Student allegedly loses college scholarship after converting to Islam, gov’t investigating

Bogor Agricultural University. Photo: ipb.ac.id
Bogor Agricultural University. Photo: ipb.ac.id

The North Sumatra Ombudsman Office is investigating the possible violation of a woman’s religious rights after she filed a complaint alleging that she had lost her college scholarship because she had converted to Islam.

Arnita Rodelina Turnip, a resident of Simalungun Regency in North Sumatra, was the recipient of a scholarship to the prestigious Bogor Agricultural University (IPB) from the Simalungun administration. On September 2016, after she had converted to Islam, she received a letter from the Simalungun Education Board announcing the termination of her scholarship. According to Arnita and her family, no explanation was given for the termination, even though Arnita had more than fulfilled the minimum GPA requirement by that point.

Numerous efforts by Arnita and her family to get her scholarship reinstated have failed, leading to their seeking assistance from the Ombudsman. The North Sumatra branch of the public advocacy body says it is taking the matter seriously, starting with summoning the Simalungun Education Board for questioning today.

“If the reported party does not fulfill the Ombudsman’s summon in three occasions without an acceptable excuse, then the Ombudsman can summon them with force with the police’s help. We hope the Simalungun Regency Government is cooperative,” North Sumatra Ombudsman Head Abyadi Siregar said in a press release yesterday.

However, neither Arnita nor the Ombudsman have revealed any specific details about how her religious conversion might have led to the revocation of her scholarship at this point.

The Ombudsman has asked IPB not to expel Arnita from her program considering she now owes the university IDR55 million in tuition and expenses as she continued her studies for three semesters after she lost her scholarship. Unable to afford IPB, she is now receiving financial assistance to continue her studies at Jakarta’s Universitas Muhammadiyah Prof Dr Hamka (UHAMKA) for the time being.

Lisnawati, Arnita’s mother, said she and the family will continue to fight to get Arnita’s scholarship back even if they no longer share the same faith.

“She is an adult now. That is her choice. But we asked her, even if our beliefs are different, not to stray away from us. And now our relationship is closer than ever,” Lisnawati told Merdeka.

Scholarships given on religious grounds are quite common in Indonesia. In 2016, for example, the West Java Provincial Government was criticized for giving out scholarships for those who had memorized huge sections of the Quran, while no equivalent requirement for those of different faiths were given.

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