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Oto Iskandar Dinata: The Indonesian Hero whose Sudden and Mysterious Death Shook the Country



Many educators and teachers became people’s leaders in the history of the Indonesian National Movement, and Raden Otto Iskandar Dinata was one of them. During the end of 1952 Bandung was covered with clouds when a coffin accompanied by hundreds of people showing grief and love arrived at the Flower City, releasing the departure of a prominent figure of the Sundanese community for the lifetime, Raden Otto Iskandar Dinata.


The coffin didn’t carry Otto’s corpse, but as a replacement contained sand and sea water collected from the coastal area of Mauk, Banten, Tagerang. No one knows the existence of the body of Otto, nicknamed as Starling Harupat. Even after 65 years of passing away of Otto, the cause and process of death remain shrouded in puzzles.


People now know Otto Iskandar Dinata from a bit of his story in history books or occasionally see the name pinned as the name of the road in various regions or the name of the football stadium, which became the headquarters of Persib Bandung. Otto had an important role in struggling and establishment of the Republic of Indonesia, however, the role failed to continue due to he summon for his mysterious death.


Raden Otto Iskandar Dinata, on March 31, 1897, was born in Bojonsoang, Bandung in a well-known family. His father, Raden Haji Rachmat Adam was the headman of the village, whose residence was the biggest and the most magnificent in Bojonsoang, which is currently located in the Bandung Regency Area.


As a child, Otto received a good education and was one of the most intelligent students from elementary to middle school to teacher education schools in Bandung and Purworejo. Besides his brilliant brain, Otto was known for his bravery, dislike for small talks, especially in expressing his thoughts and contents. Once, Otto deliberately pinned a tie on his uniform, unlike his other friends, which inevitably made his school teacher angry.


The Dutch teacher shouted at the boy and asked why he was wearing a tie while the teacher did not. To this, the young Otto replied that the teacher didn’t need to as he was old, hearing which the teacher ordered him to leave the classroom. Otto obeyed the teacher and calmly left the class. The teacher called Otto insolent as he was native and would have been quite different if he were a Dutch or at least a sinyo, the teacher would have liked him for being frank.


This nature of Otto earned him the nickname Starling Harupat, which is a term for a strong, brave roaring male rooster when crowing and as a fighting chicken; he is a rooster who can’t be defeated easily. Otto himself was a football lover, became a referee, and led Persib that formed since 1933. Otto’s nickname was pinned to the name of the stadium in the city of flowers, Si Starling Harupat Stadium, which later became the headquarters of the Sundanese pride club, Persib Bandung.


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After completing his education in school, Otto became a HIS (Hollandsch Inlandse School) teacher in Banjarnegara, Central Java. He was moved to Bandung in 1921 and again to Pekalongan, Central Java after three years. Another story of his life started from here and more often his name was mentioned related to his activities in society and national struggle. Although he continued his profession as a teacher at Muhammadiyah in Jakarta, his main activity ceased being in the field of education.


In 1925, while he was serving in Pekalongan, Otto jumped into the Budi Utomo organization. His activities in the organization attracted the attention of the Pekalongan community. For this reason, he was believed being a member of the Pekalongan Gemeenteraad (City Council) and represented the organization, Budi Utomo. Otto trusted as a member of the City Council, struggled for continuing the lives of the people. He, without being straightforward, revealed the bad practices of the colonial government towards the people.


The Resident of Pekalongan, who was a Dutchman, didn’t receive criticisms and lawsuits filed by Otto, however, Otto didn’t want to back off, and was supported by all the members belonging to the City Council. The incident ended with the resident moving to another place.


The activities of Otto continued being spied by the government, and the detectives staked out meetings held at his house. However, aware being spied, on, Otto invited the detective to his house for attending the discussion at the meetings, which was just a matter of community and friendship.


After listening to the conversation, the detective was convinced that Otto was fighting for the public interest. That said, the detective then met Otto and told him that he wanted to be a member of Budi Utomo. Otto’s name became increasingly popular and the government began to worry about seeing its influence among the people, and therefore, in 1928 he was moved from Pekalongan to Jakarta.


In Jakarta, Otto worked as a Muhammadiyah teacher, and he continued his political activities. He became a member of the Pasundan Circle of Friends, and not long after that, he was elected as the chairman of this organization. Thankfully, Otto’s leadership made the organization, the Pasundan Circle of Friends grow and succeeded in establishing banks and schools.


He, in 1930, was elected as a member of Volksraad (People’s Council) representing the Pasundan Circle of Friends. Even when he was a member of the City Council in Pekalongan, Otto showed his courage for threatening the government. Otto tried convincing the Dutch Government that his nation, Indonesia would be independent.


In a speech, he said, “But I believe that Indonesia which is now colonized will surely be independent. The Dutch are known as a cool-headed nation, the Dutch gentlemen should choose between two possibilities: withdraw voluntarily but respectfully, or master - our men were driven out by force.”


His speech led the chairperson of Volsraad to welcome him from the pulpit. However, he failed to give up fighting for the fate of his people and in another speech expressed his belief that his Indonesia would be independent. Many people stated that the Netherlands would never leave Indonesia without coercion. However, he continued to believe in himself and said, “I believe that at some time when the time comes, the Netherlands will certainly release Indonesia sincerely for its safety” when he was the last member of Volsraad in 1941.


Otto was withdrawn from the Volksraad because of his scathing speech against the government. He then devoted his attention to leading the Pasundan Circle of Friends as well as the Tjahaja daily, published since he was a member of the Volksraad. Otto became the leader of the Tjahaja newspaper (1942-1945) during the Japanese occupation.


He later became a member of the Indonesian Independence Preparatory Agency (BPUPKI) and the Indonesian Independence Preparatory Committee (PPKI).


Japan surrendered the Allies on August 14, 1945, and three days later on August 17, 194 Bung Karno and Bung Hatta proclaimed Indonesian Independence on behalf of the citizens. After independence, Otto served as Minister of State in the first cabinet of the Republic of Indonesia in 1945 and was tasked with preparing the information of the BKR from the people’s parliamentary forces scattered throughout Indonesia.


The steps taken by Otto while carrying out the task are expected for causing dissatisfaction with one of the preliminary troops.


He was the victim of the abduction of a group of people named Laskar Hitam, who belonged to “The Black Troop” and then suddenly disappeared. People thought that he had been killed in the Banten area on December 20, 1945. The next day, his funeral was held in absence of his body, which was replaced by the sea water and sand and interred in a cemetery in Lembung, West Bandung Regency.


Through Presidential Decree based on the Republic of Indonesia, on November 6, 1973, Number 088/TK/1973, Otto Iskandar Dinata was appointed as a National Hero. For honoring his struggle, The Sand Heroes Monument was established in Lembang, Bandung, West Java.


Otto’s image appeared on 2004-2016 series of 20,000 Indonesian honouring rupiah note. Besides his name is used as street names in various regions of Indonesia in different formats: Otto Iskandardinata, Otto Iskandar Dinata, Otista and Jalak Harupat.


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