The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 76/No. 40      November 5, 2012

Farmers in Indonesia rally for
rights to land, against seizures
(feature article)
JAKARTA, Indonesia—Thousands of farmers, workers, fishers and students marched to the presidential palace here Sept. 24, National Farmers Day. Carrying flags identifying organizations in different parts of West Java, they demanded the return of land titles taken by the government, the military and capitalist corporations.

National Farmers Day marks the anniversary of passage in 1960 of the Basic Agrarian Law by President Sukarno, the first president of independent Indonesia. In recent years, it has been the occasion for farmers’ protests. This year demonstrations were also held in Medan and Bandar Lampung in north and south Sumatra, and in Makassar on South Sulawesi, reported the Jakarta Post.

“SBY Yudhoyono is the farmers’ biggest foe,” chanted marchers as they approached the palace in Jakarta. The Democratic Party (SBY) of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has headed a coalition government since 2004. Farmers oppose a law passed in December that will speed up the process by which the government can take land from farmers and other landowners for projects such as roads, airports, power generation and oil facilities.

Taking part under the yellow flag of the Farmers Union of Indonesia (SPI) was Sarnan Marbok, 70, from Banten province, West Java. He said the title to his family land had been seized when an air force base was constructed in 1951. He farms and sells his rice to the local mill, but without legal ownership he cannot be sure of passing it on to the next generation, or claim compensation if the air force evicts him. Sarnan said that air force recruits sometimes fall into crops during sky-diving practice. “That’s why we are very angry,” he said.

As the march approached Merdeka (Freedom) Square in the center of the city, SPI flags mixed with those of farmers unions in Pasundan and Indramayu in West Java. Students from Universitas Islam and two other agricultural universities carried a banner that read, “Solve the Land Problem!”

“Ever since Dutch times, we have faced injustices,” said one speaker, addressing the crowd from the roof of a truck leading the action. In the 1830s the Dutch colonial government began establishing plantations on Java and other islands to produce cocoa and other commercial products. Traditional farming communities were forced to provide either labor or land. Huge profits were made from sales in Europe, but food production on Java and Sumatra slumped and famines swept the islands.

Amid rising protests in Indonesia and the Netherlands, the Dutch capitalists were forced to mask the worst brutalities of the system, but it remained a hated centerpiece of their rule.

Gov’t takes over land titles

The 1960s Basic Agrarian Law gave title to most land to the government—up to 70 percent of land is now in government hands, according to a World Bank report—but stipulated that customary communal use would be protected.

For many farming communities maintaining their land is a constant struggle. In a March appeal, the Asia Human Rights Commission described an occupation by people from six villagers to delimit land used by two palm oil companies. The police opened fire on the occupiers, killing one and wounding eight, the commission reported.

The Feb. 10 issue of Time reported that “the National Land Agency recorded 2,791 disputes” in 2011, the same year that “a whopping $19.28 billion of foreign direct investment poured into the country.”

“The burden of the crisis is borne by the farmers. Land-grabbing has become worse,” Anwar Marut of the National Union Confederation (KSN) told the Militant. The KSN helped build the Farmers Day protest.

Among those who brought solidarity to the farmers’ action were strikers from Panarub Dwikarya Ltd., a football boot manufacturer in Tangerang, an industrial city close to Jakarta. Two thousand had gone on strike in July to protest the cranked-up speed of the production line. Union organizer Emilia told Militant reporters that 1,300 of them had stood firm in face of a company ultimatum to return to work or lose their jobs.

The protest also drew working people from fishing communities. “We are here to stand together with farmers against discrimination,” Habibha, a woman from Marunda, near the main Jakarta port of Tanjung Priok, told the Militant. Government authorities are “reclaiming areas of the sea to allow for the construction of new factories,” she said. “They are building a sea wall that will make access to the sea and our livelihoods difficult.”
Related articles:
‘Maoism vs. Bolshevism’: Lessons from Indonesia  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home