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A Veiled Threat to Balinese Culture

Protests Erupt when Bali Toll Road Workers Asked to Wear Arabic Dress During Ramadhan and Idul Fitri Period

(7/19/2014) Beritabali.com reports that a policy introduced by PT Jasa Marga Bali Tol asking workers on the Bali Mandara Toll Road to wear Arabic-style veils (for women) and black hats (for men) during the fasting month of Ramadhan and the coming Idul Fitri Holidays has evoked protests from a number of sources, including the Bali Alliance of Hindus.

Intended by the toll operators as a symbol of religious tolerance, the instruction is being roundly criticized by the Bali Alliance of Hindus – a grouping comprised of members of Cakrawahyu, Yayasan Satu Hati Ngrestiti Bali, Yayasan Jaringan Hindu Nusantara and the Pusat Kooordinasi Hindu Nusantara.

Protests have taken the form of demonstrations in front of the office of PT Jasa Marga Toll demanding that the policy be withdrawn.

During those protests, representatives of the Bali Alliance of Hindus met with Hadi Prunama, operation managers of the Toll Authority, and Budi Susteyo, manager of PT Lingkarluar Jakarta – a subsidiary of the Jasa Marga Tol.

At that meeting an agreement was reached to withdraw the controversial policy and for PT Jasa Marga Bali Tol to publish an apology in both print and electronic media.

A Hindu leader in Bali, I Gusti Ngurah Harta, welcomed the good faith demonstrated by the toll operator’s willingness to nullify the policy and make a public apology. “We hope that efforts (in the future) at (religious) toleration that are undertaken by PT Jasa Marga Bali Tol do not adopt moves requiring the Balinese to wear Arabic dress,” said Ngurah Harta.

Ngurah Harta warned that such steps have the potential to become problematic in Bali, fostering feelings of suspicion, particularly when elements outside the Balinese system of beliefs are introduced. Adding: “We desire a Country that embraces unity in diversity and that this principle be safeguarded.”

A similar sentiment was expressed by the chairman of Cakrawahayu, Putu Dana, who declared the polemic at an end. “We are very appreciative of PT Jasa Margra Bali Tol’s intention (to resolve this matter). We do not want that tradition and culture are put under pressure – such measures bring pressure on us as Balinese,” he said.

In connection with the protests, the technical manager of PT Jasa Marga Bali Tol, I Gusti Lanang Bagus W, stated that no written policy exists requiring the use of Islamic dress, and that the suggestion for their use of the Islamic holidays was nothing more than a suggestion.