Jakarta (AsiaNews) - In Padang, capital of the province of West Sumatra, the atmosphere is increasingly that of an Islamic state. Female students who do not wear the headscarf (hijab) are frequently suspended from school. The requirement to observe Islamic customs, sanctioned by the controversial regional law of 2005, is also imposed on non-Muslim girls, and has generated an atmosphere of strong pressure on religious minorities. The proliferation of local laws inspired by sharia (perda syariat) is a growing phenomenon in Indonesia, but the central government has chosen not to intervene for now, in spite of protests from religious minorities and human rights NGO's.
The situation is not limited to Padang alone, where the most active promoter of Islamic laws is the mayor himself, Fauzi Bahar. In this province, which has an overwhelming Muslim majority, since 2002 more than 19 districts have ratified the so-called "perda syariat", norms that are, however, supposed to be applied only to Muslim citizens: some of them criminalise behaviours prohibited by Islamic law, like adultery, prostitution, games of chance, and consumption of alcohol, while others restrict the freedom of women. Men as well are required to wear Islamic dress: the traditional white robe called the "koko".
The application of the headscarf law in Padang is going beyond all imaginable limits, the inhabitants of the area say. An anonymous Catholic young woman admits: "Wearing the headscarf is not pleasant for me at all, and it bothers me while I am studying in school". Other female students in various schools complain about the same thing. If they are interviewed by journalists, the young women ask not be named, because they are afraid of "being persecuted by fundamentalists". "We have to adapt", they say, "we have no choice, otherwise they will send us home". Sudarto, one of the members of a local NGO that works for interreligious dialogue, reports that the headscarf law is applied strictly in at least four schools in Padang.
Other residents report with concern that since 2003 in Padang, mayor Fauzi has moved forward "enthusiastically" the project of "creating a more Islamic atmosphere" in the city. Among the other norms inspired by sharia, they recall the obligation for students in the elementary schools to learn the Qur'an by heart.