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

Chapter 15


New Order survivor

Wardik, born in 1949, was named by his mother. She was from Majalaya in West Java, and when she was twelve years old, she was taken by her aunt to Sumatra to work on a plantation. Six years later she met her future husband, Wardik’s father. He came from Ponorogo in East Java. Their son Wardik later married Elya in 1980 and they had four boys and a girl. Now 62 years old, [2010, trs.] Wardik is still fit and strong with a thick moustache. His gaze is sharp, but conveys disappointment and suspicion. His friends find him rather daunting.

You can tell at a glance that he is a hard worker who has found success. He lives in the area of Helvetia in Medan, in a well-built, sturdy house, with marshes behind the back yard. The people nearby often fish in the marsh ponds. In the past, this land used to be a tobacco plantation, but in the 1990s the people took it over and now live there.

To get to Wardik’s house from Polonia airport in Medan is a long and expensive taxi ride. It takes more than an hour at the best of times. You have to go through the city centre of Medan, to a flyover heading towards Belawan harbour, then turn left into a dense housing area where there are many children running around, and finally come to an alleyway about 300 meters long which is inaccessible to public transport, and there you will find Wardik’s house. Nowadays he rarely travels far from the house because his health is not so good.

He built the house with the proceeds from his work as a contractor for the Malibu Medan housing complex in 1999. It has four bedrooms; three for the family, and one especially for his old friends from Padang Halaban Rantau Prapat if they come to Medan.

He has never forgotten these friends, because they are an integral part of his life. They forged their friendship fighting for the rights to their land, and in surviving the bitter journey under New Order rule.

*   *   *   *

When Wardik was just 18 years old, some soldiers came one morning to where he was helping out someone holding a celebration, and arrested him. This was on 30 May, 1967. He had time to go home briefly and then was taken to the Merbau Military District Command in the Labuhan Batu regency. There he was interrogated and tortured and shortly afterwards moved to the Military Command 021 headquarters at Pantai Timur Pematang Siantar. After further interrogation there, he was moved to the prison on Jalan Sutomo. He still vividly remembers that interrogation, and in 2010 told the story like this:

They interrogated me with the accusation that I had hidden a large cache of weapons. According to them, only my older sister San knew where I had hidden them. When I was taken from the prison on Jalan Sutomo, all I could think of was torture and death. I cannot remember how many times they interrogated me, but the questions were always just the same kind of thing. And my answer was always ‘I don’t know’. This was because I truly did not know. Then they gave me electric shocks, three or four times, then I was lashed with a piece of rattan as thick as your big toe, all over my body. And then they specially brought over a three-edged barbed kind of whip called a ‘sting ray tail’ (ekor pari) from Tanjung Balai Military Resort, which left deep red scars on my back.

When I was first taken in to be interrogated by the ‘Section One’ at Military Command 021 headquarters, I saw my eldest sister San there, sprawled on the floor. She had black eyes, a bleeding mouth, and her long hair had been completely cut. I was ordered to sit and they took off my handcuffs. The Assistant First Lieutenant, Meta Ginting, sat behind a desk that was in front of me. He said ‘How can you not own up? Look at your sister – don’t you feel any pity for her? This is all your fault.’ Then a pause, as though he was thinking. ‘If you confess, you and your sister will be released. And you will get a medal from the State for exposing a network of rebels’.

As Wardik was telling this story, he paused here, as though the pain returned. Then he went on, imitating the interrogator’s voice.

‘But if you insist on being obstinate, you will see for yourself what happens. So, tell us where you hid those weapons.’

‘I don’t know, Sir.’

So he was tortured some more, kicked, fell, dragged up and kicked some more, until he passed out. Two months later he was interrogated again. This time it was a new technique. He was ordered to sit on a table and put his legs out straight on another table in front of him. Then the interrogator, an assistant First Lieutenant wearing heavy army boots, stamped on Wardik’s legs until they broke. Wardik passed out and when he regained consciousness he was in hospital. His right leg was in plaster and balanced on a wooden bench.

‘When they brought you here, you were unconscious’ one of the nurses told him. Wardik was kept at the hospital until his leg healed and he was strong enough to walk. There were some particularly caring nurses at the hospital, and Wardik made friends with them. He told them all about his torture, and also exactly where he came from. The nurses often gave him extra food, like bread and milk, as well as their sympathy. Wardik still remembers their names: Malijarwati, Sundari, Kartini Sebayang, Kartini bd Sinaga and Ginem. The doctor who treated him was of the Siagian kinship group, wearing army fatigues, with the status of Major. That was how Wardik knew he was in an army hospital. Six months later he was declared healed and taken back to the prison he had come from. Wardik remembers a snippet of conversation he had with one of the nurses:

‘Actually, brother, where did you come from, and what did you do wrong to end up like this? Tell us, so we can know you better. But if you want to keep it secret, that’s fine. You don’t have to tell us anything’, Malijarwati said, as though she understood.

Is it wrong when someone tries to save another person’s life? You were talking before, Nurse Malijar, about humanity, about saving lives. That is so beautiful, so noble to hear. But when I saved the lives of people who were nearly murdered, I was arrested and thrown into a cell. Given ‘free accommodation’, incarcerated and tortured, and eventually I came here where you are nursing me.

Back in prison, Wardik was put in a cell in C block which used to be a leper colony. The room measured 3 × 4 meters square. There was one wooden bench, one small cupboard and two stools. He lived there – rent free – for six months.

Apart from the kind nurses, Wardik also made friends with a boy called Supriadi who lived near the hospital. In the afternoons after school, Supriadi would go around the hospital selling a sweet cassava dessert, and would always stop by and keep Wardik company. On Sundays or on holidays, his little friend would be busy selling all day long. He was about twelve years old.

Wardik also talked to the nurses about how in March 1966 he hid someone on the run called Cak Muso, who was in the army that was based at the Military Resort Labuhan Bata, because he was going to be killed. He stressed that he did this out of a sense of humanitarianism.

He and my father were arrested and taken to the Military Command headquarters. They – the army that is – took my father and some of his friends out of the holding cells there. They killed them. Why didn’t I save them? My father, my father’s friends, my neighbours? I could not save my father.

After Wardik’s return to the prison at Jalan Soetomo, he was moved with nine others to Medan. There were two detention centres in Medan, one at Jalan Gandhi and one at called TPU C (Tempat Penahanan Umum, General Detention Centre C) in Jalan Binjai, at Kilometre 7. It turned out he was taken to the Jalan Gandhi centre, which, from what he had heard, meant that he was going to be detained for a long time. When he arrived, his heart was racing. He was met by guards who searched all this things.

Wardik talked about this detention centre in this way:

It was quite a large building. When I got inside, I realised this it was some kind of hall or performance place. I remembered a school in Rantau Prapat, Sin Min School, which was similar in construction to this building. On the left, through the large door to the hall, were rooms like classrooms, all closed. This certainly used to be a school. A school that had been magically converted into a place to lock up detainees, a prison for detainees.

Conditions were better here than at Siantar prison. The detainees were allowed to have cooking stoves, or to make stoves to boil rice and water. Their food ration was just one coconut-shell full a day of rice mixed with corn, with watery spinach that tasted like drain-water, and a tiny piece of dried fish the size of a chicken feather. But at least family members were allowed to visit, and to send ingredients twice a week. The solidarity between the detainees was much better than in the Siantar prison.

Hendrik Napitupulu was detained here together with his wife Supriati. Both of them had been activists with CGMI (Concentrasi Gerakan Mahasiswa Indonesia, Indonesian Student Movement Concentration) at a university in Yogyakarta. They had to bring their little daughter Niken into prison with them. Niken was a lively little thing. Everyone liked her, everyone loved her. It was Hendrik who informed Wardik that his two older sisters were both alive and held at the other detention centre (TPU C) at Jalan Bingkai.

Every working day, people were summoned for interrogation, morning, noon and night, right through to the next morning. The detainees could hear the screams of pain coming from the interrogation room. There were eight rooms at the centre, plus the hall and performance space. The seven former classrooms were used to lock up people considered dangerous. The room right at the back was for female prisoners, and the hall and performance area were for prisoners considered to be less dangerous. This is where Wardik was.

Under the stage was a storage area which was used to keep broken equipment. Every now and then the interrogators also used this space to put detainees who would not confess to what the interrogators wanted them to confess to. This two-functional space was dark, airless, and damp.

Pak Marto, a retired soldier (assistant Second Lieutenant) in Indonesia’s revolution who had defended the Pangkalan Brandan area, and whose last position had been at the Inter-Regional Sumatran Command (Moanda, Komando Antar Daerah Sumatra), was held in this space for a while. For twenty one days, his companions were rats the size of cats, cockroaches and lizards. When they finally let him out, he could barely walk, and was weak and emaciated.

Before he was thrown into this former storage space, Pak Marto had been in one of the classrooms, room Number 7. The room, which measured only three and a half metres square, housed 14 prisoners. They never saw the light of day. The former storage area, magically transformed into a prison isolation chamber, was right beside room Number 7.

Not all the guards were cruel. Corporal Sujati, for instance, often gave Wardik sugar, coffee, and his own take-away rice meals, and even passed on his old clothes. He said that Wardik reminded him of his younger brother in Java.

Eventually Wardik was moved to the other detention centre on Jalan Binjai which housed 2000 prisoners. There he met his older sisters and his neighbourhood friends from Labuah Batu. Until then, Wardik had thought all of them were dead. They had thought the same thing about him. His two older sisters, San and Yus, together with the head of Gerwani for Labuah Batu, called Nurhaida Lintang, came and brought him corn-rice with dried fish and spinach.

Their children were with them at the detention centre. They were forced to join their parents there because there was no family outside to take them in. Some people had their houses confiscated, their fathers murdered. Some of the children in the detention centre learnt reading and writing, taught by the prisoners. Some were permitted to go outside the prison and sell things, like cakes their parents had made.

The prisoners made all sorts of handicraft to keep them going. Wardik studied painting with Jono, a member of Lekra, the Institute for People’s Culture. Wardik studied for months, and made ten paintings, but did not manage to sell a single one. The small amount of money he had earned at the Jalan Gandhi centre cleaning the guards’ rooms and doing ironing all went on buying canvas and oil paint.

Then he was offered work outside helping to clear the Chinese cemetery in Petisah. He got this work outside the detention centre only through bribing his guard. The cemetery was being cleared to build the fun park ‘Taman Ria’. This is how Wardik described his experience:

The contractor was a member of the Military Police Corps. The rate was 1500 rupiah for each grave we broke up. But the prisoners got only 1000 rupiah the other 500 rupiah went to the contractor.

His two older sisters were happy that Wardik had got work outside the barracks. Wardik gave them whatever he earned. San asked for permission to go home to see their mother. Wardik was very upset when he heard how his mother was suffering. He also asked permission, via a female prisoner who was on very good terms with the Commander, to go and visit his mother. If he himself ever asked for leave, he was never given permission to go. Wardik said the authorities had razed his village to the ground. Nobody in the village had dared to protest. They just had to accept it. Nobody was given any compensation.

Mother had to move to some fields near the jungle. This was my mother, who during Indonesia’s revolution for independence had been head of a revolutionary kitchen to feed the fighters, and now here she was going hungry.

Wardik then had to do forced labour on the Blangkahan plantation together with other prisoners from the detention centre on Jalan Binjai. They had to work for the bosses of P.T. Telaga Sari Indah at the Blangkahan plantation in Kwala subregency, in the regency of Langkat. Prisoners had been used there as forced labourers since 1969. These prisoners greeted Wardik and his companions warmly. One prisoner, Ngamen, who had been leader of People’s Youth in Tanjung Keling, warned them:

No one supervises what goes on here. We are just slaves, so don’t expect any pay. We have to leave the barracks at 5:30 in the morning. The plantation overseer arranges what work has to be done, and the barracks supervisor then divides up the tasks among the prisoners. Our guard, Second Lieutenant Sungkono from Brigmob (police mobile brigade) comes here only once a month. We get food rations only twice a day, and even those are not enough. There is no breakfast. Everyone has to try to find something to eat for breakfast.

Wardik described one of his experiences in the plantation in this way:

It was burning hot. The first day of this forced labour was torture. We had to clear wild sugarcane grass that was six meters high. I was drenched with sweat. I hadn’t used a hoe or scythe for ages. The cane scratched my arms, and the scratches itched and hurt. The plantation assistant and the overseer meanwhile never let up with their orders. None of us had shoes. We trod on sharp thorns that pierced the soles of our feet. We were parched with thirst. We realised no one had brought any water. I tried to find a spring. The overseer, Saidi, said there was no spring in this plantation. There were only irrigation ditches, and they were right in the middle of the sugarcane grass to be cut in front of us. After cutting four hectares of the grass, we still had not found any ditches. Bastard, we thought, that was a trick! But no, we shouldn’t rush to such conclusions.

Selamat told me to dig a well. I looked around for a place that was a bit damp, and began to dig. My efforts were not in vain. After digging for just half a meter, there were signs of water. Ribut, who was with me, encouraged me to keep digging. I was totally exhausted, totally. All of us were dying of thirst, remember, especially me. But there was nothing else to do but keep on digging. Until at last, a spring gushed forth. I shouted, my voice croaky. I remembered that Tukimin had carried his lunch in a small metal container. So I went and got it. And so my little well saved us all from thirst. The assistant and the plantation overseer let it be. Senen drank too much and almost passed out.

That first day of forced labour was a lesson. At one o’clock we were allowed to return to the barracks. It was a four kilometre walk. At the plantation quarters there was a small stall run by a Chinese who the workers there called Banglae. We stopped by and bought a five litre jerry can. We were not going to be thirsty again tomorrow!

We worked cutting that wild sugarcane grass for fifteen days solid. My skin, already dark, turned black. Some of my workmates got sick because they had not done heavy work like this for a long time, or because they had never been farmers. But there was no choice except to work and go on working. Like a buffalo pulling the plough. It would have been bearable, even though we got no pay, had we been given enough to eat.

Over the time of working there, Wardik and the other prisoners found ways to endure their forced labour. They befriended the villagers living around the plantation, who often helped out and gave them extra work for money. Wardik got to know a village girl called Surtini who asked him to help her in her rice field, and she became a close friend. Wardik often went to help her. After a while, he accompanied the girl home and met her parents. They received him politely, and their friendship continued.

When Wardik was finally given permission to go home for four days to see his mother, he had no money for the journey. It was Sutini who gave him the money so that he could go. Together with some other prisoners who had been given leave, he was taken from Blangkahan plantation to Sukamulia prison. After being given advice and lectures on good behaviour, he went with his friend Antaran who came from the same village, to Timbangan, which was a two minivan ride away. From there he hitched a ride on the back of a truck. The truck driver knew they were prisoners, because it was written clearly on their travel papers, which they showed him. The truck driver helped them, even giving them lunch on the way and then a bit of money. During their conversation, it turned out he too had been detained for three months at Siantar.

When they arrived at the Padang Halaban turnoff, the truck driver got out of the cabin and gave each of them 1000 rupiah. Wardik now went to look for his mother who was no longer living in the old village, but in a field. This is how he told of his reunion with his family:

From a distance, I could make out my mother and younger brother Susanto hoeing in the rice field, and I called to my mother. They both turned around, and my brother screamed out, ‘Mum! Brother has come back!’ He threw down the hoe in his hands. My mother came running, stumbling through the muddy rice field, shrieking, howling, ‘Son, son, you’ve come home son!’ You could hear her sobbing and yelling all the way to the house. She grabbed me and hugged me close, not caring that she was covered with mud. The neighbours arrived, wondering what was going on. I led Mother in to the house. She just hugged and hugged me as though she would never let me go.

Wardik sent his nephew to buy some rice with the money the truck driver had given them. Wardik used his two-day homecoming to meet his friends and relations, all of whom were oppressed by intimidation and poverty. Even so, some of his friends including Arfan and Bero gave him some money to cover the transport costs of returning to the prison. Wardik left his mother some of his money.

Arfan told Wardik what was going on there at the plantation, and what the people living at the complex were doing.

That Second Lieutenant Aritonang, for instance, just because he was made officer supervising the plantation, he evicted all the people living there just like that. These were people whose land had been in the family for generations. What will they do in their old age? And no one dared complain. Anyone who complained would be accused of being a rebel and branded communist. And if you are branded communist, you lose everything, including your life.

The night before Wardik returned to Blangkahan plantation, they exchanged stories about the bitterness of life, and also about ways of enduring their suffering. Wardik asked Arfan to look after his mother. They parted with tears.

After two years working at Blangkahan plantation, Wardik was moved to a detention centre in Tanjung Kasau, in the regency of Asahan bordering the regencies of Simalungun and Deli Serdang. It was about 19 kilometres from Tebing Tinggi on the way to Kisaran. In Dutch times, it had been a rubber plantation with a hospital which was later used as a police school. This complex – the former plantation hospital –what was now ‘General Detention Centre for Group B’. Wardik – who used to be in category C – had suddenly been moved to group B without any process of any kind and without him being notified.

Wardik and about 200 other prisoners were sent to be forced labourers on the Suka Luwei rubber plantation in the Bangun Purba sub regency, in the regency of Deli Serdang. It was very cold there because it was up on the slopes of Mount Barisan. This is how Wardik described his experience on the rubber plantation:

We were given a hoe and a scythe. We had to clear the jungle and hoe. Each person had to finish four plots called gawang which measured four by six metres. So that meant one person had to clear and hoe 96 square metres. When it was done, you were paid 25 rupiah per gawang. If you did only this and no more, you were given only two ounces of rice. So prisoners had to work extra hard to get any extra.

After working for six days, hunger mixed with exhaustion. There were absolutely no plants growing in the jungle that we could eat. Luckily there were centipedes and scorpions as big as your hand which tasted delicious. If you put them over a fire they were like barbequed prawn. We got rice only by working extra hard.

One day I got an idea. Every morning, I would move the marker that the plantation people had placed back four gawang. That meant that if I cleared and hoed eight gawang, it was counted as 12. Six was the basic requirement, but the other six would be counted as extra 25 rupiah per gawang, so I would earn 150 rupiah a day. Not all of the other prisoners wanted to copy what I did. They were afraid of being found out, for indeed the punishment would definitely be extremely severe. One of the prisoners was once too weak to finish just his required six gawang, so then we were all made to run back to Suka Luwei carrying our hoes and scythes on our backs. This was a distance of eight kilometres.

Rats and snakes were also a source of food. If we chased them together, we usually managed to catch between four and eight rats.

I was a forced slave labourer at Suka Luwei for three and a half months. I had had enough. I approached the new guard and asked if I could be sent back to Tanjung Kasau prison. He said I had to have a reason. I had to find a reason. I had no answer to this, so I asked him, ‘like what?’ He suggested that the next day I resist the plantation assistant who helped supervise our work.

Hit the assistant, Mesin Tarigan, if necessary. He is bound to report. And then you are bound to be punished. Only then can you be sent back to Tanjung Kasau, for hitting the assistant.’ I followed his advice to the letter. Twenty other people were also accused of joining in the fight. Twenty of us were summoned and punished. We were beaten and had to crawl 100 metres, and told to walk back to the barracks. I was punished by being moved to Tanjung Kasau.

*   *   *   *

Wardik was back in Tanjung Kasau for only two days before 30 people, including him, were listed to be moved yet again. The Camp Commander said it was only as temporary replacement workers. Wardik explained.

The Naga Timbul plantation was in Deli Serdang regency. The nearest city was Tanjung Morawa, about fifteen kilometres away from the plantation. The pay at the plantation was 100 rupiah a day for clearing the plantation ditches. They had not been cleared for eight years. There were no barracks there, as was usually the case. We prisoners were housed in three empty cabins.

The Contractor, Menghong, had bought the prisoners’ labour from the authorities. Dirt cheap. Cheaper than slaves. We ate wild green plants like fern, swamp cabbage and water lettuce that grew beneath the oil palms. There were lots of different kinds of fish, eels and even soft-shell turtles in the irrigation ditches that were delicious to eat.

Every day, the prisoners would have to walk at least five kilometres. At five thirty in the morning they would have to leave and would not finish until five thirty in the evening. Rain or sickness were no reasons not to work. It was day in and day out as the contractor ordered.

There was a village near the plantation, called Naga Rejo. In the past it had been a large village, but in 1969 half of the area of nine villages had been seized by the plantation and planted with palm oil. According to the villagers, they were given no compensation. The fate of Naga Rejo was the same as Wardik’s village. Wardik recounted,

I often traded the fish I caught for cassava or coconut. Almost every afternoon when we went through the village, someone would give us bananas, cassava or vegetables.

One day we were ordered to leave for the area of Galang. It was still early morning mist as the truck went through the Batu Lokong plantation towards Petumbukan. As we went over a bridge, Legimin leaned in close and said that there were hundreds of friends buried in the river bed. “This is Snake River”, he said, “they killed my uncle here. Over there is the village of Pulau Gambar. All the people taken from Pulau Gambar were killed right here in this river.”

Wardik and the other prisoners were often sent to work on other plantations, doing Menghong’s contracted work. Even though they were working elsewhere, in the evenings they would be taken back to Naga Timbul plantation.

Four years passed like this, moving from one plantation to the next, doing forced labour. In October 1974, all the prisoners who had been sent to work on the plantations had to return to Tanjung Kasau detention centre. Wardik was moved from there to the Sukamulia detention centre. After seven months there, he was moved back to Tanjung Kasau again, this time as preparation for release. Before his release, he was permitted to visit his mother who was extremely weak. She asked her son Wardik to feed her. Five days later Wardik’s sister, San came and brought the news that their mother had died. San told him his mother’s last words for Wardik were, ‘don’t give up easily.’

On 20 December 1977, the first batch of prisoners was released at a ceremony attended by Sudomo, Commander of the Kopkamtib (Komando Operasi Pemulihan Keamanan dan Ketertiban, Command for the Restoration of Security and Public Order). Wardik was not included in this batch, but he attended the ceremony as a spectator and then had to go back to prison.

In April 1978, there was a second batch of releases, this time all those from north Sumatra, except for those who had been tried. Wardik had no desire to return to his village after his release. His friend suggested that Wardik go to his brother-in-law Bandi’s place, and then they could find a house to rent together.

On 19 May 1978, it was announced that all remaining prisoners would be released. That night there was a celebration in the prison complex. There was a performance of traditional Javanese comic drama (ludruk) by the Indra Pura ludruk group.

This time, the prisoners were to be released at the Regional Military Police headquarters on Jalan Sena in Medan. At seven in the morning dozens of trucks went in convoy taking the prisoners from Tanjung Kasau to the Military Police complex. Almost all the prisoners had family there to meet them. And then, the field in front was quiet, almost deserted, with just a few officials wandering around.

Wardik was alone. He had a knapsack with a few clothes slung over his shoulder. He was confused. The space was frightening, and he had no idea which way to go – north or west was all the same. He had once lived in Medan, the provincial capital of North Sumatra. And then, unexpectedly, he heard someone call his name. His brother-in-law Bandi, on his bicycle, was approaching. He propped up his bike. He did not know that Wardik had been released. Just that morning quite by chance he heard on the national radio (RRI) that there was to be a release ceremony of all prisoners that very morning.

‘Right now, Brother, just come home with me. Then you can decide where you want to go. And if you don’t want anything to do with your older sister, well, worry about that later,’ Bandi said.

*   *   *   *

Released from isolation, Wardik now felt more isolated than ever. He had a fear of crowds. After two days at his sister Yus’s place, his brother-in-law Bandi took him to his sister San’s place in Martubung. He stayed one night there. His sister’s husband Mansyur told lots of stories about how busy they were now with their animals. The younger brothers and sisters Santo, Ambran and Subali helped out, but at the same time they were another burden. There were also the nephews and nieces, San’s children, Agus, Maisih, Dinah and Jety.

Wardik ended up finding his friend Basiman who had been detained with him but released in 1974. He had opened a small wood-carving business, and he offered Wardik some work.

But not even one month passed before there were problems. When Basiman went out, it was his wife who was boss. Wardik could not stand her nagging and complaining and so he resigned. He still got some orders like making bed-head designs, which he could do at home. He also took the opportunity to go back to his village and visit his mother’s grave.

On the way back to Medan after visiting his mother’s grave, all the passengers got off the train at Medan station and Wardik got off last. He had nowhere to go. Didn’t know which way to go. He walked along with his knapsack slung over his shoulder, containing just a few clothes and a pair of rubber sandals. Aimless, he ended up in front of the post office. In front of the post office was Merdeka Square, with an open pavilion. Wardik headed there. During the day he would look for work and at night go and sleep in the pavilion. There were many stalls in front of the post office, selling cigarettes, postage stamps, revenue stamps, newspapers and magazines. One morning he went over to the cigarette seller. Wardik had got to know him because he bought his cigarettes there every day. The seller got Wardik started selling newspapers and magazines at the railway station. He did that for two months.

One evening the train came in from Rantau Prapat and the passengers got off. While Wardik was busy selling newspapers, he heard someone call him. It was not his name that was being called, but the name of the newspaper he was selling, but he knew that voice well. ‘Rohana!’ he said. She was surprised, and did not recognise him. ‘It’s me, Wardik’, he said. Rohana invited him to come and visit. So the very next morning he went over. After telling her his experiences and his current situation, he asked whether it would be possible to stay at her place for a while. Rohana and her husband Pardi agreed, as long as Wardik contributed to food costs.

Wardik then asked his older sisters and brothers-in-law to help find a friend of his, Zul Iskandar, who had also been detained. Zul had once told him that when he was released he could give him some gardening work. Prior to the 1965 incident, Zul had been a journalist for the daily newspaper Harian Harapan. He could write, sculpt and was very good at landscaping. The very next day Wardik was working alongside Zul, gardening. In the evenings he would go back to Rohana’s place. When his friend Zul had no work to offer him, Wardik would find other odd jobs. The important thing was to give Rohana regular money for food.

He lived there with Rohana and her husband at the edge of the Sutomo complex for a year. Then he heard that there was an art studio offering work. He went over and was given a job and allowed to stay at the studio. The studio, called ‘Sanggar Murni’ was owned by Kamarudin Nasution. Even though the studio leaked when it rained, it was okay for Wardik who was happy not be dependent on others. He became calmer. But he did not forget Rohana, and sometimes went over and spent a night or two there.

Two years after his release, his older sister San started pressuring him to get married. Wardik always answered, ‘You need savings to get married. I’ve got nothing at all’.

One day he had a chance meeting with a school headmistress and her husband, both middle-aged. It was late at night, around midnight, and he was on his way home from watching an outdoor film in the Kebun Pisang football field. The headmistress’ car had broken down. Wardik went over and helped them. After cleaning the battery heads, the car started. They offered him money, but he refused to take it. They introduced themselves and the husband asked Wardik to visit them the next day. They lived at Sampali. As a result of this visit, Wardik was offered work landscaping the yard in front of the private high school (Perguruan SMA) where the woman was headmistress. They went over that very day to survey the yard, and Wardik said he would make a design.

The headmistress agreed to his design and the budget, and Wardik finished it all in one week. She suggested that the students help out with the planting as an extra-curricular activity. She also offered Wardik some work teaching painting at the school, and made him an honorary teacher. When he finished his teaching he still had to go to the studio and do his work there. When he did not have to teach, he would study art on his own.

Around this time, Wardik met a shy young woman called Elya Yuswita who lived at Sei Batang Serangan in Medan Baru, and the daughter of a policeman who had already passed away. After they had got to know each other for a while, they married. According to one of Wardik’s friends, Juah Sembiring who lived at Binjai, if the mother of the young woman had not joined her husband, who was then working at Kisaran, she too might have been arrested, like Wardik, for being a member of a leftist organisation. This was one reason that Wardik decided to marry Elya.

Wardik told the story like this:

On 29 February 1980, I got married. It was a very simple wedding, basically just a meeting of the two families. I had made a small wedding dias. There was the official solemnisation, yellow rice flour for confetti, and Arabic songs of praise. Supri and her husband Hendrik Napitupulu came, along with Anas and Rumandung. A week later I took my wife to a house I had rented for us in the village of Helvetia. So I became Elya’s husband. And she became my wife.

I continued with my work as honorary teacher and craftsman. Sometimes I would get extra work doing landscaping, fixing houses or building them, and if things were particularly good, renovating buildings. I had my friends’ addresses, and would ask their children to work with me. When Elsya was heavily pregnant, I gave up my honorary teaching work because having to spend three days there meant that I could not earn enough outside extra money. The teaching wages were minimal. So I explained the situation to the headmistress, and she was very understanding. Luckily, I got a substantial work contract that looked as though it had good prospects. My first child was born in November of the year of my marriage.

In early 1981, the headmistress came to visit me at home. She offered me a permanent teaching position. This was at the urging of the students and other teachers, and the wish of the headmistress herself. I told her how grateful I was. I knew why the students and teachers were encouraging me to become a permanent teacher. It was not just because of the extracurricular activities that I led, like art, marching band, scouts and swimming, but also because I could be a relief teacher when there were female teachers on maternity leave. The school would not have to hunt around trying to find teachers from other schools. When I was just a voluntary teacher, I often taught history and social studies for years one, two and three.

After the headmistress had left, I asked my wife Elya what she thought. I explained that my current work contract still had quite a while to go. But I could do the supervision of the workers after teaching at school. Particularly if my teaching duties were like those when I was just honorary teacher. She agreed with what I thought was the best solution.

So in early 1981, Wardik returned to the private high school, but now as permanent staff. The idea was that he would begin teaching after the papers for his official teaching contract came through. In 1996, in the second semester, Wardik signed a work contract with a contracting business building the Malibu housing complex near Polonia in Medan. His job was to coordinate and supply the labourers. Wardik decided to resign as teacher. He was never at ease anyway, because there had been the ministerial decree in 1981 from the Ministry of Home Affairs banning all former political prisoners from working as teachers, and even banning their children too. The sin was passed down to one’s descendants.

In 1999, Wardik got a contract to build a ceramics factory. ‘The salary was good. I got enough to build a simple four-roomed house. Three of the rooms were for my family. The fourth room, relatively large, was for friends from Padang Halaban who needed a place to stay when they came to Medan’, Wardik said.

*   *   *   *

Wardik has now [2010, trs] been married to Elya for eighteen years. In that time, his wife has given birth to four boys and one girl. Wardik has opportunities to meet up with his old prisoner friends when their children get married, or circumcised, or at other times. And they always have reunions at funerals, when one of their prison mates has gone to meet his Maker.

When news started going round that it looked as though Soeharto was going to fall, Wardik got into action. This is how he tells it:

I began to think, I began to ask my friends who I thought knew a lot about these things. If Soeharto fell, then would they get back their land that had been confiscated? None of them could answer this. In order to get our rights restored, we needed to organise. We needed an organisation that would be our tool to fight for our rights. This was the beginning of what I had to do – get people whose rights had been taken from them, to organise.

I had to go to Padang Halaban immediately. There I met Samiran, Sumardi and other friends. I told them that Soeharto was going to fall, and we needed to get prepared, I said that according to some activist students, it was only a matter of days before Soeharto would fall. If we were not organised, we could not get our rights restored. That’s what I told them. Sumardi said that he still had some land titles and proof of ownership. He agreed to contact others and to try to get organised. As for what form the organisation would take, we would think about that later. Samiran said that it could be anything – like a monthly arisan group. We agreed on this. I returned to Medan on the night train.

In May 1998, seven days before Soeharto fell, I held a circumcision ceremony for my third child at my house. All the friends I invited came. We all shared stories, telling each other what we knew about what was going on, and about those in power. We talked about the student movement that was going to occupy the parliament buildings in Senayan until Soeharto stepped down.

And on 21 May 1998, Soeharto finally stepped down. I immediately contacted my friends at Padang Halaban. They had made an organisation of farmers whose land had been confiscated under the Soeharto regime. It was a grouping of farmers from Padang Halaban and surrounding villages. They demanded the return of their land. Samiran was made head of the organisation. In Medan, I joined Agresu (Aliansi Gerakan Reformasi Sumatera Utara, Alliance of the North Sumatran Reformation Movement). The students and I went around drumming up awareness among the farmers that the New Order regime which had taken their land from them, had fallen. They had to unite, to oppose the tyranny of the authorities.

On 28 October 1998, the farmers’ action began. Five thousand farmers, from the regencies of Labuhan Batu, Asahan, Deli Serdang and Langkat united in a march to the Governor’s office and the regional government office. The demonstrators occupied their regional government building for the night. They said, as this was the house of the people’s representatives, they had the right to stay in their own house. That night the farmers and students made an alliance of four farmers’ groups from the four regencies that joined the demonstration. During the New Order, farmers’ organisations were banned. The group was called Gerag (Gerakan Reformasi Agraria or Movement for Agrarian Reform). The student activists said that with the formation of Gerag, the farmers’ struggle in those four regencies and in all the regencies in North Sumatra would now have the courage to stand up and no longer be afraid of the authorities.

Wardik continued enthusiastically.

The early years of the Reformation era were the years of action. These were the years of demonstrations. I joined whenever there was a farmers’ demonstration. Sometimes friends from Padang Halaban came, at least one train carriage of them, to join the demonstrations in Medan. Some of our student activist friends got shot. At the demonstration at Tanjung Morawa, nine students were treated at the Elisabeth hospital. Two or three of them were shot in the leg, or bashed with sticks. At Langkat, the farmers’ demonstration at Pancur Batu was overwhelming. So too were the demonstrations in the villages on the edges of the plantations in all the regencies in North Sumatra.

The farmers at Padang Halaban have continued their demonstrations right up to now, the current government of Susilo Bambang Yudoyono. And yet none of the land that was confiscated has been returned. As for the student activists that got us going, who knows where they are. They come about once every five years in the name of their political parties. They come to get votes for their parties and for themselves so they can sit as members of parliament, as representatives of the people, in Jakarta as well as at the province, regency and municipal levels.

But the Padang Halaban farmers keep on going, they never stop fighting for the restoration of their rights. There is a poem titled ‘Stake’ (Pancang) written by Astaman Hasibuan. It goes like this:

pancang itu bagiku
adalah janji yang kuyakini sampai hari ini dan nanti
pancang itu bagiku
adalah garis demarkasi
pancang itu bagiku
adalah senandungku

menapak matahari

To me, that stake
Is the promise I believe in
To me, that stake
Is the demarcation line
To me, that stake
Is the rhythm of my song

Walking towards the sun

Interviewers and transcribers: Astaman Hasibuan and Wardy.

Writer: Putu Oka Sukanta.

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

   by Putu Oka Sukanta