Ina Erna Slamet-Velsink

In the history of intellectualism and activism in Indonesia, there are only a few women who consistently work and contribute to agrarian research and strengthening farmer groups in Indonesia. One of the few is Ina Erna Slamet-Velsink. Born in the town of Emmen in the Netherlands on December 10, 1926, Ina grew up in a family of educators with both parents working as teachers.

While at school, Ina met an Indonesian journalist named Slamet. The two fell in love and then married in the Netherlands. From this marriage, Ina has three children. Even though she has a family and three children, Ina has decided to continue her studies and various activism activities in Indonesia. Apart from being active in the activist world, Ina is also active in the campus world. He once taught at the Department of Cultural Anthropology and French Literature at the University of Indonesia in the 1960s.

Ina Slamet’s works In 1986, Ina completed her dissertation in the Netherlands entitled Emerging Hierarchies: Processes of Stratification and Early State Formation in the Indonesian Archipelago: Prehistory and the Ethnographic Present and was published as a book by KITLV Leiden in 1995. In this work, Ina analyzes several groups ethnic groups in Indonesia and shows the importance of understanding the process and history of the emergence of social differentiation and stratification, and how these complex interrelationships produce social hierarchies.

In addition, what is interesting in this book is Ina’s analysis of the unity of community groups in Indonesia that have their own power. Ina sees the dynamic process of negotiation between the ruler (king) and the people in land management, and relates it to migration and opening up of new land. Clearing of new lands and migration is seen not only as a tradition and a common thing among ethnic groups, but also as a result of internal pressures and conflicts that occurred in the former region.

Long before her dissertation was completed, Ina had written a lot about her thoughts and passion for farmers and the poor in Indonesia. Ina not only writes about peasant studies in academic writing, but she also creates many poems and poems with various themes, from the poor condition of farmers in Indonesia to romantic poems addressed to her children.

One of his poems, which was controversial until it was published in the Journal of Peasant Studies in 1986, was entitled Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, translated by Ben White. This poem criticizes the seminars and expert sects that were widely discussed at that time about peasant resistance. This poem at least shows two things from Ina’s thoughts. The first was the dilemma of the peasants at that time: between rebelling and receiving beatings, torture, even massacres, or peacefully obediently accepting the fate of inequality in the name of the wheels of development. The second is Ina’s harsh criticism of intellectuals who are oriented towards universities at Boston, Yale and Berkeley, who are more concerned with scientific security such as statistical procedures, but do not necessarily show the reality of the lives of small farmers.

Ina has written many other works. Some of his other key works are The Powerful, The Left Out, The Powerless: How is Democratization in Indonesia? (AKATIGA, 2005), Principles of Village Community Development (University of Indonesia, 1962 as lecture material and Bhratara, 1965 as second printing), Traditional Leadership in Rural Java (a chapter in the Javanese Leadership book published by the Obor Foundation, 2001), Views and Strategies of the Indonesian Peasant Movement on the Eve of its Annihilation in 1965 (Institute of Social Studies, 1988). And many of Ina’s works which have not been published until now are in the form of hand scribbles.

Critical attitude and partiality to the poor

His book entitled Principles of Village Community Development (1965) very well describes the empirical condition of the countryside at that time. This book was published at the right time, when the Government of Indonesia had just issued Law number 5 of 1960 concerning Basic Agrarian Regulations. Ina begins by showing readers and the government that agrarian reform is not just a change in land, but requires changes in the relationships over agrarian resources. Thus, in the first chapter of this book, Ina analyzes land issues, including the distribution of rights, land taxes, and profit-sharing systems, as well as their impact on small farmers.

In the book, Ina also reminded that the spirit of agricultural modernization which aims to increase food production must be viewed carefully. Economic development must be accompanied by socio-political development, especially for those who are marginalized groups. If not, then economic development will not only benefit a handful of people, it will even strengthen the status quo that has been created (p. 31). Ina also criticized Geertz’s thoughts regarding moral attitudes (such as mutual cooperation) and the tradition of helping Javanese people, which Geertz considered against rationalization and modernization. Ina said that the attitude above should not be pruned, but continued to be nurtured because it is a valuable capital for rural development that is thick with the spirit of socialism (see pp. 164-168). The criticisms in the book are still very relevant to the long journey of rural development in Indonesia.

Furthermore, in this book Ina criticizes the cooperative system, which at that time was widely associated with the spirit of mutual cooperation among village communities, in fact it was not uncommon for landlords and wealthy farmers to use it. He gave examples of rice, copra and rubber cooperative groups in Java, Sulawesi and Kalimantan. This reality for Ina, requires that cooperatives not only have minimum knowledge of bookkeeping and technical aspects, but the basis of voluntarism and full rights for poor farmers and farm workers to supervise the cooperative’s business. Ina didn’t just stop there, but provided input that efforts to build cooperatives were better done in a simple, small way, and not using convoluted procedures, as was the case before (see pages 94-100).

Not only that, Ina has also written studies on the results of research conducted by cadres of the Indonesian Farmers’ Front (BTI) regarding agrarian problems in rural areas (in several places in West Java, Central Java, East Java, Bali and Lampung). Ina showed that BTI was able to conduct research based on the principles of bottom-up research and participatory action research which was carried out just a few years before the September 30, 1965 Movement. Many of the findings from this research were analyzed in the book Principles of Village Community Development.

One of its interesting contributions was demonstrating women’s participation in BTI cadre which at that time was almost never brought up in studies of rural studies (see White, 2015 and Slamet, 1988). Ina has also been a speaker at a BTI congress and is considered one of the academics who is passionate about inviting farmers to research phenomena that occur in rural areas.

Spirit that never goes out

Those are just a few of Ina’s writings and activism which are straightforward with political economy analysis such as inter-class relations, class differentiation, and conflict of interests. One strength of Ina Slamet is also reflected in Hans Antlov’s view that the political economy point of view is very precise in identifying the structural roots of poverty and marginalization, but is usually not very helpful in solving the problems that occur. Ina Slamet is one of a handful of academics who doesn’t just stop analyzing social structure, but also tries to find a way out of marginalization (see the preface written by Antlov in the book The Powerful, The Left Out, The Powerless: How Democratization is in Indonesia?).

For this intellectual attitude and partiality, Ina had to pay a heavy price. He was placed under house arrest during Suharto’s reign. Until this writing is completed, Ina is still alive and living in Bogor (West Java) with her child. Even though Ina is now blind, her hearing and thinking ability are still good. He likes to tell his experiences to those who are still young who stop by his house. Her enthusiasm and consistency are still evident even though this year Ina is 93 years old. In fact, every evening Ina still asks her favorite book to be read to her.


Slamet, I. 1965. Fundamentals of Village Community Development. Jakarta: Bhratara.
Slamet, I. 1986. Seminar: Everyday forms of peasant resistance. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 13:2, 144-148, DOI: 10.1080/03066158608438296
Slamet, I. 1988. Views and strategies of the Indonesian Peasant Movement on the eve of its annihilation in 1965-66. The Hague: Institute of Social Studies.
Slamet, I. 2005. The Powerful, The Left Out, The Powerless: How is Democratization in Indonesia? Bandung: AKATIGA.
White, B. 2015. Remembering the Indonesian Peasants Front and Plantation Workers – Union (1945-1966). The Journal of Peasant Studies, DOI: 10.1080/03066150.2015.1101069

Charina Chazali is an AKATIGA researcher who is studying land and employment opportunities for young people in rural areas. Charina graduated from Social Policy for Development, International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. The author thanks Isono Sadoko for providing unpublished information for writing this article.