(1993-1996) Vice Chairman, National Committee Indonesian
Society of Agricultual Economists
(1991-1992) Member, Consultative Committee, Common
Fund for Commodities
(1990-1996) Coordinator, Task Force on Agricultural
Policy, Indonesian National Committee for Pacific
Economic Cooperation (INPEC)
(1993-1998) Member, Indonesian Delegation to the Uruguay
Education: PhD Agricultural Economics, Cornell University,
Indonesia, March 09, 2005:
HS Dillon, a fearless campaigner
Joyeeta Dutta Ray, Contributor, Jakarta
In a country rife with corruption it takes a person
of immense courage to fight for justice without once
Dr. Harbrinderjit Singh Dillon is one such person.
As Dillon sits at his desk and readies for the interview,
he remarks, "This is the year of the Rooster
-- this is my year!"
Like the traits associated with his birth sign, there
is an element of vibrancy about him. His first words
of welcome in Bahasa Indonesia put in perspective
who he really is: Dillon has the face of a debonair
Indian Sikh, but his soul belongs firmly in Indonesia.
Dillon has been at the forefront of political activism
for more than two decades. He is a voice for the peasants,
a champion of human rights. He has also been a figure
of terror, primarily for the corrupt. His words spare
He is solid figure but his observations are cutting.
Like a knife chiseling wood, he fashions the story
of his life, nicking some along the way, carving out
hope for others.
"My great grandfather was a farmer in Punjab,
India, who migrated to Medan decades back. Plantation
runners were much in demand by the Dutch in Indonesia
then. But unlike in Malaysia, where the bulk of plantation
workers were Indians deported by the British, here
they were mostly locals," Dillon says.
One wonders if the Indian Sikh family, with their
traditional costumes and turbans, were readily accepted
in North Sumatra. Dillon turns wistful."In my
entire career, I have been discriminated against because
of my turban just once, when I was told that I could
never make a minister, coming from a minority.
"Indonesians are very warm people. There is
no reason for them to discriminate against Indians.
Sikhs have been part of the Indonesian fabric from
way back. Even in my great-grandfather's time they
were a fairly large community of two to three thousand
people employed as mostly farmers."
His great-grandfather joined this workforce and went
on to found the Khalsa School for the people of his
By the time Dillon entered the world three generations
later, Sikhism meant less to him than his forefathers.
Instead, he was more interested in being an Indonesian.
Growing up in Medan, Dillon was exposed to the unfortunate
lives of the farmers at first hand. It made him understand
the importance of a strong agricultural economy.
As he puts it today, "Agriculture and agriculture-based
industrialization should be at the center of economic
strategy. When you enhance agricultural productivity,
you increase incomes".
However, the situation in the 1950s was a far cry
from his understanding of today. The plight of farmers
was characterized by poverty and negligence.
The gross injustice of their plight struck a chord
in Dillon. He wished to speak out against it but he
realized at a young age that to be heard one first
needed to be armed with the power of knowledge --
After his basic education in Medan, Dillon went on
to Cornell University in the United States, where
he was offered a fellowship in agricultural trade
and development. He majored in international trade
and development and also studied resource management,
economics and developmental sociology.
He came back to Indonesia to serve as a researcher
in the Ministry of Agriculture, rising to assistant
for the minister of agriculture over the years.
For a man with a degree from Cornell, it was an unusual
decision to head back to Indonesia. Why did he do
it? "Because I am somebody here. There is an
impact (I can make)," he says.
He turned down a lucrative job for a lesser paying
one to realize his burning ambition -- to help the
farmers and make a difference.
But rampant corruption at every level made him, he
says, a disillusioned man. Not one to take things
lying down, he spoke out against important officials
in no uncertain terms. This deed cost him his job
in the state bureaucracy.
Dillon opted for consultancy work thereafter and
embarked on a variety of challenging posts, including
as a commissioner for the National Commission on Human
Rights; a member of the Council for the National Economy
(DEN) reporting to the president; a member of the
Joint Investigation Team (Anticorruption) reporting
to the Attorney General.
Today, Dillon sits as the Executive Director of the
Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia.
Interviewed and selected from over 500 candidates,
this position brings him much peace of mind. "This
is the job of my dreams. I am paid to do what I like
doing best", he said.
Talking of donors, Dillon offers his views about
tsunami-stricken Aceh. "A lot of money has been
generated for the tsunami from here and abroad. I
say don't give money, instead give water purifying
plants, pre-paid housing and the like. We are becoming
nothing but a clearing house for Aceh." he says.
Dillon goes on, "Aceh is full of injustice.
If there is no governance in Aceh, Indonesia is doomed.
But I am always optimistic. One must have asah (hope)
-- asah untuk bangsa (hope for the country). If we
have hope, we can build a new Aceh. The future of
a new Indonesia is tied up with the future of a new
In Dillon's dictionary nothing is impossible. His
statements ring with earnest passion. His outspoken,
often critical views have made and broken his career.
But he has no regrets. "I am a proud man. I am
grateful that I have been confident about speaking
How is it living with a man of such immense ideals?
His Indonesian Muslim wife of 29 years is a perfect
companion to the man she married. With a sharp mind
of her own to match his, she breaks in, "My husband
is a Rooster, I am a Rabbit. We are six signs apart
-- a match that is quite a mismatch. We are at loggerheads
everyday. That is why we are together still",
she says with a smile.
Dillon explains, "My wife, Droupti, is a doctor,
a nutritionist. We are poles apart. It is said in
Chinese astrology that in a marriage when two people
are this dissimilar, it is bound to last. Once differences
are mended, that is the end of the relationship,"
he says, tongue in cheek.
Dillon is a father of three sons. It is a close-knit
family where the relationship thrives less on authority
and more on imbibing from each other. But one wonders
whether they gravitate towards any one religion, as
is the case in most mixed marriages. Dillon's answer
is as forward-thinking as his views.
"I haven't raised my children as either Sikhs
or Muslims. If we are the bow and they the arrows,
we should let them go on ahead as good people,"
Dillon is a prolific writer, an ardent speaker, an
intent listener and an optimistic believer. Most of
all, he finally has the power, expertise and the means
to see his vision of a dynamic new Indonesia.
There is only one concern. "The scarcest commodity
is time," he says.
He has nothing to fear. After all, the year belongs
to him. As for the future, there is always asah. Asah
Geographic Regions: APEC, ASEAN, Indonesia
Research Areas: agriculture, democracy and democratization,
environment, ethnic issues, human rights, political
economic cooperation, trade and economic relations
Languages: Indonesian, English
Education: PhD Agricultural Economics, Cornell University
Concurrent Positions: Commissioner, National
Commission on Human
Rights, Country Representative, International Association
of Agricultural Economists
Past Positions: Vice President, Asian Society
of Agricultural Economists, Seoul 1996-99, Vice Chairman,
National Committee, Indonesia Society of Agricultural
Economists, Jakarta 1993-96,
Executive Committee Member, Asian Society of Agricultural
Seoul 1993-96, Secretary, Board of Supervisors, PTP
Limitied, New York and Indoham (Hamburg-Indonesische
Schoft M.B.H) 1991-96, Assistant to the Minister of
Commodity Trade, and Development 1990-96, Coordinator,
Task Force on
Agricultural Policy, Indonesian National Committee
Economic Cooperation (INCPEC) 1990-96, Member, Indonesian
to the Uruguay Round Negotations 1988-93, Head of
Permanent Agricultural Industrial Working Commission,
Agriculture and Ministry of Intrnational Trade 1988-93,
Consultative Committee, Common Fund for Commodities,
1991-92, Director, Commodity Analysis Division, Ministry
Agriculture 1985-90, Expert Staff, Special Team for
Directorate General of Estates 1983-85, Staff, Bureau
Ministry of Agriculture 1976-83, Secretary, Rural
Agro-Economic Survey, Ministry of Agriculture 1974-76
Publications: "The Value and Benefits to Producers
and Consumers of
INRA and the Benefits Likely to Be Derived from INRA
2," with S.R.
Tabor, Presented at the 30th IRSG Assembly, Hamburg
1987), "Contract Agriculture in Indonesia: A
Status Report," Presented
at the IDRC Workshop on Contract Farming in Asia,
1987), "The Trend of Natural Rubber Production
in Indonesia till
1990," Presented at the International Rubber
Study Group (IRSG)
Meeting, London (June 1986), "The Role of the
NES Scheme in the
Expansion of the Indonesia Natural Rubber Industry,"
Presented at the
29th IRSG Assembly, Abidjan (November 1985), "The
Rubber Smallholders in North Sumatera," Presented
at the Structural
Changes and Transfer of Technology in Rubber Industry
of Malaysia and
Indonesia-Macro and Micro Perspective Workshop, Adelaide