Let's meet Naisah, a young mother who is seven months' pregnant. In recent days, she and several others have become 'boat people' following the demolition of their homes by bulldozers sent by Jakarta's Governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama; known colloquially as Ahok. With no solution being proposed by the government, their lives are now teetering, just like the boat on which they live; drifting aimlessly without direction.
Forced evictions have become a common reality for the residents of Indonesia's capital city. According to the 2015 report published by the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, approximately 3200 people were subjected to forced evictions between 2007 and 2012; the highest number since the founding of the city. In addition, it was reported that, in 2015 alone, about 3433 families and 433 businesses were forced to uproot themselves from the lands they have occupied for many decades. It is important to note that these cases are not only happening under the current government. Previous governors, such as Sutiyoso, were also diligent in ejecting residents from their homes without offering any alternative. It is estimated that around 10,000 people in Jakarta saw their homes reduced to rubble during the nine-year tenure of this former military figure.
What is worse is that it is not only Jakarta that has a dark history of forced evictions. Many other regions in the country have similar policies. The government of Makassar, for instance, evicted fishermen in Laguna Beach in 2004. In 2009, Surabaya's municipality also carried out a similar policy towards the inhabitants of Stren Kali Jagir, resulting in the expulsion of 380 households. If all cases of forced evictions are recorded, the figure will obviously be higher. But unfortunately, not all stories receive media attention, given the vastness of the country and the frequency of evictions.
The perpetrator, in this case the government, often argues that evictions are carried out in the 'public interest,' to avoid flooding or to create more green spaces. Thus, they argue, expelling people from the houses they have lived in for many years is for the benefit of society in general. However, this reason seems unfair. If evictions are executed in order to prevent flooding that often hits the city of Jakarta, why is it that only residential homes, mainly poor ones, are being evicted? Apartments, hotels, shopping malls, and luxurious residential places that are clearly built in water catchment areas tend to be omitted. It is noteworthy that more than 3000 hectares of green open spaces in Jakarta have been converted into commercial and residential elite neighborhoods. Hence, it is evident that the government is demonstrating its hypocrisy by citing 'public interest' as the grounds of its actions; in reality, many vacant lands have been transformed into hotels, shopping districts and elite residential complex.
Apparently, the Jakarta government has collaborated with the private sector in getting rid of the poor by opening a wide door for the latter to control as much as land as possible. This is to the extent that hundreds of hectares of unrecorded government land worth trillions of rupiah have passed secretly into the hands of private parties. The major implication of this is the gap in the amount of land ownership among the poor and the private sector. PRP Indonesia even reported that private sector controls 80 to 90 percent of lands in Jakarta.
Undeniably, forced evictions violate many legal rules; whether legislations made by the Indonesian government or international laws. The 1945 Constitution of Republic of Indonesia states that every person has the right to a prosperous life, both physically and mentally. Law Number 4 of 1992 on Housing and Settlement also states that each citizen has the full right to occupy, enjoy and own habitable houses. Moreover, the United Nations states categorically that forced evictions are illegal and violate basic human rights. It is also written in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that everyone is entitled to adequate rights of living, including health, clothing and shelter. Meanwhile, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) asserts that the State should refrain from forcibly evicting residents, let alone leaving them stranded.
Unfortunately, forced evictions are often marred by violence involving both police and military force. This is, of course, a form of violation of the main task of these security services; that is, to safeguard and protect citizens. Worst of all, the government often does not provide any alternative after forcibly displacing people from their homes. Simultaneously, the solutions provided are still proportionate; for example, the relocation to government flats, which takes a long time, the uninhabitable quality of the flats, and the value of compensation that often does not correspond to the losses incurred.
The separation of residents from their neighborhoods also has negative implications for their socio-economic conditions. These people no longer have a strong, united community. The source of livelihood also vanishes because poor residential areas are often situated close to their workplaces; such as the sea for fishermen and markets for traders. Finally, the education of displaced children is affected as it is difficult to find new schools. The situation faced by parents of these children is completely erratic; moving around without a stable place to live, has the potential to result in their children dropping out school. It is more than evident now that forced evictions will leave not only deep trauma, but also have serious implications for everyone.
These individuals are in need of serious, genuine and, more importantly, humane efforts by both local and central governments to end their ongoing misery. It is difficult to see when all of this will end, but one thing must be made clear: if we let this phenomenon continue, all of us will eventually have to pay the heavy price.
As this article is published, Nasiah, along with many others, are still drifting in the boat house. They have no idea for how long they should stay there. What is certain is that they have now lost not only the places they usually call home, but also long-held memories and the future to which they have been looking forward.
This piece is co-authored with Muhammad Beni Saputra, a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester.
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