• Tangerang clean up devastates squatters

Behind the bedlam of Anyar market in Suka Asih subdistrict, Tangerang, hundreds of railway dwellers sift silently through the wreckage of their homes.

The destruction spreads like a stain along six kilometers of railway, from Tangerang to Cipondoh district.

Eti and her devastated neighbors are the victims not of earthquake, flood or landslide, but of Tangerang administration’s latest efforts to win the Adipura Award for cleanliness.

Slum dwellers make up over a quarter of Indonesia's urban population, more than 28 million people. This figure is rising. These urban poor are the hidden face of the region's rapid industrialization, a phenomenon which has brought obscene wealth to the few and unrelenting misery to the many.

As in other cities, people like these rail dwellers are periodically subject to mass eviction and forced demolition by officers from public order agencies. Such 'clean up' campaigns do nothing to ease the desperate poverty that underpins this urban disaster.

However, they do help to win clean city awards, it seems.

Back in Suka Asih, exhausted bodies can still be seen picking silently through the rubble. Their homes may be gone, but the railway dwellers are not.

“Even if we had the money, we wouldn’t know where to go,” says Eti, 42, who earns Rp 5,000 a day peeling onions. Eti has lived here for 17 years. Last night, she and her five children slept on their open floor, protected only by a sheet of plastic.

Mayor Wahidin Halim has repeatedly stated that squatters illegally occupying state-owned land will receive no compensation. Bitter resignation, which already stalks this weary community, will ensure he keeps his word.

Residents say they did not even fight when the bulldozers came.

“It would have been useless to resist or get hysterical,” says Ade Jyadi, 32, who was raised in the settlement. “We just let everything go.”

Ade and his wife, Rani, 24, salvaged only their clothes, which they now keep in the public toilets.

“That’s my house over there.” He nods towards a shelter lying flat on its back, its front windows gasping at the sky.

“I built it myself 12 years ago.”

Tangerang municipality insists it issued three notices, directing squatters to dismantle the structures; residents say their only warning were the cries of their neighbors.

“It was like thunder in the daylight,” says Maria Irawati, 30.

“They didn’t have a chance to get anything out, so they just said: ‘Okay, take it, no problem.’ But those people, you know, they are crying. A lot of people were crying here [that day].”

The tightly-packed tangle of permanent and semi-permanent homes crumpled and sank in less than two hours, she says.

“They are so poor, these people … but what can they do? The government is stronger than the public. The small people cannot do anything.”