Indonesian film explores trauma of 1998 riot victims

Tue Jul 1, 2008 4:40am EDT
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By Olivia Rondonuwu and Sugita Katyal

JAKARTA (Reuters) - A new Indonesian film puts the spotlight on the sensitive issues of racism and rape involving the minority Chinese community during the bloody riots that led to the downfall of former President Suharto 10 years ago.

At one level, the movie "May" is a simple story about a fictional Chinese-Indonesian woman raped during the May 1998 riots when more than 1,000 people were killed in Jakarta.

Most who died were trapped in burning buildings, as mobs rampaged through the streets focusing attacks on Chinese houses and shops.

But the film also explores the broader human tragedy behind the riots that broke out during the height of the Asian financial crisis.

"It is a reflection of the 1998 incident. We made the movie not only to remind people, but (because) we want this incident to never happen again," said Viva Westi, the film's director, adding that not only Chinese but everyone was the victim of the riots.

Ten years on, rights groups say people who lost family and homes are still waiting for justice while the issue of rape has never been dealt with because of the silence of the victims and the reluctance of the public to acknowledge any sexual abuse.

Thousands of Chinese Indonesians fled the country during the riots, which brought to a head years of economic and social tensions between indigenous Indonesians, called pribumi, and the ethnic Chinese.

Aside from ethnic differences, most pribumi are Muslims and most Indonesian Chinese are not, and there was also resentment over what many other Indonesians saw as disproportionate economic influence by the Chinese.   Continued...