Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Jakarta residents have begun the traditional exodus towards their places of origin in Sumatra, Java and the other islands of the Indonesian Archipelago to mark the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and prayer, by celebrating Idul Fitri (19 and 20 August) with family and friends. Like Lunar New Year celebrations in China and Vietnam, the celebration of Lebaran (the nickname for the Muslim event) is a time of mass migration (mudik) for Indonesians who travel en masse to the towns and villages where they were born or where their families came from, a Biblical flight that chokes the roads, big and small, leading out of the big cities, full of cars and passengers patiently waiting.
At the start of the mass exodus, a rush is on for the last ticket home on overcrowded buses, trains or planes. Despite government directives, transportation companies usually jack up the prices to extract the maximum profit. Yet, despite the price gouging, all tickets are sold for everyone wants to make it home for the holiday. And for those who do not take collective transport, there are always the long hours on a motorcycle; sometimes even 24 hours, twice the normal time.
Not all is good at Mudik time. The number of road accidents explodes. According to figures from the Transportation Ministry, at least 398 people have died so far in this year's exodus. Yesterday alone, 58 people died on the road and more than a hundred were injured. Not much different from previous days when the death toll stood at 42, 54, 47 and 66.
For those who remain in Jakarta, there is the consolation that they will have a deserted capital all to themselves. Although security forces will remain on alert, all other government services (and offices) will be closed for at least a week.
Finally, not all Indonesian Muslim organisations and believers agree on the correct day for the celebration. For Muhammadiyah, the country's second largest Muslim organisation, Ramadan ends on 19 August. For the government and Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest (moderate) Muslim group, the holy month ends on 20 August.