Hindu group safeguards Aidilfitri prayers at Bali prison

PHOTO: Reuters

Wearing traditional Balinese attire, several Hindu prisoners were seen standing around the tennis field at Kerobokan Penitentiary where Aidilfitri prayers were being held for Muslim prisoners on Sunday morning. They greeted people who arrived to pray.

Gede Buleleng was among those Balinese Hindu prisoners who guarded the prayers.

"We have different faiths, but we have one heart. I just want to contribute to this activity," said Gede who is serving a seven-year sentence over a drug conviction.

Gede is member of a pecalang group at Kerobokan Prison. A pecalang is a traditional Balinese guard troop that was originally established to safeguard the religious activities of Balinese Hindus.

All customary villages across Bali have pecalang groups to guard their territory. However, the group established in the prison was not only tasked to safeguard Hindu ceremonies but also safeguard any holy ceremonies held by people of all faiths.

After Aidilfitri prayers, they moved to a small church inside the prison area to guard the Sunday services of Christian prisoners.

"We call it ngayah. Without any request, we are voluntarily safeguarding their activity," Gede said. Ngayah is rooted in a Balinese word that means "voluntary duty".

Putu Hadi Nugraha, the coordinator of the Kerobokan Prison's pecalang group, said that the group inside the prison has different characteristics to others in customary villages.

"Here inside the prison, pecalang members are not just Hindus. There are also Muslims and Christians who become members," Putu said, adding that there were 24 prisoners in the group.

The prison pecalang is part of the prison's Hindu Forum that coordinates affairs for about 400 Hindu prisoners.

The chairman of the Kerobokan Prison Hindu Forum, Wayan Gede Supartha, said that the rising number of cases of intolerance that were happening in some area in Indonesia never affected prisoners.

"We always maintain tolerance inside the prison. We have no problem about it, maybe because we feel that we have the same fate here," said Supartha, who is serving a five-years jail term for corruption.

Kerobokan Prison warden Tonny Nainggolan, said that the pecalang has always been involved in activities inside the penitentiary.

"This prison is a miniature of the community outside. The part of Balinese culture that has to be appreciated is the role of the pecalang in every customary village across the island. So, we adopted that cultural value in the prison," Tonny said.

The Kerobokan Prison is where Malaysian Tee Kok King and three other foreign prisoners escaped from last week using a tunnel.

Two escapees have since been recaptured but Tee's whereabouts are still unknown.

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