Jakarta. Around 500 members of the Sunda Wiwitan indigenous community in Cigugur, near Kuningan, West Java, formed human roadblocks at 6 a.m. on Thursday (24/08) to stop the local administration, under orders from the Kuningan District Court after a protracted legal battle, from taking over their "holy land."
Dressed in traditional clothes, the protesters laid in the middle of the road to stop nearly 200 officers from the Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) and the municipal police (Satpol PP), who moved cranes and other heavy equipment to the area.
"They've tried to do this four times already and failed each time," protest coordinator Okky Satrio Djati told the Jakarta Globe in a phone interview.
Okky said the court order is against the law, as the two-hectare Sunda Wiwitan land was declared a national cultural heritage zone in 1976 by the Ministry of Culture and Education.
He added that the Sunda Wiwitans believe Cigugur is the birthplace of their indigenous faith, which was established long before Indonesia's independence from Dutch colonial rule.
Okky said the court decision is discriminatory and legally flawed, ignoring the historical and cultural values of the land and the legal rights of indigenous people in a disputed territory.
He urged more indigenous communities to fight unjust land takeovers and expressed hope that the Indonesian government will do more to protect and respect traditional, or adat, law.
"We will defend our adat land to the death," Okky said.
Indigenous Land Takeover Violates Human Rights
Agung Wardhana, a lecturer in law at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, said the rights of indigenous people in Indonesia continue to be marginalized due to confusion over what constitutes formal legal evidence.
"In this case, just because [the Sunda Wiwitans] don't have a piece of paper called a land certificate, they can be evicted from their adat land," Agung told the Jakarta Globe.
He said court judges in Indonesia rarely show "anthropological sensibilities" toward indigenous people.
"Anthropological sensibility is important for the judges. A land dispute like this is not merely a civil case or a dispute over inheritance, but is closely connected with the collective rights of indigenous people," Agung added.
The lecturer said formal legal logic cannot be strictly applied in indigenous land disputes because the logic reduces the complexity of indigenous people's relations to their adat territories, not only with the land itself but also with the symbolic and spiritual dimension of their communal identity.
"It would be arrogant to enforce formal legal logic in this case," Agung said.
He stressed the point that indigenous people have a different concept of ownership compared to their more "modern" compatriots.
"Often, [in an indigenous community] ownership means guardianship. A certificate erases that concept of guardianship. An 'owner,' armed with a land certificate, has absolute right over a piece of land, to exploit or sell it," he said.
Agung said this is the main reason why indigenous communities are often reluctant to get a certificate for their communal land, to avoid conflicts of ownership within the communities or losing the sense of guardianship over the land.
"For me, the Supreme Court’s decision [to uphold the district court's order to evict the Sunda Wiwitans from their land] is a violation of human rights by law," Agung said.