While most Muslims see the holy month of Ramadan as a time of peace and reflecting on their own personal relationship with their faith, some in Indonesia use it as a justification to police the morality of others and harass those they judge as immoral.
On Friday, members from some Islamic civil society groups (or mass organizations aka ormas, as they are referred to here), including the infamous Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), went around the area of Cilaku in Cianjur, West Java, were accompanied by police officers doing what the Cianjur police chief described as a “dialogical patrol”.
“The report that I received from the Cilaku Police is that, at that time, the members are conducting a dialogical patrol anticipating disruptions to order and safety such as firecrackers, alcohol and sweeping warungs (food stalls) that open during the day (during Ramadan),” Cianjur Police Chief Soliyah told Detik on Saturday.
This Facebook post from a local FPI supporter says, “FPI Cianjur sweeping warungs that are open during the day, Muslim or non-Muslim must respect Muslims who are fasting.”
But the ormas targeted more than just warungs. In a video of the patrol that has gone viral as well. the large group of ormas members can be seen physically restraining an older transwoman that they have come across during their patrol. They then surround and start harassing another transwoman and force their way into the building in which the two live along with some others.
There is much shouting as the ormas members then force the building’s other occupants outside and scream at them to squat by the wall and listen as one of them preaches to them.
“This reprimand is from the conscious God. I ask, do you want to go to hell or to heaven? If you want to go to heaven then as men you must become men,” the preacher says.
The four transwomen are then forced to repeat a pledge saying that they will no longer dress like women. The ormas members then tell them that they are allowed to sing but that they are not allowed to dress femininely.
“Go ahead and sing, but wear macho outfits so that nobody will be attracted,” one orders.
After some more preaching, the video ends with the ormas members pouring water on the transwomens’ faces so that they can wash off their feminine makeup before they finally leave.
Cianjur Police Chief Soliyah confirmed that police officers accompanied FPI and other ormas on the raid, including the incident with the transwomen, but insisted that they did not engage in any anarchic behavior and that the police presence had ensured that the situation remained “safe and conducive”.
Being transgender is not a crime in Indonesia. But there are laws against forcibly restraining individuals, trespassing in their homes and harassing them. However FPI and the country’s other self-appointed moral vigilantes are routinely allowed to violate such laws, often, as in this case, with the explicit approval of the police.
Despite it not being illegal, in the midst of Indonesia’s ongoing LGBT moral panic, being transgender is dangerous. In January, police in sharia-enforcing Aceh detained and publicly humiliated a group of transgender women (known in Indonesia as waria, a portmanteau of the words for woman and man). Also earlier this year, the social services agency of Jakarta was found to be targeting transwomen and unjustly detaining them for having “social dysfunctions”.
One might hope that, given the recent terrorist attacks Indonesia has endured, more people might begin to wonder if religious extremism actually poses a far greater threat to the country then. say, the made-up dangers of LGBT and communism, and would thus refocus their efforts in battling that instead. But here we are.