INDONESIA: A shocking video depicting a forced marriage ritual in the West Wewewa district of West Sumba, Indonesia, went viral on social media on Thursday (7 Sep).
The video shows a group of people dressed in traditional attire “kidnapping” a young woman and fleeing in an open-back vehicle.
According to the West Sumba Barat Daya Police Chief, AKBP Sigit Harimbawan, the victim, identified as DM (20), was subjected to this forced marriage by her boyfriend, with whom she had a prior romantic relationship.
“The perpetrator and the victim were in a relationship; they were actually dating,” stated Sigit to Kompas.com on Friday (8 Sep).
In response to this incident, the police arrested four individuals connected to the case, namely YT (20), LP, YT’s parent (50), the spokesperson (45), and the vehicle driver identified as HT (25).
They were apprehended in Kampung Erunaga, Wee Kura Village, Kota Tambolaka District, West Southwest Sumba Regency., around 14:00 local time. During the arrests, the police also found the victim in good health.
The traditional practice in question is known as “kawin tangkap,” and it has deep roots in the culture of Sumba, NTT.
As reported in the Journal of Forced Marriage Tradition in Sumba, NTT: An Emmanuel Kant Moral Philosophy Perspective by Donatus Sermada (2022), “kawin tangkap” is one of the marriage traditions in Sumba, NTT, especially in the interior regions like Kodi and Wawewa.
This tradition is believed to be an ancestral heritage passed down through generations. Historically, “kawin tangkap” was typically practiced by wealthy men seeking to marry a woman they desired. It involved the abduction of the prospective bride to become their wife.
Kawin tangkap was originally intended to facilitate marriage without the need for formal engagement or mutual agreement between the two families, especially concerning dowry or marriage arrangements, following Sumba’s customs.
The practice involved various cultural symbols, such as tying a horse or placing gold beneath a pillow to signify the ongoing ceremonial process.
Both the bride and groom wore traditional attire, and the groom’s family traditionally presented a horse and a unique Sumba machete to the bride’s family as a gesture of apology and notification that their daughter was now with the groom’s family.
In recent years, kawin tangkap has come under scrutiny for its perceived association with violence against women and children, masked under the veil of culture.
The Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection has criticized the practice as a form of violence, and the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) has labeled it as sexual harassment.
Komnas Perempuan expressed concerns about the practice and emphasized the importance of distinguishing between cultural preservation and violence against women.
Budi Wahyuni, the Vice Chairwoman of Komnas Perempuan, stressed that even if rooted in culture, forced marriages like kawin tangkap should be considered a form of sexual violence under Indonesia’s Sexual Violence Elimination Law.
Moreover, Budi raised concerns about other harmful cultural practices affecting women, such as female circumcision and child marriages.
She argued that these practices, despite being part of cultural traditions, perpetuate the subordination of women and should be replaced with more egalitarian alternatives.
Budi highlighted the need for a shift in policy and a change in societal attitudes to promote gender equality and eliminate violence against women.
She urged authorities to use international agreements, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as a reference point in addressing these issues.
In conclusion, the recent viral video depicting a s ritual in West Sumba has ignited a renewed debate over the intersection of culture and gender-based violence in Indonesia.
While some view it as a cherished tradition, others argue that it perpetuates harmful practices. Advocates for women’s rights are calling for a reevaluation of cultural norms and greater emphasis on gender equality in policymaking.