Incarcerated in Paradise

This week’s column is about a burning issue that is perpetually in the limelight of the local and Australian media – drugs and drug busts. Many less intelligible folk voice misplaced apprehensions that are usually fed by Chinese whispers doing the rounds of the island. Here in paradise such unfounded assumptions have a way becoming fact thereby obfuscating the truth and creating schisms between peoples and cultures.

The Bali Times carries regular reports of youngsters being arrested for buying banned substances in spite of the deadly warning – welcome to my paradise, we have the death penalty here for drug pushers and users.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk to an Australian couple from Perth holidaying in east Bali – Cheryl Smith a social worker and her husband John, an engineer.

Cheryl appeared distinctly agitated when I brought up the topic of young Australians incarcerated in jails in Bali for the mindless act of buying and or using drugs.

“We all stand accused of not forcefully inculcating a sense of proportion in our children, of not teaching them that with democracy – its freedom of speech and action – comes responsibility. Do you know when every Aussie is issued a passport we are given a booklet titled Hints for Australian Travelers produced by our Foreign Affairs and Trade Department. It is helpful as it contains all the dos and don’ts for Aussies traveling in foreign countries such as obeying the laws of the land, observing local customs, illegal drugs, child sex, wildlife etc.” she said.

“And are there any Indonesia specific guidelines?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yes, we have a website that clearly mentions the punishment of death for trafficking, buying and consuming drugs in Indonesia”.

She told me that Aussies are often lulled into a false sense of dolce vita when they encounter Bali with its captivating beaches and titillating lifestyle. The laid back atmosphere, low prices and non existent dress code in most areas except religious places make them feel they can dance with death as no one is watching them.

A visibly upset Aussie sitting at an adjacent table in the warung, who had obviously been eavesdropping walked up to our table and introduced himself as a regular visitor to the island. He informed us that on every occasion that he had visited Kuta he was offered drugs by people standing on the pavement. When he shouted at them he was abused and threatened. Cheryl confirmed this allegation saying that she and her husband had had similar experiences. Sadly, youngsters don’t always act the same way and get carried away with false bravado and the excitement of treading the hairline of deception.

Cheryl told me that in Australia, there is an ongoing program conducted by the State called ‘Constable Care’. Policemen regularly visit primary and secondary schools to educate pupils on the Law and in particular the perils of drugs and under age drinking.

Was she proposing a similar program in Bali? If so, the idea does have relevance for the impressionable islanders whose view of the world is probably through the media and tourists from around the globe flocking to the island. These are not always the best representations of other cultures.

Unfortunately every time an Aussie is busted for drugs in Bali the ‘Shock Jocks’ (as they are popularly known) on Sydney radio stations vitiate the atmosphere with their raucous verbosity that sullies relations between two great countries – Indonesia and Australia. Current affairs programs aired on television could be blamed for adding a curious blend of hysteria to these events. This doesn’t help the situation either for those busted for drugs or for the two governments trying hard to resolve this prickly problem.

It has been said in the past that Australian police have alerted their counterparts in this country on drugs being smuggled into Indonesia. If this is true then it is a heartening development and we hope this connection between the two law enforcement agencies continues to keep a check on illegal activities that are tragically destroying families and lives in paradise and in Oz.

As an experienced social worker counseling juvenile delinquents with drug and alcohol addictions, Cheryl feels that small time offenders incarcerated in Indonesian jails could be repatriated to serve their jail term back home under strict State supervision as this would – keep them away from hardcore criminal elements, rehabilitate them, save the Indonesian State a lot of money and foster closer people to people and government to government relations.

This suggestion of repatriation of small time drug offenders is a noble idea. However, one must take cognizance of the fact that Indonesia is a sovereign democratic republic and therefore this should not be construed in some circles as a capitulation of its sovereignty. It should be handled with great care and sensitivity away from the glare of the media that has invariably made a Hollywood drama of even the slightest hint of anything out of the ordinary that happens in Bali.

It is well known in diplomatic circles that the two countries are forging closer ties in many fields and so an irresponsible media response could jeopardize these positive developments.

Sense and insensibility are the paradoxes in paradise where death lurks in the palm of a drug peddler and Life in the words – just say no to drugs.

As a parent I appeal to all other parents in Indonesia, Australia and elsewhere please let us stop this madness.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om