Sunday, January 16, 2011

ID & Religion - Indonesia

An Indonesian ID card, like any other around the world, tells who you are, but here it also identifies what you believe in, which can be a source of trouble if you’re a member of a faith that the state does not recognize.

Believers who do not subscribe to the six state-recognized religions will tell you this is not something they can take lightly, particularly during the birth of a child, a marriage or registering for schooling. Regulations on civil registration can prevent some from getting their rights as citizens if their are true to their religions.

“I didn’t care about ID cards until I wanted to get married,” Asep Setia Pujanegara, who has faced many challenges because of his Kaharingan religion, said at a discussion in Jakarta last week.

The 40-year-old said he had filed a complaint against Bandung’s Civil Registration Agency in 2001 for refusing to register his marriage because he was not a member of one of the six approved religions.

He says the legal process took more than six years and that he “only received a copy of the Supreme Court ruling in February 2008, even though the ruling itself was issued in March 2006.”

“During the process, my wife gave birth to our first son in September 2003. Since our marriage was, at that time, not acknowledged by the state, our son’s birth certificate only recognized my wife as his official parent.”

With the ruling in hand, the couple registered their marriage and asked authorities to amend their child’s birth records.

“That experience taught me and everyone I know that to get justice in this country, if you are a believer of an [unrecognized] faith group, one has to go through a long and complicated process.”

“It also had a social and psychological impact on me, because members of my faith group were told to always be compliant to the state. They told us that we were hare-brained,” Asep said.

Under the Constitution, only Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism are recognized and protected by the state. The law makes it illegal to “publicize, recommend or organize public support” for other religions or non-orthodox versions of the approved faiths.

Jakarta resident Prayogo Al Kelik, a member of the Ajisaka faith, said the government had simply put the word “group” next to the religion category when he renewed his ID card last year.

“Previously it was only a hyphen in brackets. My wife even has ‘faith’ listed as her religion. So together we form a ‘faith group,’ ” he said with a laugh.

Asep said different interpretations of the law made at the local level made it difficult for people from unrecognized faith groups to register events such as child births and marriages.

“A pattern of institutionalized discrimination starts right from the beginning, when you apply for an ID card,” said Febi Yonesta of the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH).

“Some people recommend that ‘religion’ be removed altogether from the ID card. We used to have ‘tribe’ on the cards before, but now we don’t. So why can’t we do the same with religion and remove it altogether?”

Gendro Nurhadi, head of the traditional faith group directorate at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, acknowledged that he had received complaints from unrecognized religious groups who tried to register themselves at local administration offices.

“I would like to see where the discussion is heading. When a [decree on public administration] was issued nearly four years ago, it said the government would leave the religion section of ID cards blank in such cases. But now we see that doesn’t work on the ground,” he said.

According to Gendro, in the 1980s there were about 250 different faith groups in Indonesia.

“But we never updated the number. My directorate is trying to update our database. It’s been three years since the project began and we plan to finish it in another three years,” he said.

In theory, Indonesia acknowledges the existence of other faith groups alongside the six religions, but this is seldom true in practice. These faith groups fall under the jurisdiction of Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Gendro also said that only traditional faith groups that have clear historical origin are recognized by the state.

Kristin Lilik, an official from the Ministry of Home Affairs, said the 2006 Law on Public Administration explained how those who did not adhere to one of the six religions could still be acknowledged as citizens.

“I perceived this as a localized problem, which we would follow through and remind people about at the local levels. Members of these groups could also ask for a statement from the local registration office if they fear being recognized as atheists,” she said.