Telly Nathalia, Jakarta – Yogyakarta has avoided another religiously charged embarrassment after Karet, a hamlet of just more than 500 people in the provincial-level autonomous region, decided to scrap a four-year-old ban on non-Muslim residents.
The case, which went viral on Monday after the Yogyakarta provincial government made it public, started in October 2015, when the head of the hamlet and community elders imposed the discriminatory rule to avoid having to bury Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and other people of "non-original" faiths in their all-Muslim cemetery.
The ban went unnoticed by the higher authorities and even by most of the hamlet's residents. That was until March 29, when 42-year-old painter Slamet Jumiarto and his family rented a house in the hamlet, located in Bantul district.
A day after moving in, Slamet, who is a Catholic, went to register his household with the neighborhood leader – as common practice in Indonesia, based on a rule imposed by Japanese forces during their occupation of the country in World War II.
After discovering Slamet's religion, the leader allegedly asked him and his family to leave the hamlet because there was consensus among residents to ban non-Muslims from living in their area.
"This is an agreement made by the residents [of Karet], but I don't know the real reason [for the ban]. I think it is to maintain a conducive situation, because most are Muslims," Iswanto, the head of Karet hamlet, who had also signed the community pact, told Jakarta-based weekly news magazine Gatra.com.
Slamet next reported the matter to the provincial secretary of Yogyakarta, who arranged a meeting between all parties involved, including the hamlet leader and the district head of Bantul.
However, the negotiations did not favor Slamet, who was ordered to leave the area, although some of the elders agreed to allow the family to stay for up to six months until they could find a new home.
"If the owner [of the house] repaid my money, I would look for a new place," Slamet said, as reported by Kompas.com. He said he paid rent of Rp 4 million ($280) for one year up front and spent another Rp 1.2 million on renovations.
Subsequent meetings and public pressure finally forced Iswanto to scrap the rule on Monday.
"Starting today, the ban is no longer in effect, because it is against the law and regulations. We agreed to revoke the ban and we now have no problem with Mr. Slamet [living here]," Iswanto told Kompas.com.
In response to the matter, Bantul district head Suharsono said banning non-Muslims from living in any community is a form of discrimination. He promised to protect people's right, regardless of religion, to live in his district.
Slamet said he was glad the hamlet decided to revoke the ban. He has yet to decide whether to remain there, because he received several offers of accommodation from his friends after the case went public. Still, he said he enjoyed overwhelming support from his new neighbors in Karet.
"The neighbors here are all good, even those I don't know. Because of this case, they talk about me, they greet me and become friendly to me," Slamet told Kompas.
"Most important to me, is that the regulation has been revoked. Don't let it claim other victims. Don't allow intolerance in Yogyakarta get stronger," he said.
Yogyakarta was long been regarded as a melting pot for people from across the archipelago, thanks to hundreds of universities and higher-education institutions in the region and its welcoming Javanese culture. This image, however, has been eroding over the years as hardline Islamic views started to take root and change the local culture.
The Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace recorded at least 10 incidents of religious intolerance in Yogyakarta last year, compared with nine in 2017.
In December last year, Muslim residents of Purbayan in Yogyakarta's Kotagede district desecrated the grave of a Christian man in a public cemetery by altering the wooden marker on his grave to no longer resemble a cross.
On Oct. 13, 2018, a group of about 50 people disrupted preparations for a traditional sea alms ceremony on Baru Beach in Bantul district, Yogyakarta, justifying the attack by claiming that the ceremony was sinful.
In February last year, a sword-wielding man attacked the St. Lidwina Catholic Church in Sleman, Yogyakarta, and injured a priest and several churchgoers.
In 2017, the people of Pajangan subdistrict, also in Bantul district, rejected their newly elected head because he was a non-Muslim.