Two motorcyclists flew into a rage recently when they were stopped from riding on a footpath by a group of pedestrians in Indonesia’s capital. Continue reading “In traffic-choked Jakarta, pedestrians aim to reclaim the footpaths”
Performing in the scorching sun wearing long-sleeved shirts and Muslim headscarves, members of the all-female Indonesian alternative metal band Voice of Baceprot were unfazed by the stifling heat.
“Are you ready? You guys are looking good!” band frontwoman Firdda Kurnia shouted to a crowd of mostly teenagers gathered in front of a shopping mall in Garut district, West Java province, before launching into her opening guitar riff.
Guitarist and singer Firdda, drummer Euis Siti Aisyah and bassist Widi Rahmawati – fresh-faced high school girls who make up the Voice of Baceprot, or VoB – say they want to inspire fellow teenagers and smash stereotypes held by many in the West about covered Muslim women.
“We want to show that girls who wear hijab aren’t oppressed,” 17-year-old Firdda said after the band finished playing.
“We want to show that even though we play metal, we are not abandoning our identity and obligations as Muslims,” said Firdda.
All-female bands are nothing new in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, but they usually dress like their Western counterparts.
Dara Puspita, a pioneering three-piece all-female rock band in the 1960s, was under pressure from then-president Sukarno, who saw Western music as a bad influence.
Indonesia has always been home to a thriving metal subculture, said cultural observer Hikmat Darmawan, noting that President Joko Widodo is an avid heavy metal fan.
“Rock music was an outlet for young Indonesians’ rebellion against the country’s past autocratic regimes,” he said, referring to the rules of former presidents Sukarno and Suharto.
Born to devout Muslim families and growing up poor in Garut, a small town in largely conservative West Java province about a four-hour drive from Jakarta, the VoB girls never dreamed of becoming musicians and did not learn to play musical instruments until they were teenagers.
They were introduced to the guitar and drums a few years ago as part of an extracurricular programme while they were attending an Islamic junior high school, or madrassa.
“We started out playing an acoustic guitar and broken drums from the school’s marching band,” said Euis, the drummer.
“There were no electronic instruments,” she added. “The school then bought a set of drums but I cried because I couldn’t use it.”
There was initial resistance to their choice of musical genre from family, teachers and neighbours, whose conservative views associated rock music with moral decadence, drugs and promiscuity.
“They would say that that metal is not for Muslim girls and that it’s Satanic music,” Firdda said.
“Our neighbours frowned when they saw us carrying the guitars. But that didn’t bother us because we enjoy what we do,” she said.
But attitudes are changing, with their parents no longer opposed to their career choice.
“They are now saying they are proud of us,” Firdda said.
The band, whose name means “noisy,” sings about social and environmental issues, such as in their single “The Enemy of the Earth is You,” and refrains from peppering their songs with religious messages.
“We are a band whose members are Muslims, but we are not an Islamic metal band,” Firdda said.
Firdda described the band’s genre as “nu metal” and said that its music is influenced by an eclectic mix of artists including Dream Theater, Lamb of God, Linkin Park, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Eminem.
The band has been invited to play on local television and is attracting a legion of fans in Indonesia and beyond, Firdda said.
After the band’s recent performance in Garut, local fans mobbed the girls behind the stage and asked to take selfies with them.
“We have fans in places across the country and overseas, including in Israel,” said Firdda, with a laugh.
The trio has won praise not only for breaking the mould of a typical metal band but also for their musical prowess.
“They have good skills and the fact that they wear hijab is a plus,” said Ade Nasruddin, a metal fan who attended the band’s live performance in Garut.
“The bass player is especially very good,” he said.
The band has also won plaudits from overseas viewers.
“There is nothing as truly cool, punk rock and rebellious, as a girl in a hijab with a guitar and microphone challenging the authority. Deep respect from a thinking American,” a YouTube user named Patrick Hayes wrote on one of the band’s videos.
The band is set to release an independent album later this year, to be distributed online. Some of the songs will be in English.
“We want people outside Indonesia to listen to our music. We have never been abroad but maybe someday we can perform overseas,” Firdda said.
Millions of Indonesians this week began arduous journeys to return to their home towns to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr. Continue reading “Millions of Indonesians begin travelling home to mark Eid al-Fitr”
Social media users in Indonesia have raised more than 2,600 dollars for a 94-year-old street vendor who was robbed of his savings.
A video circulated on Twitter and Instagram last week showing the banana seller, Suratman, visibly shaking and later slumping to the ground after a group of three people in a car stole 1.1 million rupiah (82 dollars) in cash from him.
Suratman, who plies his trade in Kota Baru, Jambi province, said in the video that the robbers pretended to buy a bunch of bananas and when he approached the car, they emptied his pocket and sped off.
Suratman said he had saved the money to buy furniture to welcome the Eid al-Fitr festival, which falls on June 25.
After the video went viral, netizens offered to donate money, and a bank employee volunteered to set up a savings account for him.
“Donations began pouring in after the account was created, reaching about 32 million rupiah as of yesterday,” said Amedio Pradipta, a Twitter user who helped coordinate the fundraising campaign.
A volunteer took Suratman to a furniture store, where he bought a set of sofas using the donated money.
The governor of Jambi province, where Suratman lives, donated 5 million rupiah and bought all of his remaining stock, local media reported.
Those looking to have fun in the Indonesian capital during Ramadan should go elsewhere.
The Jakarta administration has banned nightspots from operating during Ramadan, which is set to begin Saturday, ostensibly to respect those who observe the Muslim fasting month.
Places such as discotheques, massage parlours and saunas have been ordered to shut from one day before Ramadan until one day after Eid al-Fitr, a festival marking the end of the holy month, said Catur Laswanto, head of the city’s tourism agency.
Eid al-Fitr is from June 25 to 26.
Exceptions are to be made for establishments located in hotels and specially-designated entertainment centres, he said.
“The rules are in place so that Muslims can observe the holy month solemnly,” he said.
Similar rules also are in place in other cities in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.
In the past, the Muslim vigilante group Islamic Defenders’ Front sometimes raided nightspots that remained open during Ramadan, accusing those places of harbouring prostitutes and drug addicts.
But such raids have been rare in recent years after the government cracked down on violators of Ramadan hours and the sale of alcohol.
Mahdi Ba’bud, a local head of the Islamic Defenders’ Front in Jakarta, said his group would not conduct any raids this Ramadan.
“The police will take action,” he said. “We are just watching.”
Police in the Indonesian capital Jakarta raided a gay club and arrested 141 people on suspicion of involvement in “gay prostitution”, an officer said.
Ten people have been named suspects after the raid on Atlantis Gym and Sauna in north Jakarta on Sunday night, including the club’s owners and organizers of an event featuring a striptease, said local police detective chief Nasriadi, who goes by one name.
Four foreigners – two Malaysians, one Singaporean and one Briton – were among those arrested, Nasriadi said.
Rights activists condemned the arrests after photos of naked and shirtless club-goers being rounded up by police circulated on the internet.
“Such arbitrary action degrades the humanity of the victims,” said the Coalition Against Violence Against Sexual Minorities.
Homosexuals in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country have been on the defensive following last year’s barrage of anti-gay rhetoric and actions by officials.
Last week, a court in the sharia-ruled province of Aceh sentenced a male couple to 85 strokes of the cane for gay sex.
The two were scheduled to be publicly caned on Tuesday morning, said an official at the prosecutor’s office in Banda Aceh.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch urged President Joko Widodo to intervene and stop the caning.
“Jokowi needs to be clear to Aceh’s authorities that flogging is torture for which they will be held to account,” said Phelim Kine, the New York-based rights group’s deputy director for Asia, using the president’s nickname.
Last month, police in Indonesia’s second-largest city Surabaya raided hotel rooms and detained eight men for participating in a “gay sex party.”
The gay community in Indonesia was dealt another blow after a court in the sharia-ruled province of Aceh sentenced a gay couple to 85 strokes of the cane, in the first such case in the country.
Sexual minorities in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country are already on the defensive following last year’s barrage of anti-gay rhetoric and actions by officials.
“This is a sad day for the LGBT community,” said Yuli Rustinawati, spokeswoman for Arus Pelangi, a group that advocates for the country’s lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT).
“It is ironic because today we are celebrating International Day Against Homophobia,” she said.
Sexual minorities and rights activists feared the worst after Aceh’s parliament issued a new set of Islamic laws, known as qanun jinayat, regulating private morality in 2014. The laws took effect in October 2015.
Under the law, sex out of wedlock and same-sex sexual acts are punishable by 100 lashes of the cane, or 100 months in prison.
The previous laws banned gambling, alcohol and being alone with someone of the opposite sex while unmarried, but did not specifically regulate sexual acts.
“Qanun jinayat that is used to convict [the gay couple] is discriminatory and the punishment meted out is especially harsh,” said Adreas Harsono, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
“Their rigths were also violated because they were mistreated during their arrest,” he said.
Local vigilantes barged into the couple’s rented room in the city of Banda Aceh and handed them over to sharia police.
A video posted on YouTube showed a visibly distressed naked man surrounded by angry locals.
Many homosexuals have left Aceh since the introduction of the laws, Harsono said.
Transgender people in Aceh had very few job opportunities, forcing many of them to resort to working as hairdressers at salons.
But even as hairdressers, they are banned from serving female customers.
The once-rebellious Aceh has long been known as a staunchly Muslim
region and is nicknamed “The Veranda of Mecca.”
The central government granted Aceh special autonomy in 2002 to
mollify desires for independence, allowing the province to impose its version of sharia laws.
Jakarta and separatist rebels signed a peace pact in 2005, ending
decades of conflict that killed 15,000 people, mostly civilians. The deal was spurred by the Indian Ocean tsunami a year earlier that killed more than 170,000 people in Aceh.
The mayor of provincial capital Banda Aceh, Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal, has referred to the growing visibility of gays and lesbians as a “moral tsunami.”
She said her government has formed a special team to provide counselling for homosexual people.
In the rest of Indonesia, consensual sex between people of the same sex is not a crime, but hostility toward homosexuals has been growing.
Early last year, Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir warned of pro-LGBT activities on university campuses and banned such groups.
Last month, police in Indonesia’s second largest city Surabaya raided hotel rooms and detained eight men for participating in a “gay sex party.”
The government has sought to block gay-friendly mobile apps that it says promote “sexual deviance” and has also asked social networking services to remove emoticons from the Indonesian market which depict same-sex couples.
Arus Pelangi, the LGBT group, said it recorded more than 150 incidents of discrimination, harassment and attacks against LGBT people last year.
The government has also blocked international funding for organizations working to help sexual minorities, said Harsono of Human Rights Watch.
The Constitutional Court is considering a case filed by a group of conservative academics that seeks to criminalize consensual gay sex among adults, with proposed penalties of up to five years in prison. No verdict on the petition had been passed.
“Things are getting worse and worse for LGBT people,” said Harsono.
“I’m at loss for words about the inhumanity.”