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Too Sexy for My Bali!

Over 1,000 Demonstrators Join Bali Protest Against Proposed Morality and Pornography Bill.

(3/12/2006) Central government legislators from Jakarta visiting Bali on Friday, March 3, 2006, to gauge local reaction to a wide-ranging pornography and morality bill now being deliberated in the Capital, received what must have been both a "rude" surprise and a "rude" awakening when over one thousand angry protestors gathered to demonstrate their fervent opposition to the proposed law. Seen by many as a bill driven by minority fundamentalist religious sentiments, the law currently under discussion aspires to strictly control a wide range of public and private behaviors, set standards for permissible dress standards, restrict the free movement and activities of women, curb all artistic expression deemed to be sexually arousing, and even outlaws public kissing.

Unity in Diversity?

Meanwhile, various religious and cultural groups across Indonesia have reacted angrily to the proposed legislation, citing the Nation's numerous and diverse cultural traditions together with modes of dress that apparently will become criminal offenses punishable by fines and jail time if the law is passed in its present form.

Perhaps no where has the resistance to the proposed legislation been stronger than the island of Bali where the regulations are widely viewed as cultural hegemony of the worst sort and a potentially final, fatal blow to the island's main industry of tourism.

A topic of extensive press coverage in Bali over past weeks, angry rejection of the proposed new law appears almost universal in Bali with even high-ranking Government officials, including the Island's Governor, local Parliament members and the Chief the of Provincial Tourism office boldly breaking rank and stating their fervent opposition to the law.

The Protest

The day-long protest held at Bali's Puputan Margarana Square on Friday saw both traditional and contemporary artists from musical groups, dance troupes, and exercise groups come together to demonstrate and perform on behalf of Bali's innate "cultural sensuality," with the songs and dances punctuated by oftentimes firey orations by local community leaders and politicians.

The irony that Friday's protest was held at the commemorative site of a ritual Puputan in which an estimated 1,000 Balinese died on the swords and bullets of an invading Dutch expeditionary force almost exactly 100 years before was not lost on many of the protestors. As reported in the Jakarta Post and on detik.com, a prominent local youth leader, I Putu Gede Indriawan Karna's seditious call for Bali to secede from the Republic if the law went ahead was greeted with loud applause from the audience.

The protestors and spectators attending the rally represented a broad cross section of Balinese society. Punk rock musicians, transsexuals, and contemporary performers attending the event stood shoulder-to-shoulder with traditional kecak groups, farmers, painters, wood carvers and some of Bali's most revered traditional artists in jointly stating their opposition to any official interference in Bali's rich cultural and artistic milieu.

Not for the Faint of Art

Among others, Bali's premier punk rock group Superman is Dead sang for freedom of expression followed by a troupe performing the spirited Joged Bumbung Bali. Not for the "Faint-of-Art" at the best of times, Friday's sensual Joged included an appearance by a senior female dancer who underlined her protest and earned rapturous applause when she decided to perform the dance bare-breasted. Another performance by a local poet saw him deliver lines in defense of nudity, removing articles of clothing with each successive stanza.

Quoted in the Jakarta Post, one of the rally organizers, Cok Sawitri said: "Balinese arts and religious beliefs have never considered sensuality and sexuality as an impure, morally reprehensible thing. Instead, sensuality and sexuality are treated as natural, integral parts of our lives as human beings." Harking back to a more relaxed era, he added, "in the past, Balinese women never wore a bra, yet the custom did not turn the society into a sex-craving, pornographically demented community."

Also quoted in the Jakarta Post, I Gusti Putu Artha warned the National Legislators meeting just across the street from the rally at the Governor's office: "The bill has blatantly ignored the fact that Indonesia comprises hundreds of ethnic groups with different cultural values and religious beliefs. The bill, which represents the moral values and belief of one single group, has the potential to cause the disintegration of the state."

By late afternoon the cultural rally dispersed while the Jakarta lawmakers headed back to the Capital with something to think about.

Photo's provided with the kind permission of Wayan Juniartha at [http://jiwamerdeka.blogspot.com/]