Nurul Indra Knows What It's Like to Stand Alone

She held a solo candlelight vigil to protest the what she saw as a problem with rising intolerance in Indonesia. Then the hate started to pour in.
May 20, 2017, 10:16am
Photo courtesy Nurul Indra (Facebook)

When Nurul Indra decided to hold a one-woman candlelight vigil to support jailed Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in Padang, West Sumatra, she expected some blowback. Her friends told her that the city wasn't exactly friendly toward the governor's supporters. But Nurul had already held a similar vigil in Batam, Riau Islands, and she thought Padang's silent minority could use her support.

Her rally was small and short. She lit some candles and had her friends snap a few photos, which she later posted online with a caption explaining that she was doing this as a sign of her "sincerity, bravery, and love" for Indonesia. Then came the hate.


People called her a provocateur. They said she was a sex worker. They called her a kafir (she's Muslim and wears a hijab). They threatened her friends and family on the phone.

VICE Indonesia's Marcel Thee reached out to ask about the reasons behind her one-woman protest and find out if she expected such an onslaught of online hate.

VICE Indonesia: Can you tell me more about the post that started all of this?
Nurul Indra: I went to Padang to visit a family member who was sick. I had planned my visit weeks in advance. When I arrived in Padang, I wanted to ask my friends to light candles and pray for Ahok. I called a couple of friends but they refused. That's why I did it at 8 pm because the street was still crowded. I thought doing it alone would be safer.

Now this wasn't really an aksi [an action] I just called it an aksi. At first I thought I would just take a selfie with the candle and post it on Facebook as a symbol of support for the minorities living in West Sumatra. I wanted to chant a statement about how we love justice and democracy in Indonesia and that we demand the government abolish the blasphemy law and free Ahok.

Your Facebook post went viral. Were you surprised about how big it turned out?
Yeah, it was shocking. I didn't see that coming, especially all the negative reactions. I didn't think it would be this bad. The first moment it went viral, most of the reactions were positive. But then as it got bigger, there were people who disagreed [with my actions] but that was only mild bullying. I posted that at 8:30 pm and the next morning I found that so many people had shared my post.


When did it start to go bad?
As far as I know, it started to get bad after this provocative post [that tried to ban me from Padang]. Just take a look at it, you can see that the author had kept track of my posts for about a year. It just so happens that he supported a different candidate than me [in the Jakarta gubernatorial election].

Was anyone else affected by this cyberbullying?
Yeah, my family. They faced intimidation and the disruption of their lives. My friends also faced the same thing. Those who regularly interact with me on Facebook were being stalked and bullied. They called them Shia kafir.

Were there any positives from this post going viral?
It shows that some people are brave enough to speak up. And it serves my initial purpose, to show how bad it is in West Sumatra [for supporters of Ahok and President Joko Widodo]. Jokowi and Ahok supporters, according to what my friends told me, are not comfortable showing their support. Even my friend was stabbed for supporting a non-Muslim leader. Before this aksi in Padang, I did one in Batam too [where I live].

What made you think of doing this?
I wanted to represent the Padang residents who support Ahok, who want to enforce democracy in Indonesia. Those who want to protect the Pancasila and NKRI. In Batam, it was to show support for Ahok, but also to protest the judges' verdict and demand the abolishment of the blasphemy law. The idea was the same in Padang. But there I also wanted to help the minority in West Sumatra, to show how these people aren't always free to speak their minds.


How did your upbringing affect your views on religious tolerance?
Oh, when I was little, I used to live in a neighborhood that was totally homogenous, as far as religion and ethnicity are concerned. But the religion teachers at my school taught students all these intolerant things, that kafir will go to hell. I didn't like that. After that, I lived in a pluralistic environment. There were tolerant people there, but also intolerant people.

What are your views on these candlelight vigils throughout Indonesia. Are they an effective form of protest?
Yes, it's a good enough way to resist against injustice, considering the threats we have against democracy, the accusations of treason, the push to establish a caliphate, so on.

Religion and racial intolerance are on the rise. I read a comment by a friend in Padang who said that he/she was disappointed in me. They said they were against Muslims who supported Ahok.

So you think intolerance is on the rise?
Our harmony has been disrupted. It's evident with all the hoaxes, fitnah [slander], and lies. They attacked me with hoaxes, with lies, with fitnah. We have to be able to deal with this. Moderate ulema need to take real action here. I don't know if we can deal with this. These hoaxes still exist today, and it's a real source of a problem, a means to provoke divisions.

What do you think the future is going to hold? Are you optimistic about the role tolerance will play in the country going forward?
I can't tell. The fight against intolerance needs to be done together, regardless of the results. It's tough if you're alone. Because people just threaten you.

You were born in Jogja and live in Batam. Some people say you're not even a Jakarta resident, so why do you care so much about the Ahok case?
I'm free to support anyone I want. That's my right. And I am focused on not the person, Ahok, but his case. His case is about a minority who faced injustice and was treated unfairly. It's not about just Ahok. If it happened to anyone else, I would do the same for them.

But some people say their criticism of Ahok stems from a want to defend their religion?
They have the right to defend their religion as well, as long as they don't violate other people's rights in the process. Islam is a rahmatan lil alamin [blessing for all mankind] religion. All religions teach kindness and decency. They teach us to treat each other well. W don't need to harm them. We need to love them and respect their rights.