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.