In an act of moral policing, a school on the main island of Indonesia courted a fresh controversy over forcefully imposing an Islamic dress code on a group of minor female students. Evidently, the headmaster of a school revealed that a teacher took it upon herself to ‘punish’ 14 girls who were accused of wearing their Islamic hijab headscarves ‘incorrectly’.
Apparently, the incident took place at the state-owned junior high school SMPN 1 in Lamongan, East Java, last Wednesday (23 August). As per reports, the accused teacher partially shaved the heads of all 14 girls for not following the dress code properly.
Harto, the headmaster identified by a single name, stated that the school had issued an apology and temporarily suspended the teacher accountable for the incident.
Pertinently, a debate regarding the enforcement of dress codes, particularly one forcing to wear the hijab, in Indonesia’s conservative regions has rocked the island nation for a long time now. Despite the fact that the Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia banned mandatory dress codes in schools in 2021, activists have highlighted that both Muslim and non-Muslim girls have long been compelled to wear hijabs.
Notably, while speaking to AFP, Harto stated that there is no official obligation for female students to wear hijabs, but they were encouraged to wear inner caps beneath their headscarves for a neater appearance.
Harto added that unfortunately, these students did not adhere to this suggestion and they left their fringes visible.
When the incident came to light, Human rights groups reacted strongly to this issue and demanded the dismissal of the accused teacher. An Indonesian researcher at Human Rights Watch named Andreas Harsono described the Lamongan incident as one of the most intimidating cases ever in Indonesia. He emphasised that there is a need for sanctions against the teacher and the involvement of psychologists to support the victims.
After the troubling incident, the school held mediation with the parents of the affected students and arrived at a mutual understanding.
Additionally, the school has committed that it will provide psychological assistance to the affected girls to help them cope with the trauma.
Overall, there are six major religions in Indonesia, however, there have been widespread concerns about growing religious intolerance in the Island nation.
Multiple reports from as early as 2021 have pointed out that students have faced disciplinary actions for ‘not adhering to dress code rules’. And these actions reportedly include having their hijabs cut or receiving penalties.
One major headscarf-related case erupted in 2021 when a Christian student in West Sumatra was compelled to wear a hijab. The officials described the case as the “tip of the iceberg”.
All these incidences of moral policing and forceful imposition of the Islamic dress code in schools have sparked a larger debate regarding religious attire in schools.