On the Indische Kwestie, Back Pay and Human Rights
Announcing: a special editorial series by Inez Hollander, Ph.D.
Van oude mensen en de dingen die voorbijgaan (Of Old People and the Things that Pass) is a famous novel by Dutch author Louis Couperus, which deals with an Indies family, living a seemingly harmonious life in The Hague. However, the family is haunted by a terrible secret from the past. The reality is that, as William Faulkner put it so well: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
The same goes for the so-called Indische Kwestie, or the issue of (not) paying out the war damages and compensation to Dutch and Indo soldiers and civilians (and their children; about half a million people) who were living in the Dutch East Indies when the Japanese invaded at the start of WWII: losing relatives in Japanese internment camps and prisons, people didn’t only come out of the camps damaged psychologically, but 95% lost homes, bank accounts, insurance policies, cars, agricultural tools and resources, household goods, clothes, jewelry, art etc. These material goods were confiscated by the Japanese when people were interned, and shortly after WWII, when a power vacuum triggered a period of lawlessness (the Bersiap), much of the remaining or reclaimed property was plundered and taken by so-called rampokkers or Indonesian plunderers.
The loss of life was bad enough and compared to that, material damages may have seemed a trivial thing to claim. Yet, compared to Dutch victims who had been through the war in the Netherlands, and compared to the victims of other Allied nations who had been through the same war in Asia, the Dutch government managed to kick the can down the road when it came to the Indies and Indo victims and their families. Not until last year, did the Dutch government, under Prime Minister Rutte, offer a piddling gesture of a one-time amount in terms of back pay to the last 1100 surviving colonial soldiers and civil servants. Families, wives and children who had been in the camps as well and had suffered similar losses were not eligible for this particular compensation.
This was much too little, and much too late. In fact, this treatment, compared to how the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Germany and France have dealt with the war damages of their civilians, is unnecessarily cruel and unjust. One has to wonder if this is turning into a blatant human rights violation in view of the number of years that have passed by, the scope of the number of victims, and the seriousness of their damage (material and immaterial, back pay and otherwise).
Because many Indos worldwide (and outside of the Netherlands) may have heard about the Indische Kwestie but may not have followed this story in great detail, The Indo Project has decided to do an exclusive series. We want to make this information available in English, and with the kind of detail that will give Indies and Indos families abroad a better background and sense of this tragedy of Dutch indifference, which has been going on for more than seventy years now.
So stay tuned for the first installment!