The annual Peace Torch celebration in Indonesia, organized by AFSC and several dozen partners, has become the rallying point for a movement to stem the country’s rising tide of violence and intolerance, especially toward religious minorities or anyone deemed “heretical” by fundamentalists and intolerant religious leaders. Thousands witnessed the most recent celebration in November 2014 in Jakarta, the nation’s capital and largest city. The event made front-page news, including articles in the Jakarta Post and Demotix.
Euis Kurniasih helped organize the event. A university lecturer and participant in a course on managing diversity organized by one of AFSC’s partners, Euis also is a follower of Sunda Wiwitan, a traditional Sundanese religion. In this interview, she talks about being a member of a religious minority and the importance of the Peace Torch celebration in promoting religious tolerance in Indonesia.
Why was the Peace Torch celebration important to you as a follower of Sunda Wiwitan?
The peace parade commemorated International Tolerance Day, and [one aspect of] tolerance here is [religious] tolerance. We [should] tolerate not only those who have the same belief as us, but also those who have different beliefs, either belief in [one of six] official religions [Islam, Catholicism, Confucianism, Christianity, Buddhism, or Hinduism] or in those beliefs that are not officially recognized. We want to show that we are also citizens who must be tolerated just as other citizens who have different beliefs. We want to be equal with other citizens because we are sons and daughters of this nation.
[We want] equal treatment, equal protection for us as citizens. That’s why we want to be a part of such forums, to show that we exist.
How many people from Sunda Wiwitan participated in the celebration?
There were 50 of us who participated in the art performance [for the Peace Torch]. We brought Angklung Buncis due to its mobility, then at the stage we performed the rampak kendang, which is a dance performed by eight female dancers. There were also six kendangs [a type of drum] and a set of salendro gamelan. This type of art is common in Sundanese society [in West Java], but art sometimes develops according to the doers, so it has certain unique aspects.
Do you expect that events such as the Peace Torch celebration will help create real change in the lives of both individuals and communities?
Such events become a space of expression for us to really be ourselves, without having to conceal anything in the face of [such discriminatory practices] as the listing of “religion” on the ID card. [Because in] the religion column in our ID card [we have to list] Islam, or Catholicism, or Confucianism, it as if we are [forced] to conceal our identity. But at events like this one, we can show the real us. This is us, Sunda Wiwitan. This strengthens our identity and confidence amid social and administrative pressures.
What is your most memorable experience from the Peace Torch?
Because I was a member of the committee, I know how complex it was [to prepare for the celebration]. But seeing the number of attending participants, then how that event was opened by the Minister of Women, and then there was Kofifah, the Minister of Social Affairs, delivering her oration, and Susan also participated in a poetry reading session, all those really impressed me.