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Removal of Cross From Grave in Yogyakarta Cemetery Sparks Debate

DECEMBER 19, 2018

Jakarta. Is the alleged desecration of a Christian grave in a public cemetery in Yogyakarta a sign of rising intolerance in Indonesia?

This is the question asked by many after the wooden marker on the grave of the late Albertus Slamet Sugihardi, who passed away on Monday, was altered to no longer resemble a cross, at the behest of Muslim residents of Purbayan in Kotagede district.

A photo showing the damaged cross on Slamet's grave went viral on social media, sparking heated debate among Indonesian netizens about rising intolerance in the country.

However, Simon Indra, who carried the cross during the funeral, told Suara Pembaruan that the decision to alter it was made without pressure from residents.

"We weren't pressured, and all the Muslim neighbors even helped with the funeral proceedings," he said.

Father Kristanto, who oversees the Santo Paulus Pringgolayan Church in Yogyakarta where Albertus reportedly used to worship, meanwhile said the action should not be seen as desecration.

A resident by the name of Mulyono added that there was no conflict involved in the incident and that it only became a point of debate among others once the photo went viral.

He said Slamet's family agreed to the community's requirement that no Christian symbols be displayed in the cemetery, adding that the deceased's wife, Maria Sutris Winarni, had signed a written statement declaring her acceptance of this rule.

Although Jambon public cemetery, where Slamet is buried, is not officially reserved for Muslims, most people buried there are Muslim.

 Majoritarianism

The Jakarta-based Setara Institute issued a statement on Wednesday describing the community's action as a form of majoritarianism.

"Majoritarianism almost always requires the minority group's submission through the logic of ensuring harmony," Setara Institute research director Halili said in the statement.

He added that the incident highlights a huge paradox in Yogyakarta's slogan as a "city of tolerance," and that the incident shows how religious conservatism has infiltrated all levels of society.

Alissa Wahid, national director of the Gusdurian Network, took to Twitter to discuss the issue in a series of tweets, echoing the Setara Institute's sentiment that the incident was evidence of a shift toward majoritarianism.

"Values will always shift [in society]. Sadly, it now shifts toward majoritarianism: 'Because we are the majority, we have the right to determine everything. The minority must respect the majority.' This is not only in Indonesia, and not inherent to one religion," she said in one of her tweets.

She added that intolerance was no longer the exception, but the norm.

"Intolerance of those with a different identity [based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender or political conviction]. When in fact, we should be intolerant of oppression, injustice, disunity and other awful things. Not people," Alissa said.

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