Lamongan, Indonesia – A shocking incident has come to light as a school on Indonesia’s main island, Java, revealed that it had partially shaved the heads of 14 girls due to an accusation of improper Islamic hijab headscarf wearing. The incident, which occurred at state-owned junior high school SMPN 1 in the East Java town of Lamongan, has sparked outrage among activists and human rights groups.
For years, both Muslim and non-Muslim girls in conservative parts of Indonesia have been compelled to wear hijabs, a religious headscarf worn by Muslim women, even if it contradicted their beliefs or cultural norms. However, in 2021, Indonesia implemented a ban on mandatory dress codes, allowing students the freedom to choose whether to wear a hijab or not.
The incident last Wednesday involved an unidentified teacher who reportedly took it upon herself to partially shave the hair of 14 Muslim girls. According to the headmaster, Harto (who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name), the girls were accused of not wearing inner caps under their headscarves, which resulted in their fringes being visible.
Harto expressed regret on behalf of the school and confirmed that the teacher responsible for the incident had been suspended. He clarified that while there was no obligation for female students to wear a hijab, they were advised to wear inner caps to maintain a neat appearance. The school extended its apologies to the parents and, after mediation, sought to reach a common understanding with all parties involved. Additionally, the school promised to provide psychological assistance to the affected students.
Human rights groups have condemned the incident and demanded immediate action. Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, described the Lamongan case as one of the most alarming incidents in the country’s recent history. He criticized the lack of consequences for teachers who have violated students’ rights in the past, stating that the teacher involved should be dismissed and psychological support should be offered to the traumatized students.
This incident is not an isolated one. In a report published in 2021, rights groups highlighted instances where schoolgirls had their hijabs forcibly cut if not worn correctly. Others faced punishments such as marks deduction or expulsion for not adhering to the hijab requirement. The issue of headscarf enforcement gained significant attention in 2021 when a Christian student in West Sumatra was coerced to wear a hijab, a case that officials described as just the “tip of the iceberg.”
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As Indonesia strives to uphold religious freedom and individual choice, incidents like these underscore the need for stricter enforcement of the ban on mandatory dress codes in schools. The country’s educational institutions must ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all students, irrespective of their religious backgrounds, and work towards preventing such violations of students’ rights in the future.