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Only This Life to Give to Their Island

Bali Religious, Spiritual and Cultural Leaders Form a 'Puputan Team' - Prepared to Fight to the Death to Preserve Their Island.

(11/29/2010) The developing tug-of-war between those in favor and those opposed to the implementation of Bali's new zoning law (RTRW) is gaining intensity, with Bali's traditional leaders now forming a "Puputan" committee to ensure the new laws enactment.

A "Puputan" is a traditional Balinese battle to death in defense of local culture and tradition with many historical examples, some as recent as the last century, proving scores have defiantly marched to their death in defense of the island.

Demonstrating the growing fervor surrounding the RTRW debate, Radar Bali carried a page-one article in its Monday, November 29, 2010 edition announcing the formation of a "Team Puputan" who were unanimous in branding the seven regents of Bali who are trying to undermine the legislation as "rebels."

The formation of the fight-to-the-death or "Team Puputan" was proclaimed at a meeting held at the Hindu Dharma Institute (IHDN) in Denpasar in which many religious, village and traditional organizations attended to voice their solidarity.

Among those speaking to the group was leading Hindu scholar Ketut Wiana who said the faithful were obliged to defend the RTRW's provision for no buildings in close proximity to important religious temples, allowing only building related to religious observance of spiritual tourism to be constructed in such sacred areas.

Also addressing the group was I Made Arjaya, chairman of Commission I of the Provincial House of Representatives (DPRD-Bali), who described the long process of consultation that produced the RTRW. He frankly revealed how certain parties approached legislators offering cash incentives to remove 15 meter maximum height restriction on buildings in Bali and to relax strict setback rules prohibiting buildings too close to shore lines and river banks. Arjaya cynically asked the group if sacred areas of Bali had already fallen into the hands of non-Balinese investors and similarly challenged the seven regents opposing the RTRW - asking them if they were fighting for the rights of the people of Bali or for the financial interests of investors?

Meanwhile, Bali Senator (DPD), Wayan Sudirta told the group that it's time for the Balinese to apply clear thinking and ask themselves if they are prepared to sell sacred areas to outside investors. He cited an example from India where a sacred area had gone bankrupt through its over-development of tourist accommodation. He praised God's many blessings on Bali, challenging his fellow Balinese to provide better stewardship of Bali's natural and spiritual environment.

Adding even more emotion to the gathering, Ida Pedanda Sebali, a leading religious figure, urged his fellow Balinese to hold their ground and organize mass demonstrations.

Sounding a similar chord, Bendesa Agung Jro Suwena said that of the 1,457 villages in Bali only one has seen fit to challenge the RTRW by bringing a case before Indonesia's Supreme Court, with the remaining 1,456 villages in support of the new zoning law. He called for no compromise with those who wish to loosen the protections offered Bali's sacred places by the new zoning rules contained in the RTRW.

The Rector of IHDN, Professor Made Titib, used his turn at the podium to urge the formation of a multi-faceted team to champion the RTRW and steadfastly oppose those trying to infringe upon sacred districts in Bali. Adding, "at some point in the battle ahead we will 'puputan' to hold our position."

At the end of the meeting, a "blue ribbon" team of academics, religious and community leaders was formed to bring the battle to the supreme court and represent Bali religious and spiritual interests before Indonesia's highest court. The group also plans to summon the seven regents opposing the RTRW, holding them to account for their actions.

The new RTRW severely restricts the current right of Bali's regents to grant exceptions to the zoning code, providing within the new rules prison terms for officials found undermining the new law by granting exemptions.