When the Bali Senator Chose Not to Be Woke

Senator Arya Wedakarna, a member of the Indonesian Regional Representative Council (DPD Bali) since 2014, has found himself at the center of controversy following comments seen as denigrating Muslim female workers at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport.

Videos uploaded to an “X” social media account showed Arya Wedakarna angrily scolding officials of the Customs and Excise Officials (Bea Cukai) and airport management at Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport before a public meeting in Jakarta.

Senator Arya Wedakarna

As reported by Republika.co.id, Senator Arya Wedakarna ridiculed the employment of Islamic women (Muslimah) wearing Islamic headscarves in capacities as front liners and receptive staff at Bali’s Airport. Arya wants native Balinese women to wear traditional costumes or, at the very least, uniforms in which scarves do not partially conceal the women’s faces.

Elaborating on his position, Arya was quoted by Republika.co.id saying he did not want to see frontliners wearing traditional jilbabs. The Senator said he wanted people arriving in Bali to be greeted by Balinese women dressed in styles that allow an open view of the face and hair. Arya commented: “This is not the Middle East. Just (be) Balinese and wear flowers.”

Senator Arya Wedakarna

The comments made by the outspoken Balinese national legislator are sure to provoke a response among some quarters of Indonesia’s Muslim majority, who view traditional Islamic dress, particularly among women, as a matter of religious obligation. 

Widespread comments posted online have branded Arya’s statement as “racist” and any steps only to allow local Balinese to work in frontline public contact roles at the Airport as blatantly discriminatory, racist, and at odds with the national ideology of Pancasila. Others are condemning Arya’s statement as insulting to the many Muslims who work at Bali’s Airport. 

Reports depict Arya Wedakarna as using a public forum to scold the Bea Cukai Officials at Bali’s Airport and the General Manager of Bali’s Airport. 

Arya also specifically accused two frontline Customs staff, Nia and Pangeran, who hail from Jakarta and East Java, that he suspects of carrying out their duties in a discriminatory manner, ignoring standard operating procedures (SOP). The two women are accused of discriminating against Balinese residents who had just landed at the Airport. Arya said the two female employees were guilty of being unfriendly, rude, and cynical.

Arya demands that the two women be transferred to new assignments outside of Bali; failing that, he demands that the head of the Bea Cukai Office in Bali be reassigned outside of Bali. 

Fueling his stinging criticism further, Arya mentioned the recent arrest of a top immigration officials accused of corrupting the “fast track” immigration processing at the Airport and also mentioned a recent international survey as one of the worst international airports.

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