If you follow local Jakarta news at all, you’ll know that stories about large groups of middle and high school students from different schools getting into massive brawls often make the headlines, usually when the brawls turn deadly and some poor kid is tragically killed.
Shocking videos of these incredibly violent fights are easy to find online, but explanations for the culture that causes tawuran (brawling) are not. And it’s a massive problem. Over the past 5 years, over 130 student deaths 800 brawls just in and around Jakarta.
For the most recent episode of Al-Jazeera’s 101 East, the news network’s weekly current affairs program about Asia, their reporters went beyond the shocking videos and interviewed numerous people, including a veteran student street fighter and a mother who lost her son after he was stabbed multiple during one such brawl, to find out why these kids are killing each other.
Their reasons are as disturbing as they are banal. One student brawler they interviewed explained why he fought by saying: “I do it for the experience, to gain self-belief, prestige, adrenaline and strength.” Basically, it’s a rite of passage, it’s about proving that you’re a man.
When asked if they actually want to kill other students, one brawler replied, “No, it’s actually just for fun.”
As the program points out, it’s certainly not fun for those who head up with serious injuries, and it’s a heartbreaking tragedy for the families of those students who are killed. Police are shown being unwilling to seriously investigate tawuran-related murders and a schools don’t seem willing are able to change the culture at the root of it.
In the end, it is the agonized pleas of the mothers whose sons were killed in the violence that no more children follow in their footsteps that has the most impact, but even their pleas may not be enough.