THE TRUTH ABOUT GERWANI: THE GENDER ASPECT OF THE SUHARTO REGIME
“Experience has shown that it is so easy for people to be branded, accused, detained and tortured, until they are forced to confess to what they never even did.”
Syed Husin Ali
by: Wim F. Wertheim
On 23 September 1990, at the invitation of Indonesians staying in the Netherlands, I read a lecture in Amsterdam with the title: Sejarah tahun 65 yang tersembunyi. 1) In that lecture I called on those present seriously to study the 1965 events, as well as to reconstruct the history of the PKI preceding those events, in order to prove that the PKI had been a social force worthy of being remembered with pride (PKI merupakan kekuatan yang patut dibanggakan). It was a period when, owing to the revelations of the American journalist Kathy Kadane, in Indonesia interest in the true history of 1965 had been awakened anew. To my great surprise, in 1994 I received from M.R. Siregar, who had been present at my lecture, a copy of the first edition of his highly important book on the postwar history of PKI, which has, in revised form, now been published both in Europe and in Indonesia under the title Tragedi Manusia dan Kemanusiaan: Kasus Indonesia – Sebuah Holokaus Yang Diterima Sesudah Perang Dunia Kedua (2nd ed. Tapol, 1995; 3rd ed. Progres, 1996) 2).
However, in the same lecture I equally had urged the necessity of a thorough rehabilitation of Gerwani, that had been slandered by the New Order in a most scandalous manner. I argued:
“Ada sebuah kewajiban lagi yang penting, yaitu meneliti kembali duduk perkara Gerwani di dalam peristiwa 1 Oktober 1965. Dan semula penguasa menuduh gadis-gadis Gerwani di Lubang Buava berbuat paling keji dan tak tahu malu. Melalui media pers bertahun-tahun disiarkan, seolah-olah mereka dihadirkan di sana oleh PKI untuk melakukan upacara ‘harum bunga’, sambil menari-nari lenso untuk mengantar nyawa jenderal-jenderal itu, melakukan perbuatan tak senonoh, dibagi-bagikan pisau silet, dan lantas ikut ambil bagian dalam perbuatan jahat serta menyiksa jenderal-jenderal itu sebelum mereka tewas. Sebagai akibat dan cerita-cerita demikian terbentuklah bavangan. seakan-akan Gerwani adalah perkumpulan perempuan lacur, jahat, bengis yang harus dihinakan dan bahkan dibinasakan” 3).
Further on in my lecture, I stressed the importance of a complete purification of Gerwani from all such unjust accusations, since Gerwani before 1965 had been most active in defending women’s rights and struggling for their implementation.
And again my appeal proved not to have been in vain; but this time the response came not from one of those Indonesians who had attended my lecture, but from a Dutch sociologist, who was already since years engaged in a study of the Indonesian women’s movement and probably had not been aware of my appeal. To my great surprise on 6 October 1995, at the University of Amsterdam, Saskia Wieringa defended her doctoral thesis on Gerwani, one week after the presentation in Amsterdam of the second edition of Siregar’s study. The title of her dissertation is: The Politicization of Gender Relations in Indonesia: The Indonesian Women’s Movement and Gerwani Until the New Order State. It is really a pity that thus far the study is only available as a doctoral dissertation, in a very restricted number of copies. A translation into Indonesian has been completed, but not yet published. Nevertheless, its content is so important that a review should not be delayed any longer.
Basically, the study consists, after a theoretical introduction, of two parts: first an analysis of the pre-war and post-independence history of the Indonesian Women’s Movement, and of the position of Gerwani within that framework, in totality covering eight chapters; and second one final chapter, dealing with the 1965 events and their aftermath. But one might sustain that the two parts are of equal significance. The two parts form together a rewritten account of the social and political post-war developments in Indonesia, analysed from a novel angle: the gender viewpoint.
From the three chapters, devoted to the left-wing branch of the Indonesian post-war feminist movement, represented first by Gerwis and later on by Gerwani, one cannot but conclude that generally speaking Gerwani has fulfilled an important and positive role within Indonesian post-war society. However, Wieringa certainly is not idealizing the political role played by Gerwani from 1954 onwards, and in her analysis she criticizes several aspects of Gerwani’s strategy. In particular she censures the tendency of Gerwani, in conformity with the strategy of PKI, to abstain from any criticism of President Sukarno’s behaviour in matrimonial affairs.
“Indonesia was no exception to the general pattern in which after national liberation was won women’s movements are disappointed, although it has its own peculiar edge. In this case the personal life of the nation’s first President, who had managed with such success to rally the collective force of the women’s movement behind the nationalist struggle as the ‘second wheel of the chariot’, helped defeat the marriage reforms for which the movement had fought so consistently” (p.136). Wieringa elaborates this point as follows: 1′President Sukarno’s marriage to Hartini in 1954 meant a staggering blow to the movement. The same President who had ‘in so inspired a manner’ addressed several women’s congresses, and who, in Sarinah, had promised women independence in the ‘just and prosperous society’ Indonesia would become after independence, now ignored the central interest for which most women’s organizations fought” (p.144).
Whereas Gerwis, in 1952, had strongly supported the demand for marriage reforms, and had opposed a draft law granting widows of civil servants, in case of polygamy, a pension twice the amount a single widow would receive (p.179), in 1954 after Gerwis had been transformed into Gerwani, the latter organization abstained from criticizing Sukarno’s marriage with Hartini. This was, no doubt, related with PKI’s wish for political reasons not to antagonize Sukarno. But as a consequence, Gerwani’s leading position in the struggle for women’s rights was weakened, also in comparison with the strategy of other wings of the women’s movement. According to Wieringa, through its strategy vis-a-vis Sukarno’s marriage with Hartini, Gerwani also isolated itself to some extent from other feminist organizations. Marriage reform remained on Gerwani’s programme, but in the course of the 1950′s received less attention.
In the period of ‘Guided Democracy’ (from 1957 onwards) Gerwani increasingly supported Sukarno’s policy in connection with the feminist movement: the time had come for Indonesian women “to struggle side by side with their men, not against them”. What Sukarno meant with the struggle which the women had to share with the men, was the struggle against imperialism (p.230). In this respect Gerwani aspired to a vanguard position within the women’s movement, but herewith it met with antagonism on the part of the other organizations, particularly through its attitude towards Sukarno.
However, generally speaking one can observe that in the course of the ‘Old Order’ the feminist accents within the women’s movement gradually tended to evaporate. Within Gerwani there existed a PKI-oriented communist wing side by side with a feminist wing (though Gerwani itself did not want to define itself as being ‘feminist’). But particularly during ‘Guided Democracy’ the former wing started to dominate. The theoretical position of Gerwani approached President Sukarno’s view, that female equality with men could only be realized after a truly socialist society would have been created, through a common struggle by women and men (p.231). Gerwani, therefore, started to stress activities in the realm of nationalist policies, such as support of the struggle for incorporating West-Irian within Indonesia.
But in actual practice, in the local sphere, Gerwani remained active in typically feminist campaigns, such as establishing creches, in the realm of education and health, in struggling against hard child labour in the fields, against prostitution and forced marriages (pp.251/2). Gerwani was even active in organizing anti-price rise demonstrations, which amounted to opposition vis- a-vis the government (pp.235 ff.). Wieringa summarizes the way Gerwani characterized itself vis-a’-vis other women’s organizations: “Gerwani distinguished itself in its concern for the rights of female labourers and peasants. Thus Gerwani’s constituency was different; it fought for a ‘more complete’ range of interests, and its proposed solutions, drawn primarily from the socialist world, were also different” (p.275). The other organizations, such as Perwari, were characterized by Sukarno as only a ‘ladies movement’ (p.231).
Gerwani did not identify itself with the PKI, and accepted also non- communist members. “From 1945 through 1965, Gerwani defined itself as an organization which was non-party political but which did contain political views’t (p.213). PKI chairman Aidit was, according to Wieringa, not much interested in female interests, and even never attended Gerwani congresses (p.210, note 63). On the local level, Gerwani often could carry out actions on behalf of women’s rights and interests, in cooperation with local groups from other women’s organizations (p.195). Moreover, in the early 1960s some of the other women’s organizations also increasingly became influenced by Sukarno’s ‘hegemonic’ political line; they “felt compelled to couch their activities in a language punctuated with Nasakom, Manipol/Usdek, Nefos and other current terms” (p.156). However, in 1964 relations between Gerwani and the other wings of the women’s movement suffered from increased tensions.
An important factor was the government’s instruction in that year, that all mass organizations had to link themselves to a political party. “As Gerwani felt closest to the PKI the decision was taken that at the next congress, in December 1965, the organization would officially affiliate itself to the Party”. Marxism would become the leading ideology, and “Gerwani would change from a non-political organization based on education and struggle to a mass- organization of Communist and non-Communist women” (pp.201/2). Gerwani had meanwhile grown into an organization which claimed to possess 1,7 million members!
It was in particular the ‘spontaneous’ activities of PKI, BTI and Gerwani in the realm of land reform 4), which seriously antagonized Islamic and certain right-wing PNI-oriented groups. According to Wieringa, “the role of Gerwani in the one-sided actions has not been described in any depth in the histono graphy of the period. Yet about half of the peasants imprisoned were women, and it was Gerwani leaders who made frequent visits to the prisons and helped the BTI cadres to free the prisoners” (p.223). But in addition, it was the militancy of Gerwani members that irritated Javanese cherishing traditional conceptions about the female duties. “Gerwani’s definition of women’s kodrat (code of conduct) did not include the idea that members should appear to be shy and meek in public life. Gerwani’s pride in the militancy of its volunteers for the Malaysia campaign in the 1960s had been preceded by a concerted effort to stimulate women’s revolutionary activism in the 1950s, and the roots of Gerwani’s readiness for combat were found in the personal histories of many of the original Gerwis members, who had fought in the war for national indepen dence” (p.255). “The resistance Gerwani experienced at the militancy it propagated indicates the strength of the traditional women’s kodrat which prescribes servility and meekness for women” (p.281).
As for the moral ideals and practices of Gerwani: “Gerwani was very adamant in its marriage policy: monogamy was the norm” (p.261). “The accusations directed at Gerwani after ‘the events’ are not supported by Gerwani’s ideology or practice. The organization opposed prostitution, defended rape victims and fought against the ‘moral corruption’ associated with ‘mad dancing’ and ngik ngak ngok music. Its sexual policy was actually rather puritanical, with a certain emphasis on egalitarian values (…) In the seriousness with which Gerwani kept to its role as ‘moral guardian’ of their (Manipol) families and society as a whole they conformed to the prevailing kodrat” (pp.282/3).
The strikingly accurate way the author has analysed the pre-coup history of the Indonesian women’s movement and the special role within that movement of Gerwani, challenges the reader to study most seriously the last, highly important chapter, titled ‘Two Coups’, in which ‘The curtain falls’, and Gerwani is definitely swept away.
In that final chapter Saskia Wieringa presents a concise survey of the events in the night from 30 September till the evening of October 1, followed by a profound analysis of the crucial period of the final months of 1965. There exist many studies of that highly tragic period in Indonesian history, but the author attempts to add a perspective that is largely missing in the current literature: the enormous significance of the gender aspect.
There are quite some historians, among them myself, who have attempted to explain the fierceness of the massacre of hundreds of thousands communists and other left-wing Indonesians, especially in the countryside, as a reaction upon the aksi sepihak (one-sided actions) waged by poor peasants from 1964 onwards against rich landlords or farmers, many of them belonging to the pious Moslem community. But according to Wieringa the whole eradication campaign, waged against PKI and related organizations, was explicitly based on a slander design, from the beginning directed against Gerwani and the militant ideology associated with the women’s movement. Through the sexual symbolism utilized in this campaign, PKI and communism could be thoroughly discredited. The following quotations elucidate Wieringa’s main thesis:
“It is important to discuss what happened during this crucial period, the last months of 1965, for two reasons. In the first place the campaign had major consequences for the women’s movement, because Gerwani was totally destroyed and the space within which the other women’s organizations could manoeuvre was severely restricted. Prior to 1965, women’s organizations were able to define their own interests, although this capacity had become increasingly limited by national and party politics. This is no longer possible in the New Order state, which defines the interests women’s organizations should take up. This is the case not only for the women’s organizations set up by the state, such as the PKK and the Dharma Wanita, but for all women’s organizations.
In the second place the campaign hit the underbelly of Indonesian society, linking Communism (…) with fitnah, the Islamic concept of sexual disorder (…) The PKI became associated with disorder symbolized by women’s sexually perverse behaviour. From this state of chaos, society could only be saved by a systematic cleansing of Communism and the resubordination of women. As the symbol of virility, the army – and president Suharto in particular – took care to emerge as the only force capable of restoring and maintaining orderly society. Their continued power is justified by consistently recreating the myth of the perverted Communist beast … Gerwani, meanwhile, has become associated with loose, amoral behaviour” (pp.287/8).
Wieringa’s analysis is based on field research she undertook in the mid 1980′s. She succeeded in interviewing some of the main surviving Gerwani leaders, who all of them had suffered decennia-long prison terms and terrible maltreatment. She also interviewed some ordinary members who had been associated with the events around ‘Lobang Buaya’, the ‘Crocodile Hole’ near Halim Airfield where in the early hours of 1 October 1965 the surviving generals, victims of the kidnapping operation, had been killed and together with the corpses of those who had been killed earlier were thrown into a deep well. She also thoroughly studied newspaper reports dated between 1 October 1965 and the first months of 1966, from which it became possible “to trace how the campaign of slander about the involvement of Gerwani members at Lobang Buaya was built up”. Initially there was among the military a certain hesitation to incriminate the women who had been present at the atrocities in Lobang Buaya. However, from 11 October onwards the newspapers directed by the army followed a consistent line:
“Gradually, new elements were being introduced which all pointed to the central conclusion the Indonesian public had to reach: Communism is so immoral and anti-religious that it leads ‘our’ women to neglect their womanly duties. Instead of being loyal wives and good mothers, obedient to the state ideology Pancasila and religion, they become politically active and morally loose unleashing their frightful sexual powers in indecent ways and committing unspeakable atrocities. Therefore, the public was made to understand, it was perfectly justified to wipe out Communism and especially Gerwani and thus cleanse the society and restore order. This message was directed towards a society which was already badly shaken by both the economic and the political crisis and the rural unrest” (pp.306/7).
Already on 11 October Berita Yudha, an army newspaper, started with the story that the bodies of the generals had been mutilated: ‘eyes had been gouged out, and the genitals had been cut off some of the generals” . Other papers took up the campaign as well (p.309). On 12 October another newspaper claimed “that Gerwani danced in front of their victims nakedly, which act reminds us of cannibalist ceremonies executed by primitive tribes centuries ago. Let us leave it to the women to judge the womanly morality of Gerwani, which is of an immorality worse than animals” (p.310). This set the tone for the whole campaign, which soon resulted in slogans such as ‘Crush the PKI’ and ‘Gerwani Whores’! The newspapers also started to ‘substantiate’ their incriminations through forged ‘confessions’ of alleged ‘horrible sins’, that were extracted by military people, police and prison guards from girls who came back from interrogations beaten and bruised. Some of Wieringa’s informants “also witnessed the undressing of the girls to take the pictures which would later be shown as having been taken on Lobang Buaya” (pp.304,314). The strongest argument of Wieringa to dismiss all the incriminations as completely false is the fact “that after these ‘confessions’ none of the women who had been present at Lobang Buaya and who had been detained, were ever brought to court” (p.318).
President Sukarno on 12 December 1965 tried to stem the tide of violence. He decided to announce in a special declaration the results of the autopsy by prominent physicians on the bodies of the generals, which revealed that the reports of sexual mutilation and eyes gouging were false. “He called on the journalists to keep themselves to the facts and to refrain from publishing lies. Only one paper published this announcement” (namely Sinar Harapan, the Protestant newspaper). But it was of no avail, since the same paper a few days later published again a forged ‘confession’ about sexual debaucheries (pp.317/8).
The whole campaign served, according to Wieringa, two major purposes: first, the complete elimination and annihilation, through the orchestrated massacre during the last months of 1965, of PKI and all the allied organizations, among them Gerwani; and in the second place, the toppling of Sukarno as President and the establishment of the so-called ‘New Order’; the latter target is defined by Wieringa as the actual, second, ‘creeping’ coup. The author defines, at the end of her book, its basic conclusion as follows: “My reading of the 1965-66 campaign of sexual slander not only reveals the lies but also tells something about the backdrop of sexual oppositions through which political conceptions, in this case the birth of the ‘New Order’, may take place” (p.338).
The contribution of Saskia Wieringa towards a deeper understanding of the essence of the tragic turnover in 1965 is certainly of great importance. The direct link between the slander campaign against Gerwani of the last months of 1965 on the one hand, and both the massacre in many parts of Indonesia and the toppling of Sukarno as President on the other, is a significant addition to the Indonesian historiography.
Yet, the true character of the slander campaign and its contribution to the establishment of the ‘New Order’ has also been pointed out by other historians. Wieringa herself, on p.295, refers to Julie Southwood and Pat Flanagan, and to Jacques Leclerc 5); she might also have mentioned Michael van Langenberg, who in his excellent contribution titled ‘Gestapu and State Power in Indonesia’ for Robert Cribb’s volume The Indonesian Killings 1965-1966 6), on p.47 not only shows how the military commanders within days after 30 September “embarked on a deliberate campaign to promote a climate of fear and retribution”, but also urged the populace “to have little mercy on the perpetrators of the Gestapu affair who were principally identified as being the PKI. They were publicly vilified as ‘traitors’ (pengkhianat), ‘devils’ (setan), child-murderers an sexually dissolute women”. The author sees a direct link with the mass killings which thereupon occurred. Further on Van Langenberg argues: “The legitimacy of the New Order has been built on its role as the restorer of order. The scale of the killings has served to consolidate in the public mind the image of the Old Order as a period of chaos and disorder. The New Order has used the historical memory of the killings in the establishment of its own legitimacy (…). Events that legitimize also constitute an enabling process by which power is acquired and exercised” (pp.58/9). Also Siregar in his earlier mentioned book Tragedi Manusia dan Kemanusiaan, which contains an endeavour at rehabilitating PKI on historical grounds, specifically discusses the campaign against Gerwani (pp.215 ff.) 7), and also refers to Van Langenberg’s analysis – but his study was not yet available when Wieringa wrote her dissertation.
However, the original aspect of Wieringa’s analysis remains, of course, that she is the first to stress gender attitudes as the decisive factor for a more profound understanding of the relation between specifically the campaign against Gerwani and Suharto’s ascent to absolute power. Very important too, she was able to interview a number of Indonesian women, who could provide her with many facets of the personal experiences of those who became victims of Suharto’s ‘gender war’. She was also the first systematically to study the ‘sexist’ content of the newspapers from early October 1965 onwards.
As for Wieringa’s attempt to exchange the accent, laid by other authors (among them Mortimer, Utrecht and myself) upon the class conflict in the countryside as the basic cause of the mass killings, for the stress put by her on the gender factor – it seems to me that both views could be combined into a consistent whole through positing a mutual interaction. I maintain that the mass killings in the countryside of Java and Bali would not have occurred with a strong cooperation of part of the peasantry, if in 1964 the aksi sepihak (one- sided actions) would not have been stimulated by BTI and PKI. A strong argument for this standpoint is, that the mass murders mostly occurred exactly in those areas of Java, where aksi sepihak had taken place on a massive scale 8); for example, from West-Java mass killings are not reported. In an article, published in 1969, I have argued that through starting a kind of class war on a large scale in the countryside of Java, PKI made a big mistake: it was completely inconsistent with an attempt to retain a Nasakom cooperation with Sukarno, NU and PNI at the top level 9); a similar analysis can be found in Wieringa, p.125.
What Wieringa’s gender analysis explains, is not the deeper cause of the mass murders in the countryside, but the method through which people were intentionally motivated to develop an intense hate against anything connected with communism.
A small point where a correction is needed: on p.90 Sutan Sjahrir is mentioned, together with Amir Sjarifuddin, as having avowed to have belonged to a communist group. This is certainly incorrect. Sjarifuddin admitted it after the return of Musso in 1948 to Indonesia. At that time Sjahrir had already broken with Sjarifuddin’s radical Partai Sosialis, and called into life a new party, PSI. As a student in Holland, Sjahrir had never joined communist groups, although personally he had been in touch with radical socialists 10).
A minor point, where I to some extent disagree with Wieringa’s treatment of the earlier history of the Indonesian women’s movement, refers to a remark she makes about Raden Ajeng Kartini, the pioneer of women’s emancipation in Indonesia. On p.67 the author expresses some surprise that in previous publications on Kartini her ‘polygynous marriage and the pain it caused her’ were ignored (note 25). In my view there is a simple explanation. In her letters, published in the early years of this century, there is only sporadic mention of her objection against polygamy; only since the publication of her letters to Mme.Abendanon in 1987 do we know how central this issue was in her whole life.
Whereas Saskia Wieringa’s dissertation is intended as a theoretical analysis of an historical process covering several decennia, Carmel Budiardjo’s autobiographical book titled Surviving Indonesia’s Gulag, published in 1996, forms a personal testimony of the terrible treatment in the early years of Suharto’s ‘New Order’, suffered by the victims of the 1965/66 counter- revolution 11). After the Second World War the author had, as a young woman, been active in left-wing international circles, and by 1947 in Prague she got a job at the Secretariat of the International Union of Students (IUS). It was there that she met the Indonesian student Budiardjo, whom she married in 1950; not long afterwards they moved with their daughter Tan to Indonesia, where Carmel at the time of President Sukarno’s ‘Old Order’ had completely assimilated to her Indonesian environment. But as leftists, with connections in PKI-circles, they got in serious difficulties after the 1965 events. Carmel writes: “Overnight we became social outcasts as Jakarta was transformed into a city under armed occupation. It seemed that everyone I knew was being arrested (…) At work, no one wanted to speak to me, and mobs of youths roamed the streets attacking the homes of communist suspects” (p.VIII). Her husband Bud was also twice arrested, but Carmel finally managed to get him free.
The story as told by Carmel starts in 1968, when she was suddenly arrested in her home, and taken to an interrogation center; Bud had, out of chivalry, offered to accompany her, and was of course also arrested. For Carmel a period of detention began that lasted about three years, whereas Bud remained for ten years in prison.
Carmel underwent a frightful time in detention centres and in prison; but she is convinced that what she suffered could not stand comparison with the kind of physical tortures many female Indonesian ‘political prisoners’ had to endure 12). There were periods in which she got a special treatment as teacher of English language for military officers; once she was even allowed to spend some time outside the detention centre, and to earn some income as a language teacher for private individuals. Intervention on the part of Christian Church people had succeeded in achieving that her and Bud’s children were allowed to travel to London in order there to join Carmel’s relatives. And other Human Rights organizations could provide her with some necessities not available from the prison authorities, which she of course shared with her companions in misfortune.
But in particular her detention, without any previous trial, during some 15 months in Bukit Dun prison (August 1970 till November 1971) was to become a situation in which Carmel not only had to share the same treatment as her Indonesian companions. That period also created for her the possibility to acquaint herself optimally with the sufferings both former Gerwani or PKI leaders, and young girls which had been accused of having been present in Lobang Buaya, had undergone before their confinement in Bukit Dun.
Through Carmel’s description of her experiences in the Indonesian ‘Gulag’ throughout three years her book has become a most valuable illustration and supplement to Saskia Wieringa’s study of the fate of the Indonesian Women’s Movement after Suharto’s ascent to power.
The first detention centre, where Carmel was taken, taught her at once the type of treatment she would henceforth have to endure: she was taken to ‘the room for women detainees’: “there was not a single piece of furniture in the room: no beds, no chairs, no cupboards, just a few straw mats” (p.6). One of the two women, present in the room, appeared to know who Carmel was, she had once met her at the SOBSI (left-wing trade-union) headquarters, and said: “They know everything about you, Zus Carmel. It will be better for you to tell them everything frankly”. But another woman, with a new-born baby on her lap, gave Carmel a sign, in order to warn her. The woman who had spoken, was writing and suddenly Carmel realized that she was drawing a diagram with squares connected by lines, the sketch of an organizational structure – evidently SOBSI!
There was an empty mat, with a handbag. “Where is she?”, Carmel asked. The baby’s mother replied: “Upstairs being interrogated. They arrested her only this morning and she’s been up there most of the time since then. Poor woman. They’re probably giving her a rough time”. This was Carmel’s first experience as inmate of a detention centre: “A mother who had been dragged away from her children, a trade union activist who had turned collaborator, a woman upstairs being tortured, armed men outside. How could I ever adjust to all this?” When the absent woman finally was escorted to the room, and sat down in great distress, the baby’s mother came to comfort her a bit. “Did they beat you?” “They stripped me naked. I told them I could remember nothing. The brutes”.
The same day Carmel was interrogated – but in her case no torture was applied. A former PKI member was present, who evidently now, after having been arrested, had become a willing collaborator of the prosecutors. Later on Carmel came across several such cases. But after the interrogation she got the impression that they had hardly any significant evidence against her. Before October 1965 she had been an economic expert at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and she had never become a member of PKI. And after the coup neither she nor Bud had ever been involved in underground activities. But her expectation, that she would now soon be released, was false. “I still had a lot to learn” (p.25).
About the woman, whom she had seen drawing a diagram of SOBSI as an organization, Carmel later learned the following: she had evidently, as was the case with many new inmates in the detention centres in 1968/69, been active in the South Blitar resistance movement which had been detected and dismantled by the army. “After being arrested somewhere in East Java, she was savagely tortured, stripped naked, beaten and forced to stand with the legs of a chair on her feet while a soldier jumped up and down on the chair. This form of torture is commonly used by the army. After having to endure such ordeals, she succumbed and was now feeding information to her persecutors” (p.30).
It was not only the detainees themselves who suffered: “The hardship and sufferings of the wives and children of detainees are a story in themselves. The vast majority of these women had no means of support or regular income and were cold-shouldered even by close relatives, who were afraid of being tainted by contact with prisoners and their families. Some women managed to survive by setting up food stalls and selling home-made cakes (…) but few were able to earn enough to keep hunger from the door. Some, in desperation, handed their children over to relatives or neighbours. In many cases, the children were hounded from their schools (…) and were unable to get places in other schools” (p.57).
Carmel was held at that detention centre Satgas-Pusat for two weeks before being transferred to another detention camp. “My stay there was a period of perpetual fear and anxiety, of hearing about the arrival of new detainees at alle times of the day and night, of hearing them being tortured and seeing them immediately after their sessions with the torturers, covered in blood or with ther signs of physical abuse.
Like all detention centres used for newly arrested people, Satgas-Pusat was designed to keep the inmates in a constant state of terror in order to cruœh their morale. The terror was not confined to the interrogation sessions: officers and rank-and-file soldiers on guard duty were constantly on the lookout for pretexts to punish detainees for the most trivial ‘offences’ against the regulations. The purpose was to remind us again and again that we were prisoners and should never forget this. The powers under which we had been detained were extra-judicial and the army were answerable to no one but themselves. We had no rights at all. There was no such thing as legal representation, either now or at later stages of detention” (p.40).
Bonar, the boss of Satgas-Pusat, was the worst type of sadist one could imagine. Once he came at one of the windows leering at the inmates in Carmel’s room. He asked: “Well, well. How are you feeling this evening? Quite well, and happy, I hope?” One of the women said: “We’ll be only happy when you release us and let us go home to our children”. His reply was: “There’s no going home for any of you lot, you dirty communists. This isn’t like any other place. Once here, you’ll never get out alive”. Then he looked at Carmel: “Ever heard of Eichmann?”, he asked. “Yes, he was the man who planned the annihilation of the Jews in the German concentration camps”, Carmel replied. “Eichmann, that’s me, commander of this camp. I’ve read all about him. A great fellow. He’s my model” (p.60).
One of the worst aspects of the situation for prisoners under the ‘New Order’ regime was indeed, that nobody could be sure that one would ever regain freedom. Around 1969 it was decided, that the political prisoners (‘tapol’) would be classified into three categories: A, B and C. C category prisoners were regarded as followers of PKI or other banned mass organizations, but did not need to be held indefinitely, and could therefore be released. ‘A’ category tapols were those against whom there was enough evidence to bring them to trial. But after having undergone a sentence there was for them a possibility to be released. But what about ‘B’ category, against whom there was no proof of having committed any ‘crime’? In 1969/70 a great number of male B prisoners were shipped to ‘Devil’s Island’ Buru in the Moluccas, with the intention that they would have to stay there forever! But also for those B-prisoners who would be sent either to Salemba prison (for males) or to Bukit Dun (for women) there was no outlook for release. One of the detention camps, where the decision about one’s ‘category’ would be taken, was Likdam, in the centre of Jakarta, the place where both Carmel and Bud were transferred after their ghastly fortnight’s stay in Satgas-Pusat.
As such Likdam, where Carmel would stay for the next fifteen months, was in spite of a terrible overcrowding not so bad, at least for prisoners who had relatives in Jakarta. Although they were not allowed to phone or write them, there were other possibilities to get in touch. Relatives were allowed to visit three times a week, and so Carmel’s and Bud’s children could meet them regularly, and provide them with foodstuffs and other necessities. However, many inmates of Likdam came from the so-called Kalong Torture Centre, and so Carmel was able to get more information about the way ‘interrogations’ were being conducted, and also about the way some victims became traitors, but others, such as Sri Ambar, a leading SOBSI activist, and her dau~~ters as well as her mother had demonstrated a courage that defies belief.
Finally Carmel was taken to Bukit Dun, whereas Bud had to spend many more years in Salemba. In both prisons a similar system was applied. Tapols were not enabled to keep in touch with their relatives. One was not even allowed to possess a scrap of paper! Regularly there were ‘hari bezoek’ (in Dutch the word ‘bezoek’ means visit). But what was allowed, was not true visits by relatives, but only the possibility for relatives or friends to deliver food parcels. That was different from the situation in the part of the prison for true criminals, for these were actually allowed to receive ‘bezoek! The women could make their stay more or less tolerable by doing all kinds of needlework, and selling their products through the prison administration.
During the night, the inmates had to stay in their cells (intended for three persons, but occupied by five), but in daytime they were allowed to mix, except for those women who were kept in ‘Isolation Block C’. But Carmel succeeded in getting clandestinely access to Block C, and for some time she even became an inmate of one of the cells in that Block. These cells were intended fot one person each, but were actually occupied by three women.
It was particularly through Carmel’s contact with the inmates of Block C, that Carmel managed to get interesting information from important Gerwani leaders or other female ‘dissidents’. In Block C Carmel shared a cell with Salawati Daud, a prominent personality in the Sukarno era. As early as in december 1949 she was elected Mayor of Makassar, “the first woman ever to hold such a position in Indonesia”. After being elected to Parliament in 1955 she moved to Jakarta and became active in Gerwani. Carmel admires Salawati highly, and she shares this admiration with many women who have known her as a detainee. The following story Carmel tells, occurred a few months before her arrival in Bukit Dun: the food situation in Bukit Dun was terrible, and for several days running rotten cabbage had been served. So when the commander came to inspect the blocks, he was greeted by the sound of bleeting (…) “A few days later, we were summoned to a special roll-call. He ranted on, scolding us and saying it wasn’t his fault that we had been given rotten food. He said things would soon get even worse as the Jakarta military command was about to stop allocating money for anything other than rice. Soon, he warned, we would only be receiving rice twice a day and nothing more”. “So what do you have to say to that”, he said, as he strutted up and down in front of us. “You made enough noise the other day. Now, let me hear you speak”.
There was complete silence for a few moments. Then Ibu Salawati stepped forward: “Let me make one thing clear before saying what I have to say. I am speaking only for myself and I alone take full responsibility. I am not speaking on anyone’s behalf. I was imprisoned many times under the Dutch, many times they maltreated me and held me unjustly for my beliefs. Yet never, in all my experience, did the Dutch, bad as they were, supply the prisoners with nothing more than rice. Never! Now, go back to your bosses and tell them that. I have nothing more to say”. “With that she stepped back into line again. The commander looked very uncomfortable. He said nothing and ordered us back to our cells. From then on, the food improved a bit” (pp.155/6).
Among the women held in the Isolation Block was also a medical doctor Sumiarsih Caropeboka. Shortly after October 1, 1965, Carmel had read a newspaper headline: “Communist woman doctor’s house destroyed. She’s the Lubang Buaya doctor!” Carmel, who had known her as a capable doctor, had wondered what had happened to her. ‘tNow we were together in prison with plenty time to exchange experiences. Sumiarsih coped with prison life in a very positive way. Whatever the difficulties, she would always be ready with a solution (…) Resistance for her was making the best of what we had and never allowing our captors to wear us down.” Her attitude in prison reminded Carmel of the way she had known Sumiarsih in her surgery, “always packed with mothers and children from the most disadvantaged groups”.
“Despite the sensational claims about her and the years she spent in isolation as a ‘heavy’ case, Dr.Sumiarsih was never charged or tried”. In Bukit Dun, Dr.Sumiarsih was never officially permitted to function as a doctor, but was held in the isolation block as long as Carmel was at the prison (pp.169 ff.).
Finally, in the ‘Isolation Block’ Carmel also could hear the stories of ‘the Children’ (Ch.20), young girls accused of having attended and participated in Lubang Buaya atrocities and debaucheries. Carmel got to know many of these young women and listened also to what other women had to say about them. She deposited accounts about them with Amnesty in London after her release, but she decided in this story not to identify them by name. Probably they have tried, since their release, to conceal their prison experience. Many of these women had been subjected to extremely violent torture during interrogations in the early days of their arrest. One of the young women had just got married to a man not much older than herself who was a member of Pemuda Rakyat. “The troops who came for her took her straight to the local military command where she was beaten repeatedly but denied that she had ever been to Lubang Buaya. Her interrogators said that her husband had told them that she was there. She could not believe this and agreed to a confrontation with him. She was stupefied when he repeated this allegation in her presence, and couldn’t find words to contradict him. Six years later, when she told me how it had happened, she still could not contain her emotions. After being transferred to Bukit Dun, she was again interrogated and tortured with cigarette burns, but still refused to confess a lie”.
Two girls had been in Lobang Buaya on 1 October. They suffered terribly at the hands of their tormentors during interrogation. They both confessed about sex orgies and admitted that they had seen the kidnapped generals being roughly treated by soldiers of the Tjakrabirawa palace guard. Two years later, in 1967, these girls were interrogated under less distressing circumstances and retracted much of what they had said ealier, only admitting that they had attended the training course at the air base.
“There were twenty or so young women in Bukit Duri whom we always knew as ‘the children’. They all spent up to fourteen years in detention, six in Bukit Duri and the rest in the Plantungan labour camp. Despite the serious charges levelled aginst them about what they were alleged to have done in Lubang Buaya, not one was ever to trial”.
Plantungan was a camp in Central Java, comparable with what Buru was for males, where many of the women of the B-category whom Carmel had known in Bukit Dun were, shortly after her release, transferred. If her relatives in London with the assistance of several human rights organizations and the British Embassy in Jakarta, would not have succeeded in getting Carmel released on the basis of her retained British nationality, most probably she would also have been transferred to Plantungan.
Carmel, who since the early 1950s had fully identified herself with the Indonesian society, felt rather uncomfortable about seeing whether being foreign-born was going to extricate her. But her fellow-prisoners had little time for such qualms: “Get out of here as fast as you can”, they would say, “and start working for our release” (p.192). They would often tell her they were relying on her to tell the world what she knew about the criminal system of imprisonment and all the atrocities associated with it.
We all know how seriously Carmel Budiardjo has taken this moral obligation. In 1995 she received the Right Livelihood Award for ‘holding the Indonesian Government accountable for its actions and upholding the universality of fundamental human rights’.
1) Published in Arah, suplemen No.1, th.1990; also in Aksi Setiakawan, 1990.
2) The first edition was published in 1993, in a very restricted number of copies; the second, thoroughly revised edition was published by Tapol, London, in October 1995; the third edition by Progres is from 1996, and contains as an Annex the texts of the speeches held on 30 September 1995 at the occasion of the presentation in Amsterdam of the second edition.
3) English translation: “There is another important obligation, namely to undertake again research concerning the Gerwani affair in connection with the events of 1 October 1965. From the beginning those in power have accused Gerwani girls present in Lubang Buaya of having committed horrors and sexually perverse acts. Through the press and other media year after year information has been spread, as though these girls had been taken there by PKI in order to perform ‘pornographic dancing’ and the naked ‘dance of the fragrant flowers’ as an accompaniment for the dying generals; that they committed other indecencies, that gilette knives had been distributed among them, and that they thereupon took part in cruel actions and maltreated those generals before they died. As a consequence of such stories an image was created as though Gerwani was a collection of dissolute, vicious, cruel women which should be held in contempt and even finished off”.
The same appeal to restore the reputation of Gerwani had previously been published in my Foreword for a collection of poems, titled Sansana anak naga dan tahun-tahun pembunuhan, by Magusig 0 Bungai, 1990, p.21 (published by ISDM, Culemborg).
4) An important study on the Aksi Sepihak in Central Java has been defended in 1986 by Kusni Sulang as a doctoral dissertation in Paris; unfortunately, the text of this study, titled Le mouvement des actions unilaterales pour les reformes agraires des paysans de Klaten, Java-centre. Indonesie – 1963-1965: Son