Religious Nuance in School Gang Rivalries in Yogyakarta

I Made Arsana Dwiputra | CRCS | Article

Student brawl. merdeka.comBrawls among school students become a major issue in Indonesia recently due to the level of their violence became deadly. Five high school students dead on August and September brawls. Some say exposure to violent media influence students’s aggressive behavior. A study on school gangs in Yogyakarta may help us to understand violent acts among school students.

A recent study by Hatib Abdul Kadir, a 2010 graduate of the CRCS who is now a lecturer in the Anthropology Department of the Brawijaya University in Malang, shows the role of religious identity in student gang life. In his study published by The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology  titled “Political Gangsterism and Islamic Masculinity in Young Moslem Post New Order: Gang Hostility and Mass Fighting among Islamic High School Students in Yogyakarta,” Hatib (as he is usually referred at CRCS) argues that religious aspect is neglected in understanding school gang life because most studies in this issue relate school gang life to economic and political situation. Student participation in gang is seen as a response to economic deprivation or hostile state authorities.

While such a secular element cannot be neglected, Hatib’s study of various student gangs in different schools in Yogyakarta found that religious identity and issues are central in the formation of school gangs. He suggests that the school gang phenomenon is not only about ‘secular’ juvenile delinquency (kenakalan remaja), but also about religious-based contestation.

Hatib’s survey in 2008 found that there are 23 school gangs in Yogyakarta; surprisingly many of them are associated with religions grouping including such as Islam, Catholic, and Christian. Their association with a religious identity is due to the affiliation of the schools to religious organizations. In Yogyakarta, according to Hatib’s finding, there are six school gangs associated with Islamic schools, three gangs in Christian schools, one gang associated with a Catholic school. Most prominent schools in this study include SMU 1 Muhamadiyah (Islam), SMU John De Britto (Catholic), SMU Bopkri (Christian). The religious nuance of student gang life in these schools are most apparent in the uses of religious terms in their activities. To identify their groups, school gang in Muslim school uses religious term like Oestad (Ustad = Muslim preacher and religious leader), Dr. Pay abbreviation of Daerah Pemuda Anti Yahudi (Anti Jewish Youth Area). They also call their operation in religious terms like shaf (rows of Muslim men in sholat prayer) to refer to the strategy of Umar Bin Khattab (Muslim leader in 6th century) to defend the Palestine. In situation of conflict, their strategies of defense and attack are defined in the term of kloter (that refers to departure groups of Indonesian pilgrims to Mecca). In situation of peace, they relates to the Islamic concept of islah to settle a peace agreement to their opponents.Similarly, school gang in Catholic and Christian schools use religious term to identify themselves such as Pastoer (Priest), Laki-Laki Penuh Dosa (Sinful Men).

Based in interviews and participant observation in the school gang life, Hatib who is now doing a PhD in the US identifies the connection of student gangs in the Muslim schools mentioned before to kampong gangs and laskars (paramilitary group) that are affiliated to a political party or ormas (civil’s organization) religious and secular one. The Oestad Muslim school gang for instance has connection with Ka’bah Youth Movement (Gerakan Pemuda Ka’bah/GPK) that affiliated to Islamic Party, United Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan/PPP). School gang, according to Hatib, gives an entry point for students to reach a high level carrier such as politicians or more high level of thugs or well known as gentho in Yogyakarta.

Kampong gangs and laskar serve as agencies that help developing the discourse of religious conflict that occurred in some regions in Indonesia. For example, Muslim school gang (Oestad) develop an anti-Chsirtian discourse with reference to past conflicts with religious nuance such as those took place in in Situbondo, Tasikmalaya, Ketapang, Ambon, and Poso. Using such a discourse, student gangs in Christian and Catholic schools such as Pastoer gang  at Bopkri (Christian school gang) and the Laki-Laki Pendosa or Sinful Men (De Brito Catholic school gang) are the main enemies of the Oestad  gang of  SMU 1 Muhamadiyah school gang.

Religious nuance in youth gang life in Yogyakarta is not new. In 1980s two notorious youth gang in Yogyakarta are affiliated to religious groups; they include  Kisruh (identified as a Catholic group) Joxzin (identified as Muslim youth). Conflict between these two were sometimes linked to conflict between the paramilitary groups of political parties, the Indonesian Democratic Party (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia/PDI) and the United Development Party (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan/PPP) during New Order regime. For Hatib, it is clear that the school gang is become a start of gang rivalry in Yogyakarta that involving religious identities.

Hatib’s study on school gang phenomenon in Yogyakarta gives a nuance in understanding student gang life. This suggests that concern on gang life schools not only relate to their violence, but also their use of religious identity. This signals a worrying tendency of the seeding of religious sectarianism among youth (Ed-Iqb)



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