The Intersectoral Collaboration for Indigenous Religions “Rumah Bersama” held the 5th International Conference on Indigenous Religion at the Javanology Innovation Center of Sebelas Maret State University, Surakarta, Wednesday-Thursday (22-23/11/2023). The 5th ICIR raised the theme “Democracy of the Vulnerable” with the aim of revisiting the existence and determining the best position for the indigenous religions of the archipelago amid the turbulent dynamics of democracy in Indonesia. Often the existence of indigenous religions is overlooked because society in general prioritizes discourses related to elections and related trappings. The theme of the 5th ICIR is a response to the momentum of the 2024 General Election which shows that the discourse and space of democracy are still too dominated by various electoral narratives that focus on the interests of a handful of political and economic elites.
Electoral democracy is always trapped in the ceremonial aspect, utilizing the people’s five-year desire for new leadership that is expected to bring changes to their lives. However, in reality, after several general elections, people still have to face a tough life that does not necessarily change after they make their choices for the leaders of the country and their representatives in parliament. In fact, what often happens is that people are approached before the elections, given sweet promises as long as they vote for certain people. Then, after the elections are over, they will be abandoned and immersed in all the routines of their lives.
In the 5th ICIR parallel session panel 7 with the theme “Toward Inclusive Religious Freedom”, moderated by Athanasia Safitri, two young researchers, Khansanida Afifah Wardana, a doctoral student at the Faculty of Law, Diponegoro University, Semarang, and Astrid Syifa Salsabilla, a master’s student at the CRCS-UGM Postgraduate School presented their research. Wardana presented her research entitled “Restriction of Rights: The Vortex of Religious Freedom and Democracy in Indonesia.” In her presentation, Wardana stated, “One of the core aspects in building a healthy democracy is the existence of religious freedom in a country.” The role of religion in the public domain and in the realm of government, makes a major contribution in creating community empowerment. The problem lies in the stagnant paradigm that Indonesia only recognizes ‘official’ religions and ignores the rights and voices of adherents of traditional beliefs or Aliran Kepercayaan.
Wardana found three models of the relationship between religion and democracy. The first is the Negative Relationship, which is religion as a conservative force that is contrary to democracy which hinders human freedom and autonomy. Second, the Neutral Relationship, where religion and political affairs go on their own or “Political Secularization,” prioritizing the principles of rationality and efficiency that make religion a private matter. The third is Positive Relationship, where religion strongly supports the democratization process, both political, economic, and cultural. In a positive relationship, religion always provides ethos, spirit, and doctrinal content for the growth of democratic life.
In the case of Indonesia, Wardana divides the relationship between religion and democracy in Indonesia into three time periods. The Old Order period, the New Order period, and the Post-Reform period. During the Old Order period, the Ministry of Religious Affairs was established and began its role by providing the government with an official definition of religion, which marked the beginning of a discriminatory regime that distinguished between the official state religion and religions that did not meet the definition of religion and were classified as beliefs only. It was also during this period that Law No. 1 on Blasphemy was passed in 1965. The New Order period was born as a response to the political events of September 30, 1965, which made members and sympathizers of the communist party decide to embrace certain religions to avoid being killed. The New Order government also made Pancasila the ideological basis of all political organizations and parties. The role of religion in this era was reduced to only being part of the culture and education process. The collapse of the New Order regime in 1998 opened new horizons in the democratic scene in Indonesia. Freed from the constraints of a very restrictive New Order government, Indonesian society experienced euphoria in various fields. One of them is in the field of religion. Excessive religious zeal has caused friction between religious communities. This has caused the government to re-issue regulations that provide restrictions on religious communities.
In conclusion of her research, Wardana said that there is indeed a close relationship between religion and democracy that cannot be denied. Religion comes from God, but the meaning and actualization of religion will only be formed when its adherents in a cultural reality. Therefore, the relationship between religion and democracy is a necessity. Constitutional protection related to freedom of religion and belief that is not followed by changes in legislation, namely Law No. 1 of 1965 and Article 156a of the Criminal Code will eliminate the idea of inclusive religious freedom in Indonesia.
As a second presenter, Salsabilla presented her research entitled “Religious Freedom as Communal Rights: Contesting the ‘Agama’ Column in Indonesia’s Family Card for Religious Conversion Rights.” In her research, Salsabilla problematized the right to change religious identity for Indonesian citizens who convert. The problem arises because in the public administration to change the religion column on the identity card requires a complicated, long, and tiring process. The reality that often occurs is that Indonesian citizens who want to change their religious identity will encounter obstacles from public servants at the public service office. Salsabilla argued that the right to have a religion and/or change one’s religion is a fundamental human right that should not be hindered or complicated by the state. This human right is even enshrined in the constitution of the Republic of Indonesia. The 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia (UUD 1945) on Articles 28E and 29 is cited to show religious freedom.
However, religious conversion is still unfavorable, especially for several Muslim communities. At the same time, there are several policies that indicate resistance to religious conversion, such as Law Number 22 in 2002 (UU No. 22 Tahun 2022). In Presidential Regulation No. 96/2018 (Perpres No. 96/2018), it is stated, “The issuance of a Resident Identity Card for Indonesian Citizens with Permanent Residence due to changes in the elements in the card, the owner must submit a Family Card, an old Identity Card, a Permanent Residence Permit Card, and a certificate of biodata changes due to Population Events and Important Events” (Art. 19). Changing religious identity, which is a basic human right, is not easy due to the many regulations issued by the government. The politics of population administration proves that the Indonesian government still does not fully protect and fulfill the human rights of its citizens, namely freedom of religion and belief. In closing, Salsabilla stated, “Conflicts that arise due to different views on religious conversion may be unavoidable, but the state must ensure that every citizen can fulfill their rights through policies made. The regulations must also link the individual and communal dimensions so as not to harm Indonesian citizens while striving for the implementation of human rights in full.”
Both presenters explained the reality that still occurs in Indonesia, a democracy which has not treated its citizens fairly with equal treatment. Favoritism towards certain religious groups is still ongoing and tends to be tolerated, especially in terms of population administration. The regulations made have not been maximized in providing protection and a sense of justice for all Indonesian citizen