Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – An Indonesian Christian governor is under fire for threatening and insulting indigenous people protesting against land earmarked as a site for a cattle development project.
In a video that has gone viral in recent days, Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat, the governor of the Christian-majority province of East Nusa Tenggara, threatens to imprison indigenous people on Sumba island whom he considers to be obstructing the government's program.
"If you have a different attitude to me, I will hit you. I will imprison you if you interfere with government programs," he said, standing and pointing at Umbu Maramba Hawu, the leader of Rindi village in East Sumba district, on Nov. 27.
His statement came after Hawu, who claimed to be the owner of the land, questioned the province's rights and asked for proof of handing over the land to the government. He said they were ready to die to defend the land.
Laiskodat then called him a monkey. "I'm not depriving your property. You're a monkey," he said.
Laiskodat wants to use more than 1,000 hectares of land which he designated as provincial land for a premium cattle development project by PT Asian Beef.
He first views the people in the village as worthless, stupid, poor and having to do whatever he wants without being allowed to ask any questions
His statement has sparked widespread protests among local people and on social media.
Alvin Aha from the Indonesian Catholic Student Association said Laiskodat should use a "humanist approach."
"His attitude shows more arrogance and a thuggish style," he said, adding that Laiskodat should have used a culture-based approach in solving the problem.
Meanwhile, Kristin Banase from the Indonesian National Student Movement said "there is no need to use arrogant language to be heard by the public."
Emanuel Dapa Loka, a writer from Sumba, said: "If the governor faced the people elegantly and answered the indigenous people's questions calmly without being explosive and arrogant, there would be no quarrels that hurt human feelings and dignity.
"Unfortunately, because he feels that he is a big person from an almighty throne, he first views the people in the village as worthless, stupid, poor and having to do whatever he wants without being allowed to ask any questions."
Laiskodat said he was angry not because he hated the Sumba people "but because they hindered the development of livestock."
"I want the area to be a good cattle breeding area like the civilized farms like in New Zealand or Darwin," he said on Dec. 2.
Therefore, he said, all government assets including livestock land must be utilized and developed through investment.
According to Umbu Wulang Tanaamah Paranggi, executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment in East Nusa Tenggara, large-scale projects initiated by the government on Sumba island, both for livestock and sugar cane plantations, have left agrarian problems, including the expropriation of indigenous people's land.
"We found that various projects are top-down, leaving no place for the voices of indigenous people who are potential victims of development," he said.