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A New Chapter for Indigenous Faiths
Wednesday, 06 December, 2017 | 14:50 WIB
A New Chapter for Indigenous Faiths

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Adherents of the Ugamo Bangso Batak have long struggled against discrimination, and work for social inclusion. A recent Constitutional Court verdict offers new hope to adherents of indigenous faiths.

Medan resident Rosni Simarmata can now have "indigenous belief" written on the line stating her religion on her ID card (KTP). Although Rosni adheres to the Ugamo Bangsa Batak (literally translating into ‘the religion of the Batak people’), she was previously listed as a Protestant on her KTP. "I was forced to do so," said the 40-year old.

Rosni had good reason to hide her true faith, as the state had never given fair treatment to the believers of indigenous faiths. 

Her parents and many of her relatives used to leave the religion category blank on their KTPs. They all experienced how doing so harmed their educational and career opportunities. Banks, even, and other financial institutions would hesitate to conduct services for them simply because they had no religion on their ID’s.

Facing such rank discrimination, Ugamo Bangsa Batak adherents resorted to naming one of the six government-recognized religions on their KTP, just to avoid the stigma attached to people having no faith. "It made it difficult for any of us to express our true identity. The discrimination, in fact, violates human rights," said the mother of three. 

Now Rosni, along with hundreds of Ugamo Bangso Batak believers who are members of some 30 families, most of whom are domiciled in Sumatra, can breathe a sigh of some relief. On November 7, the Constitutional Court fulfilled the request for a judicial review of the 2016 Law on Citizenship. 

The judicial review request was filed by four petitioners, one of them Arnol Purba, an Ugamo Bangso Batak adherent. Rosni was one of the witnesses who supported the petition. "The provisions of the law could not guarantee the protection and equal rights of the citizenry, be those adhering to the recognized religions and those adhering to indigenous beliefs," said Arnol. 

In its verdict, the Constitutional Court decided that indigenous beliefs can be stated in the KTP and also the Family Card, but there was no need for mention of the specific faith in question. The judge argued this was necessary to systemize administration, considering the numbers of indigenous beliefs and their adherents throughout the country. Aside from the Ugamo Bangso Batak, there are hundreds more faiths and religions, such as the Parmalin (of North Sumatra), the Sunda Wiwitan (of West Java) and the Sapto Darmo (of Java). 

According to Arnol, believers of indigenous faiths have been subject to discrimination because all this while, the line stating a person’s religion had always been left blank on their KTPs, despite the fact that the law permitted the announcement. The no religion on the KTP caused many of them great difficulty when seeking jobs, especially in the military and other government posts. The online registration form did not have a box for ‘indigenous belief’.

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