Farewell, Miss Indonesia: Plan To Outlaw the Miniskirt and the Bikini

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The New York Sun

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Fauzia Damayanti stands to spend 10 years in prison unless she mends her wicked ways. Her possible crime? The Jakarta housewife wears miniskirts.

Under a draft anti-pornography bill being considered by Indonesian lawmakers, women who wear clothes deemed to be revealing may be jailed or fined as much as $111,000. Couples who kiss in public may face a five-year sentence or a $55,000 fine.

“It’s ridiculous and extreme,” said Ms. Damayanti, 27, a Muslim and mother of two, who wore a denim miniskirt and a white tank top as she sipped iced lemon tea in a restaurant. “People should be educated about what they wear, not jailed.”

The issue has ignited unprecedented debate in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, over the role of Islam in public life. While 85% of the nation’s 228 million people say they are Muslims, traditional dress codes among more than 400 ethnic groups range from bare breasts in West Papua to naked shoulders in Java. Indonesia’s archipelago straddles the equator and mostly has a tropical climate.

“Indonesia has no tradition of covering all of the body; it’s a tradition of the Middle East,” a law professor at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta and chairwoman of the university’s Human Rights Study Center, Harkristuti Harkrisnowo, said. “We have hundreds and hundreds of customs, so why should we have a single type of clothing for every citizen?”

Conservatives are trying to introduce elements of Islamic law, or Shariah, through the bill, Ms. Harkrisnowo said. Several regencies, or local governments, have introduced similar bylaws.

“There are some Muslims who are concerned about nightclubs and Indonesia becoming more liberal,” an Indonesian and head of Indonesian Studies at the University of Melbourne, Arief Budiman, said. “They are looking for a role to play, and the only role they can play is the Islamic state.”

First drafted in 1998 in the chaos that followed the ouster of 32-year dictator Suharto, the Anti-Pornography and Pornographic Acts Bill also bans depictions of nudity in the press and the arts, and sensual dancing. People who view so-called erotic displays may be jailed for a maximum of seven years.

The bill was revived last year after Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s first democratically elected president, said he was “disturbed” by the sight of women’s navels and erotic dancing on television.

A committee of 50 lawmakers is hearing public submissions and considering possible changes to the draft before presenting it to Parliament.

The bill errs by combining genuine concerns about the spread of pornography in Indonesia with curbs on personal freedoms, a committee member and lawmaker for the main opposition Democratic Party of Struggle, Afridel Jinu, said.

“The law should regulate pornographic material circulating in public, not discriminate against bodies as a criminal object,” Mr. Afridel said.

Pornographic films and magazines sell for less than $1 in back alleys in Jakarta. Indonesian-language newspapers such as Bibir, whose name means lips, and Eksotika regularly feature women wearing bikinis.

Last month, stone-throwing protesters from the Islamic Defenders’ Front forced the publishers of the first Indonesian-language Playboy magazine into hiding. The magazine, which contained no nudity, hasn’t been published since the initial edition April 7.

“The bill actually protects a woman’s dignity because women have been commercialized as objects,” said Rosyad Sholeh, secretary general of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim group, which backs the bill.

Still, the draft needs to be revised because the definitions are unclear and open to misinterpretation, Mr. Rosyad said.

The governor of the mainly Hindu island of Bali, where beaches are populated by bikini-clad Western tourists, has threatened to secede if lawmakers pass the current draft, according to the Jakarta Post newspaper.

“The bill is a violation of our cultural traditions,” a fashion designer in Bali, Putu Unik Indrawati, 29, said. It also contradicts “unity in diversity,” a 15th-century Javanese motto that adorns Indonesia’s coat of arms, she said.

Unlike neighboring Malaysia, Indonesia doesn’t incorporate Shariah into federal laws for Muslims. Only the province of Aceh, on the tip of Sumatra, uses Shariah courts under a 2002 agreement granting it special autonomy.

In Kuala Lumpur, a Chinese-Malaysian couple charged with indecent behavior for kissing in public will face a non-Shariah city court on June 1.

“Both Malaysia and Indonesia have governments which are hardly in any danger of imminent overthrow by Islamic fundamentalists,” an independent political consultant in Singapore who has covered Southeast Asia since 1988, Bruce Gale, said. “Perhaps the problem is that these governments, having no particular political vision themselves, are allowing the fundamentalists to set the agenda by default.”

In February, Lilies Lindawati discovered what that may mean. The mother of two was found guilty of being a prostitute after she was arrested at about 8 p.m. in Tanggerang, a city near Jakarta. Under new bylaws in the regency, women found alone at night must prove they aren’t prostitutes.

“I was grabbed by five people as I was standing on the side of the street,” said Ms. Lindawati, 35. “I thought I was being abducted.”

Ms. Lindawati, who pleaded not guilty, said she was returning home after an unsuccessful attempt to get her final pay from a restaurant where she had worked. She was held overnight, denied permission to call her husband, a teacher, and put on trial with 26 other women the next day in a makeshift tent. The judge ordered her to pay a $34 fine or spend three days in jail.

“I didn’t pay the fine because I didn’t have enough money,” Ms.Lindawati said. “But if I had had the money, I wouldn’t have paid, because that’s the same thing as admitting I am a prostitute.”

Still, Ms. Lindawati said she won’t be going out unaccompanied again, not even in daylight. “I’m still afraid,” she said.

The New York Sun

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