Limbang Jaya tragedy and the shortcut approach
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During a land dispute between residents and state-owned plantation company PTPN VII Cinta Manis in Limbang Jaya, South Sumatra, the police’s Mobile Brigade (Brimob) fired into the crowd, resulting in the death of a 12-year-old boy, Angga bin Darmawan, and several injuries.
Yarman bin Karuman, 47, a blacksmith, was injured in the arm and back. The third victim was Farida binti Juni, 48, a housewife, who was injured in the left arm.
The deadly shooting is one among several in land-related conflicts between local residents and companies across the archipelago. It is not the first time that a land dispute involving police officers or soldiers have turned deadly.
The death of the boy in Limbang Jaya demonstrates that the police’s attitude in handling land disputes is deteriorating, suggesting a failed shortcut approach. Such an approach is unsurprising, since the police are easily controlled by the companies that exercise control over land.
The police’s commitment to the public is nonexistent when dealing with a company’s interests. The police repeatedly place themselves in an inferior position to both state and private capitalists, making them the protectors of companies instead of people. The latest shooting was just one example of violence by police officers and military personnel, who frequently moonlight as security guards.
Frankly speaking, the police’s bargaining power against the state-owned plantation company will remain low as long as the security institution accepts unilateral reports issued by the company over people’s real complaints.
As a consequence, the police are subject to exploitation and control. No less alarming is that the police unknowingly place and treat PTPN VII Cinta Manis as an untouchable party vis-à-vis the marginalized residents.
In addition, the police’s shortcut approach indicates that they have ignored all previous criticism regarding their brutal attacks against residents, as widely seen in cases such as a protest against gold prospecting in West Nusa Tenggara’s Bima district, and security forces killing residents of Mesuji district in Lampung while attempting to evict them.
Previous massacres, on the one side, should have been a wake-up call to the police and prevented them from walking the same path or from falling into the same hole over and over again.
Moreover, the preceding tragedies should have been a lesson for the police that their pro-capitalist attitude would simply perpetuate public opposition and resistance to them as an institution.
Going a bit deeper, repeated land disputes between residents and plantation companies cannot be separated from the loss of the cultural approach involving parties entangled in land disputes.
It is saddening that both the police and the plantation company have ignored the necessary cultural approach in settling land disputes: While the police force is prone to the security approach owing to its quick and clear-cut procedure, the plantation company no doubt rests on cost-benefit considerations for its own sake.
A proper cultural approach would never prevail in the absence of a win-win and equal dialogical mechanism, putting the interests of the people in a corner. It is very poor form that the existing dialogue is more of a superficial courtesy and negotiating arena for the company’s benefit. Under such circumstances, local residents have become victimized beings, while the plantation company stands as the decision-maker.
What is urgently needed is a whole-hearted cultural approach that respects local residents as working and dialogue partners. Paradoxically speaking, there is a deep-rooted misinterpretation among large corporations — state and private — that respecting local residents is limited to corporate social responsibility (CSR), whereas in fact CSR should be based on and bolstered by continued partnership between local residents and the company.
The local community no longer has a sense of belonging to the plantation land, since the company makes an effort to get close to them at specific times only.
The cultural approach should also take local wisdom into account, such as respect for traditional property, figures and land in an attempt to settle land disputes.
It is too bad that many companies put too much emphasis on modern management of local residents which, in turn, creates a yawning gap between the two groups.
It is often the case that local wisdom plays a better role in shaping shared understanding and mutual benefit for local people and plantation companies.
Meanwhile, it is clear that the government has failed to realize that all the disputes are a reaction by local residents to the policies of former president Soeharto, who forcefully took their land without compensation in the name of economic development. That is why they feel that the land still belongs to them.
Hence, any efforts to solve the cases fairly necessitate the government considering people’s right to the land, not just blaming them for claiming the right. Such disputes would not occur if the government allowed villagers to continue using land that was under dispute while the companies would still maintain ownership rights.
The writer is a lecturer at the School of Cultural Sciences at Andalas University.