Linda Yulisman, Jakarta – A recent incident in which a Muslim student in Indonesia was allegedly forced to wear a hijab by her teachers, which led to her depression, has again highlighted intolerance in Indonesia and a breach of the right of individuals to make choices.
In mid-July, the first-year senior high student, 15, in a public school in Bantul, Yogyakarta, was summoned by her three teachers for not wearing the Muslim headscarf, or hijab, after which she was found crying in the toilet.
During her school orientation earlier, the teenager had already been bullied by her teachers, who accused her parents of not observing daily prayers, said Ms Yuliani Putri Sunardi, the coordinator of Sarang Lidi, a non-governmental organisation focusing on education.
"For days she locked herself in her room and did not want to communicate with her family. She also did not want to eat," Ms Yuliani, who has been advising the student after her father contacted the organisation, told The Straits Times.
The student is now under therapy with a psychologist from the Yogyakarta chapter of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission Indonesian (KPAI), and her condition has improved.
"We are trying to find her another school," Ms Yuliani said.
The school's principal and three teachers have been suspended from duty amid an ongoing investigation.
In response to the allegation of forced use of hijab at the school, the principal Agung Istiyanto argued that the teachers only gave the student a tutorial on hijab use.
"We don't require the use of a headscarf," he was quoted as saying by Tempo. "The accusation is wrong."
Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority nation, has seen incidents in which public schools require female students, including non-Muslims, to don a hijab.
Last year, an uproar emerged after a female non-Muslim student in a public high school in Padang, West Sumatra, refused to wear a hijab during a virtual school session.
The Indonesian government then issued a joint ministerial decree banning schools from forcing students or faculty members to don a Muslim headscarf or any other religious attribute.
However, this was later revoked by the Supreme Court, which said the decree contravened prevailing laws.
In 2014, the Ministry of Education issued a regulation stipulating that schools cannot rule or advise students to wear uniforms that mark certain religious identities, nor can they ban students from wearing religious clothing.
Human Rights Watch says that at least 24 provinces, out of Indonesia's 34 provinces, apply hijab rules in public schools as well as government institutions.
Human rights group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace condemned the act of intolerance in the Yogyakarta school, and called for punishment for the teachers involved.
KPAI also urged the Yogyakarta government to implement a gubernatorial decree on inclusive education, where no discrimination based on all grounds, including religion, is practised, so that schools serve as "a miniature of the society".
Mr Budhi Masturi, head of Yogyakarta's representative office of the Indonesian Ombudsman, which is investigating the case, said that his office had found a document containing visual guidelines on dressing for female students.
"In it there's no choice for not wearing a dress without a religious identity. From Monday to Friday, female students must wear religious clothing," he said.
Mr Didik Wardaya, chief of the Yogyakarta education, youth and sports agency, which is also probing the case, said that the school's guidelines did not specifically mention a hijab requirement and instead "highly advise" students to don a hijab.
"Basically public schools or those run by the regional government must reflect diversity and cannot force someone to wear a uniform with a certain religious identity," he said.
He added that the teachers involved in the case might be punished if they were found to have forced the student to wear a hijab.