Being Indonesian: Not by memorizing Pancasila

This article was published in thejakartapost.com with the title

“Being Indonesian: Not by memorizing Pancasila”.

Pancasila has become the topic of great discussion, in the social media, in the
newspapers and on TV, and in our political chats.

There are many postings expressing concern that Indonesia’s diversity is under
threat and that the Pancasila values have been forgotten. Many people are urging
that the teaching of Pancasila in schools be revived.

At a meeting of the Nahdatul Ulama in Kalimantan, The Coordinating Minister for
Human Development and Culture stated that people had to “love their country and
not be drugged by radicalism”. Minister Puan Maharani said that religious schools
needed to add to the curriculum subject matter about Pancasila and diversity. Public
schools needed additional teaching on religion and morals.

All this is not unconnected to the recent Gubernorial elections in Jakarta, where race
and religion became issues. The incumbent Governor, Basuki Thahja Purnama
(Ahok), a Chinese and a Christian Indonesian, was defeated by Anies Baswedan
and Sandiago Uno. A week later, Governor Purnama was sentenced to two years
gaol for blasphemy.

Those who had demanded Purnama be arrested and that he be defeated in the
elections, complain the sentence is too short. Others have condemned the sentence
as unjust and also demanded the removal of blasphemy as a crime.

A day before the sentence, the Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security,
Wiranto, announced that the government would be moving through the courts to
outlaw Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, which he said rejected Pancasila.

Pancasila was also something that President Widodo focused on when he spoke to
a large crowd of Indonesians in Hong Kong. He conducted a quiz, testing who could
recite the Pancasila, promising a bicycle to the winner. Never forget Pancasila, the
President told the crowd.

I am from that generation who grew up during the New Order, ruled by the dictator
Suharto for 32 years. At that time Pancasila was a sacred word, with its own power,
and even feared.

I was obliged to attend a course called P4, a course involving the “study” of
Pancasila and its official and extensive elaboration. The teacher reminded us how
sacred was Pancasila. We all had to learn off by heart the five Sila or principles.
There were also compulsory subjects such as Pancasila Moral Education (PMP).
There were also competitions, up to the national level, in being able to recite the

Pancasila and the many officially sanctioned paragraphs explaining each Sila. Under
Soeharto, Pancasila became both boring and frightening The Pancasila was presented by Sukarno on June 1 1945, 2 months before the proclamation of Independence.

Yes, we all know those five principles: A single Divinity, Just and Civilized Humanity,
Unity of Indonesia, Democracy Guided By The Inner Wisdom In The Unanimity
Arising Out Of Deliberations Amongst Representatives, Social Justice for all
Indonesians. Pancasila is the ideological basis of the State and Bhineka Tunggal Ika
(Unity in Diversity) is its Motto. The motto of Bhineka Tunggal Ika recognised that
Indonesia comprises many ethnic groups and their cultures.

Yet we have witnessed that many of these principles have been violated in practice,
including by the State itself. In the Soeharto era, corruption, authoritarianism, and
repression of critical ideas, were common. We were never taught that to guard
Pancasila meant that we should oppose all these things. Our appreciation of the five
principles was based on rote learning not on deeds.

The teaching of Pancasila was carried out as forced indoctrination. The teaching of
history was tightly controlled by those in power. Teaching was based simply on rote
learning and a feudal teacher-student relationship.

Then came reformasi won by a movement on the streets, of the people, students
and women. It came with sacrifices: the death of students, the torture of activists,
and the rape of Chinese women. But there was no more dictator.

Yet corruption, as well as legal and economic injustice has continued. Many
violations of human rights have gone unstopped and unpunished.

Now there are signs of politics based on scapegoating, based on religion and race.
With so much injustice in society and with no vision for the future, scapegoating, and
spreading an atmosphere of intolerance, becomes easier to use. Is this all
happening because the learning off by heart of those five sentences has declined?
Or because there are less rituals now? Will forcing students again to learn them off
by heart remedy all this? Will more rituals stop people becoming susceptible to
believing scapegoating propaganda?

We won’t discover the sources of Indonesia’s problems of injustice, nor of
Indonesianness itself, through learning off by heart an official ideology, no matter
how nice its content may be. Neither will we find it by simply repeating the word
“Bhineka” as if it has the power of a magical mantra. We can rediscover Being
Indonesian if we develop the ability to think independently so as to understand our
history and the conditions of our country.

We don’t need more rote learning of an official ideology in our schools. We need a
young generation who can study freely and in a scholarly way the history of their
country, with access to all the original sources. They need to be able to read and
discuss all the literature that Indonesia has produced. They need to be able to think
logically, critically and, most of all, independently.

To be an Indonesian is to live as part of a community, together seeking solutions to
our country’s problems, in a free and civilised atmosphere, free of repression or
violence because of differences of opinion. When we commemorate May 21 we
should renew our commitment to defend that freedom to seek solutions, unafraid that
we will be scapegoated, harassed or repressed. That is the whole point of ending a
dictatorship, and indeed it is the whole point of founding a new country: So we can
all enjoy, in a useful way, that which is called: freedom. Merdeka!

*The Writer is a playwright, theatre producer, director and cultural and women
activist. Now she lives in Yogyakarta.