Video of kindergartners in face veils with prop guns marching in Independence Day parade shocks Indonesia

Screenshot: Agus Susanto II (@Cobeh09) / Twitter
Screenshot: Agus Susanto II (@Cobeh09) / Twitter

Indonesia marked its 73rd Independence Day on August 17th and all over the country celebrations took place over the weekend to show off people’s patriotic pride. But video of the Independence Day in one East Java city has shocked the country by featuring a group of kindergarten students wearing black robes, niqab (face veils) and carrying prop guns, leading many to accuse the school of indoctrinating the young students with violent and terrorist ideologies.

 

The parade took place in the city of Probolinggo on Saturday morning and video of the girls walking down the parade route while carrying cardboard assault rifles quickly went viral, forcing the kindergarten in charge of the girls, TK Kartika V 69, to hold a press conference later that same day to try and explain the decision to dress their young students up like that.

The school’s principal, 50-year-old Hartatik, told reporters that they had no intention to teach their students violence, let alone terrorism, and apologized for the mistake if it was perceived as such. However, this is the explanation she gave for the outfits they gave the girls:

“The children were marching while wearing veiled uniforms and carrying weapons with the theme ‘Struggle for the Prophet to Increase Faith and Piety”. It was not meant to show terrorist things as many on the internet have said, I apologize if I am wrong,”  Hartatik told reporters as quoted by Detik on Sunday.

It turns out that TK Kartika V 69 was built by and located on Probolinggo’s 0820 Military District Command (Kodim) base. The base’s commander also apologized for the incident saying there was no intention to spread radicalism or terrorism. He also repeated another excuse used by school officials, which is that the outfits were used because the school already had them from a previous event and so they reused them because they did not want to burden parents with the cost of buying new parade outfits (we still haven’t seen an explanation of what that previous event was).

The inconsistent explanations from school officials has clearly not alleviated concerns among higher authorities over what the kindergarten is teaching its students. The Probolinggo Police said they are investigating the matter to see if the school broke any laws, while Minister of Education and Culture Muhajir Effendy is set to fly to Probolinggo in the near future to seek a more complete explanation for the incident.

The decision to outfit a group of young girls in this way is especially astonishing in light of recent terrorist attacks in Indonesia. In May, multiple suicide bombings took place in the city of Surabaya, including one committed by a mother wearing a niqab who killed her two young daughters who were similarly attired.

There have been growing concerns about radical and terrorist ideologies being taught in Indonesian schools, with Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) claiming they had data that showed that 39 percent of Indonesian university students have been exposed to radical Islamic ideology (no such data exists for kindergarten students, but looks like they need to look into that too…)

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