surgery, but Pamitra head Setiawan said the cost of around Rp 7 million (US $525) an eye was beyond the reach of most people at the party.
“What we also want is for society to change its mindset towards the blind,” he said.  “We can be extraordinary if we get the right support.”

First published in The Jakarta Post 5 April 2017