Jakarta. Indonesia’s Hindu leaders and government officials have united in their criticism of the House of Representatives over a bill that would prohibit alcohol sales, consumption and production in Indonesia.
The House plans to hold a public hearing for the bill, which bears a striking resemblance to Prohibition in the United States in the 1920s, and bans in other countries such as Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
The Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia, the country’s highest authority on Hinduism, warned on Friday that the bill, if passed, could severely hurt Indonesia, which is a culturally diverse and religious tolerant country.
The PHDI is concerned in particular about the impact to the all-important tourism industry in Bali, which is majority Hindu.
Aryo P.S. Djojohadikusumo, a legislator from the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) and deputy chairman of the House committee discussing the bill, acknowledged the group’s concerns.
“They would prefer the bill to be more about regulation and control, instead of a blanket ban on [alcoholic] beverages,” he said.
Jakarta Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat gave a blunter assessment of the bill, saying it was “chaotic and needs refinement.”
“Secondly, it is irrational,” he added.
He argued for a bill that would permit sales of alcoholic beverages in tourist areas in order for Indonesia to maintain its appeal to foreign visitors.
“We all know that they drink booze like they drink water. We can’t just ban it totally,” Djarot said.
Aryo conceded that the bill, in its current form calling for a total ban, would encourage the production and sale of bootleg alcohol – a product that already claims dozens of lives a year in Indonesia.
Djarot pointed to figures from the Jakarta administration showing that 99 percent of all alcohol-related deaths in the capital were a result of people drinking moonshine, produced by unlicensed distilleries that often use industrial-grade alcohol and other potentially dangerous chemicals.
Some regions in Indonesia already have bylaws in place restricting sales of alcoholic drinks in their respective jurisdictions, while a government regulation issued last year forbids sales of such beverages from all convenience stores.
The bill now at the House was initiated by the conservative Islamic-based bloc of the United Development Party (PPP) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).