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Forced from Home for Protesting Indonesia’s Mandatory Hijab Rules

State School Required All Girls to Wear Muslim Headdress

In Cibinong, West Java, a state school requires its female students to wear long skirts, long-sleeve shirts, and the hijab.  © 2018 Andreas Harsono/Human Rights Watch

When Elianu Hia shared a video on Facebook in January 2021, he never imagined that act would lead to him losing his home and small business in the Indonesian city of Padang, West Sumatra.

Hia was upset that school regulations required his 17-year-old Christian daughter to wear a hijab to school. He recorded his meeting with his daughter’s teacher at State Technical High School No. 2, during which the teacher pressured him to comply, saying: “This is the school regulation. This is a mandatory hijab rule.” The teacher then told Hia to sign a letter confirming his daughter’s refusal to wear the hijab, which was apparently a step toward expelling her.

The video went viral, picked up by local and national media, prompting many netizens to protest the West Sumatra school and education office. Indonesia’s Minister of Education Nadiem Makarim posted a video that condemned the mandatory hijab rule and told the local government to have the school change its policy.

The school complied, creating an exception to the hijab rule for Christian students. Over the last two years, the number of Christian girls who dared shed the hijab grew.

But at the same time, Hia started receiving threatening messages on his Facebook and WhatsApp accounts.

“I lost count,” he said. “Hundreds of them.”

The threats ranged from demanding his expulsion from West Sumatra to accusing him of disrespecting Islamic culture. One WhatsApp user reminded him of what happened to minorities between 1816 and 1833, when “Muslim ulamas” instituted Sharia (Islamic law) and used violence against those opposing them.

Hia’s air conditioning business started losing customers. “I used to have 200-something customers,” he said. “Some customers asked me whether I was the one who was protesting the mandatory hijab rule. And they stopped requesting my services.” He dismissed his five employees, sold his truck and mini bus, struggling to pay his bank loan.

In November 2022, Hia and his wife decided to sell their house while waiting for their daughter to finish high school. “I cannot earn enough money now. We have to move out of West Sumatra.”

The Hias are paying the price for speaking out on women’s rights to choose. Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo should overturn all local discriminatory, rights-abusing decrees that violate the rights of women and girls.

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