Pengajian tinggi diperniagakan, mutu pendidikan dipermangsakan

Disiar di Merdeka Review pada 26hb Jun 2012.

Siaran iklan di panggung wayang sebelum mulanya filem untuk sebuah universiti swasta yang menawarkan huruf-huruf azimat atas selembar kertas – BA, MA, PhD – ialah sesuatu yang sangat membimbangkan. Dahulu kala, iklan yang mempromosikan minuman keras sering disajikan buat penonton/konsumer. Kini, pengajian tinggi didagangkan seperti kereta dan telefon bimbit. Penuntut IPT (dan ibu bapa) kononnya adalah “pelanggan”, kecuali hak-hak konsumer pendidikan tidak mungkin wujud kerana pendidikan tidak boleh diukur atau ditaksir. Jika penuntut tidak puas hati dengan mutu pengajian, apakah mereka dibayar kembali ganti rugi? Apakah semua penuntut IPT (dan ibu bapa) tahu langsung akan kriteria sebuah pusat pengajaran tinggi yang bermutu dan bertaraf antarabangsa?

Bagi kesemua pertanyaan di atas, saya rasa jawabnya tidak. Secara dasarnya, pintu masuk ke alam pengajian tinggi akan dibuka mengikut kemampuan kewangan, daya intelek, dan kelayakan yang lain. Namun di Malaysia, pintu masuknya banyak dan seperti sebuah medan selera, menu kursus dan IPT yang beraneka macam boleh membingungkan sang mahasiswa (dan ibu bapa). Apakah bakal mahasiswa tahu kelebihan IPT X daripada Y selain nama dan jenis kursus yang mempamerkan prestij? Apakah ibu bapa bakal mahasiswa rela menyerah puluh ribuan ringgit dalam bentuk pinjaman atau sebaliknya untuk sebuah IPT yang belum diketahui tahap kecemerlangan graduannya? Atau apakah sijil yang berhuruf azimat sahaja yang diburu?

Susulan daripada isu hutang PTPTN yang menggempar, persoalan panas pendidikan percuma sebagai penawar bisa penghutang-penghutang muda terus membakar. Mungkinkah barisan pembangkang ingin meraih watak “hero” mahasiswa dengan umpan mereka, pendidikan “percuma”? Tetapi apakah barisan pembangkang sedar akan kos pembiayaan sebuah IPT yang bertaraf antarabangsa? Dan apakah pendidikan itu benar-benar boleh dipercumakan? Parah sekali apabila peluang untuk bersambung belajar dipolitikkan untuk mengumpan undi muda. Jika kita ingatkan kembali dana berjutaan ringgit yang disalurkan untuk penubuhan sekolah-sekolah bestari yang disalahgunakan oleh pihak pengurusan dan pentadbiran untuk lawatan luar negara, kita dapati bahawa wang ringgit institusi dan pendidikan “percuma” bagi mereka yang layak mudah dibazir kerana matlamat yang terpesong dan penyelidikan yang lemah.

Bagaimana pula dengan United Kingdom, negara yang kaya dengan IPT yang terbaik di dunia dan destinasi ribuan mahasiswa Malaysia setiap tahun? Kini kerajaan Konservatif David Cameron telah menghentikan pembiayaan awam untuk pusat-pusat pengajian tinggi dan menaikkan sebanyak tiga kali ganda yuran tahunan penuntut tempatan. Kesan terhadap mutu pendidikan di IPT British akan langsung dirasai; tenaga dan bakat pengajar baru terpaksa disekat, dan kursus yang tidak menjamin keuntungan bagi pembangunan material negara seperti sastera, falsafah, dan media dibanding kejuruteraan dan sains akan diperlekehkan. Malaysia akan menjejak langkah United Kingdom jika perbadanan awam tidak menyumbang kepada pembangunan masyarakat yang saksama dari segi pendidikan.

Apabila pengajian tinggi dijadikan produk yang didagangkan semata-mata, bukan sahaja mutu pendidikan dipersia-siakan. Di sebalik fenomena penuntut yang “dipelanggankan”, ramai penuntut IPT, terumatanya IPT swasta dijadikan korban tamak haloba para “usahawan” IPT. Terdapat beberapa IPT swasta yang dilaporkan menyeleweng dan merompak secara diam-diam pinjaman PTPTN pelajar. Sesetengah penuntut IPT pula melapor penipuan nama dan pendaftaran kursus oleh pihak fakulti. Kemudahan seharian yang “basic” seperti bekalan elektrik dan air di beberapa kolej swasta yang kurang memuaskan sering dilaporkan juga.

Saya sendiri pernah menginap di asrama kolej swasta di mana bekalan elektrik dipotong setiap malam dengan sengaja untuk menjimat kos pentadbiran kolej. Pengetua kolej tersebut merupakan seorang ahli politik UMNO yang bercita-cita tinggi dan pengurus sebuah golf resort di kawasan kolej swasta tersebut. Pelajar luar negara pula sering dilayan seperti warga kasta bawahan. Selain perkauman yang berleluasa, pegawai-pegawai imigresen secara rutin menyerbu asrama pelajar luar negara IPT swasta atas pelbagai alasan yang sangat mencurigakan. Apabila pendidikan menjadi sekadar bisnes dan sebuah proses menjual-beli, pihak pengurusan IPT menjadi peniaga yang akan jarang sekali beretika.

Pendidikan bukan sebuah produk yang boleh dijual-beli. Namun sikap rakyat Malaysia yang terlalu mudah menanggap pendidikan secara prinsipnya “murni” dan secara prosesnya “diberi” seperti objek dari pengajar ke pelajar. Pendidikan, terumatanya pengajian tinggi, menyiapkan individu untuk berfikir dengan kritis sebelum melangkah ke dunia bukan sekadar sebagai pekerja, tetapi sebagai dewasa yang berpengetahuan luas. Universiti adalah institusi pengetahuan tertinggi yang melahirkan warga yang bijak-pandai, lincah berkomunikasi, dan mempunyai kesedaran sosial.

Kerana IPT (terutamanya IPTS tertentu) yang diumpamakan kilang pencetak sijil mengambil peranan sebagai penjaja pendidikan dan beriklanan merata tempat, keperluan dan hak mahasiswa jarang dibela. Ramai mahasiswa tempatan dan dari luar negara dibelenggu aturan IPT dan ugutan yang boleh menjejaskan perjalanan pengajian mereka. Oleh yang demikian, hanya hak dan kesedaran mahasiswa yang harus diperkasa, kerana pelaburan atas nama pendidikan mahasiswa amatlah besar. Kerajaan yang mengutamakan peniaga pendidikan dan meminggirkan mereka yang kurang berkuasa politik, kewangan, dan sosial akan membina masyarakat yang materialis dan anti-intelektual.

*Gambar di atas menunjukkan seorang lelaki yang menaikkan sepanduk atau notis yang bertulis ‘Education not for sale’ atau pendidikan bukan untuk dijual.

Mainstreaming Islam in the Indonesian public sphere: Ummi Aminah as a case study

The film premiere of Aditya Gumay’s newest film, Ummi Aminah (Mother Aminah) in Jakarta last January 2012 was situated at the crossroads of events in Indonesian film industry. Prior to the screening of the film, the film director’s address to the audience expressed a plea to the public to consume locally-made films. As I write this, the Indonesian film industry is experiencing a decline in cinema audience numbers. From a respectful 1 million viewers in 2010, now film-makers and producers can expect a modest half a million. Production values of current and future films, and the distribution and packaging of original DVDs will reflect the slump as well. Gumay’s latest offering, Ummi Aminah, to woo audiences is at once shrewd and chimes with the Indonesian socio-political zeitgeist.

The film is promoted as a ‘family film’ about a popular female preacher and the dramatic entanglements that befall her large family and her reputation as a religious leader. Ummi Aminah is mother to five children and grandmother of one. In her role as preacher, she is also ‘mother’ to her all-female congregation who pray with her and listen to her sermons. However, indiscretions within her family; rumours surrounding her oldest daughter Zarika’s involvement with a married man and her son Zainal’s arrest for drug trafficking move in tandem to threaten to not only tear her family apart but also tarnish her reputation as a credible leader both on the public and domestic front.

Via Wikipedia

Continue reading “Mainstreaming Islam in the Indonesian public sphere: Ummi Aminah as a case study”

Notes on power and the difficulties of theorising gender in Indonesian film-making

Talking about gender in Indonesian cinema is actually quite hard when you get down to establishing a sort of link between gender as an analytical construct and gender as understood in public discourse.

What was always frustrating, was that when one began to talk about gender in film, the conversation turns into a discussion about women in film; whether they are representations of or in terms of women’s roles in film production. Even though I make it a point to bring up masculinity in film-making, the discussion continued to be steered towards what my informants thought about the role of women in film. It seems as if gender was about women, and not about men. Thus it then became inevitable that my discussion about gender in Indonesian cinema, which takes into account both femininity and masculinity, is going against the natural current of discourse requiring, by implication, greater soul-searching and reading against the grain.

This is much like in the spirit of Richard Dyer’s description of male sexuality, that it is difficult to see it and talk about it, as it is like “air – you breathe it in all the time, but you aren’t not aware of it much” [1]. But this may have to do with the fact that historically, most Indonesian films throughout the New Order have been about men and when they do feature films with prominent female roles, they speak about men’s concerns or “spheres of action” while women fulfill merely a subsidiary role [2].

While I would agree that women in New Order cinema do play a secondary tole, I am inclined however to question the essentialising of what those spheres of action are. But this is how discourse and power relations and their intimate proximity to knowledge work; by highlighting, examining, scrutinising in microscopic detail the object we wish gain control of, through knowledge – by knowing more about them so we can control (if we wanted to) various aspect of our object of study/interest. And so how gender is taken to be seen as simply about women is a manifestation of a Foucaldian way of knowing; to know more about women and to gaze an object of study/scrutiny is to have further power over women (and indeed provide the resources for resistance).

The fixation of gender as women simultaneously elides the focus on the powerful and privileged of course. In the case of looking at gender in film, much has been discussed about women, queers, non-white (Asian, Black) characterisation in cinema. Only recently do we find the tables turned on the other, more powerful half of the power equation – masculinity and whiteness in film – discussed and therefore ‘exposed’ and losing its power as the epistemological voyeur in cinema.

To not ‘notice’ masculinity demonstrates how deeply impacted we are as film viewers by the dominant discourses of gender. We can argue that examining masculinity is more than just studying the men in films, but recognise the tropes or conventions male characters habitually exhibit and how the particular concerns expressed by the male characters drive the narrative of the film.

The next step in analysing gender in Indonesian film or any film for that matter is not to look specifically at femininity or masculinity at work on screen, but the gender dynamic, how the genders play against each other on screen. What I hope this can demonstrate is some semblance of gendered power differential played out between characters. Perhaps this analytical angle may provide an avenue for better understanding the ways in which representations of misogyny & propagation of certain gendered tropes are privileged and marginalised in film.

Besides masculinity, there is another taken-for-granted power relations at work in Indonesian film: Javanese cultural dominance.

In Indonesian cinema, we find other instances of power relations still under-examined, alongside masculinity vis a vis femininity in film, such as the Javanese cultural/linguistic dominance and the regionalisation of other Indonesian film set and made outside of Java. Karl Heider in Indonesian Cinema, National Culture on Screen, argues that Indonesian cinema has never really been regionalised, but rather nationalised due to lingua franca of Bahasa Indonesia in (all?) films during the New Order. The nationalisation of film was also an expression of Javanese cultural dominance imposed by Suharto’s regime on all modes of public communication, particularly cinema. But then, Heider’s book was written in 1991.

State control over the linguistic standardisation in Indonesian films explains why films made during the New Order, which are not only made in the standardised Bahasa Indonesia, but also more easily understood by Malay-speaking Malaysians. Whereas years following Suharto’s political demise, the cinematic articulation of Indonesian cinema was reclaimed by regionalisation. Indonesian films became more difficult for Malaysians to understand.

A case in point that signalled a cultural-linguistic dissonance between the two nations was when the film Ada Apa Dengan Cinta was broadcast on Malaysian television in 2003, with Malay subtitles. The much-talked about event perplexed local audiences who had assumed they would be able to largely understand the dialogue. Before then, working class Malaysians consumed plenty of Indonesian horror films VCDs and video tapes without Malay subtitles with enough comprehension of the dialogue and narrative.

Regionalisation meant that dialogue for films set in Jakarta for example would be heavily peppered with Jakarta slang and occasional Javanese (which would then come with subtitles in Bahasa Indonesia). Regionalisation of Indonesian cinema further underscores the vivid diversity of Indonesian peoples who do not necessarily understand each other linguistically but somehow remains largely silent, as a “national cinema”, who it largely represents.

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[1] Pg. 28 from Richard Dyer’s essay Male sexuality in the media, in The Sexuality of Men edited by Andy Metcalf, 1985, Pluto Press.

[2] Pg. 116 from Krishna Sen’s essay Repression and resistance: Interpretations of the feminine in Indonesian cinema, in Culture and society in New Order Indonesia: 1965-1990 edited by V. Hooker, 1995, Oxford University Press.

Sang Penari: the female body as a sexualised site of masculine struggle

At the time of writing, I was experiencing the warmth of critical acclaim bestowed on an Indonesian film that had just finished its all-too-brief exhibition at cinemas in Jakarta. The film, Sang Penari (The Dancer), is described by film critics as the apogee of Indonesian cinema 20111. Arguably the “best film” of last year, and further evidenced by its winning the award for Best Film at the Jakarta Film Festival. Based on the novel ‘Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk’ by Ahmad Tohari once banned under Suharto’s authoritarian regime2, it tells the story of the struggle between tradition, modernity, political struggle, and how it takes place on the female body, both literally and metaphorically.

Set in an isolated agrarian village in 1963, only a few years before the militarist coup led by Suharto against communism in Indonesia in 1965, the film begins with a scene of lustful village men enthralled by the ronggeng dancer and a young girl, Srintil, who is destined to take the dancer’s place. When Srintil’s father is accused of poisoning members of the villege, including the ronggeng dancer – all of whom have eaten his tempe bongrek – both Srintil’s mother and himself take their own lives by eating their poisoned product to prove their innocence.

To recover the honour of her family’s name, Srintil decides to take on the role of the ronggeng dancer herself much to the dismay of her childhood sweetheart, Rasus. Unbeknowst to Srintil however is the ronggeng’s other social role of providing sexual services to the men of the village. Realising that Srintil’s sexuality now belongs to every men and not his alone, Rasus leaves the village to become a member of the army where he is trained to participate in the crackdown of communist activity in villages, of which Dukuh Paruk will eventually play host to with fatal consequences. Although the villagers of Dukuh Paruk are mobilised to take their own collective destiny into their hands by defying a feudalistic system that contributed to their impoverished state, expressed through the melding of agrarian-centric communist ideals and the ronggeng dancer’s mystical power to bless their revolutionary efforts, their agency is proven futile and eventually diminished in a massacre.

The superstitious beliefs that the villagers invest in the power of the ronggeng, though much to the physical expense of Srintil, underscore their ‘backward’ worldview and imminent failure in the face of encroaching modernity, as symbolised by organised military and media technology such as the radio, a tool to usher in the red revolution. More heartfelt and frustrating, however, is the use of the central figure – the dancer, her body and sexuality – as the battleground of ideals and struggle pursued and fought out to various degrees of force by the men in the film. Rasus is the figure torn between nation-building and the grip of tradition symbolised by his love for Srintil. The communist activist and mobiliser Bakar is the agent of change and conflict. The dalang of the roenggeng, who legitimises Srintil’s sacred/profane role is also complicit, alongside Bakar, in the downfall of Dukuh Paruk. Throughout the masculinised machinations that determine the village’s fate, Srintil is given little agency and is thrust into one violent tribulation to another while clinging to the desire to dance the ronggeng.

Similar to other films depicting prominent female characters situated in the throes of nation-scale upheavals such as Nia Dinata’s Cau Bau Kan (The Courtesan, 2002), the fictional women are often at the mercy of the men who oppress them through the use of sexual violence. Indirectly, they are at the mercy of the state. But somehow at the same time, they are held up as (suffering) symbols of the nation. In nationalistic discourse, the nation is usually portrayed as femininie, the state masculine. The iconography of the motherland has often been constructed as either a nurturing mother or sensuous female servant3 In Indonesian nationalist discourse meanwhile, the nation, at times regarded as ibu pertiwi (the motherland) is framed as an anguished and suffering female beauty4. But I would further argue that the feminised iconograpby of the motherland requires the guardianship from invading (male) forces. The nation as feminine is passive and helpless. ‘She’ is subject to the threat of masculinised violation. The idea of the nation violated by colonial/imperialist presence is translated in literature and indeed on screen into a central female figure, whose subjugation to unwelcome (male) violation is always a sexual one.

With Sang Penari, we witness a return of the suffering feminine body as site of cultural/national struggle. And now garlanded with accolades and acclaim, we witness something of a nostalgia for cultural/national struggle that takes place on a woman’s body. The film suffers from little protest and criticism of the misogyny central to the narrative because it privileges other aspects; the film’s artistry and the recovery of a repressed literary voice, while marginalising the major strides female film-makers and feminist critics are making in redressing the male-dominance of Indonesian film-making and discourse. The unproblematic sensibility that Sang Penari receives from audiences and critics alike is perhaps reflective of its time; a time when some semblance of feminism has made a mark in Indonesian public discourse, and with it a sensibility that gender equality has at least been established since.

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Notes:

1I n personal conversation with film critic and scholar Tito Imanda.

2 The novel ‘tie-in’, Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk, enjoyed a prominent place in the best-seller’s corner in bookshops in Jakarta towards the end of 2011, re-emerging in print after decades of censorship.

3 ‘Virgin territories and motherlands: colonial and nationalist representations of Africa and Ireland’ by C.L. Innes (1994), Feminist Review No. 47, pp. 3-4.

4′ When the earth is female, and the nation is mother; Gender, the armed forces, and nationalism in Indonesia’, by Saraswati Sunindyo (1998), Feminist Review No. 58, pp.1-21.