Cementing the future: Farmers stage dramatic protest to halt cement factory
More than 50 farmers have staged a dramatic protest in the Indonesian capital. They have bound their feet in boxes of concrete and vowed not to move until the President comes to meet them.
Senin, 27 Mar 2017 12:05 WIB
For nearly two weeks, more than 50 farmers have staged a dramatic protest in the Indonesian capital.
They have bound their feet in boxes of concrete in front of the presidential palace and vowed not to leave until the president comes to meet them – and agrees to stop a new cement factory from opening in the community.
From Jakarta, Nicole Curby has this story.
Rough, swollen toes peek out from the boxes.
But the rest of the foot is hidden– encased in a block of hardened, grey cement.
The feet belong to a Javanese farmer by the name of Gunretno, who is siting here, kind of stoically grimacing.
“It is very painful, but we are ready to take the pain, because it is not only for us, but it is for the sake of future generations, and all the people, especially farmers in Kendang. We fight not only for our sake,” declared Gunretno.
With their feet in the heavy blocks, every day movements are almost impossible. It takes three people to move one farmer at a time.
But Gunretno doesn’t care. He traveled 12 hours to sit here, in the searing sun and beating rain, in front of the presidential palace, to make a point.
Along with 50 others farmers, he’s been here for a whole week now.
“It hurts, being filled with concrete, we cannot move. But we think it is the best way to complain to Mr Jokowi,” he said.
Mr ‘Jokowi,’ or Joko Widodo, that’s the Indonesian President.
Gunretno and the others hope to implore him to stop a cement factory going ahead on their farming land.
The farmers from Rembang in Central Java believe that a cement factory will pollute, dry up, and ultimately destroy their water sources – effectively ending their lives as farmers.
“We are the residents of the villages in the vast landscape of Kendeng, who will lose our livelihoods as farmers if the PT Semen factory and cement mining goes ahead in Rembang,” stated farmer Sukinah.
This fight against the country’s largest cement company, PT Semen has been going on for more than a decade.
For the past two years the farmers of Rembang have protested outside the factory site, in an attempt to stop construction.
They say they have faced violence and intimidation from police and company workers.
“Since 2012 they have been toying with us as citizens and farmers, they play hide and seek with tactics that break the rule of law, ignoring our opinion, and continuing to invest in the cement industry,” Sukinah appealed.
Last October the Supreme Court ruled that construction of the factory must be halted until an Environmental Impact Assessment was completed. But building has continued illegally.
Then this February, local governor Ganjar Pranowo contradicted the ruling, issuing new permits allowing construction to go ahead.
Matthew Michele Lenggu from Community Legal Aid Jakarta explains.
"What we saw, the local government, they don’t want to follow the Supreme Court ruling, they don’t respect the court itself, by issuing new licenses to the company."
He continued, "What we want now, is we want the [National] Government to do some action, pressure the local government, revoke the local licenses and follow the Supreme Court ruling instead of breaking it."
The mountainous region of Rembang is home to over half a million people, and not all of them oppose the cement factory.
Some believe it will create several thousand jobs in their community.
But in an area known as lumbung padi di Indonesia, or the rice bowl of Indonesia, there’s a lot to lose, says farmer Gunretno.
"Of course it will affect the food production of Indonesia, especially when Indonesia is an agricultural country. Indonesia already has so many concrete factories. These concrete factories have taken the land of the farmers. If all the land of the farmers is sacrificed for the concrete factories, of course the food production will be affected,” Gunretno said.
The Rembang farmers are resolute, but after a week the protest is taking a toll, including a fatal one.
After sitting with her feet in concrete for 7 days, Ibu Patmi,48, one of the farmers, died of a heart attack last Tuesday.
Following her death, the farmers have finally taken the cement off their feet, and headed home to Rembang. But it’s not over.
In an act of solidarity activists are continuing to cement their feet in front of the Presidential Palace, and in other places around the country. They're sending a clear sign that the fight is still on.
After more than a week, the president’s office has announced it will delay opening the factory and suspend cement mining in the area.
But the farmers of Rembang aren’t planning on giving up until factory is scrapped all together.