Balinese Makes A Stand Against Controversial Law
I Wayan Juniartha
The Jakarta Post
It wasn’t the kind of crowd that usually frequented the Classic Café, a chic establishment on the first floor of Kuta’s gigantic Discovery Mall. The café was known as the hub of choice for local yuppies looking for refreshing spirits and lively chats on antiquated vehicles from the time long gone. On that excruciatingly humid Sunday afternoon, however, the café’s small elevated stage, was populated by three individuals. Their solemn faces were in stark contrast with the images of shining red vintage American-made car on the wall behind them.
The first person was I Gusti Ngurah Harta, the founder and leader of Sandhi Murti, a Balinese martial art institution with over 25,000 members across the island. Next to him was Prof. Dr. I Made Bandem, one of the island’s most influential scholar and respected dancer. The last person was Cokorda Sawitri, Bali’s leading woman writer and activist.
Before them sat dozens of people, some of them sported daring hairstyles, menacing tattoos and pierced nose. Among the crowd were two key figures of the island’s punk community, Rudolf Dethu and Jerinx of the Superman Is Dead’s fame.
It was a serious gathering and the topic was definitely not about Chevrolet Camaro or Alfa-Romeo Spider.
“We organize this meeting to show our support to Ngurah Harta, Made Bandem and Cok Sawitri in their effort to prevent the ratification of the law that would put a chain on our privacy and our freedom of expression,” Dethu said.
The Controversial Law
The law Dethu referred to was RUU (Rancangan Undang Undang) Antipornografi dan Pornoaksi (APP), a draft of legislation that is currently being deliberated upon by members of the country’s DPR (House of Representatives) in Jakarta.
Initiated and submitted by legislators from Islamic political parties, including the popular Justice and Prosperous Party (PKS), the 34-page draft contained 93 articles aimed at curbing the dissemination of pornographic materials in media outlets and eradicating pornographic actions.
The House was expected to ratify the draft in the next two months.
The draft soon sparked heated debate in various corners of the country, particularly among the local communities that had different cultural values and religious belief than the one adhered by the legislators who supported the draft.
In Bali, the first opposition was voiced by the tourism sector. Several influential figures in the sector, including the chairman of the Bali’s Hotels and Restaurants Association, Tjokorda Ardhana Sukawati, expressed their fear that the RUU APP would cause an irreversible damage to the tourism industry, the island’s economic backbone.
“What will happen if you prohibit, or worse, prosecute the foreigners just because they are sunbathing in public beaches in their bikinis? I think everybody know the answer,” he said.
“The tourists will abandon Bali. After all, nobody want to go on vacation only to end up in prison,” he added.
The RUU APP explicitly prohibited the display of nudity or any other sensual body parts. Those body parts, according to the RUU, included genitals, breasts, buttocks, thigh, hip and navel.
Any person, who fully or partially exposed such organs, would face a prison sentence ranged from two to ten years. The maximum sentence was definitely heavier than the seven year prison term dictated by the Criminal Code (KUHP) for a person who assaulted and killed another person.
Moreover, the offender would also face a hefty fine up to one billion Rupiah (over 10,000 USD), a far too scary consequence for showing the world your beautiful, pierced navel!
The sporadic response evolved into an organized movement when I Gusti Ngurah Harta used Sandhi Murti’s financial resource and social network to organize a gathering of Balinese scholars, religious leaders, legal experts and artists on February 11 to form a unified stance against the RUU APP.
It turned out that the participants held a similar grudge against the RUU APP. The influential columnist, Aridus made a record by presenting the shortest speech on the forum.
“I reject the RUU APP because it is an idiotically ludicrous piece of document, period,” he said.
Meanwhile, Prof. Dr. I Made Bandem gave a powerful tour-de-force on how the broad coverage of the RUU APP would adversely affect the creative realm of the art, including some of the island’s most popular dances.
“For instance, the Joged Bumbung dance, which is known for its sensuous movement, will surely face a grim future,” he said.
Most importantly, Bandem reminded that the monolithic and hegemonic nature of the RUU APP had blatantly ignored one crucial fact; that Indonesia was a multicultural society with different social norms and religious values.
“The people in Jakarta and the people in Bali or Papua have a different concept and interpretation on what could be categorized as sensual or as pornographic,” he stressed.
“A failure to respect and accommodate these different, indigenous concepts and traditions could create a divisional conflict between Jakarta and the supporters of the RUU with the rest of the country,” he warned.
A respected Hindu high priest Ida Pedanda Gede Ketut Sebali Tianyar Arimbawa took Bandem’s argument further, reminding that sexual organs were important parts of the religion’s sacred iconography.
“Lingga and Yoni, the three-dimensional image of phallus and vagina, are the sacred symbol of divine creation and sustenance, fertility and creativity. The full breast of Kali or Durga are the symbolic representation of their motherly compassion in nurturing the universe,” he described.
“Sexual organs and nudity are often the primary characteristic of our sacred objects of worships,” Sebali added.
“Balinese culture and belief had never considered sexual organs, nudity and sensuality as filthy, morally reprehensible and offensive things,” scholar I Ketut Sumarta said.
In this perspective, the RUU APP would not only threaten the island’s creative arts but also endangered its primary belief system.
The gathering produced a comprehensive rejection document that would be presented to the House.
Waves of Support
The forum immediately triggered waves of support from various organizations and individuals in the island. Some of them had even planned a huge mass rally to gather public support.
“The local NGOs, particularly the ones that deal with gender equality and children welfare, had asked me to organize such rally. I think we will do it early on March,” Cok Sawitri said.
Meanwhile, both Dethu and Jerinx disclosed that the punk community would organize a major concert to voice their opposition to the RUU APP.
“If the Balinese stands united I see no reason why we could not block the legislation or staging a civil disobedience movement if the legislators stubbornly ratify it,” Ngurah Harta said.