Jakarta said goodbye to the infamous red-light district Kalijodo last week. For more than half a century, this collection of karaoke bars, brothels and gambling dens on the banks of the Angke River served as a playground for working-class residents of the capital.
After four people died in a road accident caused by a drunk driver who had been partying in Kalijodo, Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (“Ahok”) saw his opportunity. He gave the district’s 3,000 residents just 20 days to leave their homes. In typical brash style, Ahok said: “The problem with Kalijodo is that we have been listening and listening for too long.”
The Jakarta administration argued that the buildings in Kalijodo occupied state land, and it was important to return the area to its intended function as green space.
Rights organisations, including the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM), argued that the eviction process violated international standards for involuntary resettlement, and that the administration’s policies unfairly targeted poor residents, leaving large commercial developers occupying state land untouched.
But in the end these voices were in the minority. With Kalijodo’s reputation as a haven for crime and immorality, few Jakarta residents seemed sad to see its demise. Despite his oppressive approach, Ahok received near-universal praise in the media and online, with many impressed by the lack of conflict and the relative “efficiency” of the demolition.