A 16-year-old schoolgirl became the first reported victim of an honor killing in Indonesia after admitting to her brothers that she was dating, confirming fears that a harsher brand of Islam is on the rise in the world’s largest Muslim country.
The two brothers beat and hacked Rosmini binte Darwis to death with a wooden log and a machete, a tragic murder, as her family watched on.
This type of killing is normally associated with Pakistan, Afghanistan, and countries of the Middle East, prompting a warning from psychologist Alissa Wahid, director of Gusdurian Network Indonesia, that there was a tendency toward ultraconservatism based on “primordial values.”
“This is what’s worrying. It may not be in the form of killing, but nonetheless it is dangerous to well-being, especially for daughters,” she said.
The problem for Indonesians and Alissa – whose father is the late former president Abdurrahman Wahid – is that Islam is not primordial in Indonesia. Islam was introduced gradually to sea trading posts along the archipelago, an area where history can be traced to beyond the last ice age, and most of the country was still animist 400 years ago when the first Dutch traders arrived.
And this type of “ultraconservatism,” which deserves comparisons with Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, bears no resemblance to any Indonesian tradition. Even the Wahhabists are latecomers, they arrived on the religious scene in the 1920s, more than a thousand years after Mohammad had passed.
Jakarta desperately needs to nip this in the bud before copycats and zealots decide this type of slaughter is the new normal. Associating such killings with ultraconservatism or primordial values is wrong, too, as it lends a veneer of religious acceptability to the crime and downplays the horrific torture which Rosmini endured. She had been sick, was living in a COVID-19 lockdown when her cousin – who she was secretly dating – visited.
The family accused the cousin, Usman, of using black magic and casting a spell on her and this explained why she was ill, vomiting and fainting. They had even sent her to a shaman instead of a doctor.
Usman said they were dating and fled with the brothers, both farmers, in pursuit.
Their escapade then descends into a farce.
Unable to catch Usman, brothers Rahman and Surianto cornered a neighbor and attempted to force him into marrying Rosmini, a girl who police described “a good daughter who gave the family no trouble” and was generally well-treated.
The neighbor refused, and unwittingly sealed her fate.
Rahman and Surianto took the neighbor and the rest of the family into a room where Rosmini was brutally killed. Photos of her blood soaked corpse were taken and loaded onto the Internet.
The language used by Wahid and in particular the police was as colorful as it was dumb. Talk of being unable to conduct a virginity test and that it could not be proved Rosmini had had sex with Usman was played up but should have absolutely no influence on the case.
The age of consent in Indonesia is 15, and she was entitled to do what she wanted. She was also under 18 which makes her a child, and in Indonesia the killing of a child carries the death penalty.
In declaring “this is a case of honor killing,” Bantaeng regency police chief Wawan Sumantri said Rosmini had “surrendered herself to her fate.”
“Investigation showed she was killed because the family felt ashamed she did not recover and that she had said she was in a relationship with Usman,” he said.
Human Rights Watch believes this is the first recorded case of an “honor killing” in Indonesia and the United Nations says there are about 5,000 of them around the world each year, and nearly all go unreported.
Rosmini’s case will be closely watched as it works through a court system that is far from perfect and the judiciary must be seen to be doing its job fairly. If brothers Rahman and Surianto get off lightly the message for radical hardliners will be encouragement.
But for most of Indonesia such an outcome would be chilling: there is no honor in the bloody murder of a 16-year-old schoolgirl who did nothing wrong.
Luke Hunt can be followed on twitter @lukeanthonyhunt