Producing native subjects: the colonial water supply system
As repeated epidemics of cholera and typhoid swept Batavia throughout the nineteenth century, demoting it from the ‘Queen’ to the ‘Graveyard’ of the East, water supply became a central concern for the Dutch colonial government (Abeyasekere, 1987). As elsewhere, new scientific theories of disease transmission via bacteria had begun supplanting formerly widespread notions of ‘miasmic’ contamination (Goubert, 1986; Gandy, 2006). Disseminated largely by military doctors in Batavia (Moens, 1873), these theories proved congruent with the Netherlands' evolving ambitions for its strategic colony. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Netherlands Indies colonial government began to legitimize its colonial authority through a racialized hierarchy of ‘development’ (Gouda, 1995). However, the existing blurred spectrum of native,5 Chinese, Arabic, Eurasian and full-blood European populations visibly contradicted, and complicated, the government's claim to racial superiority (Taylor, 1983). The ‘natural’ dominance of European over native (and Chinese and Arabic), and the new valorization of ‘modern European life’ as the colonial cultural developmental ideal was contradicted by an ‘Indische’ European population who integrated ‘native’ cultural practices into their households, and lacked clear biological markers of particular racial identities (Stoler, 1995). Hence, the production of differences to enable more visual distinctions to be made between racial categories was considered crucial to colonial control and the colonial government's campaigns against the ‘degeneration’ of European citizens into native life (see Stoler, 1995; Cote, 2003).
Batavia's first urban water supply exemplifies this broader project. Following a detailed scientific investigation into both the hygienic qualities of Batavia's waters, and into the (lax) hygiene behaviours of the city's ‘European’ residents (see Moens, 1873), the government exhorted the European residents to ‘take more care’ regarding their selection and consumption of drinking water, complementing the campaign with the provision of a clean water source through artesian hydrants. In the 1870s, the city's first centralized water supply system (using artesian water) was built. Intended only for the small minority of European residents living within a narrow strip of ‘development’ in the central area of the city (Van Raay, 1915a), the system provided free water to European areas of the city, but deliberately excluded ‘native’ residents. In contrast to the surface water from the city's kalis (canals) upon which natives relied, European households now had access to scientifically monitored groundwater, circulated through iron pipes rather than the corporeal networks of ambulatory water vendors.
Forty years after the system's construction, natives — already the majority of urban residents6— were gradually given access through a few public standpipes, but were not provided with access to household connections until the late 1920s (Maronier, 1929). Even then, records from the 1930s show that 90% of European residents were connected to the network, and used up 78% of the city's domestic supply, while comprising only 7% of the urban population.7 Native residents relying on mobile vendors rather than piped networks for their water paid more than double the cost to European residents (Heetjans, 1923).
Differential access to water supply infrastructure was mobilized discursively by the colonial administration to deepen the differences between European and native (or, increasingly, ‘modern’ and ‘primitive’) urban residents. The new water supply system enabled a specific set of material practices related to indoor hygiene that were coded as signifiers of a racially pure European identity.8 European households in the city were equipped with ‘every kind of modern convenience’— including ‘indoor bathrooms from which the fresh water from the tap may be showered over the body’ (Gemeente Batavia, 1937: 70) — which enabled water-intensive hygienic practices to be carried out daily, and in private. ‘Modern’ relationships between water supply, water quality and the human body were now defined through the scientific developments — notably in water quality assessments — made in the mid-nineteenth century9 (Moens, 1873). The colonial official who conducted the first extensive (and scientific) study of the various qualities of water supply in Batavia, for example, placed the water use practices of European residents under a microscope,10 arguing that traditional methods of water treatment —lekstonen and martevanen (a simple lime-sandstone filter and large water pots to allow the ‘settling’ of particulate matter in river water) — and quality surveillance (largely through individual assessments of colour, odour, and taste) undermined the morality and civilized status of the city's European residents (Moens, 1873: 416). Europeans were instructed to replace their traditional lekstonen and sensory assessments of water quality with scientific assessments of hygienic requirements (Maronier, 1929: 230) which were necessary to address the ‘unseen’ microscopic threats whose recognition was a marker of civilization (Moens, 1873: 292).
In contrast, practices such as bathing in canals and drawing drinking water from rivers could be, and were, denoted as ‘degenerate’ and unhygienic. Local scientific studies (largely carried out by military doctors) provided the basis upon which specific water sources were declared ‘sanitary’, and blame for cholera and typhoid epidemics was increasingly directed at natives' ‘hygienic circumstances’ (Maronier, 1929: 225). The identity of Europeans as modern and developed was secured through comparison with the native population. Colonial scientists noted, for example, that, ‘among the native population it is very common to drink murky water, not or not adequately filtered’ (Moens, 1873: 402), practices that had until recently also characterized ‘European’ households, but which they had now presumably ‘evolved’ out of.
The policing of these distinctions between European and native residents, never hermetic, proved a source of concern for the colonial administration (Stoler, 1992; Cote, 2003). Long-term residents and ‘degenerate Europeans’11 were problematized in colonial reports due to their ‘over-familiarity’ with native culture and practice of unacceptable ‘Indische’ traditions (Cote, 2003) — including preferences for ‘traditional’, untreated water sources and ‘unhygienic’ water practices. The problematic preference of some of the city's European residents for what were now considered ‘native’ water sources and bathing amenities was noted by the engineers recently arriving from the metropole. The slow growth of piped water supply from the artesian network was blamed on those who were ‘born in the Indies’ (i.e. racially mixed despite being legally European). Despite the extension of the artesian water supply system in European areas of the city, some residents did not ‘graduate’ to using the new artesian water source provided by the government.12
Somebody who has lived in Indië for years, or who was born there, lives in a house with a well in the inner courtyard, which is never the subject of complaints [over water quality]. From this well the ‘mandibak’ (manual-shower-basin) is filled and water is taken for further household life . . . The bathroom and toilet are, as with many older homes, somewhat backward in appearance and equipment, compared to current living standards (Koster, 1919: 5).
In contrast, ‘newer European homes’ built by the wave of middle-class, newly arrived, solidly ‘Dutch’ residents were ‘equipped with more hygienically designed bathrooms’ (Brandenburg, 1924) that were connected by a piped network to the artesian water hydrants, replicating the standards of ‘Dutch cities . . . [with] centralized water provision and other perfect technical and medical services’ (Koster, 1919: 5).
The production of difference between sources and qualities of urban waters, and ‘differently modern’ populations also facilitated the desired separation of urban spaces. The colonial government's construction of an artesian water supply system for European residents enabled the European population to distance itself from surface water both spatially (proximity of residences) and bio-physically (replacing drinking water sources with groundwater). With the urban landscape in a process of physical transformation from the decentralized riverside ‘garden villas’ of the ‘Indische’ or ‘Tempo Dulu’ colonial society to a more spatially segregated, and geographically concentrated, European population (see Milone, 1967), the construction of artesian hydrants within the growing clusters of European residences facilitated the respatialization of the city according to race, and provided contrasts between the ‘civilized’ urban life of the Europeans and the ‘primitive’ and rural lifestyles of native residents (see van der Kroef, 1954; Van Doorne, 1983). This project was so successful that by the 1920s visitors to the city observed that: ‘Batavia is a European town built by Europeans, except for the natives freely bathing in the canals and rivers’ (van der Kop, 1926: 149, emphasis added). As the development of the city's urban water supply infrastructure continued to parallel the patterns of European urban development in Batavia (Abeyasekere, 1989), the contrast in development and lifestyle between the European and native areas of the city reached a level which began to embarrass the colonial government. In the 1940s, the government's Visman Commission recorded the extremity of racial segregation in a city composed of ‘two different worlds’ (Van Doorne, 1983).
One marker of the difference between these two worlds was the disparate levels of water consumption which colonial authorities assumed were characteristic of different races. Remaining ‘rooted’ in their habits and traditions, and selecting water quality according to colour, taste and smell, native residents were not as ‘modern’ or developed, and so were considered by colonial authorities to have ‘less need’ for access to the city's piped water supply infrastructure. An engineer (and former Officer of the Royal Engineers in the Netherlands Indies) appointed by the Municipal Council to review the designs for the city's subsequent water supply system13 calculated the water needs of the city predicated upon the different water use habits of distinct racial groups: in Van Raay's design the total demand was based upon the prediction that 100% of Europeans would use 150 litres per capita per day, 60% of the Chinese/Arabs would use 100 litres per capita per day, and 20% of the native population would use 50 litres per capita per day (Van Raay, 1915b; van Leeuwen, 1917). ‘Non-Europeans’ would, it was accepted, continue to meet their water needs in other ways:
if one asks about the different categories, why widely varying usage figures are assumed [between races], then the reason is partly to be seen in the fact that, per lifestyle (mode of living), some have less water needs than others . . . [for natives] a large part of the water used for internal purposes [human consumption] is taken from the water supply network, while bath and wash water is taken from the existing bad wells . . . [so] we know that an average of 50 litres per day is not enough for the native, this is used as a starting point for the design of the water system (Gomperts, 1916: 3).
Perversely, while the limited extension of the piped water supply into native areas of the city was rationalized by their lack of ‘development’, the natives' limited ability to access (and afford) this water supply reinforced their status as ‘undeveloped’. Continuing to use river water for the majority of their needs, native residents thereby confirmed their ‘primitive’ status, as they did not observe the delineation of proper, private spaces for domestic water use. The kalis were of particular concern. Batavia's canals were ‘scenes of considerable activity from early morning till late afternoon. The banks of the canals, the steps that lead down into them, and the bamboo rafts are all crowded with throngs of half-naked native washerwomen and laundry men’ (Vervoort, 1926: 266). Colonial hygiene officers and engineers considered this to be a public display of ‘their undeveloped approach to the functions of life’ and their ignorance of the ‘proper forms of urban life’ (Van Breen, 1919: 138). Observing native residents using the city's canals and rivers for bathing and laundry, colonial chroniclers described the natives ‘glimpsed in Batavia's canals’ as ‘children’ in both their practices, and mindset (Vervoort, 1926: 266). Conveniently for the colonial government, this justified the continued need for colonial control; the ‘children’ of the Netherlands East Indies would continue to require the guidance of their colonial parent.
The continued threat to public health and morality posed by large-scale use of untreated groundwater and surface water sources for drinking water and sanitation within the city resulted in repeated calls to extend the water supply network to kampongs throughout the duration of the colonial administration. The ‘deeply rooted evil’ of public bathing (Van Breen, 1919: 131) was, for example, targeted by the Municipal Council though the construction of communal, yet enclosed, washing and bathing facilities for native residents — to ‘keep the [native] population out of the canals’ (Van Raay, 1915b: 142). These facilities established ‘private’ spaces for domestic functions, and simultaneously differentiated the waters in which it was ‘proper’ to wash oneself, one's clothes and one's household items. Native residents had to be led to rationalize their use of urban space (and water) according to what was ‘hygienic’ and proper; bathing in open waterways was ‘distasteful’, and the ‘dignified [i.e. educated] adult native’ was to be taught the proper ways to divide bathing and cleaning from recreation, and the proper spaces and sources of water for these newly distinct functions (Karsten, 1958: 42).
Yet projects to ‘improve’ native hygiene were riven with contradictions, and surprisingly (at least to the colonial authorities) met with resistance. Resistance surfaced through vandalism of standpipes, and a widespread refusal of natives to pay for water from the public standpipes that were gradually extended into the kampongs (Maronier, 1929; Argo, 1999). This, in turn, stymied further extension of the network, intended by the colonial authorities to be run on a cost-recovery basis (unlike the free connections available to Europeans). Yet the failure to extend the network provoked reactions from the ‘modern natives’ who had begun to emerge out of Batavia's ‘cosmopolitan’ urban environment. This new type of colonial subject embraced Western technologies in order to criticize the ways in which they were used to perpetuate, rather than eliminate, the inequities of colonial rule (Kusno, 2003). For example, the new spring water network created in Batavia in the 1920s was mobilized as a symbol in anti-colonial criticism. Pointing to the ‘drifting of colonial action on calls to improve water supply and sanitation in native communities’, modern native subjects complained about the lack of water supply infrastructure in native areas of the city, and argued for a more equitable distribution of clean water to reduce native mortality rates and disease (Mrazek, 2002).
The evolution of ‘natives’ into modern residents threatened to disrupt the colonial system of classification, and their appropriation of the issue of the piped water supply for political purposes was perceived as a threat to the established colonial order. When the ‘newly modern’ native residents criticized the contradictory ways in which the government engaged the colonized with modernity, the differences in the physical and spatial nature of the city's ostensibly ‘public’ water supply became mobilized as a critique of colonial government. The ‘modernization’ of natives was, from this perspective, regrettable:
Many of those who have been longer in the East than just a few years refer with a certain disdain to the native population in and near the large European towns, and especially many government officials and planters are always prepared to extol the virtues of the village native in the interior, the simple peasant class, in contrast with the town native, who has come into touch with European civilization. (Van der Kop, 1926: 153).
Natives were not meant to be modern — or at least not for another century. Remaining visibly ‘rural’ in lifestyle, and primitive in habit, the natives ‘bathing in the city's canals’ were at once both ‘distasteful’ and necessary to colonial government. Pictured in an overwhelming number of the colonial documents on urban development, the ‘natives in the canals’ both enacted and embodied the contradictions inherent within a colonial government that mobilized different modalities of power (disciplinary, sovereign, government) upon differently positioned subjects (rulers vs. ruled) for ‘diverse finalities’.14
Producing modern subjects: the post-colonial water supply system
The image of the ‘native in the canals’ continued to provoke and contradict governmental intentions following Independence in 1949. President Sukarno's global ambitions as a leader in the non-aligned movement (most notably via the Bandung conference in 1955) and his national ambitions of developing and unifying a multi-ethnic, multilingual and shaky nation converged, in part, in a personal project to modernize and beautify Jakarta (Kusno, 1997). However, the public monuments and highly visible infrastructure projects initiated under Sukarno's direct oversight were visibly undermined by the ‘masses of poor’ residents and their ‘public striptease’ of washing and bathing in the city's canals, compromising its identity as a ‘beacon for the third world’ (Hanna, 1959; Kusno, 1997). Residents with ‘backward urban lifestyles’ who did not contribute to making Djakarta a ‘Beautiful, Orderly, and Dynamic city’ by adopting the ‘good norms and standards of city life’ (DKI, 1972: 85) were displaced to the non-serviced periphery of the ‘international’ area of the city.
At the end of the first decade of independence a piped water supply was only available to 12% of Jakarta's population (Fischer, 1959) — and this was considered an achievement given previous years of even lower coverage (Hanna, 1959), and the city's exponential population growth after independence.15 In the 1960s, it was estimated that only 15% of the city's residents were served with a household connection (Pam Jaya, 1992), and as the city continued to grow in both area and population, the majority of the city's residents remained excluded from service. The informal, low-income ‘kampong’ areas absorbed the majority of low-income migrants to Jakarta,16 and 90% of kampong residents did not have access to piped water supply (KIP, 1976). By the late 1980s the provision of piped water still only extended to less than one-quarter of the city's population (Porter, 1996), and in the mid-1990s, only 10% of lower-income residents were directly connected, while over 60% of the upper-income population had direct access to the network water supply (Cestti et al., 1994; Porter, 1996; JICA, 1997; Azdan, 2001). Large tracts of the poorest areas of the city are without access to water supply networks altogether (Forkami, 2006; Sabarini, 2007; Kooy and Bakker, forthcoming).
The stark disparity in water access echoes the spatial and social distance between the European and native populations in the colonial period. While the upper class in Jakarta import Western bathtubs, whirlpools and home spa sets to ‘turn the bathroom into a relaxing retreat’ (Lubis, 2004), the most impoverished residents of the city scavenge wood scraps to construct ‘helicopter toilets’ over rivers and canals to provide themselves with a bare minimum of privacy and ‘comfort’. Preferring to soak in a bathtub or take a shower rather than use the ‘traditional’mandi-bak, the urban elite are now ‘too modern’ for the level of infrastructure that most urban poor have not even yet achieved. The dramatic difference in urban lifestyles and infrastructure illustrated by this conspicuous consumption of Western lifestyle products is justified as the pursuit of a ‘modern lifestyle that emphasizes efficiency, effectiveness, comfort and healthy living’ (Wiradji, 2004: 1).
Perversely, as in the colonial city, the ‘consistent exclusion’ of kampongs from the city's ‘public’ water supply system has left residents with little choice other than to perpetuate their ‘unmodern’ identities.17 Living in the unserved interstices of the ‘modern’ city, low-income residents build their own shallow groundwater wells and consume dubious-quality water, or pay up to 15–33 times the official water tariff for a vended water supply (Fidrus, 2006; Mukherjee, 2006). With 80% of the city's shallow groundwater, and almost 100% of its surface waters, contaminated by e-coli and/or heavy metals (Harsanto, 2005; Simamora, 2007), the persistent use of these free sources of water for washing and bathing (and sometimes drinking) by the urban poor enables their classification as ‘backward’, not scientifically rational enough to accept the health risks within a water source that they cannot see, smell or taste. Ironically, however, at least one medical study has indicated that e-coli contamination is lower in shallow groundwater than in the piped water network (which does not supply potable water, and is subject to frequent pressure reductions and leaks which compromise water quality, most particularly in low-income areas) (Surjadi et al., 1994). Dependent upon local, context-specific, experiential information (Scott's ‘metis’) to determine the safety of different sources of drinking water, residents' perceptions of clean and safe water are associated with an absence of odour (including residual chlorine) and sediment; even those with access to the city's piped network water supply system will aerate their drinking water in open buckets prior to consumption to dissipate the residual chlorine smell from treatment (Aman Tirta/USAID, 2006).
As in the colonial period, contemporary development problematizes ‘traditional’ sensory assessments of water quality as well as the public use of surface waters for domestic functions by the urban poor. For example, while justifying its interventions into hygiene behaviours along with infrastructure investment in Jakarta,18 USAID's Formative Research records that the idea of ‘cleanliness’ amongst the poorer communities is ‘based on culture and tradition’, rather than bacteriological criteria (ESP, 2006). Illustrating the need to develop the people along with the pipes, focus group discussion reports tell us that ‘mystical’ belief systems still inform people's perception of sickness, disease transmission, and influence patterns of water use from ‘sacred springs’ (ibid.). Similarly, the World Bank's ‘Voices of the Poor’ (Mukherjee, 2006) uses statements about water quality and preferences from the poor to frame them as objects in need of development. One site visit documents that, ‘Almost all people wash their clothes, take a bath and defecate at the river even though they have a well. Defecation in the river is perceived as “clean”, as it does not create a bad smell’ (Mukherjee, 2006: 26).
While the stated preferences of respondents for defecating in running water and their related perception of cleanliness is used to display ignorance and need for education in hygiene behaviour to correct the ingrained habit of ‘the strong cultural preference’ (ibid.), the discourse used to interpret the ‘voices of the poor’ echoes the colonial past, when the ‘natives taking pleasure bathing, washing and defecating in streaming water’ was demonstrative of ‘their insensitivity to cleanliness and order’ (Van Leeuwen, 1920: 198). Preferences for local water sources, ‘traditional’ assessments of water quality, and the use of public spaces for domestic functions are discursively situated in the cultural past — as the residents of Jakarta who use ‘polluted’ water supplies and combine a variety of different quality water sources as a livelihood strategy are not presented as being in need of ‘access’ and a policy change (such as tenure reform to enable legal water supply connections for squatter households), but rather as being themselves in need of cultural and value change (see Mujianto, 2004; Mukherjee, 2006).
Ironically, without access to more sophisticated technologies for assessing water quality and more reliable water sources, these urban residents will continue to use locally available, easily accessible and free water sources. Indeed, the choice to do so offers important, symbolic vehicles of resistance to the urban population, often distrustful of state authority that all too often has forced on them forms of ‘development’ that do not make ‘sense’ according to their standards of living (Jellinek, 1991; 1997). Using the public fountains in the city's iconic Independence Square (Monas) as a place for bathing and laundry (Harsanto, 2005), low-income residents have supplanted the intended ‘spiritual symbolism’ of this urban space (see Kusno, 2000) with politically symbolic calls for the government to meet immediate material needs. Illegal connections (estimated at 40,000) have provided another important means of resistance (Harsanto and Wahyudi, 2002). As in the colonial past where the sudden imposition of a system of ‘paid kampong water supply’ provoked resentful residents to tamper with pipelines and meters (Maronier, 1929), the urban poor who are ineligible for legal connections pay higher rates to informal ‘middlemen’ (often employees of the municipal water supply company) to provide them with services. Currently, 50% of Jakarta's network water supply is lost through ‘unaccounted for water’ (Nurbianto, 2007), 80% of which is estimated to be from ‘administrative’ rather than physical leakage (Castalia, 2006; Sabarini, 2007; and a personal communication from Forkami in 2007). And, rather than change their perceptions of what constitutes ‘clean water’, low-income residents are opting for another surprising — yet cost-effective — alternative that complicates their portrayal in development discourses. Scavenging garbage dumps for the empty 19 litre water bottle containers which can be ‘refilled’ at the ‘air isi ulang’ (water refill) depots, the urban poor are now — like the rich — using bottled water for drinking.19