Hindus Against Anti-Porn Bill

BALI – When Forum Persaudaraan Mahasiswa Hindu Dharma (FPMHD), an organisation of Hindu students in Bali, was founded 14 years ago, few expected it to become a symbol of hope for young members of a minority religion in the world’s most populous Muslim country. Most probably, too, members of the group also didn’t expect they would one day be fighting against an anti-pornography bill.

Hindus make up two percent of Indonesia’s population that is predominantly Muslim. But in Bali, the country’s popular resort island, 92 percent of the 2.5 million people are Hindus.

The FPMHD had been set up for Hindu students to reaffirm their faith amid the laidback ways of Bali, a favourite destination of foreign tourists. But the group soon became inactive – until a group of young Hindus began revitalising the organisation in response to the ideological criticism of their faith by Islamist groups. FPMHD’s membership was infused with new blood from the Udayana University campus in Denpasar City in Bali, with 70 percent of the university students joining it.

The Hindu organisation meets twice a week on the university campus. Dominating discussions at the meetings these days is an anti-pornography bill that has been the talk not only in Bali, but also in other parts of Indonesia. Initially proposed in 1999, the bill has been criticised by intellectuals, liberals, and academics who say it threatens personal liberties, women’s rights, minorities’ traditions, and press freedom. Moreover, say critics, it would keep away foreign visitors as the bill indicates that Indonesia is a country with monolithic cultural values.

The bill makes it a criminal offence to portray nudity or sexual imagery in art and media. According to the FPMHD, the proposed piece of legislation is a threat to all religious minorities in Indonesia. Yanti, an economics freshman and FPMHD member, says it is in keeping with the thinking of Islamist groups who want to “Islamise the whole of Indonesia and the whole world” without sensitivity to other religions and beliefs.

Bombings and Playboy

The issue is particularly hot in Bali, which was not only the site of two deadly bombings staged in 2002 and 2005 by Islamist terrorists, but is also where the office of the Indonesian edition of the international adult magazine Playboy is now located.

Bali intellectual and Hindu community leader Gusti Ngurah Harta had allowed the magazine to operate from his house in the rural outskirts of Bali’s Denpasar City after its South Jakarta office was attacked in April 2006 by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).  The FPI is said to have close links with high-ranking security officers of the Soeharto era. (Playboy Indonesia includes at least 70 percent local content and promotes Balinese culture.)

A poet and founder of the Sandi Murti spiritual organisation, Gusti Ngurah Harta in February 2006 had led a delegation of Hindu leaders to Jakarta to discuss the community’s opposition to the bill with the committee in Parliament that is responsible for studying the bill. But the delegation, which included a writer, a journalist, a musician, a lecturer, a rector, and a Hindu priest, failed to get a response from Parliament.

“We don’t care,” says the Hindu leader. “We do not need this bill. It targets many forms of social behaviour, such as kissing in public and how women dress.”

“We also don’t like nudity,” he says. “(But) if the Government agrees to this bill, we will go to the Supreme Court.”

Ngurah Harta adds,  “It is a step towards building an Islamic country. They want to make Indonesia a Muslim country.” But he laments,  “In Bali, people don’t know about the bill in detail. They are lazy to read it.”

It has fallen on the likes of FPMHD to keep the Balinese informed about the bill. Ari Putranta, a 21-year-old law student and FPMHD leader, says Hindus are “not afraid” of Indonesia’s religious majority. “We are afraid only of Muslim fundamentalists and extremists,” he says.

It helps that the FPMHD is not alone in its fight against the anti-pornography bill. Some Muslim groups in Indonesia also oppose the proposed legislation. Says Hamid Basyaib, leader of the Jaringan Islam Liberal (JIL), a liberal Muslim group:  “We are trying to persuade members of Parliament that it would violate basic human rights. It will create more problems. We are anti-pornography, of course. It’s not about pornography. It’s about conduct in daily life, that’s why it’s ridiculous. That’s why we oppose it.”

Pros and more antis

Obviously, though, the bill has supporters, among them the Indonesian Muslim Students’ Action Union (KAMMI), a conservative Islamic organisation. KAMMI board member Taufik Amrullah argues that Malaysia and Singapore have a similar law, and therefore Indonesia should have one, too.

In Jakarta, KAMMI joined other Muslim groups that held public demonstrations in support of the bill. Among the other organisations was Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI). The latter has been accused by the U.S. and Indonesian governments of having terrorist links.

As far as Jakarta Post editor Soeryo Winoto is concerned, however, the bill would “limit all freedom of expression in terms of culture and tradition.” He asks: “What kind of Islam do they (supporters of the bill) represent?”

“I am Muslim,” he says.  “But I am not represented by them.  So I don’t see that the (anti-)pornography bill is suitable for Indonesia. There is no reason to have that.”

JIL’s Hamid, meanwhile,  is hoping the bill will eventually be defeated in Parliament. The two biggest parties in the legislature – the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and the Golkar Party (PG) —  are both secular, he points out.   With about 70 percent House seats, the two can defeat the bill, he says.

Tempo magazine chief editor Toriq Hadad, for his part,  believes the bill will also face social opposition: “We have people (of several faiths),” he notes. “They cannot make one policy for several peoples, so I don’t think the (anti-pornography) law can be effective. It is very difficult because society cannot accept it.” – Myo Zaw