By Adrianus Meliala
August 01 2014
Proponents of police officers’ right to wear Hijab while on duty will be pleased following a recent announcement from the National Police headquarters, which has said it will begin regulating the use of Hijab next year.
The announcement is the result of consistent public pressure on the police (especially toward National Police chief Gen. Sutarman) since last year. Many Muslims in particular responded to positive signals given by Sutarman himself, who only later realized his police colleagues seemed to disagree with the idea.
Many arguments have been mentioned from parties in favor of the use of Hijab by female police officers. These arguments range from the practicality of the veil for Muslim officers, the use of a non-state budget for the Hijab uniforms, and the human rights of female police officers who are Muslim to wear the veil.
But those opposed to the new policy seem reluctant to speak up for fear of being seen as anti-Islamic. Before such a policy is pursued, sufficient dialogue should be implemented democratically, without fears of reprisal or cynicism.
One issue which needs to be clarified is whether the National Police indeed restricts female members from wearing the veil. I would argue this is simply not true.
To my knowledge, a female officer is permitted to use the Hijab on three occasions: First, when a female officer is assigned in Aceh province, where women must be covered under the local Sharia bylaws — the only province allowed to apply Islamic law following the 2005 international peace agreement between the government and the former Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
Second, a female officer is permitted to wear a Hijab if assigned to a unit where the use of a formal uniform is unnecessary, such as in the detective unit or the intelligence unit. Third, women officers can wear the veils when off duty or after office hours.
Situations where wearing the veil are considered inappropriate by the National Police include formal events where all police members have been designated a number of uniforms, which so far does not include the veil.
As the uniforms are the symbol of the National Police, it is ironic that there are elements within the police force who would defy the essence and purpose of uniformity as meant by the use of a uniform.
As the police actually allow considerable room for a female officer to wear the Hijab, one should question the motives of female officers who are so keen on using the veil when wearing uniforms. All members, male and female, sign contracts upon their admission into the police force that stipulates that they will be loyal with regards to wearing the uniforms.
The female officer is a police officer first and a woman second; not the other way around. It would be misguided for the National Police to prioritize the needs of female officers above the duties of the position.
Members of the National Police should be treated equally. One way to do that is through the use of the uniforms that are neutral in terms explicit statements of association. The Hijab may be seen as partiality toward certain groups by police.
The police and military are so far the organizations most capable of uniting the country. While many elements of society have been affected by some degree of discrimination, the country can still depend on the police and military, as they are seen to be impartial to all segments of society.
Another argument no less important but rarely discussed due to sensitivity is the potential for police wearing veils to actually divide society.
Once female officers are allowed to wear the veil, certain segments of society might react and demand specific things, whether related to uniforms or other issues — and invoke similar allegations of human rights violations.
The police, who are supposed to look identical from Sabang on the tip of Aceh to Merauke on the far end of Papua, would become segregated. Such variations in uniforms would lead to unequal treatment. And there is always the possibility that there are elements of society who don’t want to be served by police wearing veils, or other groups who prefer a veiled officer.
The wearing of the Hijab, therefore, would create unnecessary problems for the police.
Wearing of the Hijab would be acceptable if it was connected with requirements for good policing; or, if it aided somehow in enforcing the law.
However, if the main motive for wearing Hijab is a non-policing motive, the use of the Hijab by female police officers deserves to be scrutinized.
Adrianus Meliala, a professor in criminology at the University of Indonesia, is a commissioner of the National Police Commission. The views above are personal