The “sarong policy” issue is perhaps a matter that has gone way out of control.
In case you missed it, The Star Online reported that a woman named Suzanne G L Tan wrote on her Facebook that she was forced to wear a sarong at the Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan (JPJ) Malaysia (Road Transport Department Malaysia). At that time, she was wearing a white-and-pink blouse paired with a skirt that ended just above her knee. While waiting in line to get her queue number, an officer asked her to cover up to meet the JPJ’s dress code or be refused service.
As soon as her post went viral, JPJ responded to the issue by uploading a “dress code” image on their Facebook page.
In regards to the situation, Liang Teck Meng, Barisan Nasional’s MP for Simpang Renggam questioned JPJ’s dress code while debating the 11th Malaysian Plan yesterday (9th June). He asked whether the “sarong policy” was issued by the Chief Secretary to the Government and urged the Government “to review its dress code for all agencies”.
What she wore is something seen everywhere. I feel we have become a laughing stock.
On the other hand, Barisan MP for Putata Datuk Dr Marcus Mojigoh urged the Transport Ministry to clarify whether the rules are imposed by the JPJ officers or issued by the minstry. Teo Ni Ching, DAP MP for Kulai also threw a question at JPJ by asking, “We understand that for Muslims, they need to cover up, but what about Indians and Chinese whose traditional outfit is not necessarily fully covered because some outfits are sleeveless?”
PAS MP for Kota Baru Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan also had his say in this situation by stating that “the officer’s action was not a form of Islamisation of government bodies”:
It is not Islamisation, I think. Even in Kelantan for Muslims, we encourage them to cover their aurat. It is not a must. We just encourage it. For non-Muslims, it is “pakai sopan (be decently dressed)”. I was a state exco member and for licences issued by the government to non-Muslim traders, they just needed to be decently dressed. We do not even give a definition of what is decently dressed, so long as it is sopan (decent) from your point of view, it is okay.
“So, even though the skirt was slightly above the knee, it was not like she was wearing hot pants or a bikini or something like that,” Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad, who thought the officer might have been “too rigid” in handling the situation, said.
“That is my personal opinion,” he added outside Parliament.
Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai took to Facebook to clarify that there was no such thing as a “sarong policy”. Wanita MCA chief Datuk Heng Seai Kie also called JPJ “a little Napoleon” for forcing a woman to don a sarong according to its “own whims” and urged the authorities to punish the officer involved.
With our multi-ethnic communities, it is important for Malaysians to nurture harmony among the races and national unity via the spirit of mutual respect and inclusiveness.
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), which was endorsed by 8 women’s group, also commented in a statement that it was “unwarranted” and “unprofessional” for an officer to refuse service to Suzanne:
Such mistreatment is reflective of the growing conservatism in Malaysia which seeks to police the dressing and behaviour of ordinary Malaysians. While it is acceptable to have a dress code for religious houses such as mosques or temples, the Government on the other hand has no business adopting such stringent dress codes.
JAG urged the Government to end “this unnecessary moral policing” by removing rigid dress codes that are “tied to narrow and arbitrary definitions of modesty”.
The JPJ office later admitted that its officers went overboard and apologised to Suzanne by stating that the “sarong policy” does not exist. The department said in a statement:
JPJ would like to firmly state there is no regulation that says visitors must be provided with a sarong. Clearly, this was an inconvenience to the visitor.
The department also noted such dress code are imposed in its offices like every other government ministries and departments and their priority was to ensure “the public is provided with pleasant and efficient service”.
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