From 2012 to 2013, APWLD conducted a feminist participatory action research with five rural and indigenous women’s organisations. In this issue, we highlight the research conducted by Seruni with the women farmers of Sampalan, West Java, and their struggle for land rights and economic sustainability.
The Sampalan Women
For this research, Seruni partnered with women from the Sampalan community. They are women who till or doing farming in Sampalan Land from the villages of Margamekar and Sukamanah.
The research on the condition of Sampalan women was conducted using a comparison method. We looked at their condition before and after gaining the right to manage Sampalan Land. Based on our research, their situation are still poor in term of their social, economic and political status condition, although their condition before the struggle are worst.
A History of Sampalan Land
The history of Sampalan Land is a story of plunder and oppression. During the Dutch colonial era, part of Sampalan Land was controlled by Dutch farmers for cattle and sheep farming and cultivation of grass to feed their livestock. Meanwhile other parts of Sampalan Land was controlled and cultivated by farmers.
After Indonesia gained independence, the land was distributed to the people by Barisan Tani Indonesia, a revolutionary peasant movement. There were several kampongs (villages) that existed in Sampalan Land; the people cultivated all of the Sampalan Land until the upsurge of the Indonesian Islamic Army (DI/TII) movement in the 1960s. During the DI/TII movement, the people were forced to migrate to other areas. The area was militarising because there was a military operation to eradicate DI/TII. After the DI/TII movement was over, the land was directly controlled by the military for years and never returned the people. The military practiced agricultural production in cooperation with rich farmers and local landowners.
After the military relinquished control of the land in 1970s, several local government companies gained control of land, namely PD Makmin and PDAP.
This situation tells us the story of land grabbing by the military and government. The people who used to till the land never understand why they cannot regain the land, and that it is suddenly managed or controlled by others.
Efforts and Struggle for Sampalan Land
Sampalan Land struggle is a militant struggle of peasants. The struggle began with a small discussion on organic fertiliser, when some university students came to Pangalengan in 2003 to discuss organic fertiliser methods with peasants. But because there was no land to do experiments on organic fertiliser, the discussion then turned into a discussion on how to acquire land. Then, specifically there was discussion on Sampalan Land, about the history and the living conditions under the control of PD Makmin and PDAP. Historically, the people have experience cultivating the land and then the land was grabbed by the military and government. At the the time, the majority of Sampalan Land was rented by local landlords and rich farmers, meanwhile a majority of the people did not own land and were forced to be farm workers. There were also discussions on people’s right to land and to have a better life. Finally, the discussion focused on how to get land rights on Sampalan Land.
It was not a spontaneous movement, and it took almost one year of awareness-raising for the people to begin a reclaiming campaign. In July 2004, after a year of discussions and meetings, the peasants started talking about doing reclaiming. The hardship and the feeling that they wanted to make changes in their lives made them brave enough to take action and begin a reclaiming campaign.
It was also a very patient movement. The peasant formed an organisation called Forum Tani Pangalengan (FTP – Pangalengan Peasant Forum) to call for reclaiming part of the Sampalan Land. The first reclaiming campaign was on July 10, 2004, on more than 35 hectares of Sampalan Land where around 270 peasants were involved. Their unique way of doing the reclaiming campaign also showed how patient they were. They planted on land that had just been harvested– planting corn collectively, just to show that the land now belonged to the people. The second reclaiming campaign was on July 23, 2005. Then, gradually whenever the land was harvested, the organisation would plant corn. There were also situations when both of them (peasants and company) were planting on the same land. The company planted potatoes and the peasants planted corn, which would cause the potatoes to thrive. The reclaiming campaign went on until 2007. They did this reclaiming campaign on 134 hectares land for the period of 3 years.
In the middle of the reclaiming campaign, the peasant organization and leaders facing a lot of intimidation. A significant event occurred in 2005 when PDAP bulldozed the peasants crops, sending civilian, military and police to the spot. But, with their collective effort, they were able to face the threats and successfully asked the chief of West Java Land Body to come to Sampalan Land and to give a verbal permit for the peasant to cultivate the land in a mass gathering. They also actively spoke out in hearings in the city asking for land right to Sampalan Land.
Women’s participation in the reclaiming campaign was very important. Women actively did propaganda and consolidation in the reclaiming campaign. Formally, they did not speak in forums, just listened and prepared for food and beverages. Informally, the power was with the women, because they were very active and brave.
Women were at the forefront in doing reclaiming campaign. They were also the first to plant the corn. In critical times, when the police came, the women made noise and supported men to face the police and, and they were also sometimes sometimes the ones to talk to the police.
Until now, they have not received any land titles and they still continue the struggle.
Sampalan women’s condition before struggle
Before being organised and launching their struggle, the condition of women was really poor. Some of them could not work and some of were them were working for very low wage. The condition of their husbands were also the same, many having to work hard for low wages because they didn’t own their own land.
For women who worked as farm workers, their wage ranged from Rp. 5,000 to Rp. 12,000 per day (currently .41 to 1 USD), meanwhile men got Rp. 3000 higher than the women. As example, if women farm worker received wage Rp. 5,000 per day then men farm worker’s wage was Rp. 8,000 per day (0.66 USD). The wage they received – men and women – were very low and could not fulfill the basic needs of their families.
In this situation, majority of the women in order to survive took other jobs aside from their work as farm workers: collecting the remnants of the harvest, cleaning the harvested vegetables and some times opening vegetables such as potatoes and peanuts, collecting garbage, working early in the morning until mid noon at a mushroom processing plant, etc. For men, they also worked in the factory, ngojek (riding bicycle for others), as construction worker, etc. They had to do various work as casual workers and received low wages every day, just to fulfill the family needs.
In collecting remnants of the harvest, mainly potatoes, they received Rp. 15,000 (1.24 USD) per bucket. Usually the women would work together with their husbands in collecting the remnants, because the place was far away from their kampong, in the forest area where rich farmers and local landlords have wide scale land leased from the forestry department. So the income that they received is the income of both her and her husband. Opening the potatoes and peanuts, usually done by women, can earn her Rp. 500 per hamper; usually per day they can finish 10 hampers, which meant they got Rp. 5000 per day. Meanwhile, women working in mushroom farms harvesting mushrooms; working from early morning at 2 am and finishingat 12 or 1 pm received a wage of Rp. 9.000 (.75 USD) per day.
Another way to fulfill the needs of their family was take on loans from a usurer at high rates. Usually they would pay it daily or weekly. They borrowed money and then they became chained forever to the usurer, sometimes they also had to sell what ever they have to pay the debt.
They could not afford to buy new clothes, go to a health service or fulfill every need of their children. It’s very common for the children that they only finished elementary school as the highest educational attainment.
Sampalan women’s condition after struggle
It has been nine years since the people started reclaiming Sampalan Land. Their lives slowly changed to a better condition. Although they still have to work for others for low and discriminatory wage, the women now have land to till, where they also plant their hope. They have something to wait for harvest and something to eat from their farm field. At least they have a certainty in their life.
The women still have to do work various work, they are still hard workers, but now they can choose and have plans for their family’s expense. They have something to wait for (harvest) and also plant various plants around their farm field for their own food. Now, they have their own vegetables to eat.
Nowadays, the majority of Sampalan Women still work as daily/casual farm worker besides cultivating their own land. There are still also women who collect remnants of harvests and sell it to traders. Women also works as tailors, selling “gorengan”, vegetables, and open small shops in the area of Sampalan. Every day, women who work as casual farm workers get Rp. 12,000 – Rp. 13,000 (1- 1.08 USD). After finishing “selling their labor” for the day, the women also work in their farm field. They can not say how much is exact number of their income, but average they can get Rp. 400,000 – Rp. 600,000 (33 – 50 USD) per month, which can be less or more, depending on the price of vegetables in the market. They can save money from their farm field and use it for several needs of family, meanwhile their wage from other work that they do can be used for daily life.
Majority of them still have debt but now they have debt for the input of the production and pay it through the harvest. This kind of debt is another kind of usury that has developed. Sometimes they also have debts to small stores in their kampong and will pay it with their wages as farm workers or from their harvest.
Their situation is also getting better, they can afford to live with their children and save for their education needs. They also can provide health aid. From their land they can have a better life than before. They can smile and exercise their political rights, at least in the organisation and through collective campaigning that they do.
Now, they can also have their vacation, although it’s only to stay at home with their children or going to Sunday market with their family. They also actively exercise their right as a member of organisation and have social lives that support to each other.
Now, what they need and hope is to get certainty regarding Sampalan Land. They want to get Land Rights on Sampalan Land.