Remang-Remang: Exploring the Pantura Route and Shedding Light on Prostitution

A sunny day replaces the previously dimly lit sky behind a simple stage. Diana Sastra, a tarling singer, takes the spotlight, entertaining the audience with songs celebrating life along the Pantura Route. However, behind the stage lights, a complex and challenging reality unfolds for some communities along this route, especially concerning the issue of prostitution.

Diana Sastra, with her eccentric stage presence, becomes a captivating figure in the world of tarling. Abdul Rosyidi, in his column in Alif, describes her as a complete singer with a beautiful voice, eccentric stage presence, sophisticated music, and humorous banter. As a perfectionist, Diana values professionalism and pays attention to the smallest details in her performances.

Even President Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, was enchanted by her song “Remang-remang” in 2008. The song portrays the daily life on the North Coast (Pantura), touching on romantic aspects and narrating the struggles of a woman working as a commercial sex worker (CSW).

The history of prostitution on the Pantura Route dates back to the Dutch colonial era, particularly during the construction of the Pos Road by Governor General Daendels in the 19th century. This road, spanning about 1,000 kilometers, became the main transportation route for goods and people, triggering economic and industrial growth along the route.

In the 1800s, prostitution practices expanded, especially in hotels, karaoke bars, and beauty salons. The Pantura Route evolved into an industrial area, with factories scattered along the road. Private vehicles like cars and motorcycles started filling the road, forming economic growth hubs in the cities they traversed.

The widening of the Pantura road to four lanes in 2020 to support industrial access also had negative consequences. The road, lacking proper accommodation for pedestrians, cyclists, rickshaws, and motorcycles, earned a reputation as a congested, noisy, stifling, and harsh route. This created an environment vulnerable to extortion, thuggery, and, of course, prostitution.

In the 1980s, prostitution practices started targeting roadside stalls, where weary truck drivers often stopped to fulfill their sexual needs. Subsequently, the increase in the number of female migrant workers (FMWs) working abroad brought about changes in the social and economic structure of Pantura.

Prostitution on the Pantura Route is inseparable from economic factors such as unemployment, low education, and patriarchal culture. Unpredictable weather conditions and tidal floods can force fishing families to resort to extreme measures, such as engaging in prostitution.

Communities along this route, especially women from less privileged families, often find themselves turning to prostitution as a solution to their economic hardships. This phenomenon becomes even more concerning when it involves underage children, who often become victims of human trafficking.

Efforts to regulate and educate commercial sex workers have not fully succeeded, while efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS have been made. In this context, the song “Remang-remang” illustrates the complexity and challenges of finding true love amidst societal norms that encompass the harsh realities of life on the Pantura Route.

Prostitution on the Pantura Route, despite its complex social and economic impacts, remains an unavoidable reality for some communities in the region. As regulatory and preventive efforts continue, communities and the government must collaborate to find holistic solutions to address the root causes of this issue and provide new hope for those caught in the difficult cycle on the Pantura Route.