The clickety-clack of high heels can be heard in the distance amid a hushed lounge. They are decisive yet faint at first, but grow louder and more commanding as the wearer of the powerful heels gets ever closer. Then, opening the door with a swing of her arm, Fifi Lety Tjahaja Purnama enters the room with the formidable force of a gale, nearly knocking over her audience with her charisma.
A sibling of Jakarta’s controversial governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, Fifi shares her brother’s bold spirit and a genuine concern for the common people’s wellbeing. “I work as a lawyer, but I enjoy doing charity work in my spare time,” explains the philanthropist, bright-eyed and animated. “My law career has been illustrious, to say the least. I am a former criminal lawyer, and my goal as a criminal lawyer was to help innocent people who were facing injustice.”
A strong sense of justice, along with integrity and compassion, seems to be inherited traits within the Tjahaja Purnama clan. Speaking about values deeply embedded in the family by the patriarch, Fifi recalls a story about her late father, Indra, that serves as an apt example to illustrate the culture within her household. “One day, my father’s friend asked my father for some rice to feed his family,” Fifi fondly recalls. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but my father gave half of our rice supply to his friend without expecting anything in return. That was just how my father was. We grew up seeing that, and we followed his example.”
Fifi’s father was more than just a pivotal figure in the family. Like a seer, he saw a future where his children would thrive, and what he desired for his children came to realisation. “My father wanted me to become a lawyer. He wanted someone in the family to know the law, to protect people against injustice,” says Fifi. “It’s strange, but my siblings and I became exactly what my father wanted us to be.”
As a criminal lawyer, Fifi’s path was a tumultuous one, full of highs and lows. Her steadfast belief in defending the innocent and the poor led to persecutions and threats. Yet, the strong-willed lawyer never wavered from fighting for what she believes is just. “I’ve heard a lot of threats. There was a time when a gang of thugs tried to intimidate me into dropping a case,” she says. “And another time, I stood in front of a bulldozer in an attempt to stop a construction project because it was forcing many village people out of their homes.”
Immersing herself fully in an unforgiving and, at times, hazardous, profession Fifi acknowledges the power of faith and prayers to strengthen her resolve. “In my heart, I believe that when we have faith in our cause, when we selflessly help people in need, doors will open and unexpected help will come,” she says. “I’ve seen it happen many times, and it confirms my convictions every time it happens. I know that I am doing the right thing.”
Fifi currently works as a corporate lawyer and boasts a roster of international clients, such as Energizer and Phillips, under her supervision. When asked about where she hopes her law career will take her, she says, without hesitation: “I hope that Indonesian law will truly be fair and impartial one day, without prejudice and discrimination. I hope the innocent will have a fair chance to win a case, and they will receive what they deserve. I believe that day will come.”
Fondly recollecting the words of her father, she says: “My father chose the name Tjahaja Purnama for us. It means ‘the light of the full moon.’ The moon shines brightly among people of all race, religion and creed. We must follow the example of the moon and help whoever needs our help, regardless of their race, religion and creed.”