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Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

The grand scenario

The 1965 tragedy in the eyes of a Catholic

The following account was given by Dra B. Ninik S. Rahayu, M.A. (not her real name) a former university lecturer who has been active in youth organizations since she was young. She is from a traditional Javanese church-going Catholic family. After completing primary school at SD Kanisius, she continued her studies at Stella Duce junior and senior high schools, which were both run by Catholic nuns. She later studied at Gadjah Mada University, a state university, which like the schools above, is in Yogyakarta.

This interview with Dra B. Ninik S. Rahayu began as an oral interview by the PUSdEP team. But for the sake of clarity and breadth, it was continued in written form. The result of this interesting, personal account is presented below.

I am the youngest of three. My family is Catholic, and traditional Javanese. My parents were particularly religious, and so all of us were baptized when we were only one week old. I grew up in the complex of the ‘Dr Yap’ eye hospital in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, because my father was an eye specialist, an assistant to Doctor Yap. Apart from getting home education from my parents – my mother came from an aristocratic palace family whereas my father came from a farming family – I completed my primary schooling at the Kanisius primary school in Kota Baru, Yogyakarta. My junior and senior high schooling was at Stella Duce. In 1962 I graduated from Stella Duce high school and started university study in the Faculty of Economy, Law, Society and Politics at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. I took economics and sociology. I was attracted to multi-disciplinary study. I graduated in 1968.

Apart from a degree in economics and sociology, I also got a diploma from the Tarakanita Women’s Academy (AKWA). I got a few diplomas from short courses about gender, feminism and social work methodology. I studied theology at the Maryknoll School of Theology in New York, United States, and got a diploma in pastoral counselling and a Master of Arts in the field of Justice and Peace in 1984. After graduating from Gadjah Mada I taught as a non-faculty appointed lecturer in the Faculties of Economy and Law at Atma Jaya University in Yogyakarta; the Economics Department at IKIP Sanata Dharma (now Sanata Dharma University); the Faculty of Society and Politics at Widyamataram University; and at the Tarakanita Academy of Social Welfare (AKS, Akademi Kesejahteraan Sosial), all of these in Yogyakarta. Following my vocation to further justice and liberty for women, I chose Tarakanita AKS as my permanent teaching base.

I was a lecturer at AKS Tarakanita from 1968–1999. Apart from teaching there, I was also Director for 15 years (1974–1989). After I retired from AKS Tarakanira in 1999, I taught feminist sociology in the postgraduate program of the Theology Faculty at Sanata Dharma University until 2009. Apart from teaching, as a female Catholic activist I was invited by President Habibie to become a commission member of the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komisi Nasional Anti-Kekerasan terhadap Perempuan, or Komnas Perempuan) after the disturbances of May 1998, together with 16 other members. I served on that Commission until 2008 (two periods of service).

Enthusiasm for organization

From primary school, I have always liked to be in a group and to carry out activities with my friends. I knew organizations from when I started junior high school and was active in the committee of the High School Students Organization (Organisasi Siswa). My love of organizations continued when I started senior high school, and even more so when I went to university. In 1963 I was invited to be active in the Catholic Youth (Pemuda Katolik), and even got to be elected head of the Catholic Youth movement for Yogyakarta, in charge of internal organization. It was my work alongside members of the Catholic Youth that turned me into a militant activist. Apart from encouraging others to be active in the organization, I got training or ‘cadre-ization’ in the social, political and economic fields.

The ‘cadre-ization’ in Catholic Youth really turned the youth into militant activists. The slogan ‘Pro Ecclesia et Patria’ [For Church and Country’, ed.] and the call by Monsignor Alb. Suiyopranata SJ to be ‘100% Catholic and 100% Indonesian’ turned us into activists in Catholic Youth who were enthusiastic at organizing and at politics. The socio-political situation supported this spirit of Indonesian youth because President Sukarno would periodically give youth courses in politics and speechmaking. In President Sukarno’s eyes, the youth were one pillar alongside women, workers, farmers and fishermen. According to Sukarno these groups were the strong supporting pillars of the Indonesian nation. This is why Sukarno gave them such attention. I myself once attended one of Sukarno’s courses in speechmaking, and I also attended a course in politics for women together with my mother – who was a member of the Indonesian Catholic Women’s organization (Wanita Katolik Republik Indonesia, WKRI).

My enthusiasm for organizations continues today. Apart from being a lecturer, I am also active in the mass women’s organization, the Perkumpulan Solidaritas Perempuan (SP) or Women’s Solidarity for Human Rights. I became the head of the executive body of that organization from 1998–2002. I have always been part of people’s movements, like the Movement for Consumer Justice (Gerakan Keadilan Konsumn). In the field of theology I am the Regional Asian Coordinator of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT).

Caring about people

When the G-30-S tragedy happened, I was 22 years old (I was born on 21 August 1943) and still studying in the Economics Faculty of Gadjah Mada University. The situation on campus was very confused. Lectures stopped. Some students who were members of CGMI [Consentrasi Gerakan Mahasiswa Indonesia, Indonesian Student Movement Concentration] and lecturers who were members of HSI (Himpunan Sarjana Indonesia, Association of Indonesian Graduates) were arrested because they were accused of being involved in G-30S.

Between 1960–1965, people’s living situation, especially in Yogyakarta where I lived, was really hard. It was difficult to get food and clothing. Our family could no longer afford to eat rice. We had to eat corn and cassava because they were cheaper than rice. People often got a share of bulgur rice, as aid from the Church. The social and economic situation was very bad. Ordinary people were truly going through a social and economic crisis. Together with some friends from the womens organization Gerwani and people from our neighbourhood, we formed a buying cooperative and a pawning cooperative. We shared out kerosene, rice and sugar so that everyone could get a share of these basics. The effect of this situation of crisis was to make people very easily swayed, for instance to provocation about the ‘Kabir’ or capitalist bureaucrats. In the villages and kampung, the evils of the ‘kabir’ was constantly being drilled into the ears of the people. The ‘kabir’, because of their self-interest, were said to be the cause of the sufferings of the people.

In this situation of social, economic and political crisis in the 1960s, the position of the Catholic Church was also threatened. However the Church leaders and Catholic political figures realized the situation. For instance, Mr I. J. Kasimo was absolutely opposed to Sukarno’s concept of NASAKOM (the unity of nationalism, religion and communism). He thought that these three elements could never be forced to unite politically, because there was a fundamental difference of principle between them. It seemed and it felt as though that the communist leaders, particularly in the legislative and executive, were forcing their will and marginalizing the figures from the Religion faction. The Nationalists were split because they had differing views. But the Church continued to carry out its mission responding to the social and economic crisis. Through Church organizations and the congregation, the Church continued to distribute food and clothing from foreign aid (bulgur wheat and used clothing). Catholic organizations like the Catholic teachers’ organization, Catholic Youth, Indonesian Catholic Students (PMKRI) and the Indonesian Catholic Women all responded to the crisis with caution. The Catholic Party, Catholic Youth and Indonesian Catholic Students were prominent and extremely active in their response to the political situation.

Some Catholic leaders in the field of politics, community and education were actively and routinely distributing information and working closely with young Catholics. As an activist in Catholic Youth, I could sense that the social and political situation was critical, but the stand of the Church was extremely clear, namely, be careful and keep giving financial assistance to the faithful. Father A. Sumandar SJ and Father A. Jayasiswaya Pr, as moderators for Catholic Youth, always warned us to be careful and not easily drawn into the people’s movement which was on the boil. In the villages, the Indonesian Peasants Front (Barisan Tani Indonesia, BTI) and in the towns the Pemuda Rakyat (People’s Youth) were increasing their activities. There were showing that they were the ones who were defending the people. This ‘show of force’ was drawing in other mass youth organizations including Catholic Youth, Marhaen Youth, Ansor Youth and so forth. The Indonesian Women’s Movement (Gerwani) was carrying out activities in social, economic, education and cultural fields. With their activities of collective purchase of basic necessities, education for children, and extremely active cultural programs, they were showing that they cared for the common people.

Reading the situation

Towards late 1965 the political situation was heating up. Conflict was happening everywhere, between all kinds of groups, both internal conflict within a group and between groups. Conflict also afflicted the Catholic congregation in Yogya, particularly towards Catholic leaders who were not displaying their Catholicism. The Catholic Youth in Yogyakarta, for instance, did not trust the Catholic representative who was appointed to represent Catholics in the Yogyakarta local administration. Catholic Youth published an advertisement in the daily newspaper Kedaulatan Rakyat stating that it did not recognise the said official as the representative of Yogyakarta Catholics. This caused big problems for Catholic Youth, and the Yogyakarta regional committee in particular. To resolve the issue, I was sent to Jakarta to meet the two top leaders of the Catholic Party, namely Mr Kasimo and Mr Frans Seda, to explain the root of the problem.

I left for Jakarta on 1 October 1965 on the 7 a.m. train from Tugu Station. But before I left, my mother had heard the news on national radio (RRI) and told me to be careful because in Jakarta there had been a coup d’etat by a Council of Generals. Without any fear I left for Jakarta together with Sulanjana, a fellow Catholic Youth member who was also in the navy.

In the train, I was sitting next to a man who had a transistor radio and was constantly listening to the news. When we stopped in Cirebon, the man disappeared, but he left his radio and bag behind. Then I began to feel that something was not right, and this was linked to the news about the coup d’etat by the Council of Generals in Jakarta. I became even more nervous when we arrived at Gambir station in Jakarta, because it was already full of soldiers.

I was going to stay at my uncle’s place at the Halim complex, but had to cancel this plan because the approach to that area was blocked by the army. So Sulanjana and I went to the Catholic Centre (Pusat Rohani Katolik) in Jalan Gunung Sahari, Jakarta. There we were met by Father Wijoyo S.J., the coordinator of the centre. He was angry with us for coming to Jakarta at such a critical time. We were permitted to stay for only one night and advised to return quickly to Yogyakarta. But because we had not yet gone to meet the central leadership of the Catholic Party, we moved and stayed at a relative’s place in Kemayoran. But my relative was angry at me because evidently Sulanjana was carrying a gun, even though that very day there had been an inspection at my relative’s housing complex. Aware that we were indeed facing a critical situation, Sulanjana went off alone. And after that I didn’t know what happened to him.

At my relative’s house I witnessed the news about the murder of the generals. We we all aware that this was all the work of the Communist Party, but we did not dare to speak openly. Together with my relative, I witnessed the burial of the generals together with the crowds packing the streets leading to the cemetery. After I had been in Jakarta for three days and still not managed to meet the central leadership of the Catholic Party, my relatives told me to go home to Yogya. They could no longer be responsible for my safety when I continued to go out of the house trying to meet Mr Kasimo and Mr Frans Seda. So finally I went back to Yogya, alone.

When I got back to Yogya, I saw that the tense situation had affected friends because of the disappearance of Pak [Brigidier General] Katamso and Pak [Lieutenant Colonel] Sugiyono, the Regiment Commander and Commander of the Regional Military Command (KODIM) in Yogyakarta. The atmosphere became tenser still when the bodies of the two were discovered at the army complex in Kentungan, Yogyakarta, in a dreadful state. And from that time on, our situation as activists in Catholic Youth was no longer safe. Over and over again Pemuda Rakyat members came to my house looking for me. My mother always protected me and said that I was not at home. I and other Catholic activist friends from other Catholic organizations had to hide and hold regular meetings to monitor the situation.

Dragged by the current

The political situation became more and more unclear. The news published in the Jakarta newspapers strongly influenced the way people thought, even though it was often different to the reality outside of Jakarta. The terrifying accusations made of the Communist Party were really frightening. Reading the newspapers, listening to stories of friends’ experiences and experiencing strange events for myself, made me aware that something truly extraordinary had happened. I experienced a terrifying incident when I saw with my own eyes how red-bereted soldiers murdered a group of people on the banks of the Wedi river in the Klaten area, central Java.

At the time I was going to meet my fiancé who worked in a bank in Bayat, Klaten. I was very worried because my fiancé had not returned home for two weeks, even though he usually came home every Saturday. All along the way I saw trees that had been cut to block the road. When I got to the Wedi river I witnessed mass murder. The bodies of the victims were just thrown all along the river. The Wedi River is a river of sand, and has no water. According to the people who live nearby, the water flows underneath the sand. My friend who was an economics student witnessed another terrifying incident. His mother was the village head (lurah) in a village in Pati, Central Java, and was killed in front of him, his father, and brothers and sisters, because his mother was a member of Gerwani. There were many other terrifying incidents that happened between October and December 1965.

Confronted with that tense situation, we Catholic activists kept track of socio-political issues through discussion and analysis of the facts. We got together regularly. For safety, we kept changing places. The meetings were always attended by Catholic activists from mass organizations and political organizations. Even though we made a critical analysis of the social and political situation, the mass media was so successful in shaping public opinion that we tended to believe that it was the Communist Party creating the confusion. Because of this, when the flow of the political situation came to dissolving the Communist Party, we Catholic activists were dragged into the current, and we joined in the demonstrations by KAMI (Kesatuan Aksi Mahasiswa Indonesia, Indonesian Student Action Union), KAPPI (Kesatuan Aksi Pemuda dan Peladjar Indonesia, Indonesian Youth and Student Action Union) and KAWI (Kesatuan Aksi Wanita Indonesia, Indonesian Women’s Action Union). We joined the Nationalist and Islamic organizations. The political situation led Catholics to support the banning of the Communist Party, without much clear thinking.

A grand scenario

As an activist in Catholic Youth I joined in the demonstrations demanding the banning of the Communist Party and organizations under its umbrella. At the time, I felt that there was a very strong political current pushing the people and everyone to agree to the dissolving of the Communist Party and its allies. The mass media, whether newspapers, the radio or television, all had a strong role in shaping public opinion, and they all blamed the Communist Party. But as a Catholic activist who had previously worked very closely with Gerwani activists responding to the economic crisis with social, educational and economic activities, I felt that there had been violence and injustice towards people who were members of organizations under the Communist Party umbrella. Particularly when the arrests and murder of people considered to be involved with communist organizations went into a frenzy. A friend of my father’s who had replaced my father as head of the Health Workers Union for Yogyakarta was arrested. Even though he was a Protestant.

The arrest of my neighbourhood friends who had joined Gerwani really disturbed me. Two women who were active Gerwani members and had worked with me in the Kampung Cooperative were also arrested. I was extremely angry and could not accept this. So I emboldened myself to defend them, even though I then had to become the target of the officers at the Military Police headquarters in Yogyakarta. With Father A. Jayasiswaya Pr. (the Catholic Youth chaplain) and Mr F.X. Sastraharjana (a policeman who often helped us) testifying for me, I managed to get those colleagues of mine freed.

My concern that something was not right in the way the 1965 tragedy was handled was answered when I was asked to assist Father P. Dr Blot SJ in providing support for the detainees’ families housed at Wisma Realino, Yogyakarta. From the stories of their experiences, I became more convinced that there was a grand scenario behind the 1965 tragedy. Later, my conviction was confirmed when I was invited by Dr. Benedict Anderson to a discussion at Cornell University, USA, in 1982 and read documents about the political upheaval held in the Indonesia section of its library.

Being rational

As a Catholic, my views were then still shaped by Church teachings which separate the political and non-political as a dichotomy. Because of this, I am not surprised when the Church and Church leaders seem to ‘distance themselves’ from activities with a whiff of politics, like making statements or endorsing one particular political stand. Our political behaviour was led by the Catholic Party, which we believed received the blessing of the Church. This is why, when the Catholic Party supported the banning of the Communist Party, we went along with it. [At that time, mass organizations had to fall under the protection of political parties. The term for this was ‘onderbouw’, ed.] On a personal level, many Catholics - laity, priests, brothers, nuns - were directly involved in humanitarian work, even though not many of them dared to do this openly.

The Catholic Church, both its leaders and the congregation, preferred to react to the 1965 tragedy with humanitarian services. As an activist of a youth organization, I drastically reduced my activities in practical politics. Even more so after I was arrested by the police and held for two days at the Yogyakarta regional police station because I had to explain the destruction that had taken place when we held demonstrations together with other youth organizations. My name was listed by police intelligence for surveillance. Because of this, I had to act rationally so that I would not have a stupid death.

In 1965, according to my observation, the people of Yogyakarta were on the whole consumed with worry because of the terrifying incidents that were going on in the area around. For instance, in the village of Manisrenggo, to the east of Prambanan. That village was well known as a place where people accused of being involved with the Communist Party were murdered. People were anxious because every day they were confronted with news about people who had disappeared, were arrested, murdered. News about wells in certain villages being used as mass graves was the sort of thing served up every day. Even so, social life remained calm and there was no outstanding upheaval.

The power of the international economy

As I observed it, there was a change in the social, economc and political situation in Indonesia after the 1965 tragedy. The change began with violence and repressive politics by the military. In the social field, people who were initially confused, afraid of the communists, began to settle and put trust in the military, especially the army which appeared as the ‘protector’ of the people. People whose opinions had been shaped to believe that the Communist Party was the dalang of the 1965 tragedy, came to see the army as the ‘saviour’. The bureacracy began to be changed from civil to military leaders. Almost all the posts of governor and bupati throughout Indonesia were held by military. Activists who created movements at the grass roots level were suspect, kidnapped or openly arrested.

The political situation made people afraid to criticize, make social and political analysis, organize independently or carry out mass movements. The reason was that they were afraid of being accused communist. To organize required permits. Even to hold any kind of gathering involving lots of people required permits. Repressive government politics and abuse of power happened everywhere, particularly where land was concerned. The officials bought up the people’s land. Many activists of mass organizations, both social and cultural, were abducted and disappeared. I myself no longer dared to carry out organizational activities beyond my work as a lecturer, because of the inhumane violence. The military perspective began to influence society, by viewing other groups as friends or foes.

Economically, life was beginning to improve because the government started working together with capitalist countries. Overseas debt and foreign investment started flowing. This situation sparked the ‘Malari’ [15th of January disaster, trs] incident in the 1970s. This incident happened because student activists began to be critical and aware that the economic improvement that had taken place was pseudo improvement. Even so, this demonstration was quashed with military violence. The New Order government had begun to get Indonesia involved in the power of the international economy.

Capitalists also profited

The 1965 tragedy enormously harmed people who were accused of being involved, even though as members of organizations they knew absolutely nothing about any plans for that incident. Identity cards of former members of the Communist Party and related organizations were given the code ‘ET’ meaning ex-political detainee. They were discriminated against and ostracized. Activists from social organizations were also harmed because many organizations were frozen or dissolved. People were not free to form organizations. Even women were afraid to organize because they might be accused of being Gerwani. Women, youth, farmers and workers who had previously been active and militant at organizing decreased in number or completely stopped. With the people themselves being afraid to organize, the government formed organizations like the Family Welfare Movement (PKK, Pembinaan Kesejahteraan Keluarga), and Dharma Wanita for women. The government also formed organizations for workers, farmers and youth, and even made their own government version of Cooperatives.

The party that profited from the incident was the military, and in particular the army. Complete power was in their hands. The government worked together with capitalist countries. In order to improve the economy and for development, the government opened up foreign investment. The approach was developmentalist, oriented only towards increasing the national income, without taking into account the aspect of equity. Dictatorial power made the people afraid of opposition. Repression made people so afraid they ceased being critical. In such situations, it is capitalists who benefit.

Still not daring to criticize

Indonesian politics at the time, both domestic and foreign, strengthened the structural poverty that makes many people suffer. Even though the reality showed that there was a group of people living extravagantly. The people were aware that there was injustice. The gulf between rich and poor got wider and wider, and social envy was the result. In this kind of situation the people are easily incited and manipulated by certain interests. In the 1960s, the suffering of the people spread and got worse. Soekarno’s ideal of ‘standing on our own two feet’ was getting further from reality. The economy was in decline, taking into account that Indonesia is extremely large and its society, economy and culture extremely varied. The people’s suffering seemed to be manipulated by certain political forces for agitation. Campaigns kept droning on about who had created this suffering, not what had caused it. Emphasizing the ‘who’ opened the door to scapegoating certain elements, and these elements had to be opposed, killed and annihilated.

My experience studying Liberation Theology from Latin America has made me able to understand that the people’s situation in Third World countries, including Indonesia, was similar to that in Latin American countries. Oh yes, according to the Asia Africa Conference held in Bandung in 1955, the Third World was the Alternative World.

Structural poverty cannot be solved with charitable alms aid. In Latin America there is also structural poverty, and the State and Church leaders approached it in a charitable way. But the huge difference between Indonesia and Latin America is in the people’s awareness. In Latin America, particularly Brazil, people are encouraged to think about their experience of life and to reflect upon their faith. At the grass roots level, people form Base Communities to discuss life suffering and to reflect upon this with faith. So this reflection can direct emotion and the ability to think clearly. They are encouraged to search for what causes poverty, and then encouraged to understand poverty as a communal concern in order to then be encouraged to search communally for solutions. In Indonesia, though, people were herded into looking for scapegoats who created this poverty. The result was the people’s anger that drove anarchic action, attacking groups accused of causing the people’s suffering. As we know, the problem of poverty and oppression is extremely loaded with emotional baggage that is easily ignited and which easily explodes.

In the 1960s, Catholics including myself still had a narrow view of politics. There was a dichotomy between political activities and religious ones. Church teaching that shaped this view made me have to really separate political and religious activities. Politics was seen as wordly power. Because of this, I was not surprised when in the years 1965–1966 the Church seemed to be ‘silent’, so that Catholics also were ‘quiet’. And many Catholics even threatened other Catholics who were carrying out political activity outside of political parties. For instance, the laity criticized priests who signed a statement by ‘40 prominent figures’ about their concern for the people of the province of Yogyakarta, when Cardinal J. Darmoyuwono joined the Ratu Adil [Just King trs] movement that upheld justice and peace. And there was the case of Sawito.35 There are still many Catholics who make cynical comments about the prophetic works of this teacher. Church teachings like that, which the people accept, make Catholics afraid of standing up and voicing truth, of defending justice and fighting for peace.

The other extremely important lesson for me was the extraordinary role that the mass media plays in shaping opinions in society. News broadcast via newspapers, the radio and television evidently are so easily considered to be the truth, even though most of that news leads people astray without them being aware of it. This sort of thing continued throughout the New Order. As a result, society has become afraid of being critical.

World movement

Learning from my own experience in the climate of the 1965 tragedy, I became aware that the idea of there being a dichotomy between politics and religion is actually not realistic. I am aware and better understand the radical feminist concept that says ‘the personal is political’. Meaning that aspects of personal-public, domestic-public, wordly-divine and so forth have to be viewed as a whole, and not as a dichotomy. Because of this, my understanding of politics has changed. Politics is not merely the grab for power, but how we take part in determining decisions intended to make an orderly livelihood so that that humans and ecology are mutually beneficial for the creation of justice and peace. To get rid of viewing politics and religion as a dichotomy, we need awareness that politics and reflection on faith are one whole. The process of ‘Action-Reflection-Further Action’ is a process of being political in order to bring about social, political, economic and cultural change.

The work of Christ in proclaiming the Kingdom of God and in urging the people to repent is not yet over. Because of this, those of us who claim to be the disciples of Jesus are duty bound to continue this work. Continuing the work of Jesus cannot happen if we are not political. Spreading the Kingdom of God means creating a new world that is just and peaceful, because only God can be King. The way Jesus chose to carry out His work was the people’s movement with the method of non-violent action. The movement of social, economic, political and cultural change towards a new world has to be carried out with political activity.

In order to remain a loyal disciple of Jesus, I am still a member of this movement. In the world there have been a series of peoples’ movements with ideals of bringing about a ‘new world’. World movements are carried out by individuals and institutions or by organizations which participate in the World Social Forum (WSF). This world movement with its slogan ‘another world is possible’ began in Porto Allegre, Brazil, and has now spread all over the world in order to encourage people to hold ideals of a just and peaceful world. This movement, which anyone can join without discrimination, is always accompanied by theological reflection by world theologians who are part of the World Forum on Theology and Lieberation (WFTL).

I want to urge all followers of Jesus to join this world movement.

35 Sawito Kartowibowo was a mystic who claimed to be the ratu adil or just king. He was supported by various political and religious leaders. In 1976 he was accused of attempting to topple President Suharto, put on trial and found guilty of subversion.

Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

   by Dr. Baskara T. Wardaya SJ