Students In Yahukimo Protest Against Indonesian Forces In Schools

On January 20, at least 1000 students in Yahukimo, Papua province held a protest demanding the Indonesian forces camped on the school premises to move out, Union of Catholic Asian News reported. Following clashes among tribes and between Indonesian security forces and the Papua Independence Organization (OPM) back in October, Indonesia has taken the opportunity to camp its forces inside three schools. These are the senior high schools in the villages of Ninia and Angguruk and Dekai village’s vocational high school.  

Numerous activists have called for the national chief to adopt a ‘softer approach’ in Papua and West Papua, asserting that the mobile brigade corps’ presence has hampered the students’ studies. ‘We asked the education authority of the district to look for a solution and move out the police,’ Denias Helembo, coordinator of the protest action, stated on January 20. ‘If the local government doesn’t pay attention, we will hold more protests together with parents.’ In addition, Legal Aid Foundation in Papua, along with several rights institutions and activists, have also petitioned Vice-President Ma’ruf Amin to intervene and order the corps to leave the schools.  

Indonesian forces stationed in school premises and soldiers deployed in classrooms continue to be a legacy in West Papua. Military personnel deployed to fill teacher shortages, mainly (but not limited to) in the conflict-struck highlands regencies. The Indonesian military is tasked with spreading Pancasila, Indonesia’s national ideology, wherever Indonesia deems it lacking. The Papuan provincial education agency signed a memorandum of understanding with the Papuan provincial command in 2013 to assign soldiers to teach in remote areas. However, the military’s responsibility does not stop spreading Pancasila within the education system – they also must get support from the locals, garner intelligence information, and have the students absorb Indonesia’s unification ideology. Ultimately, these aim to indoctrinate Papuans in Indonesian nationalism and quash Papua’s unique identity.  

Hipo Wangge, a Ph.D. student at the Australian National University who studied the impacts of displacement due to the Papua conflicts, said that Indonesian military involvement in schools has traumatized students. Namely, the violence against civilians and West Papuan pro-independence fighters and the aggressive crackdown on freedom of expression. “Students are cautious in conflict areas,” Wangge observed, and “were traumatic and feared to see the soldiers coming to their schools.” Moreover, the deployment of Indonesian forces in places of education such as these classrooms in Papua attests to the lengths that Indonesia goes through to enforce their epistemology – Pancasila – and erase Papuan identity and culture.

This indoctrination effort in classrooms is merely one part of Indonesia’s colonial project where Papuans are subject to a slow-motion genocide – forced relocations, human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings, expropriation of land, and resources are only a few of countless other aggressions by Indonesia. Not only has Indonesia denied Papuans media presence and authentic discourse by imposing media blackouts, ensuring that journalists and humanitarian agencies cannot access Papua, and continuing to crack down on Papuan freedom of expression – this deployment of military forces in schools assure that Papuan students are too traumatized even to learn. Disconnected from outside communication and help, and subject to state-sanctioned ethnic cleaning, these all highlight Papuans’ disenfranchised subaltern status, powerless not only against Indonesia’s military abuses but also this epistemic injustice that seeks to eradicate Papuan discourse from the bud.  

While media freedom within Papua and West Papua may continue to be elusive, the international community must continue to hold Indonesia accountable, ensure that the conflict gets more media coverage, and firmly demand oversight and transparency. In addition, we must continue to push for more governments and politicians to be more invested in this conflict – spreading more awareness of the Papuans’ strife may be perhaps the first step into breaking down this complex dilemma.