By UCA News
(UCA News) — A recent case of forcing a student to wear a hijab at a state school has renewed concerns about a “rights violation” in Indonesia, which also targets religious minorities, according to rights activists.
The Muslim-majority country was shocked last week by the case of a Muslim student at a senior high school in Banguntapan, Bantul district, Yogyakarta special region who claimed to be intimidated by teachers into wearing a headscarf.
As a result, the 16-year-old student was reported to have confined herself for an hour in a school toilet.
The school later denied any coercion, but the “traumatized” girl reportedly moved to another school.
The case sparked criticism from rights groups against the practice of coercion, which has also been experienced by religious minorities across the country.
Andreas Harsono, the Indonesia researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said cases of forced wearing of the hijab will continue because there are still regulations that require the hijab, although efforts have already begun to change it.
“There are still at least 60 regulations in the regions, from the districts, cities and provincial levels to national ones, complete with sanctions,” he told UCA News on Aug. 2.
He said the regulations were generally coercive.
“Because there is a system of coercion mixed with reasons for religious beliefs, there is a practice of supervising each other, becoming a kind of police force for others who don’t obey it,” he said.
He said recent HRW research found that such regulations, which were introduced in 2001 in a number of Muslim-majority provinces such as West Java, Aceh and West Sumatra, had an impact such as widespread bullying of girls and women to force them to wear the hijab, as well as the deep psychological distress the bullying can cause.
The victims, he said, included non-Muslims.
“We found coercion against non-Muslims in 24 provinces to varying degrees, from Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, as well as from other religions,” he said.
He said victims who did not comply were forced to leave school or withdrew under pressure, while some female civil servants, including teachers, doctors, school principals and university lecturers, lost their jobs or felt compelled to resign.
He said the government had taken steps to end this practice, citing a move by Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim and two other ministers in February 2021 who amended the 2014 regulation to specify that schoolgirls are free to choose whether to wear the hijab.
However, he said, in May 2021, the Supreme Court struck down that amendment to the regulation, effectively ruling that girls under 18 have no right to choose their own clothes.
The court said the amendment contravened existing laws on the jurisdiction of local governments, child protection and the national education system.
“The ruling ended government efforts to give Muslim girls and teachers the freedom to choose what they wear,” he said.
“As long as there is no attempt to correct the existing regulations, we can be sure that in the future, coercive efforts will reappear,” he said.
Meanwhile, Halili Hasan, a researcher from the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said forcing the wearing of the hijab, including in schools “is contrary to the diversity of Indonesia, which we must uphold, maintain and strengthen.”
He said stakeholders in schools “should be key actors for educational and civilizing processes in schools that are principally oriented to the interests of students, non-violence (from symbolic, verbal to open acts of violence), and a culture of peace.”
“The act of forcing the wearing of the headscarf that traumatized students is clearly against these principles,” he said.