In the strict ranks of sexuality in conservative Indonesia, heterosexuality is the norm; homosexuality and bisexuality are taboo; pedophilia is a crime and bestiality unheard of.
Well, that rang true for me until reading last week’s news of a 70-year-old man caught two months ago having sex with his cow in Buleleng, Bali.
As there is no doubt that the man acted out his sexual desires without the beast’s consent — unless the cow talks in Balinese or Bahasa or the man understands the cow’s mooing, all of which seem impossible, then what the man did was rape.
For the village people of Buleleng, the sexual act between man and beast, gamya gamana (freak wedding) is considered a sin and could pollute the village with leteh or impurity. Thus, a purification ritual was held. The village people believe that to purify the village from the leteh, the source of impurity should be thrown in the ocean.
And this, amplified the poor cow’s plight. Not only did the beast have to endure the sexual abuse from its master, but it had to pay for his ‘sins’ as well. The innocent cow, which was five month pregnant, was pulled into the sea and left to drown. While the man, only threw his clothes in the sea.
Upon reading the news, the feminist in me felt agitated. The cow was a victim of rape. It was innocent. Substitute the cow with a woman, and you can see the twisted logic of the purification ritual.
Everyone must agree on this, right? But, then this absurd rape and drowning of the cow reminded me of something being deliberated in the parliament and I realized that not everyone would think the drowning of the cow to be a result of twisted logic.
If you ask the morally virtuous legislators of this country, who are working hard to pass the anti-pornography bill, they might answer that it was the cow’s fault for not covering its voluptuous curves from the eye of its master, thus inciting his sexual desire.
If only they had passed the bill — which defines pornography as acts that can incite sexual desire; the cow would still be alive by now. There will be no sexy cows prancing about naked in the barn. They would all be covered, to protect them from being raped by zoophiles that would not be able to resist the decadent bum.
Forgive my lame attempt in being sarcastic. It’s just ironic that a story on animal cruelty can tell us so much about how the national legislatures are misogynistic, thus painting a sad state of gender inequality in Indonesia.
When I read the news, my first concern was about how cruel the customary law was on animals. Drowning a cow in the sea for being raped by a man? As a vegetarian and animal rights supporter, this was outrageous. And I’m pretty sure even the most enthusiastic meat-eater would agree that exposing animals to an unnecessary painful death is cruel.
Even for people who despise pets, it’s obvious that animals are capable of experience and suffering.
But before I even start on animal rights, Indonesia has still a lot of homework to do on gender equality and women’s rights.
In the case of the drowning of the cow in the purification ritual — at the risk of being labeled culturally insensitive — what was behind all that was an outdated misogynistic tradition that put aside animal rights.
There will be no justice for the cow, as we do not have a law on cruelty to animals.
What would happen to women if the anti-pornography bill was passed? Would there be justice? The story of the cow is a bad precedent for women.
— Ananda Ayu
Published in The Jakarta Post, Sunday Oct. 26, 2008.