Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge

Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

Daughter and wife of political prisoners

Unlike most of the other informants, our following narrator was not a direct victim of those in power in the 1965 tragedy. Like Ongko Widjaja earlier, she was never imprisoned, interrogated or tortured because she had been accused of involvement with what happened in 1965. Even so, she suffered greatly as a result of the incident.

There is a footnote to Sutini’s narrative. First, some names are deliberately changed to safeguard the privacy of those referred to. Secondly, Sutini and her family are informants in the documentary 40 Years of Silence: An Indonesian Tragedy directed by Dr. Robert Lemelson from the University of California-Los Angeles (2009). This film has been shown in Los Angeles, Sarajevo, Yogyakarta, Jakarta, New York, and some other cities world wide.

It was August 1966. In my kampung (neighbourhood) there were celebrations planned for Indonesian Independence Day [17 August, trs]. That night, the local kampung head, Pak RK – we called them ‘Rukun Kampung’ at the time, now they are called ‘Rukun Warga’ – came to the house to order my father to play in the gamelan to accompany a ketoprak performance. Ketoprak was a traditional performance that was really popular then. My father refused because on that date he had something else to do out of town. Then Pak RK got really mad and stormed out of the house. Two hours later he came back, this time together with the policeman who lived in the next kampung.

The policeman’s name was Mr Hilman and actually he was also a friend of my father’s. But strangely, he forced my father to obey Pak RK’s order and challenged him, saying, ‘if you don’t want to, it means that you are a communist. You just wait and see!’ About two weeks after that, my father was ‘scooped’ at his office. He was put into Wirogunan prison in Yogyakarta for four years, before being sent to Nusa Kambangan island in Central Java. He was held there for nine years, so in total he was in prison for thirteen years.

Because I was poor

Before he went to prison, my father had been a wise neighbourhood leader. Every time there was an election, my father was re-elected as ‘Pak Rukun Tetangga’. When they were building the local junior high school (SMP Negeri 7), my father sacrificed a lot. Every month, my father’s office salary was donated to pay the workmen building the school. They also dug up father’s yard to make bricks, 10,000 of them. My father also helped the process of firing the bricks. He contributed all this with the understanding that in the future when his children went to that school they would not have to pay. But, what can you do, after my father was put in prison, even my older sister who had just gone into second class there, was expelled. She was not permitted to go to school because she was ‘the daughter of a communist’.

After my father went to prison, my family suffered dreadfully. Mother had a baby just six months old and she could not work. Everything of value was sold for food and to send food to our father in prison. And on top of that, mother had to give 10 kilograms of rice to the officials. If she didn’t, she was not allowed to send food to father. If mother sent a basket with 10 eggs, all that ever got to my father was three spoonfuls of rice, with not a single egg because they had all been taken by other inmates.

When my mother had nothing left, the oldest, my oldest sister, went to live with a relative in Tanjung Pinang, Riau, near Sumatra. My second sister went to stay with a relative of my father’s in Jakarta. As for me, as number three, I stayed with mother and became the oldest child in the house. I was just 12 years old. I had to look for food with my mother. My younger sister, number four, had to mind the baby at home. Every day I would go with my mother looking for bamboo leaves to sell to people who make soya bean cakes (tempe gembus). Every day I had to walk a very long way. We would walk as far as Bantul market in the south. When I was thirsty, I had to drink water from the well. I had no moment to feel the exhaustion. When we had sold the bamboo leaves, the money was not much. Not even enough to buy half a kilo of rice. All we could buy was half a kilo of dried sweet potato (gaplek) which we pounded to make porridge.

Life went on like this year after year until the youngest, number 6, got sick. She was thin, and her legs all bent. Maybe this is what is called malnutrition. Seeing my family like this, my mother’s relatives did not want to help. Even though, when my family was still well off, my mother and father had always helped them. Now they just insulted my family. Luckily, one day when my mother and I were leaving to go looking for bamboo leaves we met Bu Daryo whose husband was also in prison. Bu Daryo told my mother to pay a visit to the priest at the Catholic church in Kemetiran, Yogyakarta, and tell him about our situation.

At the church, all of us – mother and the children – were met by Father Lim. Then we were all taken to the clinic to be checked. We were given medicine once a week without having to pay. We were also given milk, so that my younger sister who had malnutrition got better. Romo Lim gave us an address and told us to go and see Father De Blot at the Catholic high school in Jl Trenggono, Yogyakarta, and give him a letter from Father Lim. When my mother and I went to find Father De Blot, my mother’s relatives said that we were shaming our family because this was begging.

But after my mother and I met Father De Blot and got help from Panti Rapih hospital, namely two kilograms of milk powder a month, and once a week some cracked wheat, flour and clothing from the brothers at the Pangudi Luhur school, our relatives changed their tune. Now, every time we came back from getting our quota, they rushed over to ask for their share of it.

I worked as a house servant from the age of 14. Every payday, my mother would come to the house of the family where I worked to ask for money for food for my younger sisters, and for their school costs. As soon as I was adult, my mother married me off to someone I did not know. After we were married, I found out that my husband was also an ex political prisoner. So both my father and my husband were former political prisoners. My heart, which had already suffered enough, was hurt even more when I found this out. And that was not all. It turned out that my husband had committed incest with his younger sister and had a son by her. I felt totally shattered! What’s more, whenever my husband had problems with his relatives, it was always me and the children who became the targets of his anger. He was a cruel man. If he tortured me and the children, it was as though he was torturing an animal. He used whatever he had in his hand to hit me. Many of my friends told me to leave him, but I knew I could not do this because I had married in the Catholic Church. So because of that no matter how bitter it was, I had to put up with it.

When my younger sisters who I had supported through school saw all this, they didn’t take pity on me – instead they hated me. Their reason was because I was poor. My youngest sister, who was only 6 months old when father went to prison and was now well off, did not want to know much about my life. My other sisters were not friendly either. And their children shunned my children.

Nowhere to live

In 1988 I began living in Kalasan, to the east of Yogyakarta. My son was just five years old and I was four months pregnant with my second child. When my second child was just three months old, there was a neighbour who deliberately put a broody hen and the nest against the wall of our house. It was full of lice. She put that nest there deliberately so that the lice would enter our bamboo house, exactly where we slept.

So we all got bitten by lice. The worst affected was the baby, who was covered with bites from top to toe. This was not for just a few weeks. It went on from when the baby was 3 months until he was one and a half. It was only then that he got better. Every single day the older boy was teased by neighbours. When he was in the third class of primary school, some adults tried to drown him in the village spring. They started off pretending to help him learn to swim. Then someone held on to him while someone else held his head under until he went unconscious because his stomach was full of water. Luckly, when this happened someone good to me found out about it, even though this person in public pretended not to know me and never greeted me. But whenever there was someone plotting to do something bad to my family he always let me know via my friend in the next kampung.

Almost every single day someone was tormenting my children. One day, after my youngest son came home from kindergarten, he went off to play with four other children. When he got there, the other kids started kicking him. When he fell, they stomped on him. When the teacher walked by and saw what was happening, the teacher told my son to go home. When my older son was in second class of junior high school and waiting at six in the morning for the school bus, crouched by the roadside, suddenly the son of the village head went by on a motor bike on his way to school. Out of the blue, he stopped near my son and started kicking his head. A few days later he did the same thing.

On Sunday morning I went to the market. When I got home I saw that my eldest had been tortured by people in the village. They had accused him of stealing a bicycle and forced him to admit that he was the one who had stolen things that had gone missing in the village like bicycles, chickens, neon lights and other stuff. My son was stipped naked and ordered to walk on his hands, while they whipped and beat him. He had to do this all the way from the guard post (pos ronda) to the next village – about 200 metres. Whenever he fell, they stomped on him with army boots. Then he had to walk again while being beaten and stomped on until he got to the next village. It was neighbours doing the torturing, but actually those neighbours were two army guys, a policeman, and an airforce guy. And there was someone called Gombloh. It was Gombloh who was the real thief.

When I got home from the market I saw my son’s back and face full of cuts and bruises. I felt totally crushed. Even with all this, I tried to accept it patiently. When my son recovered, there was a young man who pretended to be nice to him. He invited my son to look for sand in the river. He said that if they got sand, they could sell it and divide the money between them. My son had to do all the work while he just slept on the river bank. After they got two hauls of sand, it was sold. One haul was worth Rp 13,000. But oddly, my son was given only Rp 2,000. When I found out, I forbade my son to get sand from that river. He could find it in another river close to home, and could get two hauls all by himself.

One day at around eight in the morning, the son of Mr Mkr, a neighbour, arrived in a Kijang car. He told me he wanted to pick up sand that he had already paid for. I allowed him to do that, because I thought my son had sold the sand to him. It turned out he hadn’t. So I had to go to Mr Mkr’s house to sort this out. Mr Mkr’s son made up a story that the person who sold sand to him was that young man who had pretended to be nice to my son, and the money had been paid. My son cried. I could only try to cheer him up by saying, ‘that’s how it is, son. Let it be. Probably that sand will be taken to the grave.’

Now I don’t know whether it was a coincidence or not, but that day at around 1 in the afternoon when I was about to take my youngest to Sunday school, I saw people from the village had gathered in front of that young man’s house. Many were crying. I asked what was going on, why all those people were there. The people I asked said that the young man who had taken my son’s sand had climbed a mimosa tree to get leaves to feed his cows. While up the tree, he had been electrocuted, fallen and died. At about 8 in the morning I said those words, and around 1 in the afternoon they came true.

I have never forgotten this, and it was a lesson to me. My family was always bullied, but I was patient and accepting. And it turned out that my utterances often came true. I am convinced that God is All Knowing and All Just. God will not ignore His servants. God ordered me to bear a small ‘cross’, but because I am strong, I was ordered to bear a larger cross, then a larger one still, and so on, and it turned out I was strong enough. But all my strength came from God. All the problems and suffering in my family I offered to God, and God always gave me strength. Insults, slander, torture and abuse, I could take it all patiently and with forbearance.

I should explain that the young man that died from electrocution was called Msd. His death should have been a lesson to others. But it turned out that no one was aware of it. And my son was still tormented. They used slingshots to fire marbles at his head. As a result, my son’s head bled in three places. After he stopped going to school because he often suffered from headaches with all the bullying, my son looked for sand for making bricks. Once, when he had collected a lot of sand and it was beginning to pile up, Old Man Kaum came to the river to wash his cow. Before he washed the cow, he led it around and around on the pile of sand so that it flattened totally. My son piled it up again. But Old Man Kaum led the cow around again. My son got mad, and threw stones at the cow. Old Man Kaum got mad in turn, but that time at least the argument was settled. You should know that Old Man Kaum was the grandfather of the Air Force guy I mentioned earlier.

One week after the argument with Old Man Kaum, when my son was playing at a friend’s house in another village, that air force guy came looking for him. He came with an army man. They invited my son out. As he did not think there was any problem, my son was not suspicious. But it turned out that they took him to the middle of the rice fields, where there were no people around. They tortured my son. They stamped on him. They smashed his head with a big stone. When my son passed out they left. Luckily someone going past helped him.

My son came home. When he got home he told me what had happened. I asked him whether he felt he had done anything wrong. I told him that if he had, I would not defend him, but if not, I would defend him anywhere and sort it out. He said, ‘If you don’t believe me, Mum, you might as well just kill me’. Hearing those words I knew for sure he had done nothing wrong. So I went to the Air Force office. I went to the first guardpost, then was led to the second guardpost, and then accompanied to the third guard post. There they wanted to fob me off with some payment, but I refused. I took the problem further to the Military Police Detachment, and had three lawyers with me. In the court room I was mobbed by people from my village, all of them men. They had come there. But the joke was on them because they were all ordered out. The only one allowed to stay was Mr Air Force guy himself.

The next day I left that village and went back to my parents’ house at the instruction of the Military Police. After I got on the bus, the village head and all the villagers were angry. They wanted revenge. So they destroyed my house. Every single thing in the house was looted. The bricks were all removed. The wood, the pillars, the tiles – everything gone. Now, if something like this happens, who is really the thief: my son or the villagers? Now I had nowhere to live. My son was stressed, and my youngest suffered trauma because his older brother was often tortured before his eyes, and he himself was often their powerless target.

In God’s protection

Once, the village head ordered my son to mill rice, but my son was falsely accused. There was a neighbour called Arjo Mblonot who told the wife of the village head that while doing the milling, my son had put some rice aside to sell himself. She believed him and told me what she thought my son had done. I asked her how many kilos of rice my son had taken, who had he sold them to, and whether the person who bought the rice owned the mill or was a trader. If the person who bought the rice was a trader, then what was the trader’s name, where did he or she live, and how much had they paid for it. She said that she did not know, and that she had only been told about the theft. Then I asked her who had told her. She said, well, it was just someone. I said: ‘Everyone has a name. If you do not want to say the name this means that you yourself are making the accusation.’ In the end, she said that the person who had told her was Arjo Mblonot. So I went to look for him. He was harvesting chilli peppers in the ricefield. He didn’t admit it at first, but after I asked whether he wanted to come along with me to see the wife of the village head, he confessed.

Actually, my son had agreed to help with the milling for nothing when the vilage head’s wife had asked him, but then he just ended up being wrongly accused. Because he had done nothing wrong, I went to see the village head about it. He told me to point out who it was who had accused my son, and when I said it was his own wife, he was furious and said that I was a bad person. So I told him that when his wife had made the accusation, there were witnesses. He snapped at me and asked who that witness was. I pointed to the person beside me, called Minten. I told Minten to repeat the village head’s wife’s words. When she had finished, the village head went red with anger. He stormed out.

After that, I left the village of Kalasan and went back to my home kampung where I rented my uncle’s house where my mother lived. My mother had got the electricity connected. I was the one who paid the electricity bill every month. But for some reason, after my mother died, I was ordered to leave that house even though there was still six months left on the contract. Nor was I reimbursed for the money spent on getting the electricity connected.

So then I rented my aunt’s house. Then one of my uncles sold land to my older sister who was living in Jakarta. Now I am living on that land with my younger sister. So now I am borrowing my sister’s land, but I can stay here as long as I live. When I die, I don’t know if my children will want to live here or not. I have no idea of their future.

My older son has become a street kid, because he could not stand living at home. He just could not bear to see the way my younger sisters treat me. He gets money by busking and manages to live okay. I am not ashamed of having a son who busks on the street. What is important is that he does not get into criminal activity. Even if he is a street kid, he is loyal to his friends. His friends have become his family in good times and bad. I can only pray that they will always be in God’s protection.

No more sense of inferiority

When I think about all this, sometimes I get upset and depressed. But after I joined the Friends of Mother Teresa group (KKIT, Kerabat Kerja Ibu Teresa) my spirit was renewed. I was able to share everything I had experienced in my family with the priests, brothers, and other members of the group. They made me feel that I am still seen like other people. I can even feel useful to others. Because my oldest is still traumatized, the priests let me take my younger child to the Ganjuran orphanage so that I can work and keep an eye on the older one.

After my younger son went to the Ganjuran orphanage, the sisters there put me in contact with a psychologist at the Sardjito hospital in Yogyakarta called Dr. Mahar. After examining my older son and asking him about his parents and where they lived, he and his wife came to see me and put me in touch with Dr. Robert Lemelson and his crew.66 I also ended up meeting Dr Diah Larasati.67 I was introduced to Father Baskara T. Wardaya SJ68 and other friends from the NGO Syarikat Indonesia. Now I feel that I have a place to pour out my troubles. My children also are beginning to feel safe and no longer inferior.

Reaping what you sow

To repeat, I am both the daughter and wife of political prisoners. My father was a ‘graduate’ of Nusa Kambangan island prison in central Java. I was married off to a man I did not know, and only a few months after we married did I find out that he was an ex political prisoner and ‘graduate’ of Buru island prison in Maluku. Even though my children and I lived outside prison, the physical and mental torture, the torture of body and soul that we went through, felt the same as those who were in prison.

As I have said, my older son was traumatised as a result of the physical torture he went through. My youngest has had trauma all his life. Wherever he goes, he is treated like some disgusting animal. The people who treat them like this feel that they are pure and without sin. Even though I believe in the saying that you reap what you sow.

In other words, what we do will at some stage later return to us. As I said, many of those who slandered me and tortured my children have reaped the ‘rewards’ of all those deeds of theirs.

Those who spread lies and said that I was a prostitute, now have daughters who are prostitutes or sons who are pimps. One has gone blind. Someone who tortured my son was caught in the act of theft, and beaten up by the crowd. One died, and one broke his leg and is maimed for life. The person who said that when I gave birth to my youngest I had nothing at all and he was the one who paid for it ended up being hit by a car, got brain damage and now he’s only half there. And his son went blind and ended up half crazy like his dad. There are many others who got their ‘just deserts’ for their evil deeds to my family.

Sign from God

Not long ago I had a dream. I was crossing a river while carrying my youngest. The water was brown and it was up to my chest, but strangely enough I was not carried away by the current. My son and I made it safely to the other side. Two weeks after that dream, my son had an accident. He was walking along the side of the road by himself when he fell and broke his left leg. He had to have an operation and they used pins to join the bones. The operation cost tens of millions of rupiah. I was at a loss, how on earth could I pay? My younger sisters that I had cared for when they were small didn’t want to know about it. For the whole 12 days my son was in hospital, not one of them went to visit. But God is just. I got help from friends and people who cared for me, so that my burden was lessened.

Before this, I had another dream. In this dream, wherever I went the road I went along always came to a vast, scary cemetery. There was no one around. Then I turned and went a different road. But this also went to a cemetery, and so it went on, until I woke up. When I thought about what this dream could mean, I decided I had to fortify myself to face all problems. So I have to face all problems and not avoid them. If I face problems patiently and placing trust in God, I believe God will surely give me strength. And it turned out that this belief was right: I was able to get through it all with patience.

In yet another dream, my two children and I were going to the ricefields to plant peanuts. We were walking alongside a little stream in the middle of the ricefields, and the water was crystal clear. To the left and right of the path we were walking along, the rice was green and fertile. Suddenly, my children and I were in the middle of a huge cemetery with no way out. And then I woke up.

Another night I had another dream. I was walking towards the north. Suddenly, the path I was going along was flooded up to my knees. But the flood was mud, and the mud was cow and buffalo dung mixed with water. Strangely, to the left and right of the path everything was dry. Whenever I tried to get up to that dry place, the mud just flowed there with me. I woke up and looked for the meaning of my dream. My late mother said that if I dream of getting something bad, it means I will get something good. And she was right. From that moment, I began to be in the light. My family started to get help, and support came from various places. Even though I still had to face bigger and bigger problems, I had built up an immunity from suffering and was able to face it with a smile.

There was a time when I dreamt that a neighbour’s child asked my older son to plunge into the Opak river near Prambanan temple in Yogyakarta. The river was wide, deep and the water was brown and overflowing. The neighbour’s boy got to the side, but my son was carried away. His body popped up and submerged again before he disappeared.

A few days later something sad happened. Somebody ordered the son of my neighbour, who was a quiet type (and a newcomer, like me) to get my son to steal a bicycle that had been left in the middle of the ricefields. That boy had been threatened – they said they could kill him if he didn’t do it. So he took my son along to get the bicycle. And then they beat my son up until he was half dead – he wasn’t yet 18 at the time – but they left the other boy, who was already over 18 and an adult, alone. After that happened I remembered my dream and I realized that actually it was a sign that something was going to happen to my family. The dream prepared me mentally for what was ahead.

As far as I remember, whenever something happened to my family, I always had a dream before it, in the early morning. Not long after I moved to Kalasan, I dreamt that I was in a very deep ravine. There was no grass at all. Everywhere there were just worms and disgusting creatures like leeches and those stinging caterpillars. The earth was moist and slimy. I wanted to climb out but there was nothing to hold on to. On top of the ravine there was shady bamboo. It had many branches and because it was still young, the branches still had hairs that make you itch. Even though my body ended up itching and wounded all over, I managed to get to the top, and at that moment I woke up.

A few days later, sure enough I was again slandered in a really disgusting and hurtful way. Amongst other things, people said I was a prostitute and would sleep with anyone. This happened because I had a neighbour who tried being rude to me, but I wasn’t affected by it. And then there were other lies. Like him saying that after I moved into the village his chickens suddenly started going missing. Even though his wife told me that her husband often sold their chickens to pay for his gambling. And as I’ve already said, my children were targets of slander too. After experiencing a lot of this kind of thing, that’s when I realized that my dreams were warnings that something was going to happen to my family, and I had to prepare myself mentally.

As for these dreams, I see them as messages from God. I trained myself to go to sleep after midnight. In that way, the dreams I had were real, and not the type of dream you get when you sleep too much.

66 Dr Robert Lemelson is a professor of anthropology at the University of California in Los Angeles, United States. He has done a lot of research about Indonesia. In 2009, he released his documentary film titled 40 Years of Silence: An Indonesian Tragedy. The film tells of four Indonesian families who, so many years later, are still deeply affected by the 1965 tragedy.

67 A lecturer in anthropology at the University of Minnesota, USA.

68 Lecturer in history at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

   by Dr. Baskara T. Wardaya SJ