Many years back, our First President, Soekarno laughed at the Indian food and tea vendors provocatively displaying their religious identities on the sign boards, “Hindu Tea Stall” or “Muslim Restaurant”.

That was back in the 1940s.
India Today is quite different. Muslim Stars like Sharukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan are idolized by all. The country with Hindu Majority has a Sikh Prime Minister. The Ruling Party has an Italian Born Catholic as its head. And, a Muslim President has just been succeeded by a Woman.

There was a time when the First Asian Nobel Laureate Tagore sang hymns in praise of Indonesia’s Cultural Diversity, and India’s President Radhakrishnan wondered at the harmonious interaction between the different religious groups here. Indonesia Today, alas, is different….

I quote from the “U.S. Department of State International Religious Freedom Report 2007” on Indonesia, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
on September 14, 2007:

“The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government during the reporting period, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion. However, while most of the population enjoyed a high degree of religious freedom, the Government recognized only six major religions. Some legal restrictions continued on certain types of religious activity and on unrecognized religions. The Government sometimes tolerated discrimination against and the abuse of religious groups by private actors and often failed to punish perpetrators. While Aceh remained the only province authorized to implement Islamic law (Shari’a), several local governments outside of Aceh promulgated laws implementing elements of Shari’a that abrogated the rights of women and religious minorities. The Government did not use its constitutional authority over religious matters to review or overturn these local laws. Persons of minority religious groups and atheists continued to experience official discrimination, often in the context of civil registration of marriages and births or the issuance of identity cards.

“The public generally respected religious freedom; however, extremist groups used violence and intimidation to force eight small, unlicensed churches and one Ahmadiyya mosque to close. In addition several churches and Ahmadiyya places of worship that were forcibly shut in previous years by mobs remained closed. Some government officials and mass Muslim organizations continued to reject the Ahmadiyya interpretation of Islam resulting in discrimination against its followers. Many perpetrators of past abuse against religious minorities were not brought to justice. Also, instances of extremists attacking and attempting to terrorize members of other religions occurred in certain provinces during the reporting period.”

Elsewhere in the same report, and this is a disgrace: “The Government sometimes tolerated extremist groups that used violence and intimidation against religious groups, and often failed to punish perpetrators. The Government did not use its authority to review or revoke local laws that violated freedom of religion.”

Houses of Worship are attacked, the properties are set ablaze, but, as the report indicates: “While often present, police rarely acted to prevent forced church closings and sometimes assisted militant groups in the closure. In early June 2006 the central Government announced its intentions to crack down on vigilantism by militant religious groups against places of worship as well as other targets. At the end of the reporting period, there were no specific reports of action.”

The latest incident is that of vandalizing of Pura Sangkareang, a Hindu Temple in West Lombok, on the 13th of January this year. Now, this particular temple, as I am given to understand, has been in existence since the 17th century. The Hindus there were just renovating the temple; perhaps they had extra funds and wanted to beautify it. So what? But, no, the village head apparently connected it with his missionary zeal and took it as a sign of revival of Hinduism.

Amazing, interesting, at the same time very frustrating indeed. We always see in another person, the reflection of our own face. We think the other person is out to do what we have been doing so far.

We always justify our act of converting a person of different faith and bringing him or her to our fold as an act of compliance to Divine Injunction. But, we can never accept similar justification from a person of another faith. Someone embracing “my” faith is on the right track. Someone denouncing “my” faith has strayed away from the track – is on the wrong track. When you denounce “my” faith, “my” ego is hurt, and so you are wrong. You have done “me” wrong.

We behave and act discriminately, because we think in the same pattern. As long as I think my religion is the best and that your religion is at the most tolerable – we can never ever complete and finish our pending home work. Religious Freedom will always remain an issue.

What we need today is not mere tolerance, but a deep and genuine sense of “appreciation”. I must respect and honor your faith in the same manner and way as I respect and honor my own faith. I must accept and above all appreciate the differences between us.

It is only through appreciation that we can build trust between us. It is only through appreciation that we can bridge the difference between us. It is due to the absence of such mutual appreciation, that we have broken our society into fragments.

The Report quoted continues: “Since the Government promulgated the Revised Joint Ministerial Decree on the Construction of Houses of Worship in March 2006, a revision of the 1969 decree, implementation and defense of rights conferred under the decree have not always been enforced at the local level. During the reporting period, some Christian and Hindu groups pointed to sporadic acts of discrimination in which local authorities refused to authorize the building of churches and temples even though the groups managed to collect the necessary signatures. For example, the Hindu Association reported their continuing inability to build a temple near Jakarta despite obtaining the required signatures.”

The Revised Joint Ministerial Decree issued on March 21, 2006, requires religious groups that want to build a house of worship to obtain the signatures of at least 90 members and 60 persons of other religious groups in the community stating that they support the establishment, as well as approval from the local religious affairs office.

Clearly, the decree is intended to make it difficult for the minorities to establish a House of Worship.  This is a clear proof of discrimination. But, this is not the only such decree. There are several other decrees which must be re-revised again if we are serious about our commitment to Unity in Diversity, which is our Nation’s Motto.

In our ignorance we have brought this country to the brink of disintegration. Not only the decree initiators and makers, but indeed all of us who are silent about it, shall have to answer to our posterity if our society is disintegrated. Let us do something about it…..