UI’s Teater Sastra explores moral collapse, sexual violence on stage

Actress Denia Oktaviani performs as YY, the victim of brutal rape and murder in Bengkulu.
Actress Denia Oktaviani performs as YY, the victim of brutal rape and murder in Bengkulu. Viriya Singgih.

The case of 14-year-old student YY being brutally raped and murdered by 14 drunken boys in Bengkulu has been seen as the epitome of societal degeneration and moral collapse.

Senior playwright I. Yudhi Soenarto focuses particularly on this phenomenon in his latest play, Mencari Nurani (The Seeking of Conscience), performed by the University of Indonesia (UI) literature department’s theater group, Teater Sastra, at its campus in Depok, West Java, on May 26.

The play, styled as a multi-monologue involving seven performers, is the result of only two weeks of research and three days of rehearsals. Yudhi, also known as the founder and principal director of Teater Sastra, intended the play to be a form of social criticism.

“I was so furious over the YY case. Hence, three weeks ago, I did online research and interviewed some people from Bengkulu to start creating this play,” said Yudhi after the performance.

“Because of the limited time, I could only mix some facts with logic and imagination. So, there are several fictitious details in the play.”

It was Yudhi himself who delivered the first monologue of the play. He acted as a Javanese artist from a wealthy family and questioned the country’s moral structure, including what is and is not allowed by society. He said people were always taught to be righteous and tolerant, but often forced to be ignorant when faced with reality.

Senior playwright I. Yudhi Soenarto questions the country’s moral structure.
Senior playwright I. Yudhi Soenarto questions the country’s moral structure. Viriya Singgih.

Then, one by one the other characters took their place on stage, including a law expert, a psychologist and a journalist, performed by UI law school dean Topo Santoso, activist and psychologist Niniek L. Karim and actor Maftuh Ihsan, respectively.

They expressed their restlessness over the country’s current situation, starting from the outdated law that is often used against poor people and the social environment that influences children’s behavior, to the mainstream media that has been insensitive in its reporting of sexual violence.

“For us journalists, a tragedy is like a gold mine that can be dug up and exploited so we can produce interesting and sensational stories,” said the journalist.

Subsequently, the play started to include YY’s story in Bengkulu. A junior high school teacher (Rendy Septiadi), a male student named Tomi Kuntet (Rasikh Fuadi) and a female student performing YY’s character (Denia Oktaviani) delivered monologues.
Director Yudhi brought his detailed version of the gang rape to the stage, including the perspectives of both YY and the suspects.

As one of the suspects, Tomi shared his experiences spending time with other boys who tended to see women only as instruments of sexual pleasure. “They raped YY like it was just for fun,” he said. “Then threw the girl’s dead body into the ravine.”

Actor Rasikh Fuadi delivers his monologue in prison.
Actor Rasikh Fuadi delivers his monologue in prison. Viriya Singgih.

When the police took them into jail, the boys were still joking and laughing as if nothing had happened.

Later, the psychologist came once again to the stage, questioning the public’s and government’s responses to the case.

“It’s like what Zebrowits said: that everybody is a naïve psychologist, everybody is a naïve judge. Later they associate the law of causation with punishments that they thought could have the deterrent effect,” Niniek said.

“Then the suspects are to be punished with castration, even though the real problem comes from their mind!”

Psychologist Niniek L. Karim questions the public's and government’s responses to the brutal rape case in Bengkulu.
Psychologist Niniek L. Karim questions the public’s and government’s responses to the brutal rape case in Bengkulu. Viriya Singgih.

The government recently issued a regulation in lieu of law, creating a special legal umbrella that allows the chemical castration of convicted child rapists, intended to prevent child abuse.

Meanwhile, rapists whose offenses cause trauma, mental disorders, sexual diseases, sexual dysfunction or death, as well as rapists of more than one child victim, will receive either the death sentence, a life sentence or a 10- to 20-year prison term, as well as the possibility of chemical castration and microchip implantation.

In response to this, the law expert came on stage and said, “A law that works like a mechanical system is a law that does not have a conscience.”

***

Note
1. This story was first published on The Jakarta Post website.

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