Uniforms for Diversity

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Laila Afifa

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaThe decision by three ministers on school uniforms must be supported. The politicization of what students wear in school must be stopped.

    The government policy in uniforms and attributes worn by students at state elementary and middle schools deserves support. The joint ministerial decision signed by Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim, Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian, and Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas underlines the government's resolve to not interfere in matters concerning students' religious beliefs. Therefore, the reaction by the Indonesian Ulema council (MUI) asking the government to give regional governments the authority to regulate school uniforms in line with student's religions is a step backward. This type of opinion must be strongly opposed. As public education institutions, state schools must not reflect on particular religion.

    The concern from the MUI that the government decision will see the end of local wisdom is also mistaken. Uniforms based on the teachings of religion will instead lead to a uniformity of culture. This will bring about an end to the diversity that is a characteristic of Indonesian culture.

    It is important to realize that schools policies requiring students to wear uniforms based on religious teachings are a form of political intervention in students' bodies, particularly remales. Whatever form it takes, this type of pressure must be rejected. So must the banning expressions of religious faith, sauch as when the New Order regime banned the use of jilbabs (headscarves) in schools.

    Unfortunately, since the 1998 reformasi and the expansion of freedom of rekigious expression, the political pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Schools and regional governments in large number have passed rules obliging students to wear clothing identified with a particular religions as well as banning the use of symbol of minority religions in their regions. Religious study teachers who only give high grades to students wearing religious attributes, for example, are reinforcing the violations of students' freedom of expression and religion.

    Politics that tries to force students to wear the same clothing gives rise to discrimination. The obligation for non-Muslim students at State Vocational Middle School 2, Padang, West Sumatra to wear jilbabs is only tip of the iceberg. Previously, in regions such as Bali and Papua, there were reports about Muslim students who were forbidden to wear the jilbab. Both of these rules are discriminative, violate human rights and at odds with the 1945 Constitution.

    We have long been waiting for a resolute stance from the government on this issue. However, the issuing of the joint ministerial decision by three ministers is only the first step. This policy must be accompanied by the revoking of all regional bylaws and school regulations that restrict students' expression of religion and faith. Neither the government nor schools, nor any institution, is allowed to oblige students to wear clothing based on the teachings of a particular religion. Let the students choose uniforms that they feel are appropriate and comfortable for them.

    The duty and responsibility of the government is to guanrantee every student, no matter what their religion or faith is, freedom to express their beielfs. The government must protect them from threats and pressure, yet alone those accompanied by violence, from any person.

    Indonesia is not a state based on religion. This nation was born from agreement between various religious and faith groups. Efforts to move the nationa towards the values of a particular religion must be prevented because this would lead us towards fragmentation. President Joko Widodo must not hesitate in clearly emphasizing this, in line with the mandate of the Contitution.

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