'Seasonal beggars' flock to Indonesia for Ramadan
Ramadan is prime time for Muslims to give charitable donations, so it's not surprising the Islamic holy month is the most lucrative season for the seasonal beggars although they are banned to enter the capital.Updated: May 16, 2012, 10:36 IST
Ramadan is prime time for Muslims to give charitable donations, so it's not surprising the Islamic holy month is the most lucrative season for beggars.
Beggars, including many old people and women with young children, have been flocking to Jakarta for the beginning of Ramadan in early September.
Last year's passage by the Jakarta City Council of a law banning beggars and street hawkers has failed to stop the beggars entering the capital of more than 12 million people. This season a small number of beggars have shifted their activity to shopping malls, traditional markets, bus and railway stations.
"Unlike previous Ramadans, now I have to move my activity over to shopping malls. I don't want to be taken off the streets by the city's law and order officers," said 45-year-old Sumina, who arrived in Jakarta at the end of August, one day before millions of Muslims in the country started to observe Ramadan by refraining from eating, drinking and sex from dawn to dusk.
Dressed in filthy looking rags, she carried a five-year-old girl using a sarong as a sling, as part of her effort to elicit sympathy from passersby.
"I can earn around 30,000 rupiah ($3.27) a day from begging. I would not get so much money if I stayed at home because I have no work," Sumina said, showing off her coins and banknotes earned after several hours of begging at Blok M, a famous shopping mall in southern Jakarta.
Many others ignored the newly-approved regulations and carried on begging on busy intersections across Jakarta.
In addition to banning beggars and street hawkers, last year's controversial bylaw on public order prohibits individuals from giving money or goods to beggars. Offenders are subject to 180 days in jail and a 50-million-rupiah ($5,645) fine.
"I prefer begging at traffic lights like this, whatever it takes," insisted Sukaesih, 38, another seasonal beggar who has been begging on a dusty and congested intersection in Jakarta during Ramadan for five years. "The most important thing for me is not the city's law and order officers but how I can get as much money as possible."
Both Suminah and Sukaesih arrived in the capital from a rural village in Indramayu district on the northern coast of West Java.
"I like Ramadan very much. This is the best month that I can make extra money so I can bring it back to my family on Eid-ul-Fitr," echoed Ida, another beggar, referring to the celebration marking the end of Ramadan.
Officials at Jakarta's social welfare office acknowledged a rising number of beggars and street hawkers coinciding with the beginning of the fasting month.
"We estimate the number will increase up to 20 per cent and that it will rise by another 20 per cent closer to Eid-ul-Fitr," said Sujadi, an official who like many Indonesians uses only one name. "They are seasonal beggars."
Raids are launched periodically to remove the newcomers from the streets and take them to shelters or back to their hometowns, Sujadi said.
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the country's highest authority on Islam, has voiced agreement with the governor of Jakarta, Fauzi Bowo, that individuals should not give to beggars, but rather distribute the money to mosques, orphanages or social foundations.
"We suggest that people not give money or other goods to beggars. We do not advocate giving alms on the roadside," said Umar Shihab, MUI's deputy chairman.
Abdul Aziz, a motorcycle taxi driver, said as a Muslim it is his obligation to fast. Ramadan helps him to improve his character, teaching him to be more tolerant and understanding toward others, especially those who might not know where their next meal is coming from.
Ramadan will continue until the end of September, ending with the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr. Similar to Christmas for Christians, Eid-ul-Fitr is a holiday bringing families together for lavish meals.
While some Jakarta residents are making a profit off Ramadan, others are suffering as a result of dramatic price increases on basic needs. The government has urged retailers not to increase their prices, insisting that food stocks are plentiful.
"I have to make extra calculations now. I have to reduce my family's dishes. No meat, no fish, just vegetables," said Marfuatun, a housewife working as a maid for a neighbouring family.
A mother of four, Marfuatun said the skyrocketing prices have forced her family members to eliminate a traditional dessert made with palm sugar and coconut milk and flavoured with banana, sweet potato or cassava to break their Ramadan fast.
"We can't afford such a dessert any longer. We have to just go with the main meal consisting of rice," she said.