In a country where religion plays a large part in public life, followers of traditional beliefs, known generally as aliran kepercayaan, hope the ruling will finally end decades of unofficial discrimination that makes it difficult for them to get permits to open gathering places, obtain marriage licenses and get access to public services like health care and education. It also complicates efforts by those believers to get military, police or civil service jobs, or even burial plots in cemeteries.
There are hundreds of different forms of aliran kepercayaan spread across the vast Indonesian archipelago. In Java, the most populous island, it is often a mix of animist, Hindu-Buddhist and Islamic beliefs.
Forms of kepercayaan can include certain periodic religious observances, such as communal meals or acts that could be compared to Muslim men praying together on Fridays or Sunday Christian services. These may include ritual offerings to appease spirits, even though the practitioners could also be registered as Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists or one of the other recognized religions.
It is estimated that at least 20 million of Indonesia’s 260 million people practice local traditional beliefs, but the numbers could be much higher, according to analysts, as some are also followers of Islam, Christianity and other major religions.
“We’ll keep fighting for equality; we have equality, legally speaking, but in reality we don’t,” said Endang Retno Lastani, an elder with one Java-based group, whose national identity card is blank in the religious affiliation section.
“Our belief is the unity of God and people, just like other religions,” he said. “So what’s wrong with that?”
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