Students join farmers to demand rights

Down to Earth No. 39, Nov 1998

People's action to reclaim their land is gathering pace.

The protests in the weeks immediately surrounding the fall of Suharto were largely mounted by urban-based students, workers and professional groups. Land reform - if mentioned – came at the end of lists of demands for the removal of the president, moves against corruption and reduced food prices. Since then, local communities have taken action into their own hands (see also DTE 38).

Massive demonstrations of farmers, students and activists took place in several major cities to mark Agrarian Day – 24th September. In Jakarta students from the University of Indonesia and the University of North Sumatra joined farmers from various parts of the country for a day of action in the capital. Demonstrators made speeches outside the Indonesian Parliament, demanding that Indonesia's land laws are completely withdrawn and replaced with new legislation based on ordinary people's needs. Security forces allowed a small group to present their case to MPs inside.

In Bogor some 500 farmers from West Java plus students belonging to the Indonesian Farmers' Solidarity group (STI) marched through the town carrying banners and posters shouting "Give us back our land". The demonstrators, guarded by several hundred military, went to the Deputy Governor's office to call for justice in cases where their land had been taken for real estate, golf courses and the former president's cattle ranch at Tapos.

The biggest demonstration was in Medan, North Sumatra, where farmers demanded the return of land illegally taken from them by the Suharto government. Many were directly involved in a case where 100,000 hectares of agricultural land was appropriated for a state-owned plantation company, PTPN II. Here too the military presence was obvious. At least one truck full of supporters was prevented from reaching the demonstration and the local military commander publicly warned demonstrators that he knew the names of all the organisers of this and previous protests. However, the protestors were not intimidated and brandished banners with the words "Stop military brutality!"


Action by farmers

28th Aug: Farmers ousted by a state-owned plantation near Malang, East Java, openly defy security forces by uprooting cocoa bushes and planting maize on 100 hectares.

9th Sept: Local people clear 11 hectares of forest managed by the state forestry company near Banyuwangi in East Java and hold a demonstration with banners saying: "This is our land, not Perhutani's".

18th Sept: A thousand people from 12 villages reclaim forest in South Lampung after government officials ignore their complaints about a timber company which defied regulations.

19th Sept: Officials in Lampung give the local community the rights to farm 1,500 hectares allocated to PT Dharma Hutan Lestari for an industrial tree plantation. The farmers had held a five-day protest at local government offices after occupying the land and planting some of it with cassava.

8th Oct: Farmers dispossessed by a Taiwanese-Indonesian plantation company in Lampung pull up pineapples and stake out all 4,667 hectares as small-holdings. Tris Delta Agrindo uses transmigrant labour to grow pineapples for export.

(Sources: Jawa Pos 24/8/98; Surya 5/9/98; AFP 7/10/98, 8/10/98; Wawasan 13/9/98; Republika 10/9/98, 18/9/98; Singapore Business Times 23/9/98)