Tuesday, September 23, 2008



Hundreds of Hindus in the predominantly Hindu island of Bali in Indonesia have demonstrated twice in one week to protest against theefforts of conservative Islamic elements to force through the Indonesian Parliament a Bill, which is ostensibly meant to ban thedissemination and possession of pornographic literature, films, CDs and other material. The Hindus, who have been living in Bali for over athousand years and preserved the pristine traditions of Hinduism, apprehend that the Islamic conservative elements behind the Bill have thehidden objective of imposing on non-Muslims the Islamic dress code and prejudices against music and dancing. They fear that the Islamicconservatives want to ban the use of music and dancing based on Hindu religious themes on religious and social occasions in Bali on theground that they encourage eroticism and remove from temples idols, which are perceived by the conservatives as erotic. They alsosuspect that the Islamic conservatives want to eradicate the influence of Hindu traditions and culture in Indonesia and Arabise the Muslimpopulation in Indonesia as has already been done in Malaysia.

2. The Islamic conservatives have been trying for the last three years to have the Bill passed and implemented, but they have been thwartedin their efforts by strong opposition not only from the Hindus and Christians, but also from liberal sections of the local Muslim society. Theliberals still have a strong presence and voice in the Indonesian Muslim society, but face increasing pressure from the conservatives to letthe Bill go through. This year, the conservatives made a determined bid to have the Bill passed and promulgated into law during the holymonth of Ramadan.

3. Provoked by this, the Hindus of Bali have demonstrated twice against the Bill. Addressing the second demonstration on September23,2008, Made Mangku Pastika, the Governor of Bali, said that the proposed Bill overlapped with existing legislation and trampled localcustoms in a country of ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. "The parliament should enforce other laws on the sex industry but don'tendorse a new law on pornography, especially if that law only accommodates a single group's perspective and disrespects others'," he said.
He added that regulations in the media law, the criminal code, the broadcasting law and the child protection law should be enough tocontrol pornography.

4.The Bill is too vague in its definition of pornography and the critics of the Bill fear that it could lead to Taliban-style attacks against thosepreserving Hindu traditions in music and dancing and dressing differently from the Muslims. The conservatives want that women should bebanned from exposing their midriff and navel, which should be made an offence punishable with two years in prison. The Hindus say that theBill would threaten their local religious and cultural traditions, and hurt the lucrative tourism industry, on which they are mainly dependentfor their livelihood.The Bill would criminalise all public acts and material capable of raising sexual desires or violating "community morality,"including dance, music and poetry. The protesting Hindus sang, danced and recited from Hindu epics----- all acts which could be criminalisedif the Bill became law.

5.In the beginning the Bill was supported only by the Islamic conservative parties, but in view of the elections due next year, the secular Golkar has also started supporting it. However, the Christian Peace and Welfare Party and the nationalist Indonesian Democratic Party ofStruggle (PDI-P) have rejected the proposed Bill.The Hindus have threatened to launch a civil disobedience movement similar to themovement launched by Mahatma Gandhi in India if the Bill is enacted and enforced.

5. The discussion on the Bill in the Parliament has reportedly been postponed till the end of this year in view of the protests from the Hindus and the Christians, but it has not been withdrawn. (24-9-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )