Indonesian woman’s death in Hong Kong double murder leaves loved ones without a daughter, a sister, a mother
Grandmother can’t bear to tell Sumarti Ningsih’s son truth about brutal killing
Seven-year-old Muhamad Hkafizh Arnovan lies restlessly on a bamboo bed, his face to the wall.
It is mid-afternoon, and his friends are outside playing in the fields and farmland that stretch all the way to the horizon. Chickens roam freely amid the abundant fruit trees of the village, tucked away near tranquil Cilacap in the south-western corner of Indonesia.
But the boy wants to be alone – he knows something is wrong, even if he is too young to understand.
Watch: ‘Rurik Jutting is haunting me’: Sumarti Ningsih’s chilling call to father just days before death
Muhamad is the son of Sumarti Ningsih, a young Indonesian woman who was brutally tortured, raped and murdered by British banker Rurik Jutting in Hong Kong two years ago, when he was only five.
But though he knows something has happened to Sumarti, Muhamad is not yet aware of just how much he has lost – he does not know that she is his mother.
From the time Muhamad was seven weeks old, Sumarti had been constantly away from home, hunting for work to keep the family afloat. So although she saw him on breaks between jobs, the boy never knew Sumarti as more than a doting aunt.
“I’ve never explained it to him because it reminds me of [my daughter’s death],” his 51-year-old grandmother Suratmi said.
Two years on, she is still struggling to accept her daughter’s violent fate.
One chapter of Jutting’s gruesome story concluded on Tuesday with the Cambridge-educated banker’s conviction for the murder of Sumarti, 23, and another Indonesian woman, Seneng Mujiasih, 26, in his Wan Chai apartment in 2014.
He was sentenced by Hong Kong’s High Court to a life behind bars.
But the phantom of Jutting’s atrocities continues to haunt the families of the deceased some 2,500km from the concrete jungle where their daughters, both from Indonesia’s most rural regions, crossed paths with the privileged banker.
Jutting’s conviction is cold comfort for Sumarti and Seneng’s loved ones, who, amid their loss, are struggling with financial uncertainty and emotional turmoil.
“l’ll always miss her. But where can I find her now?” Sumarti’s grieving mother asked the Post, her voice breaking.
The bereaved family of six – comprising Suratmi, her husband, their two sons and two grandsons – live in a run-down brick house inside a village at Gandrungmangu, an hour’s drive from Cilacap and five hours from the nearest international airport, in Yogyakarta.
Tears streamed down Suratmi’s face as she flicked through an album of her daughter photos. She said Sumarti had sacrificed herself to improve the family’s life.
“I hope she’s in a better place now.”
What worries Suratmi the most is her grandson, Muhamad.
Sumarti married when she was 17 and gave birth to the boy the following year. Her husband left before Muhamad was born.
Sumarti then left the 49-day-old baby in her mother’s care and went away to find work in other parts of Indonesia, eventually ending up in Hong Kong.
Although it has been two years since her death, Sumarti’s room has been kept largely intact, with a double bed covered in Barbie and Hello Kitty prints against one wall, a reminder that she was only a teenager when she first left home in search of work.
This was the very bed Suratmi, her daughter and Muhamad used to squeeze onto together. Sumarti would pretend to fight with the boy for the attention of Suratmi, whom he thought was his mother.
Muhamad called Sumarti “bunda”, an alternative term for mother in Bahasa Indonesia, though he thinks it means aunt.
“He said ‘my bunda’ has been killed by someone. Perhaps he learned it from other people. Perhaps ... he started to think [about it] and began to understand,” Suratmi said.
Time is running out for this grandmother. She has to tell the boy the truth before he finds out from someone else. But overwhelmed by grief, she said: “I don’t have the guts to do so. I just can’t do that.”
Growing up, Sumarti had always been an obedient, caring and filial daughter, a deft cook who was always willing to help out with household chores, she said.
Sumarti’s father, Ahmad Kaliman, 61, said her dream was to go to school and become a doctor or a nurse. But the family was too poor to take her ambitions any further than elementary school.
When Sumarti learned that job prospects were poor in Indonesia – the gross domestic product per capita of which was about one-tenth of that in Hong Kong in 2015 – working overseas became an obvious way for her to support her family and son.
Hong Kong is home to more than 340,000 domestic helpers mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines, where job opportunities are scant and salaries are low.
In 2011, after asking for her family’s blessing, Sumarti left Indonesia for the first time to become a domestic worker in Hong Kong.
In 2013, she returned home briefly to rest and do a disc jockey course in Jakarta. She eventually went back to Hong Kong, where she met Jutting online. The Briton allegedly offered her money for sex, but killed her on October 27, 2014.
On November 3, police knocked on the family’s door, looking for Sumarti’s parents. By that time, an ominous feeling was in the air at home. The pair had not received one of their daughter’s usual daily phone calls for more than a week.
“They asked me if I could bear some shocking news,” Kaliman recalled. The desperate father said yes, and the officers told him that his daughter had been tortured and killed.
The parents refused to believe this at first, but the officers told them a DNA test had confirmed it was Sumarti.
“I only wanted to cry, as it hurt so much. I felt so much grief,” Suratmi said, bursting into tears.
She said all they could do now was visit their daughter at the cemetery about half a kilometre away from their home. She looked at pictures Sumarti sent home from Hong Kong and said: “The pictures show her face, but they don’t talk back.”
Suratmi said her daughter used to send three million rupiah (HK$1,800) home every month. The family earns about one-third of that amount by selling the rice they grow and working various part-time jobs.
Suyitno, Sumarti’s 27-year-old brother, remembered how when Sumarti phoned home, they would enjoy brainstorming business ideas to lift their family out of poverty.
“Perhaps a phone store, selling some phone credits, or a food stall,” he recalled.
Suyitno now takes up whatever part-time jobs he can get. But each time he gets paid only about 50,000 to 100,000 rupiah, or HK$30 to HK$60, which roughly covers one person’s expenses for two days in Indonesia.
And his parents can no longer spend as much time in the fields as they did before, as they need to look after their grandchildren.
Suratmi is extremely worried about Muhamad’s future.
The family has appealed to the Indonesian government to provide a scholarship to help Muhamad through high school.
Her daughter sacrificed herself for Muhamad by going to Hong Kong, Suratmi said. But the move ended up leaving the boy orphaned – a fact which will turn his world upside down when he finally finds out.
Meanwhile, Suratmi continues to watch her neighbours, Sumarti’s friends, making the same overseas journey in search of a better life.
“I still imagine her [being around] whenever I see her friends come home from abroad. It reminds me of my daughter,” Suratmi said. “How can there be someone who tortured her until she died?”
Chris Lau is reporting from Indonesia
The Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body is raising funds for the two victims’ families over two weeks. You can donate at:
Account name: Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers in Hong Kong
Account address: Nathan Road, Jordan, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR
Account number: 127-7-027379
Bank name: HSBC
Please SMS or Whatsapp your receipt to 6992 0878.