Indonesian Indigenous Studies

Epistemological Violence against the Indigenous: Problematizing Religious Education in Indonesian Constitution

Miftha Khalil Muflih

The story of Butet Manurung and “Sokola Rimba” shows how the state ignores the right to education for indigenous peoples. The state has neglected Article 31 of the UUD (Indonesian Constitution), which clearly stipulates that every citizen has the right to education. This means that the state is normatively the most responsible party in terms of fulfilling the right to education for its citizens, including indigenous peoples. One of the discriminations often experienced by indigenous peoples in the field of education is compulsory religious education. Article 37(1) of Regulation No. 20/2003 states that religious education must be included in the curriculum from primary to higher education. Meanwhile, Article 9 of Government Regulation No. 55/2007 on Religious Education includes only Islamic, Christian, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, and Confucian religious education, or the so-called “official religion.” In this regard, it excludes the religions of the indigenous peoples.

Education as A Human Right

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every human being has the right to education. As part of human rights, education has also been affirmed in several global human rights treaties, including the United Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Understanding education within a human rights framework requires taking the context into account in which it is examined. The United Nations states that the principles of the human rights approach, particularly in relation to education, are “Equality-Non-Discrimination and Participation-Inclusion”. Equality-Non-Discrimination refers to the protection of the right to education without discrimination based on economic, social, or identity grounds. However, this is inversely proportional to the current state of education in the Indonesian context. Although the state has provided the right to education for indigenous peoples, they continue to face discrimination in the aspect of religious education. In practice, indigenous peoples are often excluded because of their religious identity.

In relation to the principle of participation and inclusion, the state has also granted indigenous peoples the right to education. This can be seen through the Minister of Education and Culture Regulation No. 27/2016, about “Pendidikan Penghayat Kepercayaan Kepada Tuhan Yang Maha Esa”. Article 2 explains that religious education for indigenous peoples is fulfilled through “penghayat education”. However, the legal force and implementation of this regulation need further examination. According to Article 7 of Regulation No. 12/2012 on the hierarchy of laws and regulations, ministerial regulations are not mentioned in the hierarchy. Therefore, the legal force of the regulation of penghayat education as a ministerial regulation is certainly weak. This is further exacerbated by the exclusion of penghayat education in the draft regulation of the national education system in 2022. This means that indigenous peoples have not received their right to religious education, and thus remain marginalized in terms of participation and inclusion.

Epistemological Violence Against Indigenous Peoples Through Religious Education

The above problem can be examined through the perspective of Gayatri Spivak. In her book “Can Subaltern Speak?” (1988), she describes how the process of standardization causes some groups to become other groups (subaltern), resulting in epistemic violence. Within this framework, the exclusion of penghayat education is a form of epistemic violence committed by the state against indigenous peoples. The differentiation of regulations on religious education for kepercayaan (indigenous religion) and for agama (official religion) also further exacerbates epistemic violence. The official religions are included in Government Regulation No. 55/2007. Meanwhile, indigenous religions are excluded from the regulation and only accommodated through ministerial regulation.

Furthermore, official religions dominate the paradigm of religious education in Indonesia. Timothy Fitzgerald (2003) and Tomoko Masuzawa (2005) explain how religious studies and education are monopolized by the world religion paradigm (a paradigm that is used by the state in managing religious education). In this framework, a particular paradigm is imposed on a group with a different paradigm. Unfortunately, in Indonesia, the constitution allows this to perpetuate. Epistemic violence seems to take place in a structured manner because it is carried out with legal legitimacy. In this context, the indigenous peoples are socially and politically marginalized.

The lack of a legal framework for penghayat education has also led to the problem of inadequate facilities and the number of teachers. In a webinar concerning the fulfillment of the right to education for indigenous peoples, “Pemenuhan Hak Pendidikan bagi Penghayat Kepercayaan dan Masyarakat Adat”‘, the Commissioner for Education and Counseling of Komnas HAM, Beka Ulung Hapsara, explained that indigenous peoples still do not get an adequate number of teachers or teaching staff. Among the examples of such cases is the story of Muslam, an instructor (penyuluh) who teaches penghayat education without receiving a salary. This is related to the standardized requirements to become an official teacher. Among the requirements is a formal education background, while the state has just provided formal education for penghayat education in Universitas 17 Agustus 1945 Semarang in very recent years.

In the end, the existing education system in Indonesia continues to prolong and perpetuate discrimination and epistemic violence against indigenous peoples. These problems show that the state still does not fully recognize the existence of indigenous peoples and their human rights, including the right to education. Therefore, a paradigm shift in thinking about religious education for indigenous peoples is inevitable.

Miftha Khalil Muflih is a graduate student in the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS), Graduate School, Universitas Gadja Mada

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