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Her name is Sukinah. She is part of JM-PPK (Jaringan Masyarakat Peduli Pegunungan Kendeng/Community Network Concerned for the Kendeng Mountains), encompasses various groups in Kendeng mountains, mainly Pati and Rembang, including the Samin Indigenous group of Indonesia, also known as the Sedulur Sikep community. When others sold their Kendeng lands in Central Java to a cement corporation, Sukinah chose differently. She decided to stay. Sukinah now enjoys a 22 million rupiah maize harvest and free flow water throughout the year. Sukinah was among the nine Kendeng women who protested the building of a cement factory in front of the presidential palace in Jakarta precisely six years ago. They resisted by placing cement-coated feet in square-shaped wooden craters as a symbol of how the cement would imprison their lives.
WITNESS has recently launched a new resource, the ‘Video as Evidence Environmental Defense Guide’, which underscores the importance of documenting video and photographic evidence of environmental human rights crimes for justice and accountability. WITNESS’ Asia-Pacific team will soon be launching the Guide in Bahasa Indonesia.
“We could live without cement but no one could live without water.”
People versus corporations
In 2016, the Supreme Court sided with Kendeng residents in their litigation against the cement factory. The cement corporations in the karst mountains were ordered to cease operations. In 2017, the Governor of Central Java issued a new cement corporation license and operations resumed. As a consequence, flooding occurred in the province last January 2023. Until today, the Kendeng people are still fighting to live in peace on their own lands.
Crimes against Earth
“Mother Earth has given, Mother Earth has been hurt, Mother Earth will seek justice.” – Sukinah
The Kendeng Mountains are fiercely protected by Sukinah and other Sedulur Sikep villages against karst mining and environmental damage. The community deeply believe that the karst mountains, and the environment represent their spirituality and lifestyle. Cement mining ruins caverns and waterways by exploiting karst mountains, therefore increasing the tendency for landslides and floods and further endangering wildlife. The Indonesian government’s oldest and largest cement maker, PT Semen Indonesia, began building the facility on the Kendeng Mountains in Rembang, Central Java, on June 16, 2014. Kendeng residents united to defend their land and forests against threats and incarceration. The cement construction threatened subsurface water and crops, which are vital for the subsistence of the community and their future generations.
These villages are unusual in that the struggles against cement corporations have been led by women, to emphasize that women are the most vulnerable group that will be harmed by the large-scale mining operations. These women achieved leadership as housewives and farmers who resided in remote, rural communities. This is a deliberate move in order to bring attention to the issue. The women’s groups are known as the “Kartinis of Kendeng”—which Sukinah is part of. Kartini is a major figure in the history of Indonesia’s social justice movements, seen as having led the fight for women’s equal right to education.
While the people of Kendeng waited for the government to take notice of their demands, hundreds marched in nonviolent protests, walking hundreds of kilometers to put their feet in cement blocks. They were supported by many among the international community in acts of solidarity from around the world. Thus formed the campaign #SaveKendeng. Nevertheless, the cement firm persisted, bringing in the military and police as retaliation.
According to a study by Komnas Perempuan Indonesia (2016) or the National Commission on Violence Against Women study, women human rights advocates in Kendeng are reported to have endured multi-faceted gender-based violence, including physical brutality from security personnel, threats from armed criminals, and psychological torture from police. However, the women of Kendeng never gave up the fight for their territory.
Film for Earth
The Kendeng women’s fight continues and is supported by journalists and media makers, most of whom use visual investigative tools such as video and independent film, to document events that are not covered in the big mass media in order to regain justice. Samin vs Semen (‘Samin Community versus Cement’), Our Mother’s Land, and Ibu Bumi (Mother’s Earth), are some of the independent films that helped raise awareness about the Kendeng mountains and the affected communities.
It has taken nine years, but the Kendeng case highlights how the Indonesian government has abused the system of justice. Sukinah, other Kartinis of Kendeng, and Sedulur Sikep continue to fight bravely, marching forward on their battle-ridden feet, despite all obstacles. For them, respecting the laws of nature is not only a source of their divinity, but also acknowledges that the Earth provides for them and helps keep the connection with their ancestors alive.
Salam #KendengLestari! (Long Live Kendeng!)
Kartika Pratiwi is a communications and development specialist with 15 years of experience using visual storytelling and collective memory for social change. Currently, she is working with WITNESS as Programmatic Communications Coordinator (Asia-Pacific). Previously, she worked with EngageMedia and Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR), non-governmental human rights organizations, committed to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Asia-Pacific region.