Sunday, June 24, 2018

Achmadi of the Coachmen Union in Salatiga

Achmadi outside the office of the Dokar Coachmen Union in Salatiga.

In 1989, when I was 24 years old and almost graduating from university, I met Achmadi, a coachman who led a network of horse-drawn cart coachmen, to resist a government plan to ban their vehicles --locally called "dokar" in Salatiga, Central Java. I helped them, writing op-ed pieces, learning about the failures of motorization, organizing their union, and finally securing a plot of land near the Salatiga hospital to be the dokar terminal.

Achmadi was a good listener. He's a radical in fighting against motorization policy. But he also wants to understand the limitation of the local government. He opposed Suharto's Golkar Party ruling party to overcome the union, called the Persatuan Said Dokar (Dokar Coachmen Union), but he also knew he should be diplomatic.

It was under the Suharto authoritarian rule. The Indonesian military basically controlled the civilian government.

Achmadi, himself a Javanese Muslim, now I realized, also a champion of religious freedom. I worked with the union for three years. Achmadi asked all street vendors in the dokar terminal to open during the Ramadan fasting month (until now). He also insisted his Noborejo village cemetery not to divide between Muslim and Christian villagers. It remains a single cemetery today.

I left Salatiga in 1993, working as a journalist in Jakarta. He passed away in 1999 when I was in Cambridge, doing my Nieman Fellowship on Journalism. Our friend, Sukardi, sent me a letter from Salatiga, informing me about Achmadi's death.

I visited his grave in 2000 when returning from Cambridge. The dokar terminal is still there. His two children are still in touch with me.

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