Introduction

Justice and Diversity in Contemporary Indonesia

by Scott Guggenheim

As with all countries, there is a gap between the noble sentiments of Indonesia’s laws and the practical politics of daily life. Much of Indonesia’s political history can be seen as a struggle to find the balance between the power of its founding vision and its failure to resist multiple claims for favored treatment.

What makes for a just society? Most people would agree that a just society treats its people with respect and dignity. In a just society, opportunities, resources, rights, and obligations are distributed fairly to each member of that society. And most people would agree that the true measure of a society’s fairness is not how it treats its wealthiest, its most powerful, or its most favored individuals, but how it treats those people and communities who have been less favored; those who lack the ability to lead their country, to dominate its markets or captain its industries. The measure of a just society is how it treats its poor, its marginalized and vulnerable citizens.

Indonesia’s diversity creates special challenges to any notion of social justice. Treating all people with respect and dignity is not an easy task when each group thinks that its vision of what is just and fair is the right one. Sukarno’s Guided Democracy and then Suharto’s New Order government proclaimed Pancasila to be the country’s sole national ideology, to cut through the problem of each group claiming that its vision of language, ethnicity, or religion entitled it to a special status. However, alternative ideologies claiming to represent special, privileged interests continued to make claims throughout the New Order period – as indeed they do today.

Indonesia’s founders thought long and carefully about questions of justice and diversity. At the level of ideology, the country’s Constitution explicitly guarantees all Indonesians equal rights as citizens of the nation. But as with all countries, there is a gap between the noble sentiments of Indonesia’s laws and the practical politics of daily life. Much of Indonesia’s political history can be seen as a struggle to find the balance between the power of its founding vision and its failure to resist multiple claims for favored treatment. The challenge of reconciling the country’s diversity with its aspirations towards social justice remains the central theme of Indonesian political life.

Development and Invisibility

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There are large numbers of individuals and groups of people who live on the margins or in the interstices of the formal structures of villages, towns, and cities. As the stories gathered in this book show, such people are survivors. They adapt, they cope, and they carry on with their lives.

My participation in this book comes from a decade of work with the World Bank, which was the main donor that financed Indonesia’s Kecamatan Development Program. KDP was a rural development project that provided block grants to communities so they could invest in small social and economic projects such as roads, clean water, and irrigation. KDP’s “big idea” was that Indonesian communities had their own long, strong traditions of development planning and management. Rather than bypassing local traditions so that international and national agencies could introduce ostensibly modern ways to promote development, KDP laid out a framework for communities to set their own priorities, to manage funds provided for their own development, and to be accountable for the quality of the results of their own endeavors.

In late 2006, KDP was replaced by Indonesia’s National Program for Community Empowerment (“PNPM”), which scaled up the preceding program to encompass the entire country. This expanded program was a central part of a strategy for reducing poverty across the nation. Today, PNPM covers more than 60,000 villages across the country.

Why would a development program lead to questions of social justice? Development has traditionally been about economic growth and welfare, not matters of rights and justice. At best, there have been sporadic attempts to redefine development to include social and economic rights. In general, though, development practitioners stand neutrally apart from issues of rights and justice in all but the most abstract ways. The sharp line dividing the two has served a purpose by shielding development programs from accusations of politicization and unwanted interference. However, in actual practice the line between the two cannot be drawn as sharply as practitioners on both sides of the equation often claim. All too often, efforts to promote “the greatest good for the greatest numbers” through policy reforms and development projects clash with the fundamental rights of people, especially the poor. While there have been some efforts to reconcile the conflict between the two, the tension between development and justice remains pervasive.

PNPM is a good program. It was conceived with the explicit goal of reconciling development projects with community priorities. Its purpose is to help poor villagers across the country become direct actors in development rather than watching outsiders decide whether they need schools more than roads, or clinics more than drinking water. By giving villagers block grants to spend, with some technical assistance to improve planning and engineering, we thought that PNPM could begin to reverse development’s history of top-down planning. We hoped that it would sweep up villagers into the national movement of Reformasi by encouraging their democratic participation in decisions that would affect and improve their daily lives.

To a great extent, PNPM has been a success. Villagers like it. They often comment that it’s among the few programs that let villagers take control of development. Extensive, well-planned evaluations show that the program has had a positive impact on reducing poverty and raising household incomes.

But not for everybody. The first inkling that something was amiss came during a visit to Aceh during the period of armed conflict. While I was sitting outside a mosque in a small hamlet in Kabupaten Pidie, a group of widows complained to me angrily that the government always seemed to leave them out of its programs, even the good ones. Further inquiry showed that widows, no matter how poor or needy, were not being invited to village discussions at which PNPM project priorities were established. When challenged on this, one village leader said that there wasn’t much of a problem to solve because there weren’t any poor widows in the village. He claimed that widows were well looked after by their husband’s families. The mostly male community leaders literally could not see that the widows and their children were desperately poor. The widows were voiceless and invisible.

There are large numbers of individuals and groups of people who live on the margins or in the interstices of the formal structures of villages, towns, and cities. It is not surprising that such people form communities of their own, often with their own unique culture, language, and code of conduct. As the stories gathered in this book show, such people are survivors. They adapt, they cope, and they carry on with their lives. If our programs were not doing very much to help them, at least they were not marginalizing them further.

But our discomfort remained. Was it really right for us to bask in PNPM’s success when it was becoming increasingly clear to us that entire segments of Indonesia’s poor could not join the political process, simply because for one reason or another they were forced to live on society’s margins?

Clearly it was not. But rationalizing inaction because “on average” the program was doing well was not convincing, even to ourselves. But rushing in to do something before knowing what we wanted to achieve and how we are going to achieve it is not a very good strategy either. As a general rule, social development succeeds best when it pays close attention to realities on the ground. Understanding the landscape of social organization and exploring its contours means taking the time to sit down and talk to people, to understand their world view and how they see their place in it. This book is the result of a first exploration to find out who these invisible people are, to discuss with them how best to think about issues of development and change as it affects them.

New Priorities: Building Democratic Institutions

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There will always be a need for big investments, but now they need to be complemented by programs that match Indonesia’s political democracy with economic resources that allow a more diverse range of local groups to work effectively as partners using their own organizational resources, skills, and aptitudes.

I believe that Invisible People has within it a critically important lesson for Indonesian development. Desperately poor countries such as Indonesia was after Independence really do need to think about “the greatest good for the greatest numbers.” Simply getting basic services – clean water, basic medicine, primary education – to large numbers of poor communities surely is the right priority when so many people have so little.

But Indonesia is no longer that country. A political rationale that placed economic development as the most urgent national priority has been replaced by one that sees building the institutions of democracy as the country’s top task. The idea that there’s a thick wall separating development from issues of politics and rights was never very convincing, but in today’s Indonesia it is more and more clear that the dividing line is a myth that blocks rather than aids healthy development. As the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has written, development and justice in a democratic society both come when people are equally able to engage in public discussion and exercise their individual capabilities in the social arena. Development’s fundamental purpose, then, is to create conditions that enable people to be seen and their voices to be heard.

What will it take to make issues of rights and justice the core organizing concepts of development, and not just ideals that are good to talk about but don’t affect daily practice? Many of the right elements are already present in Indonesia, even if they haven’t always been put into practice in ways that could realize their potential. Indonesia’s own Constitution, for example, describes development as a national guarantee to its citizens, not as an economic issue for whoever can benefit the most. Indonesia’s political transformations in the past decade are also producing vast changes in how people express what they want from development. And the latest generation of community-oriented poverty programs such as PNPM is for the first time giving communities an opportunity to become active partners in the development process, rather than passive beneficiaries who watch and wait while development initiatives are conducted on their behalf.

Invisible People shows that a different sort of compact is needed to renew Indonesia’s national commitment to end poverty than the mass building programs of the past. If there is one consistent message that comes from the stories collected in this book, it is that people are not sitting idly by complaining about the development programs that have yet to reach them. They have their own points of view, their own thoughts on the choices that they can make, and their own approaches to organizing themselves.

Development needs to move past what James Scott has called “High Modernism” – the model that brings progress to the backward poor through huge projects planned in national and foreign capitals and unrolled like giant carpets across the countryside. Indonesia is too complex a country to stay locked into that model.

There will always be a need for big investments, but now they need to be complemented by programs that match Indonesia’s political democracy with economic resources that allow a more diverse range of local groups to work effectively as partners using their own organizational resources, skills, and aptitudes.

The heroes in this book are the many small but dedicated organizations and individuals who work with the poor. But development in Indonesia, with its focus on big government systems and resistance to outsiders, has not found a proper place for these organizations. The tools and mechanisms for them to partner with the more formal development programs are still lacking. For most grassroots organizations, direct cooperation with a development program is more likely to be the kiss of death than the start of a happy marriage. Many of the community organizers in Invisible People work for their community either through small organizations that operate on shoe-string budgets or as individuals without any funding at all. Social recognition of the valuable role that these people play has not been very forthcoming. For the most part, they do their work despite rather than because of development programs.

Defining a new role for grassroots organizers does not mean sweeping them up into the formal machinery of development. However, society can support their work and build upon it. Indonesia’s voluntary sector scrapes by on a hand-to-mouth existence, unlike its counterpart in other countries, where such work is recognized as important and means exist to encourage it. Helping stabilize the financial base of voluntary workers (with enough checks and balances to avoid free-riders swamping the system) could help make the work of groups like Yayasan Pulih, Nurani Dunia, PEKKA, and others less a form of public sacrifice and more a respected way to contribute to the country’s development. Government hostility to non-governmental actors is slowly thawing, but more consistent guidance across the bureaucracy would make such partnerships develop effectively.

Values and Development: Should Society Care?

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The challenge for the country is not to preserve village life like some ancient fossil permanently encased in a solid block of stone, but to think through how the values of tolerance, openness, and inclusion that we see in the stories of Invisible People can better enter the national conversation about the just country that Indonesia can become.

Invisible People challenges Indonesia. Today’s Indonesia is a vibrant democracy, blessed with a growing economy. But Indonesia’s rush to modernity and its embrace of material wealth does not come without a price.

Indonesia has fulfilled the vision of its founders. It is increasingly difficult to call Indonesia a truly poor country. Though poverty exists, the means to solve it are well within the grasp of the country’s leaders. Today’s poverty issues are about improved distribution and better access. For the first time in Indonesia’s modern history, poverty is no longer about people not having enough to eat, but about whether all Indonesians can eat well.

But if what holds Indonesia together is no longer the fight for freedom, whether from the Dutch or from hunger, it is increasingly unclear what does hold the country together. Indonesia’s leaders still offer the promise of improved material well-being as the vision driving the country forward. For this reason, most of Indonesia’s public policy discussions are about how to raise growth, promote entrepreneurs, and develop new markets. Enlightened self-interest and the barely fettered pursuit of profit are causing immense damage to Indonesia’s natural and social environment. Large numbers of people are excluded from the benefits of Indonesia’s great transformation, many through no fault of their own. All too often, development policy has little to say to them other than “Step aside.” Insecurity and perceived unfairness in the distribution of society’s benefits without some compensating vision to hold a country together is a recipe for instability, particularly when the reassuring story of constant growth gets shocked by sudden economic reversals.

People pushed out of sight do not cease to exist simply because they are invisible. The lack of a vision for Indonesia broader than one of never-ending growth has made the country susceptible to too many ideologies of intolerance which, for all their rigidity, provide their members with an alternative way to view the world that goes beyond cost-benefit analysis for social policies. Indonesia has deeper, richer traditions than either of these extremes.

Invisible People teaches us how much there is to learn by looking closely at the values that live within Indonesian communities. There surely is no shortage of cruelty, misfortune, and tragedy in this book. But for each tragic story of rejection there is another story of acceptance. For every case of shocking cruelty there is an act of kindness. For each unhappy accident of birth or disease there’s a community ready to welcome a new member.

The anthropologist Andrew Beatty, in his lovely and loving ethnography of Banyuwangi, East Java, shows clearly that this culture of tolerance does not emerge by itself. The people of a village work hard to ensure that the principle of acceptance stays at the center of their approach to social life through their rituals, through their use of language and other symbols to reinforce public debate, in their curiosity about how others see the world, and in their insistence that all villagers have the right to make up their own minds about what path they wish to follow.

But he also shows that a culture of tolerance is fragile, and that under the sharp and divisive pressures of modernization it can be undermined and destroyed.

Loss of community is not pre-ordained. Nor does development need to be the tool of its destruction. The challenge for the country is not to preserve village life like some ancient fossil permanently encased in a solid block of stone, but to think through how the values of tolerance, openness, and inclusion that we see in the stories of Invisible People can better enter the national conversation about the just country that Indonesia can become.

Scott Guggenheim

Jakarta, 2010

© 2010 PNPM Mandiri. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing.

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