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Breaking the Silence: Survivors Speak about 1965–66 Violence in Indonesia

Chapter 14

Ibu Tachrin

Triumph over oppression

Surabaya, 1968

The sun was burning down when shouts were heard in front of a house, ordering the inhabitants to come out at once and report. The elderly owner of the house, doubled over, came out to face the man who the other three called ‘Dan’. Without waiting for a word from the house owner, the Commander (Komandan) ordered his men to search inside.

A few metres away, a woman could be seen covering herself in a piece of batik cloth she had just taken off her neighbour’s washing line. She hastened away from the scene. But then she saw some of those men in black coming to the house in front. Someone whispered for her to escape through the back door. She walked away quickly, with no idea where she was heading. Between her gasps, memories of the past came flooding back.

Kesamben Blitar, 1939–1965

On 2 January 1939, Raden Martodihardjo, the Irrigation Officer at Kesamben Blitar, was blessed with another daughter. The newborn baby completed the family. Tinah, as she was named, was the youngest in a family of seven children.

Tinah was raised in a four-roomed solid house together with her brothers and sisters; two other girls and four boys. There was quite a gap between her and her older siblings, who spoilt her. She was the little princess in the house, and always busy. She loved cooking, and spent most of her time in the kitchen. There, her mother taught her how to make all kind of cakes. Her older brothers and sisters would dutifully try all her cooking. If her cakes were a failure, Tinah would go and sulk in her room. When it was the season for the duku trees behind the house to bear fruit, she would spend her time there. She was clever at climbing the duku trees which grew among the stink bean trees, coconut palms, and wild spinach. She did not eat all the fruit she picked herself, but liked to give it to the neighbours.

As a colonial civil servant, Tinah’s father was a man of status and respected. In his spare time, he used to take his youngest daughter on horseback around the kampung, checking the people’s rice fields. Kesamben was on the main road between Blitar and Malang in East Java. This strategic location should have been of great advantage to the local people to carry out various activities. But back then they lived very simply; some were farmers, others were ironmongers. From a young age, Tinah was familiar with another kind of life beyond her cosy, sturdy house. This was a great influence on her later in life.

When Tinah was twelve years old she joined IPPI (Ikatan Pemuda Pelajar Indonesia, League of Indonesian Youth and High School Students). As in other places in Indonesia, young people in Kesamben were enthusiastic about youth organisations. IPPI arranged all kinds of activities: scouts, badminton competitions, football, wayang orang performances and fundraising for charity. IPPI members would often go on bicycle tours around the villages.

Tinah took part in this; although short and slight, she was nifty on her bicycle, her long hair flying in the wind, her round face smiling with joy. She had a wonderful adolescence. She also led the youngest level of scouts at IPPI, and taught in the Melati kindergarten.

Involvement in the world of activism led Tinah to meet her future husband. He was called Nuryanto, and was a young man of 24 years, a graduate of the senior high school for teacher training (Sekolah Guru Atas, SGA). Nuryanto came from a relatively poor family, which made many people doubt whether his relationship with the ‘official’s daughter’ would go anywhere. But in Tinah’s eyes, a man who was patient, clever and hardworking was the right type for her life partner.

So, just a year later, they married.

While Nuryanto was occupied with the non-politically aligned Indonesian Teacher’s Union (PGRI, Persatuan Guru Republik Indonesia, Non Vak Sentral), and the National Youth Front (Front Pemuda Nasional), Tinah was just as busy with her organisations.

One of the activities of Gerwani (Gerakan Wanita Indonesia, the Indonesian Women’s Movement), an independent organisation for women, was running the Melati kindergarten. Not just anyone could join Gerwani. Even though their focus was the lower classes, it was extremely rare for a woman from a peasant or labourer’s family to become a member. One of the conditions of joining Gerwani was that you had to be at least 18 years old or already married.

As Tinah taught at the Melati kindergarten, was 19 years old and married, she automatically became part of Gerwani.

As a women’s movement, one of Gerwani’s basic guiding principles was, ‘We are all mothers and wives.’ Gerwani’s actions were related to issues of morality, children and nutrition, and women’s rights. Gerwani opposed prostitution and the practice of polygamy, defended rape victims, and opposed the destruction of morals through the influence of foreign culture. In Gerwani’s view, women needed help to oppose their abuse as a result of tradition and social conditions. So while Gerwani acknowledged that women must fulfil their primary service in their role as wives and mothers, they still promoted the concept of ‘militant motherhood’. Gerwani’s image of militant mothers was not limited to housework, but spread to social activities and to the political arena. Their symbol was Srikandi, the warrior wife of Arjuna, and not Arjuna’s other wife, the meek and mild Subadra.

Because Gerwani’s activities often overlapped with politics, it was frequently linked to the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). The Communist Party was indeed developing very fast. In Indonesia’s first general elections in 1955, the Communist Party came in fourth place. But Tinah truly understood that Gerwani was an independent organisation. Even though it was true that many Gerwani members’ husbands were members of the Communist Party, this did not make Gerwani a Communist Party organisation, because Gerwani had its own separate articles of association and bylaws.

The people of Blitar did not pay much attention to the political talk anyway. They were just enthusiastic about the activities that the Gerwani women carried out. Apart from the Melati kindergarten, Gerwani set up Banish illiteracy programs (Pemberantasan Buta Huruf, PBH) in every sub-regency, organised monthly savings clubs (arisan) with rice as the prize and gave arts and cooking classes. The cooking classes were for cakes that were easy to sell, so that women could earn some income of their own. Tinah played a part in all these activities. In the morning she taught at the kindergarten, and in the afternoons she either taught at the Banish Illiteracy program or gave cooking classes. In the weekend, sometimes there was still time for gamelan practice in the village (kelurahan). And when the duku or lychee season came, she would revert to her childhood hobby of picking them herself and giving them to the neighbours.

Gerwani did not operate alone. For national day celebrations or for voluntary work, Gerwani often worked together with police women or religious organisations. They would set up joint committees and they all worked well and harmoniously together. They differed only in their uniforms. The Gerwani members had duck-egg blue shirts and white skirts with parang design.

Tarni wore her Gerwani uniform when she taught the women. The women had no problems following her cooking class, but the literacy classes were another story. Many of the women would cry with frustration because they could not do their tasks. Then others would tease them. Tinah would calm the students down. Most of them were much older than her, but she had to treat them like children. After class, they would stay close to her, following her home. Tinah’s life was good.

This all ended when the 30th September Movement happened.

Hundreds of kilometres away from Blitar, some high-ranking army officers were murdered by the Cakrabirawa Regiment. The Indonesian Communist Party was named as the mastermind. Everything linked to the Communist Party was leftist and now banned in Indonesia. It had to be cleansed.

It did not take long for the wave of ‘cleansing’ to arrive in Blitar. At the beginning of October everyone was ordered to report to the Military District Command and to sign a register every morning and evening. All social activities were virtually paralysed.

The Blitar Police searched Tinah’s home. The police chief, who came to the family house where Tinah, her husband, children, and one of her older sisters lived, was a distant relative of Nuryanto’s. He apologised for the search, but said he had to carry out his duty. There was nothing Tinah and her husband could do.

It was unclear what exactly they were looking for. Tinah did not understand. The only things in the house were her and her husband’s teaching materials. In this crazy situation, they were almost accused of planning a revolt just because there were some spears in the sitting room. Even though they were only decorations Tinah’s father had given her. The police finally went away without taking anything or anyone.

Then finally, in mid October, Nuryanto was ‘taken’ when he was queuing to report in. And after that, one by one, some of his teacher friends were also arrested. Tinah heard people saying that killing had started in Blitar. She did not ever see the killing herself, but every day, as the number of people who disappeared increased, she began to work out what was going on. The number of victims soared because many people just took advantage of the situation. Personal grudges played a part. All you had to do was shout, ‘So-and-So is a Communist!’ and that was it. He or she was disappeared or dead. If you heard dogs barking as they accompanied people carrying sickles wrapped in white cloth, you could be certain that there had just been some killing going on.

When her husband did not return, Tinah moved from one neighbour’s place to the next every night. Until one day, a month after they took her husband, one of her colleagues at the kindergarten came over.

‘Today, we have to collect our salaries at the office.’

‘Sure, I’ll come along soon’, she answered.

But she didn’t go. After leaving her third child with a relative, and now five months’ pregnant, she left to go to her older brother’s house in Malang, taking her oldest two children with her.

She decided to take the train. In the train she met two people who she recognised. One was her friend from People’s Youth (Pemuda Rakyat) and the other was a friend of her husband’s from the Nadhlatul Ulama Youth movement, Pemuda Ansor.

The Ansor youth asked her, ‘Where are you off to?’

‘I have to go to the doctor, because of bleeding’, Tinah lied.

She did not wish to engage in conversation. She closed her eyes, but she was too much on high alert to sleep. She held her two children tightly at her side.

‘Old Malang, Old Malang’, called the conductor.

The call jolted Tinah to get prepared. She went to get off the train, but realised that the Ansor youth was following her. In the crowd pushing to get off the train, she and her two children managed to escape the eyes of their pursuer, and they got off the train on the left hand side. When she was sure that their pursuer had got off the other side of the train, Tinah managed to board again with the help of her friend from Pemuda Rakyat, and then stay on the train until the next stop, New Malang.

It was late afternoon when they arrived. It felt deserted and tense. A few people were passing by, with anxious faces. The journey from the station to her older brother’s house was not very far, but Tinah decided to take a becak (pedicab). When she arrived at the front door, she fainted.

A few days later, the house opposite her brother’s was ransacked. This created an atmosphere of fear in her brother’s family. It was quiet. The radio was turned off. No one spoke, and everything was done in silence. Not wanting to be a burden, Tinah took her leave of them to go to Surabaya.

When she arrived in Surabaya, she went to Jetis-Ponorogo to look for her brother-in-law. She found him. But there, too, she could only stay for a few days and move on. With no destination, with no plan. Tinah and her two children wandered for days sheltering in the porches of buildings.

*   *   *   *

In the evening light, a woman wearing an old, faded dress is sitting in front of the Wayang Orang theatre for the Pande Giling group in Surabaya, watching the pink sky redden and go dark. She is holding a tired child on her lap close to the one in her womb. Another child comes to look at the sky and turns to say, ‘Mummy, I’m hungry. Please get us something to eat, Mummy’.

Surabaya, December 1965

To feed her children, Tinah went to a gold shop to sell some jewelry. She had brought with her almost all the jewelry her mother had left her. She sold the bracelets, earrings, necklaces, pendants and rings one by one. On this day, she sold her necklace. And the very next day, 13 December 1965, the rupiah was revalued. One thousand rupiah became one rupiah. Tinah could not afford to buy her children the soup they asked for. She could only afford boiled cassava at 25 rupiah, without any vegetables or chilli sauce. Just one big handful of boiled cassava for the day. One handful to be shared by three.

But she almost spat it out, when she got a slap on the back.

‘It’s you, Tinah, isn’t it?’ said the tall man of Chinese descent who looked at her rather hesitatingly.

‘Yes, I’m right’, he said, his face brightening.

‘Come inside, sister. Don’t stay outside. Come inside, for the children’s sake’, he went on.

Tinah followed. She went in to the old Dutch-style theatre, away from the leafy yard.

The young man came from the same kampung as her in Blitar. He was a member of Lekra, the Institute of People’s Culture now being accused of being an arm of the Communist Party. He was also on the run, and was hiding in the building where there was a nightly wayang orang performance.

He gave his room to Tinah and her two children to sleep in. He himself slept on the floor with the other actors. And so began days backstage. The wayang orang performances were held every day from seven until nine at night. They were always full. If Tinah had not been pregnant, maybe she would have joined the performance, at the very least she could have played in the gamelan, using her skills from the regular gamelan practices she used to attend back home. The performances helped lessen her nightmares. But she often wanted to cry.

‘If you cry, people will know you are afraid. They will take you away. You will die’, her inner voice whispered.

She did not cry.

*   *   *   *

In March 1966, heavily pregnant, she built up the courage to return to Malang, to her older brother’s place, bringing her two children. There was no reason for her brother to refuse his favourite younger sister. Fortunately it was safe. And on 23 March 1966, Tinah gave birth to a girl at a private maternity clinic. No one asked any questions, because Nuryanto’s cousin came and said he was Tinah’s husband. One of Nuryanto’s in-laws sent money to cover the clinic costs. He was a member of the Malang branch of the Railway Workers Union (Serikat Buruh Kereta Api, SBKA).

In June 1966, Tinah’s older sister, the third child of the family, came to visit. She had just lost her job as Head of the Banyuwangi pawnshop because she had sheltered the head of the Banyuwangi branch of Gerwani. She was fortunate to lose only her pension, and not her life.

She was married but had no children, so she invited Tinah to come and live with her. That very day, Tinah and her three children moved to South Malang. There they opened a snack stall that sold Tinah’s delicious cakes.

After a few months, Tinah’s parents-in-law arrived. Their house in Blitar had been set on fire and burnt to the ground. They heard that Tinah was in Malang and followed her there.

‘How about my house?’ Tinah asked, meaning the house that her father Raden Sukemi Martidihardjo had bequeathed her.

They ransacked the house again, child, but thank God they did not destroy it’, her mother-in-law replied. ‘It is empty now’.

Her mother-in-law then asked Tinah to go with her to the Margosono cemetery area in Malang where they would build a new life together. Tinah agreed. But after just a few days, she decided to return to her sister’s place.

‘But please leave your daughter Riri with us, to keep us company so we are not lonely’, her father-in-law asked. Apart from his son Nuryanto, he had also lost his second child in the wake of the 30th September Movement.

And Tinah did not see her three-year-old daughter Riri again. When she went back to the cemetery just three days later, the shack was empty, and no one knew where its inhabitants had gone.

No news ever came.

*   *   *   *

When the baby, her fourth child, was about four months old, Tinah returned to Surabaya. Before leaving, she entrusted her oldest child with her older brother in Malang. In Surabaya, she met up with a distant relative who worked in the Navy Hospital (Rumah Sakit Angkatan Laut, RSAL). He invited her to stay with him. Tinah was there with some other young men in hiding, who had been members of CGMI (Consentrasi Gerakan Mahasiswa Indonesia, Indonesian Student Movement Concentration). Her relative then found her some work sewing navy uniforms. She lived there for two years, supporting herself and her daughter from the money she earned sewing.

But Tinah’s nomadic life, like a wandering cat, was not yet over. After a while, her brother-in-law asked her to return to Malang. There Tinah reunited with her older sister, the one who had worked as the head of the pawn office in Banyuwangi and lost her pension. Two weeks later, one of her husband’s cousins, a student at the Malang teacher’s college (IKIP, Institut Keguruan dan Ilmu Pendidikan), took Tinah to a house rented by her husband’s younger brother in a kampung in Buncitan. Tinah’s older sister, wanting to save Tinah the trouble of moving her child here and there, asked Tinah to leave her youngest with them.

The house where they stayed was a place for pounding rice. During the day they would pound the rice, and the next morning the husked rice would be sold. Tinah helped with threshing, and carried the produce to the market. She also helped with planting in the rice fields.

Tinah’s cousin-in-law gave her a one meter long garden plot and said to her, ‘whatever grows is yours.’

In her spare time, even though her hands were blistered from pounding the rice, Tinah still managed to crochet or to weave borders on to remnants of cloth she collected, to make handkerchiefs. She would give them to the neighbours’ children to sell to their friends at school. Tinah’s interaction with her neighbours did not extend beyond that. She kept her distance. The people there knew her only as coming from a navy family, like most of the other people who lived there. But she did once recognise another former teacher who was also in hiding. Tinah entrusted her with a pendant to sell.

Tinah used the money she had managed to save from selling the handkerchiefs and the pendant to leave Buncitan after the younger brother of her husband’s cousin made sexual advances towards her. He took advantage of Tinah’s status as a guest, and said she must be ‘lonely’, and suggested she take the place of his wife who was out of town having just given birth. Tinah answered his disgusting advances with a kick.

She returned to Surabaya, to the same house she lived in before, and went back to her job sewing navy uniforms.

Surabaya, 1968

And that is where she is now.

She has just stolen a piece of cloth from a washing line.

Night fell, and Tinah walked back home. Her second family there greeted her warily. All the GCMI students living there had been arrested. Luckily the owner of the house, Pak Hadi, was released. The atmosphere was confused. Still wearing the piece of batik cloth as a veil, Tinah went to the kitchen. The washing-up was still in the kitchen sink. Tinah added water, and washed the plates and glasses one by one.

Questions were running around and around in her head.

‘When will things get better?’

‘When will this game of hide and seek end?’

‘Since their father disappeared, the children have never asked where is. Have they forgotten him?’

‘Will I ever be with my children again?’

She finished washing the last glass.

‘Should I return the piece of cloth I took?’

She smiled bitterly to herself. She looked at the cloth, still wrapped around her, then folded it carefully and put it on the table in the sitting room. Pak Hadi came up to her and asked what she was going to do now. Tinah was silent for a moment.

‘I will continue with my sewing’, she said.

No, that is not a good idea. It is not safe here anymore. I will get you a ticket to Jakarta. You’d better leave’, Pak Hadi advised.

Two days later Tinah returned the piece of batik cloth to its owner, the wife of a navy soldier.

‘So that’s what happened! Well I am glad all is well. It was just as well I washed that piece of cloth that day’, the woman said, laughing.

‘Thank you. I must also say goodbye now. I have a ticket to Jakarta. Pray for me’, and Tinah took her leave.

Tinah left for Jakarta by train. In the midst of the chaotic scene at Gambir Station in Jakarta, suddenly two tall men approached her.

‘Tinah?’ one of them asked her.


‘Please come with us’. The man who had asked the question took her bag that contained just a few clothes and a small amount of money.

Like a buffalo being led by the nose, Tinah followed. She had no idea who these two men were, how they recognised her, or where they were taking her. But for some reason she had no urge to ask. And the men did not engage in small talk.

‘The important thing is that my children are safe. Now it’s just me, so whatever happens, happens’, she thought to herself.

They took Tinah by car. From the window she could see shop signs with the names of the areas they passed.

‘So, this is Jakarta …’ she whispered, amazed at the capital city.

After passing a billboard saying JAWA MOTOR Senen, which was in central Jakarta, the car turned right, and stopped right in front of an entrance to a garage.

The building was owned by Inkopal (Induk Koperasi Angkatan Laut, Central Navy Cooperative). Tinah’s brain was in overdrive – browsing data to search who was connected to all this. She asked for a moment to rest and eat. Then she was told she had a guest. It turned out to be Eko, Pak Hadi’s son. Eko was also on the wanted list. He had escaped to Jakarta and was working here at Inkopal.

‘Oh … so Pak Hadi told Eko I was coming to Jakarta. Then Eko asked his friends to meet me …’ Tinah was piecing together everything that had happened to her that day.

She was relieved. At least she had escaped the uncertainty of life for one more day. Eko then offered her some work.

‘But not here. Probably in Bandung. Do you agree?’

To get another chance, Tinah felt she could not refuse. She agreed.

She only had one night to rest after the 14 hour ride on a bumpy train. The next morning she left for Bandung. She was taken to an air force housing complex in Bandung. They passed rows of neat houses, each the same as the next. They arrived at a house immediately in front of a little stall that sold odds and ends.

It turned out that the work she was being offered was as a domestic servant. The madam and master of the house were Javanese, and in fact there was a faint family connection with her. They were very distant relatives. And distant they were in more ways than one: distant physically, and distant emotionally.

Tinah was treated as no more than a servant. She had to start work at five in the morning: do the washing, sweep, wash the floors, cook, do the ironing, sell kerosene, and look after four boys and one girl – the same ages as her own children.

Tinah got thinner day by day. The clothes she wore when she first arrived got too big for her. She had sunken cheeks. She was constantly haunted by thoughts of her own children. And on top of that, her boss never stopped demanding this or that, yet always forgot to pay her wages. Tinah kept herself going during this trial in the Javanese way – by fasting, a total of 40 days in one year.

One day, after Tinah had been working there for nine months, Madam hit her. She accused Tinah of stealing salted eggs which were on the menu for that day. She lashed out with abuse. Master of the house then came and joined in. Tinah had no one to defend her. All she could do was cry. She was fired and not given a single cent.

Fortunately, Madam did not know that Tinah had been earning a bit of money. Every night she would burn incense with a neighbour who was a medium, and ask for the lottery code. Tinah’s customers were air force people. If some of her recommended numbers came up, she would get a commission. And this was the money she now used to leave Bandung.

She could think of only one destination, to return to Inkopal in Jakarta. She went as quickly as she could to the Bandung railway station. But there was a checkpoint. Everyone entering the platform had to show their papers. Since the 30 September 1965 incident, anyone travelling from one area to another had to show their identity card and a travel permit. And Tinah? She did not even have an identity card.

She eased herself out of the queue waiting to enter the platform, clutching her stomach as though she suddenly had an attack of diarrhoea. She walked towards the toilet, but at the last minute walked out of the station and went straight to the Cicaheum bus terminal.

Luckily, there it was clear. Tinah had no difficulty getting on the bus. But she was physically exhausted. She vomited all the way to Jakarta, and her body was weak. When she finally got to Jakarta, Eko took her to stay temporarily with a friend of his.

Tinah was still extremely weak. For a whole week she could do nothing at all, and because of this, had no money. She sold what clothes she had just to get some food in her stomach. When she was well, she tried to find work in a clothing factory, but the pay was too low. One whole week’s pay was only enough to buy two servings of rice, without side dishes, per day.

After about three months, Eko came to take her back to Surabaya. The route had been decided: depart from Jakarta by train, overnight in Yogya, call by Kertasono in Nganjuk and then on to Surabaya.

Then, in Yogya, someone snatched her bag with her money.

*   *   *   *

Tinah and Eko stayed in different hostels, Tinah near the station and Eko at Patang Puluhan. They arranged to meet at five in the morning in front of Tinah’s losmen. While waiting there for Eko the next morning, a man approached and started chatting in a friendly way. When he had gone, Tinah realised that a small bag that was together with her bag of clothes behind her had disappeared.

Eko had no extra money on him, so once again Tinah had to find a second hand stall and sell some of her clothes.

At Kertosono, they called in on a relative to ask for help. But it turned out that just two days previously the man of the house had died. He had been murdered, accused of being involved in the 30th September Movement. So they changed their destination to Kediri, where another of Tinah’s brothers, number six in her family, who worked head of Irrigation for Malang, lived. After selling some clothes, all the money she had left was 750 rupiah. Tinah did not know if this would be enough to pay for the two of them to get to Kediri. She went up to the bus conductor and came out with her weapon of last resort: honesty.

The bus conductor took pity on them and let them get on.

They got off the bus near the Gudang Garam cigarette factory, not far from the Brantas River. The bridge over the river was being repaired, so they had to walk to find a becak.

Then there was a new problem. Tinah could not remember the full address of her brother’s house. They asked a few becak drivers, one by one, to see who could take them to this ‘almost’ address. And one of the becak drivers passed the test. He was prepared to take them for 50 rupiah, an exorbitant price considering the usual price was just 20 rupiah.

After going round and round, they found the general area.

‘Which house is it?’ Eko asked.

‘Let’s see … this one … no, that one, with the blue motor bike’, Tinah answered, ‘at least I think so …’

This time her guesswork was right.

Her brother and sister-in-law were eating lunch. Their faces showed their astonishment. They could not believe that their youngest sister who was in hiding was there on their doorstep.

‘Where have you come from?’ her brother asked.

‘From Jakarta. I have come to you as a beggar, Brother’, Tinah answered softly.


‘Someone stole my bag in Yogya. I’ve lost everything.’

‘Well, let’s worry about that later. Come and take a bath and have something to eat.’

Half an hour later, her brother was waiting in the sitting room with a pile of clothes, some dark sunglasses, and an envelope.

‘The people in the house across the road were taken away by the police not long ago’, her brother said.

A pause.

‘Here’s a bit of money, 10,000 rupiah’, her brother said, emptying a white envelope with red and blue borders. ‘Are you staying the night?’ he then asked.

‘No. I think for the safety of us all, Eko and I will go directly to Surabaya’, Tinah replied.

Her brother did not try to stop her.

As soon as it got dark, Tinah and Eko continued their journey. Four hours later they arrived in Surabaya. The plan was for Eko to take Tinah to his friend’s place in Tambah Sari, but Tinah refused and went with Eko to his house.

The next morning she discovered that Eko’s father, Pak Hadi, who had been so kind to her and his son and had also helped the CGMI students, had been arrested.

*   *   *   *

After Soekarno was sidelined and Soeharto emerged as the one in control, the regulation called Tap MPRS/XXV/1966 appeared, banning the teachings of communism, Marxism and Leninism. The cleansing campaign against leftist remnants was enforced through the requirement for people to have certification that they were ‘clean’ (Surat Keterangan Bersih Diri) and also ‘from a clean circle’ (Surat Bersih Lingkungan). Being ‘clean’ oneself meant that you were not directly involved with the 30th September Movement (now called G30S/PKI). Being from a ‘clean circle’ meant that none of one’s family – father, mother, in-laws and close family – was involved.

Tinah had learnt her lesson at the railway station in Bandung. She knew she had to make a new identity. It was absolute suicide to go around without documents. Because this new certification started with one’s identity card, Tinah scratched her head wondering how she could get a new identity. Using the money her brother had given her, she left the house wearing a veil in the Islamic style, just in case she came across someone who knew her.

God was on her side.

Just when she did not know what to do, she met a relative. He was an army officer called Captain Basuki. He took Tinah to Buncitan Sidoarjo, where Tinah had once worked pounding rice.

Captain Basuki knew the staff in the administration office there. He got a new name for Tinah. It was ‘Pinah’. Tinah never knew what Pinah looked like, or whether she even existed. But what was clear was that the administration staff then got to work.

Her new identity card changed only her name. But that was enough to get Tinah – well, Pinah – a brand new certificate saying that she was ‘clean’.

New name, new hopes

After she got her new identity card and documents, Pinah returned to Jakarta and her work at the garment factory. Because the wages were so little, she found new work as an assistant tailor. After a while, Eko brought his friend Agus to stay. Agus’s father used to work for the Harian Rakjat newspaper. After the 30th September incident, Harian Rakjat was shut down, and almost all of the staff were accused of requiring ‘cleansing’, including Agus’s father. When Agus’s mother heard Pinah’s story, which was similar to that of her husband, she took on Pinah as her adopted daughter. She then moved in.

In mid 1969, a neighbour who was a civil servant offered Pinah work in a logistics office in Cipinang where they needed some extra staff. Pinah got the job there easily.

Life was improving.

Two and a half years later, she was offered the chance to become a civil servant herself. The first requirement was to attach copies of educational qualifications. Pinah’s hopes were dashed. When her nomadic life had begun six years earlier, she did not bring a single copy of any of her certificates. And even if she had them now, she could not show a certificate with a name different to the one on her current identity card.

She decided to resign.

Jakarta, 1971

They say that to have good neighbours is a blessing. Pinah does not doubt it. In Blitar, it was her neighbours who helped eat the duku and lychees from the trees that seemed to never stop bearing fruit. When the terrifying nights of the cleansing began, it was her neighbours who sheltered her. In Surabaya she had been ‘saved’ by her neighbour’s washing on the line. In Jakarta she got a job in a government office because of her neighbour. And now, love came her way once again, through her neighbour’s matchmaking.

*   *   *   *

After the 30th September Movement, some new social groups were added to Indonesia’s diversity. People who had been arrested and accused of being involved with communism were divided into three groups. Group A were those who had planned, helped to plan, or knew about plans for the 30th September Movement but did not report it to the authorities. This category included those who were actively involved. They were the ones tried by Extraordinary Military Tribunals or the state judicial system in various places in Indonesia.

Then there were people in group B who were those who agreed with the September 30th movement, or who obstructed official efforts to crush it. Officials of the Communist Party and organisations considered to be affiliated to the Communist Party were included in this category.

Group C included people who had been involved in the 1948 communist uprising (C1), former members of mass organisations that supported the Communist Party (C2), and people whose grandparents, parents, children, or uncles, aunts or relatives were involved with the Communist Party.

*   *   *   *

Tachrin was a teacher and also an activist in the Cooperative Bank for Farmers and Fishermen (Bank Koperasi Tani dan Nelayan, BKTN) who was a ‘graduate’ of Salemba and Tangerang prisons, with the label Group C. His married status had also changed because when he was in prison, his wife had asked for a divorce. He was now single again. Fortunately when he was released he was not unemployed for long, because he got a job as a driver for a newspaper editor.

Then, through a neighbour, he was introduced to Pinah who it turned out was the adopted daughter of one of his good friends. After a while, he decided to propose marriage.

‘Perhaps the idea of marrying again, and marrying someone labelled a communist sympathiser, is frightening?’ Tachrin said after Pinah had already accepted.

‘Not at all. I don’t think anything about that. I don’t feel I did anything wrong. And I know for a fact that my former husband never did anything wrong. And with you it’s the same, isn’t it?’ Pinah asked.

The proposal went smoothly enough, but the wedding plans hit snags. The bride-to-be did not get agreement from her local official, the neighbourhood head (RT). The official the next level up (RW) also refused to give permission. Eventually, with the help of a relative who was a neighbourhood head in a different kampung, they managed to get permission from the top level, the Lurah. But this was only after he wrote in black and white that he did not take any responsibility if anything happened to Tachrin and Pinah.

Now Pinah got her third name: Bu Tachrin. Her new second life had just begun.

Jakarta, 14 January 1974

The Prime Minister of Japan, Kakuei Tanaka, landed at Halim airport to begin a four day visit to Indonesia.

The next day, thousands of students marched in the streets from the University of Indonesia campus on Jalan Salemba to the Trisakti University campus in Grogol, Jakarta. This was the climax of a series of demonstrations by young people that began in mid 1973 demanding the disbanding of two extra-constitutional institutions – the Command for the Restoration of Security and Public Order (Komando Operasi Keamanan dan Ketertiban, known by the acronym Kopkamtib) and the Assistant to the President (Asisten Presiden, Aspri) – criticising the corruption in the national petrol company, Pertamina, and protesting against the construction of the Indonesia in Miniature Park (Taman Mini Indonesia Indah).

However that day, suddenly the Proyek Senen site, the Coca Cola factory, the Toyota Astra show room and a few other places in Jakarta were set alight, destroyed, and looted by the mob.

This was the explosion that was named the ‘15th of January disaster’ or Malapetaka Limabelas Januari, known by the acronym Malari.

There are various theories about what happened. One view is that ‘Malari’ was merely a student demonstration against foreign investment, particularly Japanese capital. Some saw the incident as an expression by intellectuals of their dislike of President Soeharto’s assistants (Ali Moertopo, Soedjono Humardani and so on) who held tremendous power. Another theory was that there was conflict within the military, namely rivalry between two generals: Soemitro and Ali Moertopo.

As a result of the incident, at least 11 people died, around 300 were wounded, 775 were arrested, and thousands of cars turned to melted steel. More than a hundred buildings were badly destroyed and 160 kilos of gold went missing from gold shops.

*   *   *   *

The Malari incident also deeply affected the new Tachrin family when the newspaper that Tachrin’s boss was editor for, was banned. The newspaper known for being critical, anti-corruption, anti-tyranny, and for supporting the common people, was now closed forever and as a result all its staff were out of work.

The night of the Malari incident, Bu Tachrin’s husband did not return home. Tinah had no idea of the conditions in the streets, and she waited. Usually her husband came home bringing the unsold newspapers. She would store them on the floor under a cupboard. When she had a pile, she would tie them together and sell them as recycled paper. But from that night on, there were no more old newspapers to sell.

A friend helped Pak Tachrin find work. Ironically, although he had lost his job because of anti-Japanese sentiments, he managed to get a new job with a Japanese multinational company. As Charles Darwin said in the theory of evolution, the ones who survive are the ones who can adapt. Pak Tachrin’s good English language skills and his knowledge of the Jakarta streets led to him being employed as a driver for the Director of the largest glass production business in Southeast Asia. This later led to an opportunity for him to become a member of the administrative staff in the company. And his new family crawled upwards with him as his life improved. They moved a few times in rented accommodation until finally they lived together with Pak Tachrin’s parents. Bu Tachrin helped the family finances by taking in sewing and making cakes.

But even with all this, their journey was still full of obstacles. Every pay day, Pak Tachrin’s older brother would arrive and ask for a share as payback for having often come to visit Tachrin when he was in prison.

And the local Military Command, when they knew that Pak Tachrin had got work, also asked for a cut. Pak Tachrin was often called in on a work day to report. Bu Tachrin would then have to go to her husband’s office to explain his absence. She could only ever think of a single excuse, ‘there is a family funeral’. One day it would be the older brother of his mother’s uncle who died, another day it would be the mother of the older brother of his uncle.

The Military Command did a deal with Pak Tachrin about how much he had to pay. It was unfair. In short, every month Pak Tachrin had to pay 7,500 rupiah. Then they called in Bu Tachrin for her to give her ‘agreement’.

‘Excuse me sir’, Bu Tachrin said using very polite Javanese to the First Lieutenant who had called her in. ‘My husband’s salary is only 20,000 rupiah a month. If he has to pay you 7,500 out of that, how can we live on the rest? If it were you, would you agree to it?

‘I would like to invite you to visit our home. Please come and see our living conditions’, Bu Tachrin said, ending her diplomacy while straightening the piece of lurik cloth carrying her youngest child.

And two days later, the First Lieutenant really did come to their house. He could see for himself how Tachrin and his wife and their six children lived. The eight of them lived cramped in a house with earth floors and a door that could not be closed properly because the hinge was just attached with wire. The First Lieutenant went home without making any comment. But from then on, there were no more demands for payment. This was an exception made for the Tachrin family alone, that’s for sure.

*   *   *   *

The dry season replaced the rainy season, dry season, rainy season, dry season again.

Very slowly, life was falling into place, but there were still some scattered fragments. With faith that God always protected her, that her mother’s spirit was always with her, and that she had never done any wrong, Bu Tachrin began to gather those scattered fragments in order to build her second life.

The first fragment: Srikandi. Bu Tachrin returned to her woman soldier role by becoming a volunteer at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption in Jakarta. The Cathedral offered social services to the underprivileged, particularly to victims of conflict, and especially former political detainees from the 30th September movement. Services offered included the provision of micro credit for business, and looking for employment opportunities. Unfortunately for former political prisoners, the only kind of work offered was as building labourers or coolie type work. Teaching or any other work where they would interact with many people was basically out of the question.

Bu Tachrin was given the task of supervising the loans, and giving classes in making cakes. The baking classes were held in different places. She went all over Jakarta, from Saint Mark’s in Cililtan and Saint Mark’s in Klender, East Jakarta, to the convent at Sunter in Central Jakarta. She would carry cake tins and cooking bowls of all shapes and sizes, scales, spatula, and egg beaters in a big bag. Bu Tachrin is of slight build – only 1.5 metres tall, and she was dwarfed by all the things she carried. So on days when he did not have to work, Pak Tachrin would offer to be her assistant, and accompany her when teaching.

Because of Bu Tachrin’s volunteer work, the cathedral, which worked in partnership with the Christian Children’s Fund, gave the Tachrins’ first child a scholarship until graduation from senior high school.

The second fragment to be put in place was Nuryanto’s children. Bu Tachrin had four children from her first marriage, but none of them lived with her. Eventually, one day her son, her third child from her first marriage came to visit. Bu Tachrin had entrusted him to her older brother before she left for Surabaya. He was about fourteen years old when he came to Jakarta looking for his mother. The very first question he asked her was, ‘My friends say that Gerwani women were prostitutes. Were you one too?’

This was the question of a child brainwashed by the New Order.

*   *   *   *

The New Order Regime had its own story about Gerwani. It went like this: ‘On the night the generals were murdered, Gerwani members were having an orgy, dancing and singing the song ‘Genjer-genjer.’

The song Genjer-genjer then became the most legendary Indonesian song after Indonesia Raya. But whereas Indonesia Raya was given exalted place as the national anthem, Genjer-genjer was given the label ‘banned’. No one could sing it.

The song had been composed in 1942 by an artist from Banyuwangi, inspired by the resilience of people during the time of famine in the Japanese occupation. People turned a water weed into a tasty dish. The prolific weed was lightly fried or boiled and mixed with a sweet and sour peanut sauce.

Bu Tachrin liked the song. She would often sing it as a lullaby for her children. The song told of the simple pleasure of a husband and wife as they picked the genjer-genjer to eat.

The words, in Javanese, went like this:

Gendjer-gendjer neng ledokan pating keleler
Emake thole teka-teka mbubuti gendjer
Oleh satenong mungkur sedot sing tolah-tolih
Gendjer-gendjer saiki wis digawa mulih

Gendjer-gendjer esuk-esuk digawa nang pasar
Didjejer-djejer diunting pada didasar
Emake djebeng tuku gendjer wadahi etas

Gendjer-gendjer saiki arep diolah Gendjer-gendjer mlebu kendil wedange umob
Setengah mateng dientas digawe iwak
Sega sa piring sambel penjel ndok ngamben
Gendjer-gendjer dipangan musuhe sega

Genjer-genjer everywhere
Women and children come to pick
A basketful and straight back
And now it’s here at home

Early morning it’s taken to the market
Neatly in bunches on display
Lined up side by side
The women buy it and put it in their bags

Now it’s cooking time
Into the pot of boiling water
Just lightly cooked to make a tasty dish
A plate of rice with chilli peanut sauce
Delicious with a plate of rice

Muhammad Arief, who wrote the song, later joined Lekra, and the song then took on new associations. It was a hit in the 1960s and associated with Lekra and leftist ideology.

During the ‘cleansing’ after the 30th September movement, the song was also ‘cleansed’. The main reason given was that the song was written by communists. Secondly, after the 30th September incident, the student daily newspaper KAMI (Kesatuan Aksi Mahasiswa Indonesia, Union of Indonesian Student Action) ridiculed the song, changing the words ‘Genjer-genjer’ to ‘General-general’. And so the injunction against the song became even stronger.

This was their version:

Jendral – jendral nyang ibukota pating keleler
Emake Gerwani, teko teko nyuliki jendral
Oleh sak truk, mungkir sedot sing toleh-toleh
Jendral Jendral saiki wes dicekeli
Jendral Jendral isuk-isuk pada disiksa
Dijejer ditaleni dan dipelosoro
Emake Gerwani, teko kabeh milu ngersoyo
Jendral Jendral maju terus dipateni

Generals in the capital everywhere
The Gerwani girls kidnapped the generals
Got a truckful and straight back
There they are all tied up
Early morning it’s torture time
Lined up, tied up, tortured
All the Gerwani girls join in
The generals come forward to be killed

*   *   *   *

Bu Tachrin could not reply. She was too deeply hurt. All she could do was stroke her son’s head.

This experience with her third child from Nuryanto made her keep a tight lid on her past, never discussing it with her children, neither her children with Nuryanto nor those with Tachrin. It was enough for them to know their mother in the same way as her neighbours knew her, as someone who baked cakes, no more than that.

But God has His own ways.

A good opportunity for her to meet with her ‘first edition’ children arose when her son, her third child with Nuryanto, married in Malang. Bu Tachrin was reunited there with her lost daughter, who disappeared in the Margosono cemetery in Malang when she was only three. It turned out that her grandparents had taken her to Nuryanto’s family. She lived with them until she married a soldier who was also a former 1965 person on the run.

Bu Tachrin’s son-in-law, her second daughter’s husband, knew Bu Tachrin because they had once lived in the same sub-regency in Blitar. So they knew each other’s status in relationship to 1965. On top of that, he was once stationed in Pamekasan and often met Bu Tachrin’s older brother who used to be the Irrigation Officer there before he moved to Malang.

After that reunion, Bu Tachrin’s ‘first edition’ children began to know their mother’s story, even though it was incomplete.

Tebet, January 2011

In a 5 metre square space with pink, green and yellow striped walls, Bu Tachrin spends time with four of her children from Pak Tachrin (the four still living at home), watching a Korean TV show on their 27 inch LCD screen. This room is multipurpose: sitting room, dining room, TV room, workshop, and storage place for all the handicraft and cake orders.

The prayer call comes from the mosque. Bu Tachrin has just finished making an orchid frame out of white piping. She tidies up the scissors and pieces of cloth and puts them in a plastic box so that her little grandson Satrio will not play with them. From behind her brown-framed glasses that hide some of her wrinkles, she watches Satrio run about carrying his toys, his cute little mouth chewing the rice his mother is feeding him.

Her children built this house around ten years ago for their parents. They paid if off in instalments, but truly built it themselves, from mixing the cement, lifting the stones, making the foundations and walls, and doing the painting. Bu Tachrin knows that her children have inherited their parents’ spirit for hard work.

She remembers a conversation a few years ago with one of her daughters …

‘Mother, why do you never speak up when people call us ‘hobos’? You should say something. Defend yourself’, her daughter protested when one of their rich neighbours called the Tachrin family ‘hobos’.

‘Well, the truth is we are just hobos … why get upset about it? The gap between them and us is huge. But you just wait and see, one day they will need us.’

Justice seems to work in mysterious ways. It turns out that even someone labelled rich needs someone labelled poor. Her daughter understood this only when one day the neighbours who had looked down on them came to ask for help with the preparations for their son’s engagement. So, it turned out their rich pride could melt.

The Tachrins always taught their children to be independent, hold their heads high and be honest and courteous. Bu Tachrin herself is grateful that in these crazy times, her children have become well-rounded people. They managed to further their education, get degrees, work and have their own families. Their lives are not glamorous, but also not lacking.

Bu Tachrin herself keeps to her long-held Srikandi principles. Although now in her seventies, she is still active – extremely active – in various things. Apart from organising catering and taking cake orders with her youngest daughter, she makes plastic flowers out of drinking straws. She takes them with her when she attends exhibitions. She also makes routine visits to the Waluya Sejati old people’s home which was established by Ribka Tiptaning. Most of the people in the home are former political prisoners. Their get-togethers provide times for these women marginalised by history to allow themselves to remember the past. Bu Tachrin often reminds them not to waste time regretting the past. ‘That’s enough. If you keep on thinking about it, keep on regretting things, it will eat away at you and cause an early death.’

It is not easy to forget what they experienced. Even for Bu Tachrin herself. Sometimes at night the black and white film of her past begins to play, without her wishing it. She remembers when she could not even cry. Now that she is sure she is more accepting of the past, she feels the need to let the tears flow.

The fact that she did not go mad was not a miracle, but because she worked at it. So she tries to maintain her mental health that she fought so hard for, by remaining productive. She has now started to write her story, and wants to complete her autobiography. The doctor who helped restore her health after she was diagnosed with diabetes once told her, ‘biographies are not only of famous people, are they?’

She wants to give her writing to her children and grandchildren. She wants them to really know their grandparents, and to learn that this country where they live has another side to it that perhaps they do not know.

Then her old friend, Putu Oka Sukanta, invited her to be involved in a writing project of stories about 1965. Stories from various makers of 1965 history. Bu Tachrin saw this as a real step in the restoration of people’s reputations, something that government after government has promised, but never actually done.

Bu Tachrin often takes part in discussion forums about human rights and 1965. There she puts forward the demand for compensation through a public acknowledgement to the whole world that they – the victims – were not evil. This compensation, a correction of history, is more meaningful than any financial compensation. ‘And after all’, she says ‘where would the state get enough money to compensate us financially?’

*   *   *   *

A mobile telephone buzzes.

Her oldest daughter hands her the phone.


‘Is that Bu Tachrin?’

‘Yes it is. Who is speaking?’

‘This is Puti, Bu’

‘Hello Puti.’

‘Bu, keep the 10th of February free, won’t you? There will be the launching of Putu Oka’s film at the Goethe Institute. It is still a while away, but I am booking you now because I know how busy you are. We would love it if you could come and help mind the stand selling books and films.’

‘Of course. I’ll note the date.’

‘Okay. We will get in touch again later on. Oh, and by the way I am really craving those steamed cakes with palm sugar you make. If you happen to make any, please bring them. This is a special order …’

‘Yes, yes, February 10th at Goethe, to mind the stall and bring cakes. Anything else?’

‘No, that’s all. Thank you so much. Until then, Bu Tachrin.’


Interviewers and Transcribers: Puti Yassmina, Amangku Bhumi.

Writers: Ibu Tachrin, Puti Yassmina, Amangku Bhumi.

Breaking the Silence: Survivors Speak about 1965–66 Violence in Indonesia

   by Putu Oka Sukanta