17 September 2008

The Price of Life and the Cost of Entry into Heaven

A tragic story and perhaps old news now more than 24 hours after it happened. However at least 21 people have been killed in a stampede for a handout that amounts to about USD 3.50. There are probably many ways you could look at the issue. Perhaps you could look at it from an economic perspective and analyse the value of life and the costs of getting into heaven. maybe you could look at it from a law and order perspective. You might look at it from a public negligence perspective, or as some have suggested you might want to look at this from the perspective of a complete breakdown in the trust of the people for their public institutions such as the police.

The story occurs in Pasuruan, a small town in East Java. A local Muslim of some fortune decided that he was going to make donations to the poorer members of the community in the form of a cash hand out. It is after all the holiest of holy months, Ramadan, and many Muslims make the giving of alms a priority during the month. So, the simple fact that a rich Muslim wanted to do this is not strange or unusual.

The Pasuruan tragedy is probably the result of the convergence of a number of issues.

Poverty in many parts of Indonesia remains acute, some might even argue that it is worsening, and this runs counter to much of the positive spin that the government is putting on economic numbers. So, the very idea of a cash hand out is likely to draw the masses. In this case it is thought to have drawn somewhere in the vicinity of 5,000 people (perhaps up to 7,000). The area surrounding the private residence of the family handing out the alms is small and littered with small gang ways. Try and imagine if you can 5000+ people crammed into a series of small gangs and a small courtyard.

The end result was perhaps as predictable and preventable as it is tragic. The crowd surge meant that many were crushed and trampled to death in the rush to get to the front. At least 21 lives have been snuffed out and each for less than USD 3.50.

There were no police in sight to administer or control the crowds. The police were not there because they were not invited or asked to attend. Why not? Probably because the family was concerned that if the police were there then most of those receiving the donation would have lost a portion of it on the way out as a "service charge" or tax collected by the police. Are the police responsible and can they be held responsible for not being there? I would hazard a guess and say not. However, this needs to be contrasted against the fact that it is alleged that the deaths occurred over a period of seven hours. So, on the first report of a death occurring it would make sense for the police to attend and then attend to crowd control. They did not.

The next question focuses on the family. Should the family have used a charity to distribute the alms that they wanted to distribute. The answer to this question is a tricky one. The family chose not to because perhaps they were concerned that much of the alms they wanted to provide would have been lost to administrative charges (the charities enriching themselves) and not distributed to those most in need. This is a sad indictment of the people's trust in charities.

Who is responsible for this tragedy? The family decided to go it alone on this one and as such they should bear primary responsibility for what occurred. However, it would seem that perhaps they are not solely responsible. The reasons for doing what they did highlights that there is something fundamentally wrong with the system that it cannot take care of the people it is designed to care of nor function to distribute alms to those most in need.

The cost of getting into heaven in this instance was just too high.


Amitz Sekali said...

Another reason they never call the police to control the crowd beforehand is maybe because police is considered unnecessary.

But you're still right. To ask the police to do crowd controlling, some exorbitant fee must be paid. I bet there will also be some permit, god knows what permit, maybe permit to cause a crowd or something like that. Those permits are too difficult to get, or probably made difficult to get, without "additional" fees.

What's most important is, while getting those permits, you will be visible under every local government officials radar. You can expect a yearly, if not monthly request of money from them. The money will need to be larger and larger every year. Not paying can be very bad for your business.

tere616 said...

Nice thought Rob.

Couldn't agree more than you, we can view it from different angle and give our opinion based on different angle too.

Start from poverty, lack of trust, ignorance, we can name it, whatever it is, all of the basis of the angle is the value or the reality in my country.

I just wondering, how can we prevent this kind of tragedy happening again in the future.

I've seen a lot of posting here and there, but nothing happen. Or maybe am just focusing to one side only and didn't see the bright side.

Am a lil bit of hopeless here

Brett said...

This is a serious crime. If you can afford to hand out cash, you can afford arranging Police security - or indeed personal security.

At the risk of repeating myself, I saw this on the news in the States. The only news from Indonesia since Suharto carked it. Shame.

Rob Baiton said...


It would seem that failing to put into place some kind of crowd control or security presence was a significant under-estimation on the part of the family making the hand-outs.

I would think that the prosecutors will make the negligence charges stick.


How you prevent it is to outlaw the practice. Perhaps if the fear is that the institution that distributes alms is inefficient then make it efficient so that people trust them with their zakat contributions.

There is no bright side here for me even if this forces a change in the law and the practice. There are still a lot of people dead and tehy are dead for no good reason.


I agree. If they can afford to be handing out the cash in the first place then they can probably afford the little extra needed for crowd control.

Bad news or tragedy seems to be newsworthy.

Amitz Sekali said...


Yes, in the eye law they can be charged for negligence. But they will probably be surprised if anybody (or the government) do sue them. Many people (who are not familiar with the way of the law) will also consider that charge to be unfair.

I'm not saying here that their negligence is justifiable. I'm just saying that from their perception of justice, they probably think that they should not be blamed.

If the someone or government do charge them, many people will probably not distributing zakat anymore despite an alternative of asking the official charity to distribute them.

The handling of this case is really delicate..

jaka said...

Hello Rob,

I always like to read your posts. Now, I just want to know your opinion about how THE (PHOTO)JOURNALISTS position in the situation. Some blogs raised questions (see http://asruldinazis.wordpress.com/2008/09/16/wartawan-itu-tanpa-perasaan-yah/ for example) on how some journalists had heart to take pictures as they saw some people at the brink of death.

Of course I am at the journalists side, knowing that it was their task to report (even with video or picture). But how about the "morality" question that was raised. Can that be justified?

Rob Baiton said...


That is a question that is sure to generate a lot of varied and passionate responses!

The journalists, photo or otherwise, report the events as they unfold. It is what they do. If they did not then how would we know what has happened? Who would report these things for us?

What about war photographers? There is a classic shot from the Vietnam War and the fall of Saigon of a man being shot at point blank range in the head. This was one of those instantaneous moments where not much more could have been done by the photographer but take the picture.

What about where a photographer takes photos of a prison camp or a concentration camp? Is it "more" important that the photographer record this event in pictures so that we know the horrors that humankind can perpetrate on itself?

Or should the photographer drop the camera and pitch in an help?

Some might argue that this is a moral question and some might even argue that morals aside this is strictly a legal question.

From a moral perspective the question is simple. Do we have an obligation to assist others in need? For example, if you see a woman being harassed by a group of men do you step in and do something about it?

Each of us would probably react differently in this situation. Now, how about we throw a camera into the equation. Same situation of the woman being harassed but this time you can photograph the incident.

Do you forget about the camera and step in? Do you photograph the event? Do you photograph the event and then step in? Or do you just keep walking by?

In a legal sense are we required to put ourselves in danger to help others?

On a personal level. I would jump in and help. This is the reason I would probably not make a very good photojournalist.

On the question of whether journalists have feelings? They do. Their job requires impartiality and neutrality (generally speaking) but this is not always possible. Have a look at the Tsunami disaster of a few years back.

Journalists, and particular photojournalists, express their feelings through their work.

Perhaps on the morality front the question needs to be reversed. Is it moral not to record the events as they unfold.

Pasuruan was indeed a tragedy. In my mind it was an unnecessary tragedy. However, I wonder whether one or two or ten photojournalists discarding their cameras and jumping into the fray would have saved any lives.

Can the morality question be justified, Yes. Will everyone agree, most definitely not.

jaka said...

Thank you! It enriches me, for sure. The answers looks like applied to any other professional jobs as well. And, yes, there are some journalists jumped in and tried to release many from the crowd.

Rob Baiton said...


It is an interesting question. Thanks for posing it.

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This cannot have effect as a matter of fact, that is what I suppose.