COVID-19 Op-ed

Ungoverned Emotions and Vulnerability in Indonesia: Rejecting Dead Bodies, Moral Paranoia over COVID-19

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Maya DaniaLecturer of
International Development Program,
School of Social
Innovation, Mae Fah Luang University, Chiang Rai – Thailand

The lessons that I take from Indonesia’s experience with
COVID-19 is not only physical, like distancing or avoiding spread of germs,
but also emotional, more on how Indonesians treat the most vulnerable among
themselves. The social vulnerability comes to forefront to me as the social
impacts from the pandemics have turned out to be a human tragedy.Indeed, the
Indonesian experience about the virus is entirely new, terrifyingly
unexplained – mysterium tremendum. However if we look at
numerous cases reported on how society responds to the Coronavirus, it is
obvious that perceived social raging reaction that has reached a calamity
level in Indonesian society. As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to frighten
the people, certain groups are facing social stigmatization and
discrimination due to Coronavirus-related hate. For example, in March,
numbers of healthcare staffs and medical doctors were kicked out from their
residence amid community fear that the health professionals will carry the
Coronavirus to their home (Jawa Pos, 2020), despite the fact that the
Indonesian Medical Association expressed alarm that the number of doctors who
died of Coronavirus jumped high daily and the trend of doctors dying is
heading for the sky (Channel News Asia, 2020). In April, the Headman of the
Village in West Sumatera was persecuted after socializing preventive actions
against Coronavirus (CNN Indonesia, 2020). Also, more and more cases of
community rejection to dead bodies of COVID-19 for burial around provinces in
Indonesia are increasingly reported. It seems like residents are too afraid of
the virus contagion regardless of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo warning
against paranoia and local government’s efforts to remind people to show
compassion and practice their teachings of every religion (The Jakarta Post.
2020). The two biggest Islamic organization in Indonesia, Muhammadiyah and
Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), have been also strictly asking people to permit burial
for the dead bodies of COVID-19 amid the epidemic (Beritasatu, 2020).But
people just don’t care. Cemeteries around neighborhoods are guarded by armed
men, threatened the ambulance bringing the dead body inside to be brutally
burnt or thrown by stones if it keeps trying to enter the local graveyards
area. Filling with anger, fear, and anxiety, people are frightened that the
dead body would contaminate the virus and eventually brings death to the
neighborhoods. People are afraid to do the right thing,
to give rights for others to be buried properly, while cremation is still
bitterly rare (and improper for Muslims). What can be reflected from this
point?I witness cultural phenomena of a society with no other value other
than survival. Human emotions have evolved to their greatest survival
benefit, in which disgust (and surprise) indicate a looming threat to human
survival, which then initiates critical action in response to its cause to
increase human chances of survival (Taylor, 2012). There is no longer even
any respect for the dead in Indonesia. Wave of panic has paralyzed the
country. It is visibly seen that Indonesians are prepared to sacrifice common
sense, religious, and even political beliefs –just– to
avoid the danger of falling ill or being contaminated. COVID-19 makes people
perceive other human beings as potential contaminators to be avoided at all
cost. Also the dead have no right to a proper funeral and it is just more
difficult for the family to find a place to bury the corpses of their loved
ones. Coronavirus is eventually a test, too, of our social solidarity,
empathy, and political will. What is worrying with COVID-19 is, then, not so
much in the prevention, but in the aftermath of the infection. As the virus
has inexorably persisted its havoc, what will COVID-19 gives as the legacies
of disruption to human rights and social values in Indonesia?Finally, when
the plague appeared in the country, Indonesians must realize that we are all
on the same boat. All of us are equally fragile, disoriented, and vulnerable.
Nevertheless, in the same time, we are all also equally important and needed
to comfort the others. As the epidemic grows worse, I may well find the
notion “gotong royong” (working together to achieve one aim) of Indonesian
local culture far more compelling as our potential golden rules in winning
the battle against COVID-19. References:Beritasatu
(4 April). (2020). Masyarakat Diimbau Tidak Tolak Pemakaman Korban Corona.
Retrieved from:
News Asia (6 April). (2020). Indonesia announces biggest daily rise in
COVID-19 cases, 24 doctors now dead. Retrieved from:
Indonesia (4 April). (2020). Sosialisasi Korona, Kepala Kampung Dianiaya
Hingga Lebam. Retrieved from:
Pos (25 Maret). (2020). Dokter dan Perawat yang Menangani Korona Diusir dari
Tempat Tinggalnya. Retreievd from:,
Jim. (2012). Is Our Survival Instinct Failing Us?. Retrieved from:
Jakarta Post (8 April). (2020). When your dead body is rejected everywhere.
Retrieved from:

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