The Enigma of Burning Yourself Alive

by Bramantyo Indirawan

In Ben Arous, Tunisia, Tarek-el Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi stood in front of the local governor’s office after a policewoman confiscated his fruit cart and also gave him a beating. What came next was a phenomenon that startled the world; igniting revolution and the will of social change.

Bouazizi covered himself in fuel and lit a match, burned himself alive on December 17, 2010. The 26 year old was one of the street vendors that had to pay 3 dinars of extortion everyday to sell his goods; a “lucky” one compared to many who are jobless. On the  day he committed suicide, Bouazizi could not bribe the authorities that then led to a conflict that costed him his earning. On January 4, 2011, the Sidi Bouzid born man finally died in Ben Arous Burn and Trauma Centre —  18 days after his suicide attempt.

Desperation came after the authority rejected the demand in getting his belongings back. With much dismay, the effect was powerful. The self immolation of Bouazizi triggered revolution that eventually created the Arab Spring in the Middle East. It all started in Tunisia when the 23 year rule of President Zile El Abidine Ben Ali finally ended after massive protests and even violent riots. When the unrest broke out government responded with stick and carrot approach, ranging from repression, arrests, internet shutdown to massive job offers.

It was too late, and the Tunisian Revolution went out on a full scale when protests and violence continued. On 14 January 2011, Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia — marked the assurance of the government overthrow. Such revolution generated the domino effect of uprisings across the region, started from Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Morocco to Mauritania.

It was inconceivable that the Arab Spring was precipitated by a street vendor who burned himself alive. Suicide has its reasons;  from illness, philosophical choice, to an atonement of honor like what I have mentioned before in Sword to the Stomach: Seppuku and the Case of Altruistic Suicide.

Self immolation can’t be pinned down to one reason, because it differs from one persons motive to another. While seppuku came from a long line of history and culture, the act of burning yourself alive doesn’t have any established rule. So what are the causes that made a person willingly burn himself or herself to death?

Ablaze in Cause & Effect

Written in a grey marble grave, the green Arabic scripture can be translated to ‘Martyr Mohamed Bouazizi. Peace in his life. And in the next life, have peace as well.’

Truth be told, the martyr didn’t even know what his action would bring to Tunisia and beyond. When setting himself ablaze; Bouazizi was in desperation. What we can found out in stories, interviews, or eyewitness testimony leads to one particular reason that is economy.

As a backbone who provides for his big family, Bouazizi’s frustration can be seen as an exit or a bold protest that goes to the point of no return. It is safe to say that the simple fruit seller burned himself without an agenda to overthrow the government. The economic reason of a man who kills himself triggers the climax for the nation’s social inequality, a catalyst of revolution with no political intention whatsoever — an accidental martyr.

There are cases where people willingly lit themselves on fire to make a political statement. A perfect example would be Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who burned himself alive in the intersection of Saigon, Vietnam. The year was 1963 when Quảng Đức gave his protest against the persecution of Buddhist by the Catholic Diem regime in 1963. The self immolation was later immortalized by a powerful photo of the burning monk who sits peacefully.

Self-immolation with social and political reasoning happens throughout the modern age. After Quảng Đức thought provoking protest, there are those who imitate his way to deliver a political message. Norman Morisson from Pennsylvania, U. S., burned himself in 1965 to protest the Vietnam War and Jan Palach from Prague, Czezhcoslovakia set himself ablaze in 1968 to protest the invasion of Soviet Union.

What made Bouazizi different is his motives. Although he represented the Tunisian people, and did not plan anything, the fruit seller changed the social political climate indirectly. The other self-immolating individuals mentioned above had political motives right from the start, thus separating Bouazizi’s act from political “sacrifice”.

To some extent, Bouazizi act of self-immolation can be explained by Emile Durkheim theory of suicide. There are four causes of suicide in the sociologist viewpoint; egoistic that comes from a lack of belonging within a community, altruistic that happens because of highly socialized individuals and value the needs of community, anomic that lacks the regulation of individual in society, and fatalistic that position individuals in excessive moral regulation by society.

With these definitions, we can conclude that the cause of self-immolation can relate to altruistic and fatalistic suicide. In Bouazizi case, fatalistic describes it well. This type of suicide happens because of oppression, placing the policewoman and Tunisian government as the oppressor. Excessive regulation leads to a choice that ends in flames for the simple man.

Some self-immolation cases can be altruistic if they are fully aware of what they do carry a good cause they truly believe in that also happens to be the concern of society; a social or political role that eventually benefit others.

The aforementioned three self-immolation event in the sixties can be concluded as altruistic suicide since the three men took a conscious decision that will cost his own life in the name of other people well being.

What Durkheim didn’t explain is the aftermath of a suicide. Although Bouazizi’s reason behind his fatalistic suicide was a way to escape, what happens after he died was arguably the effect of an altruistic suicide. An accidental sacrifice that  connects with the people through representation of frustration  — a combination of both when the oppressed shared the same fate and connects in the altruistic ideals.

A Self Inflicting Violence

Tunisia has a majority of Muslim population that reach 99 percent including Mohamed Bouazizi, a man with a name taken from the prophet Muhammad. Although suicide  is condemned in Islam, his act did not harm anyone in the process.

He visually stunned people with violence at its worst, causing hysteria and provoking minds without physically hurting others. In contrast, there are people or groups who justify suicide bombing in the name of religion, hurting and killing people. According to Chicago Project on Security & Threats, there are about 5,430 suicide bombing attacks that kill 55,022 people since 1982 to 2016.

In the Islamic viewpoint, self-immolation and suicide attack are a fallacy that goes against the core values of religion. Cheating death is a sin and both phenomenon started with a will to kill themselves. But when we look to the external world, it differs significantly. One limits the agonizing death to his or herself and the other takes along casualties — terrorizing and inflicting fear.

Self-immolation can be complex, it’s a self inflicting violent suicide that has multiple purpose depending on the one who execute it. If we dissect the word origin, “immolation” originally meant sacrifice. Later on, the definition added the role of fire. In Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-immolation is defined as a deliberate and willing sacrifice of oneself often by fire.

The “sacrifice” that burns violent flames gets passed on from generation to generation with its own purpose. From Hindu customs such as sati that made widows burn themselves in her husband funeral pyre, Russian orthodox known as Soshigateli that enact “fire baptism”, monks that protest by self-immolation, to Bouazizi that lit a fire in desperation.

Bouazizi self-immolation is a reenactment of past practices like Quảng Đức did in the sixties that spark other protests, and a 49 year old restaurant owner Abdel-Moneim Jaafar who burned himself before the Egyptian Parliament in January 28, 2011 that led to Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.  A second coming spreads from the Middle East that include the same act by Mohsen Bouterfif, Maamir Lotfi, and Abdelhafid Boudechicha in Tunisia. Sadly enough, however, the following events do not have the powerful effect as the “first” ones, in fact, most ended up as the anti-climax.

There are still voices unheard. In Indonesia, Sondang Hutagalung committed suicide by self-immolation as a protest to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono government. The 22 year old law school student was reportedly disappointed by the human rights violation and wanted a change.

On 7 December, 2011 Sondang burned himself in front of the Presidential Palace and died three days after. Unlike Tunisia, Indonesia stayed the same without significant change. When burning yourself won’t change anything, what does it take to be heard?


Source: Tom Chesshyre, A Tourist in the Arab Spring (2013), Emile Durkheim, Le Suicide (1897), On,,,,,,,,

Famous People Hologram for Sale

[Jakarta, LTTW] Nobody can bring back the dead. With that in mind, they can still be immortalized through memories, ideas, media and other inheritance that they left on earth. Artists who sing their way throughout generations left their records for us to hear and stories that are documented to be shared over various medium.

Back in 2012, Tupac Shakur, who died in 1996, came alive in a music event called The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Topless with a cross necklace in his chest, the deceased artist performed and shared songs with living artists Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre on stage. Clearly it wasn’t really him, but the live “optical illusion” brought back the Harlem, New York born singer and astonished the festival attendees. In the 2014 Billboard Music Award, another deceased legend was brought back to live in MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas. Michael Jackson emerged in a gold jacket, white shirt, and red trousers; performing and dancing to Slave to the Rythm with 16 real life backup dancers.

Hologram USA was the mastermind behind these two stage acts. As the name indicate, they claim hologram as the main technology that brings back the dead artists. With permission by families of the dearly departed, the company can resurrect artists to please and shock audiences. Regarding the hologram itself, it’s actually a different technology called Pepper’s Ghost and it has been around since 19th century. Improvements were made by Hologram USA using high-quality video projection technology that combines motion capture technology with 3D computer-generated imaging (CGI).

Fast forward to 2018, the Hologram USA Theater stand proud in Hollywood, Los Angeles—showcasing dead artists such as Billie Holiday. The American Jazz singer and songwriter who died in 1959 sings nine times a day in a 40 minutes show. Of course she will never be tired because it’s only a projection of the famed singer. It is clear that the “hologram” displayed in the theater is for entertainment purpose, otherwise they wouldn’t charge admission tickets. But what makes this technology more useful and can move forward is the “reachability” that it can be bring to the masses.

We can see the ideal purpose of this projection technology as a way to document someone with importance, sharing their lives to those who put interest, remembering a legacy, or simply breaking boundaries by giving a near life experience with them. The technology is also morally acceptable as long as it still honors the artists reputation. On the other hand, technology can be a product of its own. By sharing and inspiring people through this projection technology, interests will arise from the masses. When Tupac performed in 2012, the company behind the stunt was included in the highlight and a box full of opportunities was left open.

By showing what the digital projection technology can do, people can use or improve it for other reasons. Demand keeps coming and even the living are also utilizing it. In 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi partnered with MDH Hologram and used Pepper’s Ghost method for his electoral campaign—rallying his supporters in more than 1,500 locations. Adrénaline Studio also joined the bandwagon by projecting the French president candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in Paris and Lyon at the same time in February 2017. Campaigning to gain voters for the election, he continued the gimmick in April with wider broadcast from Dijon to 7 other places in France.

This just goes to show that technology can also be a commodity that sells. Hologram USA started with a bang by resurrecting Tupac and Michael Jackson, but afterwards they also sell their patented technology. As stated in the official website, everyone can buy Hologram USA Eyeliner, the main set of tools and system that can project people—dead or alive.

The improved Pepper’s Ghost can immortalize people in an effective way, but it also has the same principle of watching movies and documentaries or screens that are played live in concerts. The future is visual, we will see and of course buy what comes ahead.



Stephen Hawking: Returning to the Universe he called Home

[Jakarta, LTTW] Recently the world lost one of the most beloved men of science who constantly questions the universe. Stephen William Hawking passed away at the age of 76 in Cambridge, United Kingdom. The cosmologist was known for his work on black hole, furthering general relativity, and quantum gravity.

Perhaps one of his biggest contributions to mankind is how he successfully reintroduces natural and formal science to the “ignorant majority”—making black hole and big bang as parts of the popular culture. In 1988, A Brief History of Time was published to the world and placed itself as one of the bestselling book of all time. In the book that stood for 237 weeks on Times of London bestseller list, Stephen Hawking explains numerous concepts such as universe, space and time, black holes, and even time travel.

Hawking concludes in the 256-page book; that by principle everyone including philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people can be able to take part in the discussion of why we and the universe exist. He was indeed an author; tackling universe, inviting us to question and answer it together. An “artist” who shows us the wonders of physics and what it can bring to the world.

One of the best minds of our time, Hawking had an exceptional ability to visualize complex concepts and ideas of physics into his head and simplify it. As a scientist he held the honorary Fellow of Royal Society of Arts (FRSA), received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the U.S.A, and was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematic (a position widely known to scientists as the Newton’s Chair, supposedly the most prestigious “chair” in the science world) at the University of Cambridge. He also had several other publications, with The Grand Design (2010) as one of his last books he co-authored.

Behind the brain there is the persona of a man. Sitting on a wheelchair with his head slightly tilted, he spoke with a speech-generating device to verbalize everything in his mind and answers any questions. A Briton who had to suffer amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) from 1963 at the age 21 that progressively paralyze him. The doctor even predicted that Hawking would only have two years to live since the diagnosis, but as we all know, he had lived and contributed for decades before finally passed away. The iconic scientist was also known as a loving family man with a penchant for humor. He once said that it would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love. Hawking’s children, Lucy, Robert, and Tim remembered him as a man with inspiring brilliance and sense of humor .

Some others will also recall him from his humor, which he also acknowledged. “I have developed a desire to make the most of each an every minute. Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival. As has been maintaining a sense of humor,” said Hawking in the documentary Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Mine. Becoming one with popular culture, Hawking also arrange a time traveller’s party, transformed into a cartoon on the popular television show The Simpson, and even played poker with Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The man who was born on Galileo’s death and died on Einstein’s birthday was all that he can be; a cosmologist, theoretical physicist, an author, a family man, a husband, a dad, a grandfather, a brother, a teacher, a student, a curios and critical character, a persistent person, and a humorous man who try to make sense of the universe. Farewell Professor Hawking, we wish you a thrilling journey into the eternal that perhaps would lead you to countless amazing discoveries.



A Tale of the Meme Generation

by Bramantyo Indirawan

Once upon a time, the internet was born into the modern world and change it for better or worst. Robert E. Kahn and Vinton Cerf, the fathers of Internet, developed Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) for the communication model and set standards of how data can be transmitted within multiple networks.

Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, adopted TCP/IP on January 1, 1983. After that defining moment, the blueprint was made and researchers began to assemble the “network of networks” and eventually took the form of modern Internet as we know it today.

With just a click away, we can learn something new and explore the vast data the internet has to offer. From Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, facts about Borobudur Temple, to lessons on how to draw a simple picture or how to replicate the Monalisa.

In the midst of it all, meme spread itself like wildfire. Meme is  a phrase(s) or a word(s) that seems to appear from somewhere and no one really knows who makes it in the first place, even though it is traceable. It can take in many forms: a photo of a grumpy cat, an edited 9/11 footage that envokes dark humour, a joke in the  form of 80s music video, a brief scene from a movie or television show, and fictional horror stories are the examples of an internet meme.

Yes, we can find an array of seemingly limitless information online. Internet meme itself can spread ideas that manifest into photos, videos, stories, or other forms that also spreads in the internet; side by side with other information such as news and scientific papers and articles.

Although there are some sites that can’t be accessed by minors due to age restriction, most of the information in the internet including memes are accessible to anyone; from younglings to elders.

The meme generation is molded into this world where anything can be shared. It could give different effect: it could be bad if the content is inappropriate, such as taunting a disabled person, but it could be good if it is entertaining and brings laughter and happiness and it also can be both – when people laugh at a disabled person, thus blurring the definition of morality.

Arguably, meme could be nothing. It’s neither bad nor good. It is a meaningless thought that “replicate itself” in the human mind that brings people to a state of nowhere.

Stabbed Because of Memes

Two reasons internet memes can be entertaining are because of their humorous nature and they relate to people. Hence, people share it, and became viral.

But meme can also has an unexpected, troubling impact. One meme that tells a fictional horror story could trigger two 12-year old girls to kill their schoolmate in Milwaukee, United States.

The meme is called Slender Man, a story about a tall and thin blank face creature wearing a suit. He can stretch or shorten his arms and have tentacles protruding from his back. The creature was created in an internet forum on 10th June 2009  by Eric Knudsen and replicate itself, becoming an internet myth.

Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser took interest in Slender Man after they learned about the creature in Creepypasta Wiki, a website dedicated to horror-related legends and images. Apparently, they came to believe that the Slender Man was real and wanted to prove their loyalty to him so they could become his followers, prove his existence, and prevent him from harming their families.

The two believed that the only way they could become the Slender Man’s followers was to murder someone, so they attempted to kill their schoolmate, Payton Leutner, in a forest on the 31st May of 2014.

After they stabbed Leutner 19 times with a 13cm kitchen knife, Weier and Geyser fled the area. Leutner miraculously survived the horrendous attack after a cyclist found her in a ditch nearby the forest where they stabbed her. The underage murderers were finally caught and claimed they were mentally ill at the time. In 25th December 2017, Weier was sentenced to 25 years in a mental hospital while Geyser is still waiting for persecution.

Although both the receiver and the content is responsible for this gruesome mess in the forest of Wisconsin, it also shows how a superficial meme have a serious and troubling impact on real life. The randomness, shallowness, and the lack of “real” lessons that memes has to offer can make a simple joke or cheap thrills into an abomination.

Apart from triggering a homicide, creators of internet memes often stole pictures of other people and put inapropriate text to it only to amuse the crowds. Case in point, Heidi Crowter. Crowter is a girl with down-syndrome whose photo was once exploited and became a meme, captioning her disability. Her mother acted out against this vile attempt and tried to fight the internet, only to get attacked herself in a form of a meme.

If we separate the internet meme such as Slender Man and the stabbing case, we still have internet meme as a form of media or content that doesn’t stand as anything with depth or morals. Although it has proven to be a communication tool; expressing thoughts and even mental illness such as depression, it is still just a shallow replicant with no clear function and meaning whatsoever.

Internet Meme vs. Everything Else

Before the internet came to flourish, an evolutionary biologist named Richard Dawkins coined the term meme on his book titled The Selfish Gene (1974). According to the Briton, meme is the spread of ideas, tunes, behaviour, or style from person to person within a culture.

“Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation,” wrote Dawkins in his first published book.

The word meme itself derived from the Greek word mimeme, meaning ‘to which is replicated’. Dawkins also thinks that it could alternatively be thought of as being related to “memory”, or the French word même.

To some extent, there are parallels and similarities between his proposed theory and the internet meme. Both replicate itself from people to other people and stuck into their brain and the form is more or less the same; from ideas such as fictional stories, tunes such as songs, and behaviour such as a viral dance move.

Although they both has the same characteristics, we must separate both meme and internet meme. Meme comes from an argument that emphasize another replicant in human other than genes and can spread to any medium.

Meanwhile internet meme differentiate itself by successfully transcend into the mainstream and use the word “meme” as a category of popular consumption for the masses. It chooses a media that spreads at a fast rate and linger on people minds. People pass it around, share it on different social media platforms, post it for likes while hoping that it will relate to everyone, fishing for attention, and distract yourself from the real problems; the meme generation is here to stay.

Luckily, there is always a way to be rid of this aimless endeavor: steer away from the mindless internet meme and open your horizon to meaningful ideas that matter.

We can argue that stories with a set of values and morals stand opposite the internet meme because the depth that it brings. When growing up, children learn simple but fundamental lessons such as good or bad, the importance of working hard, to follow your dreams, crime does pay, and be kind to others from stories told by their parents.

A valuable guided* lesson is given when parents read their children stories before going to bed or other occasion like teaching them how to listen, read, and speak,  preparing them for the real world.

Even some myth can give us lessons due to the moral values contained in it. In Myth: It’s Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures (1970), Geoffrey Kirk defines myth as tales that have been passed down from generation to generation and embedded in their tradition.

In addition to that, myths usually address daunting themes such as creation, life, death, and answer major life questions. “Myths often include deities and other supernatural beings in their list of characters, and they may tell cosmic events such as the birth of the universe” wrote Josepha Sherman in his book titled Storytelling: An Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore (2008).

Take a look at Greek mythology; the stories are rich in teachings and moral values. The story of Pandora opening a box that shouldn’t be opened teaches us about temptation, the moral of value of Sisyphus is bad deeds will ultimately lead to punishment, and Hercules’ 12 feats shows us how a good life can be accomplished if we can prove our worth.

The Indian mythology Mahabrata tells a classic, epic war between good and evil and its consequences. Indonesian myths mostly tell stories about supernatural or spiritual beings such as Nyi Roro Kidul who rules the sea. Obviously, stories are not limited to myth only.

Folklore serves the same functions as mythology. The lessons that unfold in the story can inspire people to do good and grow up with “pillars” of morals that make them stand strong.

Archer Taylor in Folklore and the Student of Literature, as quoted by Mazhar-ul –Islam, says that folklore is the material that is handed down by tradition either by word of mouth or for custom and practice. It can take in various forms of folk literature and art, such as:  folksong, folktales, riddles, proverbs, and so on.

Indonesia, obviously, has its own folklore (which is called “dongeng” or “cerita rakyat” in Indonesian language). Some of the notable ones are Bawang Putih Bawang Merah, that tells the struggle of a woman who finally finds happiness, Malin Kundang teaches people to be good to their parents, and Roro Jonggrang teaches us to never cheat or lie. All these tales teach people moral values to be implemented in their daily life.

When technology takes over, children are remain guided by their parents but not with the means of stories since televisions, smartphones, and tablets take over that role. Those gadgets provide attractive audio visual to keep children busy. Actually, it is not completely bad since the programs still contain educational and moral lessons. However, as they grow up and become more adept at technology, they will be more exposed to internet memes.

Without value or morals to stand on, internet memes will sip into the minds of children, where they ‘consume’ it for everyday entertainment as their means of communication. Critical thinking is a basis for how we see the world and the process of consuming a worthwhile content like stories can prepare us for this.

It doesn’t mean that we can’t laugh off a joke that an internet meme gave us, but if it is the only thing that fill the space of our mind, isn’t that troubling? Balance is the key.

Whether we like it or not the meme generation flourishes. If internet memes survived throughout the ages and passed on from generation to generation, will it became a myth too? A modern myth of nonsense that is. Internet meme is here to stay and replicate itself into a daze of confusion.

*  According to Sacred Bridge Foundation, one of the most fundamental elements in storytelling is the guidance element. This element emanates from the nature of storytelling, in which the storyteller and his or her listeners have a face-to-face communication.



Women Against the Odds

[Jakarta, LTTW] First thing first, although a little late, Happy International Women’s Day! It is very important for us to mull over and appreciate the role of women in establishing and nurturing human’s life in the frame of equality. The last estimate from World Bank (2017) suggests that the percentage between the number of women and men is more or less equal: 49.6% women and 50.4% men. However, in terms of the role and involvement in formal employment, women are still minorities, especially in the Middle East. Apart from being outnumbered, women often receive unfair treatment in the workplace, be it in terms of income, appreciation, and recognition.

Gender inequality is actually a ridiculous notion; how could mankind be able to build a life without the existence of women? Not only is it ridiculous, gender inequality should have never existed in the first place. We should be appalled and amazed to see the patience and tenacity of women in facing this life. Amidst injustice (and also danger), women will always have their own warriors who relentlessly fight for changes, for mankind. They are the dual minority with the heart of steel who envision a better future .

Women Activists: Risking Their Lives Above All Else

The world is dealing with numerous unpleasant events such as war, refugee crisis, terrorism, mass killing, education system that has been moving away from ethics, famine, and environmental degradation due to human activities. It is not surprising if many have said the “civilization is crumbling.” To respond those issues, many women have stepped in and acted. Yes, act! That’s why they are called activists. Principally, there are two things that one must understand to define activism. First, direct action. It means one would act voluntarily by directly countering the issue at hand. Quoting Sacred Bridge Foundation Chairman, Serrano Sianturi, changes can only happen on the ground, underlining the importance of “doing real things.”

The second, they do it for the greater good. An activist fights for others, to fix all things that she/he deems not right and harm many people. Therefore, becoming an activist means becoming a minority, because not everyone would “sacrifice” their life for the sake of others. Becoming an activist demands a great sense of care and courage. Many of them have to “sacrifice” their entire life, some even ended tragically.

Bertha Caceres (1972-2016) and Gauri Lankesh (1962-2017) are two of the daring activists who lost their life because of the idealism that they fought for. Bertha Caceres, a Honduran environmental and indigenous activist was murdered because she stood in the way between the government and multinational companies in the transaction of the land belonging to her ancestors. Gauri Lankesh, an Indian activist and independent journalist was murdered because she bravely fought and criticized the far-right wing of Hindu Nationalist in India.

Another risk-taking activist is Norma Andrade, a Mexican, who has fought against human trafficking run by big cartels. Her loud voice gave her a few bullets in her body. Norma Andrade was a mother whose daughter was kidnapped and eventually killed by cartels. With her bravery, she fights relentlessly against those cartels so no one would be their next victim . No one could have stopped her – even the world joins her in the combat against the cruel cartels. These are the reasons why we wrote about women activists. Let’s be honest, being dual minority, doing double job (working and being moms), and facing danger at the same time have put them in an extreme situation in which most of us would not dare to enter.

Their legacy and aspirations have both directly and indirectly inspired many young women who also take their path. One of them is Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani young activist awarded by the prestigious Noble Prize for her courage in fighting for the rights of women and children to go to school amid the no-mercy attitude of the draconian Taliban regime. Besides Malala, there are more young activists who also battle for a greater good.

The Young Generation

Tahani Salih

A portrait by Tri Prasetyaningtyas

Mosul, Iraq, has been overwhelmed with problematic matters. Not only has the city been under the control of IS for three years, but this place also gives very little space for women to speak and express their opinions.

Tahani Salih, 27, is a young activist from Mosul who tirelessly confronts those issues. Trained and supported by Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) – one of the new groups of Mosulite activists – Tahani Salih held a cultural event not long after IS was defeated. This event was aimed to rebuild the hopes of Mosul, as well as to rekindle the spirit of Mosulites to regain freedom, hopes, and dreams. This event offered variety of programs, from the restoration of Mosul University Library, painting exhibition, music performance, photography, festival and cross-gender soccer tournament. She also empowers women to stand up and speak out. As quoted by BBC, Tahani claimed, “People need to know that being a girl is not shameful.” She also argues that the culture of fear and repression is “the very condition that helped IS come in.”

Sacred Bridge Foundation (SBF), a not-for-profit organization focusing on cultural cultivation, views that human empowerment is often overlooked. When it took part in Aceh rehabilitation after the devastating tsunami in 2005, it saw that most organizations gave their supports in terms of the tangibles – food and drinks, medicines, shelters, restoring damaged buildings, and so on. Realizing that these tangible needs had been fulfilled, SBF decided to focus itself in exercising psycho-therapeutic healing for the survivors so that they can start establishing a strong sense of self-reliance despite their suffering. Utilizing Acehnese own cultural wisdom and manifestations, the organization reintroduced and reconnected the survivors with their precious roots to develop sensibility and (re)discover their history, identity, and enshrouded vernacular knowledge – an attempt that was later proven instrumental.

Sonita Alizadeh

In Middle East, gender inequality remains the part of women’s life. This is why women are considered as “property” rather than men’s counterpart. It’s no surprise if marriage turns out to be a “business” transaction.

Take a look at what happened to Sonita Alizadeh, a rapper from Afghan. She was yet to be 18 years young when she was almost “sold” by her family so they could raise money for her brother’s wedding. She bravely rebelled; the last rap song entitled “Brides for Sale” is her way to protest the situation. To this day, Sonita keeps on fighting her battle to eliminate forced marriage and child marriage culture.

Sonita Alizadeh shows us the role of arts in society; how art is “alive”, and influential to our life. Sonita has yet to change the world through her music, but she had managed to transform her family’s point of view on forced marriage. That’s actually how arts work: it starts from the inner circle, then gradually expanding. There are other senior women activists that also work in music, namely Joan Baez, Ani DiFranco,  Riot Grrrl Movement, and Beverly Bond.

In our view, art is, and shall ever be political (see “Music is an Art because it’s Political”). Art, in its many forms, has been born due to challenge socio-political events. Music genres such as rock, punk, grunge, and breaking emerged as the musical manifestations of society’s shared critical responses toward unsound and degrading political mores.

Payal Jangid

A portrait by Tri Prasetyaningtyas

In Rajasthan village, India, poor families often prefer to send their underage children into marriage instead of to school. A 17-year old Payal Jangid has had every intention to change that. She has actively advocated children’s rights to combat child marriage through education. Her routine includes visiting families to educate them about the importance of education to parents. Payal Jangid efforts finally came to fruition; the villagers heard her and turned to support her. In fact, more and more adults would come to her if ever needed advice. Together with adults and children, she has turned the village into a child-friendly one.

To our parent organization, the solemn mission of education is to materialize the ideals, thus people from early age need to be equipped with morality, courage, uncompartmentalized knowledge and proper skills so that they will be capable of bouncing back and rising above any occasion.  

Melati & Isabel Wijsen

A portrait by Tri Prasetyaningtyas

A study conducted by NOAA/Woodshole Sea Grant suggests that it takes more or less 450 years for a plastic bottle to degrade. Unfortunately, plastic has become an everyday item and people treat them as if they are easily broken down. Now, plastic has overwhelmed our planet, both on land and ocean. Bali, the Island of Gods, is no exception.

Melati and Isabel Wijsen are sisters from Bali, Indonesia. They managed to bring the government of Bali to sign the free plastic bags program in the region that is expected to be in effect this year. It all began when they ran a campaign titled “Bye Bye Plastic Bags” in 2013. They invited people of their age to clean up the beach from plastic bags, started an online and offline petition to say no to plastic bags. They also visited schools to promote the use of alternative materials for bag such as paper, net, and other organic materials made by local craftsmen. They even went as far as having a hunger strike. Let’s not looking just at their today’s accomplishment, let us observe and re-question what was actually their greatest achievement in this matter? Well, it is what makes activism exist in the first place: assemble conscience and courage to take the first step of action.

Based on our observation in recent years, Bali urgently needs this kind of initiative, since we have noticed a growing trend that one day may wipe one of (ancestral) environment-friendly qualities in Balinese culture. Prior to their holy “Seclusion Day”, Balinese undertake a ritual to exorcise evil spirits. People parade the streets with giant puppets made of used and degradable materials found in their neighborhoods. These puppets are disposed, with no designated area, as soon as the parade is over; it’s quite OK since the materials are easily degraded.

The making of the puppets is in itself a social ritual in which everyone in the neighborhood participates anyway they can. Today, such ritual begin to disappear. Their modern day jobs in making a living limit their availability to do so. Outsourcing is the solution. The puppet making is “subcontracted” to commercial contractors. As a result, most puppets they produce are made of Styrofoam, a material that would need a few centennials to decompose. Now that’s a different ball game! So Bali certainly needs more activists like Melati and Isabel Wijsen.

The BuSSy Project

A portrait by Tri Prasetyaningtyas

Tahani Salih challenge gender inequality by organizing cultural events, while Sonita Alizadeh uses music as her means of protest.

Let’s check out BuSSy, a performing arts project originated in Egypt in which storytelling is utilized as a means to combat gender inequality and other social issues. This Art Project includes workshops and storytelling performances in which people can tell their horrifying experiences that happened to them like rape, discrimination, forced marriage, honor killing, child abuse, and other eerie stories.

This Arts Project was initiated in 2006 by two students of American University of Cairo (AUC) who told their stories about growing up as women in Egypt. According to their website, “The monologues, which were by women, for women, exposed real women’s stories and provided a space for free expression on issues that society often failed to address.” In year 2010, BuSSy Project expanded its coverage by accommodating their space not only for women, but also men. This step was taken to cover both sides of the story.

Storytelling is indeed a powerful means. Similar to BuSSy Project, Afro-Americans had relied on storytelling to pass down their folklore to the next generation in the 16th/17th century slavery in the New Land of the Americas. They were not allowed to bring any possession from their native land such as musical instruments, clothes, etc. In this bitter period, folklore had become instrumental to African people because it was the only thing that they could “carry” (read: “The Church and Afro-American Music”). While BuSSy Project utilizes storytelling to open up, defeat injustice and voice identity, the African slaves utilized it to create a tranquil realm in the reality of inhumane slavery.

Mother: The Sacred Word and Role.

How would we imagine a world without a mother? The only picture we have is no doubt that there would be no world. Most women in the world would be mothers one day, including these young activists. According to Jakob Bachofen, a Swiss anthropologist, mother is the most primordial bond in human life. Mother also symbolizes the core of life; our planet is called Mother Earth, just in case you are not aware of it.

Mother represents and simultaneously exercises equal rights due to their natural unconditional love, regardless what gender her child is. Mother is also the most courageous being since they would do anything, including risking her life, in bringing up her child. Mother is an activist by nature; it’s a noble role necessary in human life, and a role forever unmatched by man.


English Translation by Riri Rafiani