They have lived in Neglasari, Banten, much of their lives. Now officials want them gone. (JG Photo
On Tuesday afternoon, 50-year-old Ok Yong was sitting in the living room of her bamboo house in Tangerang. Behind her was a picture of Jesus, next to portraits of family members. Her daughter, seven months pregnant, was with her. Both women were keeping an eye out on the street, about five meters away from their doorstep.
When Ok Yong agreed to an interview, her daughter walked away. “My daughter still feels the stress of the clash. She is still worried about eviction,” she said.
She was referring to the encounter between residents of Neglasari subdistrict, part of Mekarsari district in Tangerang, on April 13. The clash occurred after the city administration attempted to evict about 3,000 people who live along the banks of the Cisadane River.
After the incident, villagers were given 14 days to vacate their houses. Tuesday was the 14th day. Although the National Police chief assured residents that there would be no evictions on that day, that did not stop them from worrying. They demanded that the Tangerang city administration release an official statement outlining a relocation and compensation plan for them.
“My clothes are still packed in tied sarongs and blankets,” Ok Yong said. She is not alone. Sri, another resident who works in a nearby warung , said she had already stored half of her belongings at an in-law’s house located a few kilometers away.
Ok Yong has lived in Neglasari for more than 30 years. She moved there after giving birth to her second child. Her husband works at a nearby shop.
“Back then, only four or five families lived around here and the streets were not paved,” said the mother of 12.
She used to take water from the Cisadane River, several steps away from the back of her house, which her family used for drinking, bathing and laundry.
“Sometimes, if there was enough money, I would buy bottled water for drinking,” she said.
Everntuall her family earned enough money to install a water pump.
Ok Yong said she was born in Mekarsari, in the community known as the Cina Benteng — best translated as Chinese of the Fort. Residents of the community are descendants of Chinese laborers brought to Indonesia by the Dutch in the 18th and 19th centuries. For generations, members of the community have lived in Neglasari, on the banks of the Cisadane.
Ok Yong’s children are grown up and she is now a grandmother. Those who have married live with their own families, except for her oldest daughter, who lives in a brick house next to hers.
Ongkin, the head of the neighborhood unit, has lived in Neglasari for 25 years. He said a lot of the residents had been there as long as he has.
“Some of them are Javanese, but everyone is the same. Here, we’re all family,” Ongkin said.
According to Thung Lu Yuan, a researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), members of the Cina Benteng community are Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity with a high level of assimilation with the pribumi , or native Indonesians. “Physically, they even look like Indonesians, usually with darker skin than the typical Chinese-Indonesian,” Lu Yuan said.
He added that the potential eviction of the Cina Benteng community should be viewed in the context of a marginalized group that lacked access to power to keep up with city development. “They share a similar history with the Betawi people, who are also mixed [in terms of ethnicity]. They get too comfortable [because they live close to the capital]. Then one day, they get evicted,” he said.
Lu Yuan added that the problem with poverty was always related to education, and that was also true of the Cina Benteng community.
“They lived by taking advantage of the land,” he said. “Most of them worked as fishermen or farmers and they shared wealth from the land. And just like other communities in Indonesia, they also slowly ran out of land to share.”
These days, most of Neglasari’s residents earn their living as peddlers.
“The residents sell vegetables and chicken. We’re just ordinary people,” Ongkin said. He said he worked in a syrup factory in the area and earned extra money by slaughtering pigs at a nearby farm.
Other resident work in factories in the district. The factories are mostly food-related — syrup, sugar, vanilla, tofu and sago, among others.
But the city administration has said that it will close down the factories and pig farms in Neglasari.
“The eviction is a program to maintain order,” Ahsan Annahar, a spokesman for the Tangerang city administration, previously said. He added that residents had received notification about the evictions and no compensation or homes would be provided for them “because they are occupying state land.”
But residents have refused to move out before they are given some form of compensation or alternative housing. Ongkin said that it was understandable for residents to defend their homes because they paid taxes.
Even though the head of Neglasari subdistrict has said officials will only evict factories and pig farms, residents are still worried.
“We’re afraid that they will destroy our houses by mistake, whether intentionally or not,” Ongkin said. “This is why we are coordinating with other neighborhood units so that we can defend our area together.”
Although some residents and businesses have already left the area, a number have decided to stand their ground and defend their homes.
Abu Bakar, a community leader, said that as of noon on Wednesday, no houses or businesses in the area have been demolished.
Given the situation, all that longtime residents like Ok Yong can do is wait and see what comes next.