Written by Linda Koswara, interfaith activist
Nowadays, sociocultural tensions related to race, ethnicity, religion, and other identities continue to exist in Indonesia. The issue of Papuan racism, for instance, that they were called monkeys by some who claimed themselves as nationalists. We all also probably have heard about the refusal of church activity in Bantul, Yogyakarta. Or a story about a non-Muslim student in Central Java who failed her grade in public school only because she refused to practice Islamic rituals as one of the requirements to pass. These situations lead to hate, discrimination, and injustice in many social aspects. What an irony considering Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity) is long-known as our official national motto that we are all very proud of.
Indonesia is the home of many differences and diversity of its citizens. According to BPS (2015) and The Ministry of Education and Culture (2018), there are currently 1331 ethnicities, 652 languages, and six acknowledged religions, making the scattered plurality inevitable throughout the country. The data applies only to identities recognized by the government. In reality, identities that have not been recognized are more widely spread across Indonesia, including those which belong to non-dominant groups such as indigenous communities.
On 14th October 2022, I attended the 93rd birthday of Prince Djatikusumah in Kuningan, Jawa Barat. In the Sundanese language, this ceremony is called Milangkala Pupuhu. As a gift and memento from The Prince’s famous Balinese sculptor best friend, I Nyoman Nuarta, a gallant statue of a tiger was inaugurated on this special day. Symbolizing tolerance and peace, the sculptor said the “Maung Lodaya” statue was given as solidarity and a reminder to preserve the culture. Traditional Sundanese and Balinese dancing were performed in this event to mark the intercultural relation between the two regions. This also was shown to address the “Bali Ka Sunda” or “Bali to Sunda” theme.
This “Sunda Wiwitan” special ceremony reminds me of the Penghayat Kepercayaan Community in the battle for their identity recognition. Currently, their beliefs are still not explicitly acknowledged by the government. According to one representative from Cireundeu Customary Village, their community has been struggling with this matter since 2003. Kang Yana, Sunda Wiwitan believer from Cireundeu said this issue negatively affects the community. They cannot easily obtain the same rights as other dominant citizen groups, only because they are small, different community. From the issue of birth certificate making, school registration forms details, to difficulty in filling out identity card (KTP) columns. To be fully accepted as equal citizens and integrated into the dominant society, they need to be recognized by the laws and public institutions, which leads to there should not be any difficulties for them during the processing of those identity documents.
The absence of this recognition also affects their relationship with other groups. Resentment and misunderstanding often happen during the interaction. Kang Yana told me that their traditional costumes are seen as something mystical. Because of the black color, other groups accused them of being shamans—which has been seen cynically by most Indonesian society. Not only a matter of clothes, symbols in the form of food offerings often get negative views as well. The role of mass media could be the reason for this matter: black and offerings are often associated with ugly shamanic practices. In fact, as in many other beliefs, the color and offerings are only symbols of gratitude to the Almighty. The government should take this issue into account. If the nation remains indifferent, this dangerous problem may harm intergroup relations in Indonesia.
The inspiring Milangkala Pupuhu event is very thought-provoking. There are still many sociocultural issues we need to address to deliver peace and build an inclusive environment across this country, not to mention to protect the life of non-dominant societies in Indonesia. The change always starts with us. As Will Kymlicka, a Canadian philosopher, said that being an intercultural citizen means we should feel comfortable dealing with diversity in our individual interactions. Responding to this, in my opinion, intercultural skills are very important for us as Indonesian citizens to maintain positive attitudes toward all differences, so that the tensions could be eliminated in the future.