‘Using social media can minimise discrimination against minorities’
KARACHI: Even Indonesia’s pluralistic society seen worldwide as a model of an ideal Muslim democratic society is not immune to discrimination against religious minorities and has been observed more ever since Indonesia transitioned from Suharto’s authoritarian regime to democratic set-ups.
These views were expressed by Ihsan Ali Fauzi of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Democracy on Saturday at a two-day workshop on ‘the status of religious minorities’. The workshop was organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in collaboration with the International Federation for Human Rights. Other than local representatives of minority communities, the workshop had human rights activists from France, Palestine, Indonesia and the Philippines.
His presentation focused on ‘strategies and tactics used in Indonesia to advance the rights of minorities’. Beginning with some facts and figures about his country, Mr Fauzi said that Indonesia had nearly 300 ethnic groups and six religious groups of which Muslims formed the largest. “Indonesia’s ruling philosophy since its very inception has been based on Panacisla or the five principles, one of which is belief in one supreme God or monotheism.”
But since the 2006 violence against Shias, Ahmadis and Christians has been reported in Indonesia and the number of incidents is increasing. “In 2010 there were 216 violent incidents, a year later the number rose to 244 and in 2013 from Jan to Nov there have been 213 acts of discrimination against religious minorities.”
Speaking about the pattern of discrimination in his country, Mr Fauzi said: “It has been observed more in East and West Java where the Dar-ul-Islam movement has been attempting to bring Shariah.”
There were several sources of discrimination according to Mr Fauzi that have fostered discrimination and intolerance. One is weak state and consequently weak law enforcement, meaning that Islamic militants mobilise to attack religious minorities with impunity. Light prison terms as in the case of an Ahmadi who was killed and his murderer was just given six months imprisonment. This sends a message of official endorsement of such mob violence. Regulations and official permissions required to build places of worship is also another source of discrimination.
He said: “If a community wants to build a worship place then it has to first obtain signatures of at least 90 members living in the area [who have to say that they have no issue if such a structure is built] and signatures of 60 per cent of its community members.”
Another source of discrimination had been the introduction of the blasphemy law in 2008. Police, too, were culpable by turning a blind eye when those attacks had taken place, he said.
Despite those outbursts of violence against the religious minorities, Mr Fauzi said, some Indonesian politicians and police officials had spoken out or taken action. For instance, the Indonesian religious affairs minister spoke up against the persecution of Shias and Ahmadis. Also in a village in Kuninga, West Java, an anti-Ahmadi conflict arose in 2010 when the local police head Yoyoh Indayah intervened in the matter and resolved the situation by calling the groups to her office and told them even though she believes that the Ahmadis were not Muslims, but for her that was a law and order issue and not a religious dispute.
Discussing one of the best practices to combat discrimination against religious minorities, Mr Fauzi said that using social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter could be beneficial. For example, an activist in a court tweeted about proceedings pertaining to the Ahmadi community which was then picked up by international media such as The New York Times and CNN and thus brought the world’s attention to the matter.
Earlier, representatives of different faiths of belief in the country such as Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis, Hazaras and Shias spoke at length about the kind of discrimination they were facing, some of which made for harrowing listening.
“A one-year-old child of Ahmadi parents was refused burial in a graveyard even though earlier Muslims and Ahmadis were burying their dead in the joint cemetery,” said an Ahmadi representative.
“Whenever we have to visit our homes in tribal agencies, we have to pay Jiziya to several of the militant groups operating there,” said a Sikh representative.
“We have been confined to our homes and areas and are not being allowed to get education and work,” said Barkat, who had lost his cousin in the recent Mastung blast that targeted the Hazara community.
“I cannot say my bhajan loudly in my own house. My sister’s children were refused admission to a private school in Karachi because of their faith,” said Pushpa Kumari.