The Boundaries of Classroom Disobedience: Forming Healthy Resistance in the Name of Progress

Incited by the controversial bill known as the Revision to the Criminal Code (RKUHP), Indonesian students protested from the DPR/MPR building to the Ciamis DPRD building— marching for more than 6 hours—to demand the bill’s revocation while many others took to social media to voice their concerns. Students have every right to protest against the bill to avoid it being passed—however, there need to be boundaries to classroom disobedience for progress to occur. The protests against the RKUHP have a healthy root cause, but the movement has become unhealthy through widespread activism done without proper knowledge. 

The KUHP (Kitab Undang-Undang Hukum Pidana) or  the Indonesian Criminal Code has been around since 1946 and was loosely adapted from the 1918 Dutch Colonial Law—the Wetboek van Strafrecht (WvS). The current bill is supposedly drafted as an attempt to remove its colonial roots, however, this intention is not evident in the drafting and passing of the most recent bill, which the parliament planned to enforce before the end of their term back in September 2019.

The contents the students oppose include Articles no. 218-220, which criminalise those who ‘defame the President’s dignity’. This article not only threatens freedom of expression, but is taken straight from the WvS which was written to permit the silencing of the anti-colonial critics by the Dutch. To make matters worse, these articles bring Indonesia a step backwards as it had been annulled by the Constitutional Court in 2016. 

Article s414 and 416 prohibits “unauthorized persons”—including parents and NGO workers—from educating the public about contraceptives and reproductive health, for doing so entails fines and imprisonment. In Indonesia, discussions on sexuality and sexual health are deemed taboo, causing a lack of access to contraceptives and a reported rise of HIV victims, with 73,000 Indonesians infected each year. The passing of the bill may worsen the sexual health issue in Indonesia. 

But among all the laws written in the bill, what strikes me the most is its sexist nature and the subsequent disadvantages to women’s rights. For instance, Article 470 threatens to imprison women for 4 years for having an abortion. This article conflicts with the 2009 Health Law, which states that women can seek abortion in medical emergencies, which includes cases of sexual assault and life-threatening medical conditions. This makes the law inefficient and confusing.

Indonesia’s democracy is built through student movements. I was born in 2000, but I am aware of the 1998 Reformation, which was made possible by mass protests led by students. The members of the Indonesian parliament, who were the student protestors then, are receiving a huge wave of protests from present-day Indonesian students. The strikes in 1998 worked, and so do the protests now, as the bill will not be passed during this parliament’s term but the next. 

As student protests continue, Indonesians should understand that knowledge is not gained just within the walls of an institution, but it is also acquired in the streets. Many believe a more “civilized” method of voicing concerns should be adopted, but we do not live in an ideal world where students can safely learn in classrooms. Classroom obedience is not an option anymore, for their voices should be heard on the streets to reach the ears of the government. In fact, to ensure demands are met, these same activists took to social media as they attempted to recruit more allies. 

I have seen many young Indonesians post their concerns against the Criminal Code on a collection of Instagram stories. As the issue turns into a trending topic, the government is further pressured to change the bill’s draft. Despite this, social media activism remains problematic due to the spreading of fake news. In an age where adolescents receive news via social media, many students base their opinions on posts, without reading the actual bill. For example, many students claim that one of the Criminal Code’s controversial laws threatens to fine women who roam the streets alone at night, when—though still controversial—the law threatens to fine homeless people who are being “disruptive”. Furthermore, Articles 417 and 418, which criminalizes pre-marital sex, violates civil liberties, but many students protest against it for its violation of privacy. This privacy violation is untrue, as the bill details that individuals are only criminalized if reports are submitted by spouses who catch their partners cheating, or by parents of unmarried persons over 16; children who catch their parents performing sexual acts outside of marriage are also allowed to report their parents. This means that unlike a lot of online activists claim, officials could not criminalize individuals without the consent of family members, and therefore they do not breach the privacy of Indonesian citizens. These articles are controversial, but protesting against them based on pretenses halts progress as the parliament would be able to quickly point out the incorrect claims made by online activists, dismissing the need for change. 

Evidence has also emerged proving that students’ misinterpretation of the Criminal Code harms activism. Organizations, as well as alleged political elite members, have piggybacked off of the student protests to discredit the movement. Certain tweets spread by bots demanded Jokowi be removed from his presidential position, as evidenced through an analysis reported by CNN Indonesia. Many activists would dispute the movement against Jokowi as they explained the student movement is based on fighting against the Criminal Code, and not against the Indonesian government. Despite this, naive students will still be quick to assume the two movements are synonymous. 

Indonesian students are right to accuse the Criminal Code as discriminatory and backwards, as they would reverse the progress many past activists have achieved. Young people wish to see their country move forward, and to achieve this a healthy cause of action is not enough to ignite change as it must be accompanied by healthy resistance. 

In resisting, students should not be confined to the walls of their classrooms, as this will allow older generations to run amok making decisions other members of society don’t agree with. There is strength in numbers and perseverance. Students who were willing to sacrifice their time studying to fight against unjust laws for hours showed that activism works as the government promised to enact a redrafted bill next year. On the other hand, in order for activism to create lasting change, credibility is needed, for a crowd’s power diminishes when its cause lacks integrity. This means students must never fight for a cause because it is popular; instead, students must constantly research and fact-check to ensure that they agree with the cause, and that the evidence they use for their fight is credible. This is the right way to resist. As those who wish to participate in resistance educate themselves on their cause, then will the fight against the status quo succeed.