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In a Landmark Case, Slum Dwellers in Indonesia Challenge the Eviction Law

According to the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, which has been helping evicted families, there were 113 forced evictions last year, with each round typically involving many dwellings

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FILE - A woman walks past a partly demolished houses ahead of an eviction by the government in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 20, 2016. VOA
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October 1, 2016: Slum dwellers in Indonesia have launched a landmark legal case to challenge a decades-old law which has been used to forcibly remove thousands of families, amid a wave of evictions in the country’s capital.

The case comes as authorities ramp up efforts to clear housing along a main river bank in Jakarta, the sprawling capital of 10 million people, to pave the way for an ambitious flood mitigation project.

Local residents have asked the court to declare a law enacted in 1960 as unconstitutional as it “gives the government a great authority to take the land from the people” without due consultation, court documents show.

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“I see more and more people suffering like me. This is wrong, this is inhumane,” said Mansur Daud, who was evicted last year from a slum in west Jakarta to make way for the project.

The 54-year-old hawker launched the legal challenge with two others this week, saying they want justice to be upheld.

FILE - A man inspects his house ahead of an eviction by the government in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 20, 2016. VOA
FILE – A man inspects his house ahead of an eviction by the government in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 20, 2016. VOA

“There was no dialogue, no compensation. I have to live at my parents’ house now, my children were traumatized by the eviction, where is the justice?” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

The 1960 law prohibits the use of land without permission from the rightful owner, but land rights advocates argue it has long been invoked in favor of the authorities.

Lawyer Alldo Fellix Januardy said the law unfairly targets slum dwellers and the poor who cannot provide proof of land ownership, due to a legacy of unclear and overlapping land titles, as well as bureaucracy in Indonesia.

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However, he said, this was exacerbated by the fact that the law does not require the government to provide the same proof of title when it is used to evict the residents.

“The problem with land evictions in Indonesia is that nobody has a [land ownership] certificate,” said Januardy, who specializes in land rights cases and represents the slum dwellers.

“If nobody has a certificate, then the court should be the one to decide whose land it is but the government never sends cases to court, they just evict people because of this law.

“If we win the case, every forced eviction must be decided through the court before it happens,” the lawyer added.

The Constitutional Court has yet to fix a date to start hearing the case.

The Jakarta city government has defended its move and vowed to push ahead with the evictions despite criticism.

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Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama said the project was necessary to prevent annual floods during monsoon season, and alternative housing had been provided to those affected.

According to the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, which has been helping evicted families, there were 113 forced evictions last year, with each round typically involving many dwellings. A total of 8,145 families and 6,283 small businesses were affected in 2015, the group said.

Another 325 evictions were set to take place this year, the institute said, citing the government’s planning documents.

The latest round of eviction took place Wednesday, which saw bulldozers demolish a waterfront shanty town in Jakarta. It went without protest, but past evictions have sometimes resulted in violence.

In August last year, security forces fired teargas and water cannon after they clashed with residents while clearing a flood-prone area in the capital, with 27 people arrested. (VOA)

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Women Leaders Struggle for Water Taps and Security in the Indian Slums

About 65 million people live in India's slums, according to official data

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Slum dwellers
Children from Indian slums. VOA

Ahmedabad, August 22, 2017: Hansaben Rasid knows what it is like to live without a water tap or a toilet of her own, constantly fearful of being evicted by city officials keen on tearing down illegal settlements like hers in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.

The fear and lack of amenities are but a memory today, after she became a community leader in the Jadibanagar slum and pushed residents to apply for a program that gave them facilities and a guarantee of no evictions for 10 years.

“We didn’t even have a water tap here — we had to fetch water from the colony near by, and so much time went in just doing that. People kept falling sick because there was just one toilet,” she said.

“Now that we have individual water taps and toilets, we can focus on work and the children’s education. Everyone’s health has improved, and we don’t need to be afraid of getting evicted any day,” she said, seated outside her home.

Also Read: Actress-turned Interior Designer Twinkle Khanna comes forward to support Education for Slum Children

Jadibanagar, with 108 homes, is one of more than 50 slums in Ahmedabad that have been upgraded by Parivartan — meaning “change” — a program that involves city officials, slum dwellers, a developer and a nonprofit organization.

Every household pays 2,000 rupees ($31) and in return, each home gets a water tap, a toilet, a sewage line and a stormwater drain. The slum gets street lights, paved lanes and regular garbage collection.

Each home also pays 80 rupees as an annual maintenance fee, and the city commits to not evicting residents for 10 years.

Negotiation skills

A crucial part of the program is the involvement of a woman leader who brings residents on board, deals with city officials and oversees the upgrade.

Nonprofit Mahila Housing Trust has trained women residents to be community leaders in a dozen cities in the country, including more than 60 in Ahmedabad.

“Women are responsible for the basic needs of the family, and most also work at home while the husband works outside, so the lack of a water tap or a toilet affects them more,” said Bharati Bhonsale, program manager at Mahila Housing Trust.

“Yet they traditionally have had little influence over policy decisions and local governance. We train them in civic education, build their communication and negotiation skills, and teach them to be leaders of the community,” she said.

About 65 million people live in India’s slums, according to official data, which activists say is a low estimate.

That number is rising quickly as tens of thousands of migrants leave their villages to seek better prospects in urban areas. Many end up in overcrowded slums, lacking even basic facilities and with no claim on the land or their property. Yet slum dwellers have long opposed efforts to relocate them to distant suburbs, which limits their access to jobs. Instead, they favor upgrading of their slums or redevelopment.

Earlier this month, officials in the eastern state of Odisha said they would give land rights to slum dwellers in small towns and property rights to those in city settlements in a “historic” step that will benefit tens of thousands.

In Gujarat state, as Jadibanagar is on private land, it is not eligible for the city’s redevelopment plan.

“These homes are all illegal, but that doesn’t mean the people cannot live decently,” said Bhonsale.

“With redevelopment, there is demolition and a move, and that can take longer to convince people of, with the men usually making the decision. But with an upgrade, the women make the decision very quickly by themselves,” she said.

Bottom up

Elsewhere, in Delhi’s Savda Ghevra slum resettlement colony where about 30,000 people live, nonprofit Marg taught women residents to demand their legal right to water, sanitation and transport.

A group of women then filed Right to Information petitions, to improve their access to drinking water, buses and sanitation.

“The women bear the brunt of not having these amenities, and are therefore most motivated to do something about the situation,” said Anju Talukdar, director of Marg.

“The leaders are the ones who show up for meetings, are engaged and keen to learn how to use the law to improve their lives,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Contrary to perceptions that slums are run by petty criminals who resist efforts to redevelop or upgrade, women leaders in Jadibanagar and Savda Ghevra are actively engaged in bettering everyone’s lives.

Leaders often emerge from a bottom-up process, with reputations for getting things done — in particular, resisting evictions and securing basic services, according to research by Adam Auerbach at the American University and Tariq Thachil at Vanderbilt University.

“They are themselves ordinary residents, living with their families and facing the same vulnerabilities and risks as their neighbors; they, too, want paved roads, clean drinking water, proper sanitation and schools for their children,” they said.

Women leaders, while still a minority, are “rarely token figures” serving male heads of households, and are “just as active, assertive and locally authoritative as their male counterparts,” they said in an email.

Rasid in Jadibanagar, whose two sons and their families live in homes alongside hers, is certain her leadership helped residents improve their homes and their lives.

“Everyone wants security and nicer homes, and they are willing to pay. Someone just has to get it done,” she said.

“I am illiterate, I cannot read, but I know now how to talk to officials and the developer and tell them what we want, and make sure they deliver,” she said. (VOA)