Non-Muslims struggle to find suitable cemeteries in West Sumatra

Non-Muslims in Padang and Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, say they face difficulties finding places to bury their loved ones.

Padang Diocese spokesperson Windi Subakto said the public cemetery, which housed many non-Muslim graves - TPU Bungus - was located some 30 kilometers from the centre of Padang and that organising funerals there incurred a lot of expense.

According to him, a public cemetery is located in the centre of Padang - TPU Air Dingin - but it is only for Muslims.

"It is called a public cemetery but non-Muslims are not allowed to be buried there. It should be for all," Windi told The Jakarta Post recently.

Padang Sanitation and Landscape Agency head Afrizal Khaidir denied that non-Muslims found it difficult to find burial places in the city, saying that the city administration had prepared TPU Bungus.

"If the problem is the distance, [then look at others] who often bring bodies from Jakarta to Padang," Afrizal said.

He said the administration had three public cemeteries. A 4.5 hectare (ha) cemetery in Tunggul Hitam welcomed non-Muslims but was already full.

The 2 ha TPU Air Dingin, he said, was for Muslims only and was also full.

Another public cemetery was being developed in Air Dingin, he added, also for Muslims. The 2.9 ha cemetery was expected to be ready by the end of this year.

According to Government Regulation No. 9/1987 on the land use for cemeteries, public cemeteries should make distinctions based on religion and citizenship. However, the regulation states that the local administration should consider local customs in arranging cemeteries.

Similar difficulties are experienced by non-Muslims in Bukittinggi. The condition here is even worse, as the city does not have a public cemetery.

The only cemetery there is a legacy of the Dutch colonial era, where non-Muslim burials are welcome with the consent of a local community leader. The problem is that it is already full.

A member of staff at Bukittinggi Catholic Parish, Didik Trianto, said migrant residents, especially non-Muslims, found it difficult to find suitable burial places in the city.

Like other ethnic-based associations, Didik said, the parish also had a 25 x 50 square meter cemetery for its congregation. Yet, it was almost full. It had tried to find another plot last year but had not yet been successful.

"Someone was willing to sell but changed his mind after learning that we would use part of the land for a non-Muslim cemetery," Didik said.

Didik added he understood the indigenous Minangkabau ethnic group's requirement of having cemeteries for its respective clans, but said this caused a problem for the city's many migrants.