Being “homeless” in their homeland: The locals versus development of Indonesia’s new capital

The development of Indonesia's new capital "Nusantara" continues to generate pros and cons these days.

The development of Indonesia’s new capital “Nusantara” continues to generate pros and cons these days. People are concerned about the current situation because the government forced locals to leave their land, which is located near the new capital’s development. The threat of forced eviction of the indigenous groups in Kalimantan (Dayaks) by Nusantara Capital Authority is considered an abuse of the law because, according to Indonesian constitutional law, the State should prioritize the needs of local or indigenous groups over the desire to build a new capital and provide significant benefits to investors. The question then arises: will the development of new capital violate the rights of locals and seize their lands?

Land-grabbing versus development

Violation of local or indigenous rights through land grabbing has occurred since the 16th century when the Portuguese asserted their power in Indonesia. The Dutch, British, and Japanese continued to colonize Indonesia until this country announced its independence in 1945. Unfortunately, even after Indonesia attained independence, human rights violations and land grabs persisted, particularly among Dayak ethnic groups in Kalimantan.

Stephanus Djuweng, a Dayak activist, stated that the land-grabbing issue in Kalimantan had been ongoing for centuries and continues till today. Dayaks have always lost their lands in two ways: either forceful action by issuing threats or ultimatums to Dayaks to leave their land, or through persuasion by offering money so that the landholders feel surrendered to transfer the land rights without any options. McCarthy, Afiff, and Vel also shared their research findings on the land-grabbing issue. They emphasized that locals or indigenous communities are always victims of land grabbing, and those who become primary actors remain the same: transnational corporations or foreign investors who make negotiations with host governments who act as ‘brokers’. Furthermore, Djuweng and McCarthy et al. had similar arguments; development is essentially an extension of colonialism.

The capital’s relocation from Jakarta to Kalimantan exacerbated the problem. Dayaks and also forest areas have been profoundly impacted by the new capital development. The forest areas including their homeland had been handed to the government to build roads to the epicenter of the new capital, and the most current issue, the government forces Dayaks who reside near the new capital to leave their homes within one week. Iwang (pseudonym), a 47 Dayak male who has lived in that area for almost 40 years implied that the government tried to slowly murder him, his family, and his clans; he also stated that the government’s action is unfair because the land belongs to his great-great-grandparents and he will be a ‘homeless’ person due to the building of new capital. 

More than 20.000 individuals from Dayak ethnic groups will be displaced while the new capital is built. They will be ‘homeless’ in their homeland because the majority of them do not have legal certificates over the land they own. Their status is very weak, making it very easy for the Nusantara Capital Authority to dismiss them. Land ownership in Dayak ethnic groups is inherited from their ancestors, and it can only be proven by oral history or narrative stories among them.

Is the land compensation fair enough for locals?

The Indonesian government has attempted to compensate locals fairly for the new capital development. The government not only compensates them with money but also provides soft-skill training and empowerment initiatives, particularly in agriculture. This takeaway has been established to improve the abilities of locals, allowing them to be more adaptive to the rapid changes in their areas. However, for the majority of Dayaks, losing their lands and homes is far more important than simply receiving the amount of money and training. 

There is nothing wrong with the intention to build a new capital. What is missing from this gigantic planning is there is a lack of social dimension especially considering the rights of local or indigenous groups surrounding the area. Forcing people to relocate without doing an in-depth investigation of their socio-cultural and daily values is a fatal mistake. Locals should be included in this mega plan, and their rights as landowners have to become the main concern. The government, in this case, Nusantara Capital Authority, is supposed not to act ‘absolute’ just by prioritizing the prestige of the country or the needs of investors. 

Lengga Pradipta
Lengga Pradipta
A human ecology researcher in Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). Having interests on environmental justice, natural resources management and gender issue.