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Jakarta Post

Kar­tini’s spirit lives on in con­crete ac­tion by Ken­deng farm­ers

  • Mar­guerite Afra Sapiie

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, April 22, 2017   /   09:45 am
Kar­tini’s spirit lives on in con­crete ac­tion by Ken­deng farm­ers Standing for the rights: Kendeng farmers prepare to put their feet into concrete blocks in a rally in front of the Merdeka Palace, Jakarta, on March 15 against the construction of state cement maker Semen Indonesia's factory in Rembang, Central Java. (Antara/Atika Fauziyyah)

In­done­sian hero­ine Raden Ajeng Kar­tini, pop­u­larly known as Kar­tini, has be­come an icon of the women’s eman­ci­pa­tion move­ment in the coun­try. A Ja­vanese woman, whose pro­gres­sive ideas were be­yond her time, Kar­tini, who lived more than a cen­tury ago, has in­spired gen­er­a­tions of women to reach be­yond the de­mands of so­ci­ety.

Even though the story of Kar­tini, whose birth­day is cel­e­brated on Kar­tini Day ev­ery April 21, is still very much dis­puted and scru­ti­nized, it has none­the­less given count­less In­done­sian women the courage to fight for what they be­lieve in. Like the band of fe­male farm­ers from Ken­deng moun­tain in Cen­tral Java who, 138 years af­ter Kar­tini was born, are stand­ing up against the con­struc­tion of a ce­ment plant in their area.

Dubbed the “Kar­tini of Ken­deng”, the women farm­ers left their fam­i­lies to fight a three-year­long bat­tle to achieve a greater pur­pose: to save their vil­lages and liveli­hoods from en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age feared to be caused by the ce­ment fac­tory’s op­er­a­tion. Hail­ing from sev­eral ar­eas sur­round­ing Ken­deng in­clud­ing Rem­bang, Pati, Blora and Grobo­gan, the farm­ers’ protest has gar­nered na­tion­wide at­ten­tion.

“Kar­tini called for women to not just stay at home. Women should be equal with men. There­fore, we fight for Ken­deng […] so that the moun­tain range can be main­tained as the na­tion’s paddy gra­nary,” Suk­i­nah, a 41-year-old farmer from Rem­bang said on Fri­day.

Mean­while, 45-year-old Giyem, a farmer from Pati, said that even though they faced many ob­sta­cles in their strug­gle to pre­serve the en­vi­ron­ment and their liveli­hoods, they would con­tinue to fight in the spirit of Kar­tini.

Suk­i­nah and Giyem, along with other farm­ers un­der Mount Ken­deng Com­mu­nity Net­work (JMPPK) have voiced their re­jec­tion to the con­struc­tion of state-owned ce­ment pro­ducer PT Se­men In­done­sia’s fac­tory in Rem­bang, on the grounds that it would dam­age the en­vi­ron­ment and dry up lo­cal springs, dev­as­tat­ing their liveli­hoods.

They are two of the first nine Ken­deng hero­ines who staged a protest with their feet buried in ce­ment blocks in front of the Pres­i­den­tial Palace in the Jakarta last year, which has since be­come an iconic im­age of farm­ers re­sis­tance in the coun­try.

How­ever, their protest was not free from ac­cu­sa­tions and as­sump­tions that claimed the women were ex­ploited by par­ties and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions driven by for­eign in­ter­ests aimed at med­dling in the coun­try’s in­ter­nal af­fairs.

Last month, the cap­i­tal once again saw 50 men and women farm­ers from ar­eas around Mount Ken­deng stage an eight­day protest, with their feet locked in con­crete blocks, against the is­suance of new en­vi­ron­men­tal per­mit by Cen­tral Gover­nor Gan­jar Pra­nowo for the con­struc­tion of the ce­ment fac­tory.

The protest has, so far, suc­ceeded in mov­ing Pres­i­dent Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo to sus­pend the ce­ment fac­tory’s op­er­a­tion un­til the en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment (KLHS) for Mount Ken­deng is com­pleted.

Their spirit re­mained strong even af­ter a farmer from Pati named Patmi passed away due to car­diac ar­rest af­ter spend­ing nu­mer­ous days in protest, lead­ing the farm­ers to tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend their demon­stra­tion and re­turn to their home­towns. Patmi’s death, how­ever, strength­ened civil so­ci­ety sup­port for the Ken­deng farm­ers lead­ing to more protests around the coun­try from peo­ple who wished to ex­press their sol­i­dar­ity.

The Na­tional Com­mis­sion on Vi­o­lence Against Women (Kom­nas Perem­puan) re­gards ‘Kar­tini of Ken­deng’ to be a sym­bol of women’s strength in the stand against in­jus­tice, in­equal­ity and the ex­ploita­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources.

“Th­ese women’s strug­gle is very sim­i­lar to Kar­tini’s strug­gle, how­ever, it is sad to see from 1900 un­til present women are still un­der­es­ti­mated in this pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety and can­not feel safe,” Kom­nas Perem­puan com­mis­sioner Adri­ana Veny Aryani told The Jakarta Post.

“I can­not un­der­stand why peo­ple cre­ate false ac­cu­sa­tions about these women’s strug­gle. They go with their hus­bands’ per­mis­sion and their hus­bands take turns tend­ing to the plan­ta­tions and fields. It shows that the process of gen­der equal­ity be­gins at home,” she added.

The in­de­pen­dent state women rights body will soon sub­mit a re­port with 19 rec­om­men­da­tions to push Jokowi’s ad­min­is­tra­tion to pri­or­i­tize the pro­tec­tion of farm­ers’ liveli­hood and to pre­serve the en­vi­ron­ment of Mount Ken­deng area.

The re­port, which will also de­tail the his­tory of the farm­ers strug­gles, is planned to be sub­mit­ted be­fore the gov­ern­ment is­sues the sec­ond phase of KLHS re­port in July.