Native faiths fight for official recognition

Jakarta, Indonesia - A coalition representing followers of indigenous faiths is pressing the government to recognize their beliefs in a new civil registration law.

Saying that their civil rights have been violated for decades, the group has said that the first step toward rectifying the problem would allowing people to list their true religion on ID cards and other civil documents.

For decades, the government recognized only five religions: Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Protestantism and Catholicism. Confucianism was officially recognized only late last year.

"The denial of the presence of our faiths has led to much discrimination," Dewi Kanti, a spokeswoman for the coalition, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

She said followers of un-official faiths had difficulties recording their marriages at civil registration offices, were obliged to send their children to classes teaching the beliefs of the "official" religions and had problems at job interviews and bank transactions because of their ID cards.

"But the worst of all is the consequence that has to be shouldered by our children, who are mocked for being born 'out of wedlock'," said Dewi, a follower of Sunda Wiwitan, a Sundanese religion.

A large part of Indonesia's cultural diversity comes from its many indigenous belief systems, most of which were in practice before the five official religions arrived here. Indigenous believers are forced to nominally follow one of the five, however, in order deal with the official bureaucracy.

In Central Java, enclaves of people who believe in the syncretic faith Kejawen live next to a predominantly Muslim community. In Kalimantan, a substantial portion of the indigenous population adheres to the animist Kaharingan religion.

Attempts to get local faiths recognized, however, have so far been unsuccessful. The House of Representatives special committee on civil registration has refused to meet with representatives of the indigenous faiths coalition.

The National Commission on Human Rights has issued a statement criticizing the special committee for discussing the new civil registration law behind closed doors.

It has been suggested that the committee is under pressure to finish the bill in time for it to be endorsed before the end of the year.

Ary Mashuri, the chairman of the Indonesian Movement Against Discrimination, said that accommodating believers of non-official faiths would be in the interest of the government and legislators.

"The reason why it took the government so long to recognize Confucianism was because of concerns over protests from majority groups but we saw that no objections arose. The government should do the same for these people or it will lose support from them," he said.