Papang Hidayat is an independent human rights consultant and researcher based in Jakarta. He achieved a Master of Arts in Human Rights Theory and Practice from the University of Essex (UK). As a human rights expert, he has worked for many years with Amnesty International and the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS). His work focuses researching on human rights, democracy, and security sector transformation in the Indonesian and Timor Leste region.
Interview: Mona Behnke, Ronja Eberle
Translation: Mona Behnke
1. What is your first memory related to religion?
Something that is mandatory and very important in Indonesia. One has to state the religion on the identity card (Kartu Tanda Penduduk), you want to marry, if you want to attend school, if you want social assistance, if you want to be buried, for all those things our religion is asked.
2. When did you first get in touch with other religions or belief systems?
During my childhood, until I was 5 years old, my father and mother did not teach me any specific religion. But when I wanted to go to preschool at the age of 5, my mother suddenly converted to Catholicism and I became Catholic so that I could go to a Catholic Kindergarten (private school).
3. What does religion mean to you?
It doesn’t really matter for me, but in Indonesia, where religion is now everything, I can’t say it is not important.
4. Is religious education helpful for democracy?
This is difficult to generalise; I have different assessments here. It can help, but it also can be destructive. I see that religious education can support democracy, for example at a religious school or university that also teaches students democratic principles. But on the other hand, many schools or universities with a certain religious identity actually teach content that is anti-democratic and against human rights.
5. What is civic education from your perspective?
Education that priorities values of public interests which are inclusive.
6. Is civic education important for democracy?
It is very important. At least civil education teaches social equality for everyone, regardless of one’s religious status.
7. How do you define Indonesian democracy? Is it unique, or can it be compared to other democracies?
First of all, democracy in Indonesia is characterised by a regular general election process, the application of the multi-party policy, a separation of powers of state institutions, and a public participation in government. This is in stark contrast to Indonesia under the New Order military regime (1966-1998). However, an important part of democracy – the equality of every individual regardless of religious identity, ethnicity or social status –is not yet realised in Indonesia. People with certain attributes – such as belonging to the majority religion, having (family) connections with important people/old politicians, being a member of a religious organisation, being a religious leader, or being a part of the military – can have far more capital in the Indonesian political world than ordinary people. I think that Indonesia’s democratic model is nothing special compared to other countries that have become new democracies only in recent decades.
8. Is religion inscribed in Indonesian identity? And if yes, how?
As mentioned above, there is a special column for it on the identity card (ID card), and in various public service forms, people have to indicate their religion.
9. What developments have you observed? in the past two decades since the onset of the Reformation? What development worries or concerns you?
In general, the May 1998 Reformation brought a lot of progress for the democracy, respect and protection of human rights. However, since the 1998 Reformation, there has also been an increase in groups fighting for their political goals based on a narrow interpretation of religion, and they did well becoming public officials or vigilante organisations that attack other religious minorities. Unfortunately, they strengthen because they also are supported by many people who believe that religion should play an important role in public affairs, from politics to society to the economy.
10. Do you address or confront these concerns?
If yes, why, and how? I have been involved in human rights and campaigning work in a human rights NGO since 1998, and have worked extensively on this issue.
11. What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?
One problem is the increasing number of intolerant people. Since our work aims to encourage people to become tolerant, we are always one step behind the education or campaigns that are carried out by intolerant groups.
12. Why is active participation in civic education important? What do you think are the three most important aspects involved?
The transformation of consciousness is fundamental, or the foundation of a social change. The three most important aspects are: Civic education must have clear target groups (youth groups), innovative methods (learning in the field and not just learning in the classroom), and there should be a coordination network between civic education initiatives.
13. Can you share a memorable moment in your work that keeps you motivated?
When I worked at KontraS (2004-2012) I took the initiative to build an intensive study course (3 weeks) for university students in 2009 whose participants came from Aceh to Papua, which were gender-balanced, and from diverse faith or religious backgrounds (including atheists). From the 3 Weeks program only, the impact was extraordinary. Some of the alumni later became new human rights defenders, and the program still persists at KontraS until now.