A school situated on Indonesia’s main island has stirred controversy by partially shaving the heads of more than a dozen girls. The school’s headmaster revealed on Monday that this action was taken after accusing these girls of improperly wearing their Islamic hijab headscarves.
Activists assert that Muslim and non-Muslim girls have been compelled to wear hijabs for years, particularly in conservative regions of the nation. Indonesia, with a population of 270 million, underwent a significant change in 2021 when it officially banned schools from enforcing mandatory dress codes, including hijabs.
At SMPN 1, a state-owned junior high school in the East Java town of Lamongan, an unidentified teacher took it upon themselves to partially shave the hair of 14 Muslim girls last Wednesday, as confirmed by headmaster Harto, who, like many Indonesians, goes by a single name.
Harto explained that the incident occurred because the schoolgirls were not wearing inner caps beneath their headscarves, leading to their fringes being visible. “There is no obligation for female students to wear the hijab, but they were advised to wear inner caps for a neat appearance,” said Harto. He further added, “We apologized to the parents and after mediation, we reached a common understanding.” Additionally, the school assured that psychological assistance would be provided to the affected students.
However, rights groups have demanded more decisive action against the teacher responsible. Andreas Harsono, the Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, expressed his concerns in a statement, labelling the Lamongan case as possibly the most intimidating in the country’s history. He stated, “No teachers who have cut their students’ hair have ever been sanctioned. The education office in Lamongan should sanction this teacher, at least removing her from the school and assigning psychologists to deal with the trauma among the victims.”
Highlighting the broader issue, a report published in 2021 by the same group indicated that some schoolgirls have faced punishments for not wearing hijabs correctly, including having their headscarves cut or receiving penalizations and expulsions.
Despite recognizing six significant religions, Indonesia has grappled with growing concerns over religious intolerance within its predominantly Muslim population. The issue of headscarves gained significant attention in 2021 when a Christian student in West Sumatra was pressured to wear a hijab, sparking discussions about religious freedom and diversity.