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Seeking fair treatment for minorities
ID. Nugroho, Contributor, Jakarta
With hesitation, Karta and two fellow villagers entered the waiting room of the Legal Aid Institute (LBH) in Pancoran, South Jakarta.
The rows of seats in the room were left vacant as the three Baduy Dalam men chose to sit cross-legged on the floor. “It’s not a mosque, is it? Our ancestors forbid us to sleep in a house of worship,” said Karta, who was visiting the other two.
Karta’s appearance in Jakarta a few months ago was a little surprising, at least to the legal aid office staff. He and his peers look very different to most people. They wear the typical clothes of the Baduy Dalam tribesmen in Banten, with dull white shirts, black sarongs resembling women’s skirts and white headcloths.
To Jakartans, they are a rare sight. “People along the road were staring at us, but these are our clothes,” recalled Karta, adding “For us, it’s important to avoid bad conduct, which is an ancestral taboo we dare not breach for fear of being expelled from our community.” The Baduy Dalam people are known for their total obedience to the daily customs passed down by their progenitors.
The Baduy are only one of many diverse ethnic groups in Indonesia. The traditions and beliefs strictly followed by members of this ethnic tribe make them a minority, especially compared with other major groups like the Javanese, Bataks, Bugis and so forth. Though such minorities have the same rights as citizens under the Constitution, in reality they are marginalized.
“Even tribal names are often misquoted, such as the Samin tribe, which should be called the Sedulur Sikep. This tribe’s leading forefather was Samin Surontiko, whose name has now been used for the community,” said AA Sudirman, an observer of minority groups in Indonesia. Likewise, the Baduy tribe’s original name was Kakenes.
Minorities involve more than just ethnic groups. There are various religious groups like Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or Taoist sects and followers of Sunda Wiwitan (a traditional faith), besides people with different sexual orientations like gays and lesbians. Among the religious minorities are the Ahmadiyah, Javanese mystics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and Siriya Orthodox Christians.
These groups have continued to exist in society so far. “They do exist and undeniably have equal rights as Indonesian citizens,” said Antonio Pradjasto, director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (DEMOS). Sadly, according to Antonio, the reality they have to face is injustice.
In many cases, minority groups, particularly religious ones, have had to undergo hardship. The Ahmadiyah places of worship, for instance, were attacked some time ago. “This should not have happened, because the state is obliged to guarantee individual freedom to perform religious rituals,” added Antonio.
History has proved that rules imposed on minorities violate the system of justice and equality before the law. What the ethnic Chinese group experienced serves as an example. In the Dutch colonial period in Indonesia, along with people of Indian and Arab descent, the Chinese belonged to the foreign Eastern category. With Indonesia’s independence, the Chinese and Indians were still considered foreign citizens, apparently due to the factor of religion.
The instruction of president Soeharto in 1967 banning Chinese schools, publications, faiths and traditions made matters worse for this ethnic community. The Chinese were forced to forget their past. Unfortunately, when the September 30, 1965 incident occurred, most of the Chinese were branded as communists simply because the People’s Republic of China recognized the ideology at the time.
When riots broke out in Jakarta in May 1998, citizens of Chinese stock were again victimized, with alleged rapes taking place in many places. Countless Chinese-owned houses, shops and assets were looted. President Habibie’s instruction in 1998 terminating the use of the terms “indigenous” and “non-indigenous” slightly reduced intergroup tension. The situation considerably improved as Abdurrahman Wahid became president. Familiarly known as Gus Dur, this figure was a minority defender.
“But with all the positive developments, the treatment of minority groups hasn’t changed much. The recent attacks on Ahmadiyah followers happened within in the current term of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono,” noted Antonio Pradjasto. Therefore, DEMOS fully supports the request for a judicial review of the law on the prevention of blasphemy, now under deliberation by the Constitutional Court. The National Alliance for Free Profession of Religions and Faiths (AKKBB) requested that the court amend articles regarded as hampering religious freedom.
The aspiration is certainly hard to achieve. At least, Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali and Law and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar maintain the anti-blasphemy law should exist. In fact, the law regulating only six religions – Islam, Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian faiths – contradicts Article 28 of the Constitution that stipulates “Every citizen shall be free from discriminative treatment on whatever grounds and entitled to protection against such discriminative treatment.”
Intricate though it may seem, the judicial review should at least serve as an attempt to offer fair treatment to the country’s minorities. Let’s hope so.
Freedom lovers: Members of the National Alliance for Freedom of Religions and Beliefs stage a rally at Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in Central Jakarta, asking the government to guarantee freedom of religions and beliefs. JP/R. Berto Wedhatama