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Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence


As we have seen, according to the official narrative, the victims who were arrested and imprisoned – or killed in mass murder – in the 1965 tragedy, were given this treatment because they were involved in the ‘treachery’ (to use the New Order term) carried out by the Thirtieth of September Movement (G30S) on 1 October 1965 in Jakarta. The female victims were arrested and captured – or also killed in mass murder – because they were involved in the ‘amoral acts’ carried out by members of Gerwani (the Indonesian Women’s Movement) at the airfield of the Indonesian army, Halim Perdanakusuma.

However, in the field – as we can see in the narratives in this section – the reality was quite different. Many of those who were arrested, imprisoned or tortured actually had no direct link to what happened in Jakarta in the early hours of 1 October 1965. One of the survivors who was arrested in Yogyakarta in 1965, for instance, was a kampung youth (the son of a market-seller) aged just 19.

It is difficult to understand how a person of such a young age would be capable of planning an act of ‘treachery’ against the state, and for this had to be arrested and imprisoned. But anyhow, he was judged, by a group of unknown officers, to be danger to the state. He was arrested and imprisoned – with no warrant, of course. After having suffered for a while as a political detainee at Nusa Kambangan island, he was exiled to Buru Island, far from the kampung of Ledhok Ratmakan in Yogyakarta where he had enjoyed his days with his kampung friends.

Another survivor who tells his story in this section is a man of Chinese descent, who was at the time a student of the Faculty of Letters at the Teacher’s College (IKIP, Institut Keguruan dan Ilmu Pendidikan) in Yogyakarta. When the 1965 political conflict happened, nothing happened to him. But then in 1969, when he was working as a journalist, he was suddenly arrested. It was not clear why, but the reason might have been because between late 1964 and early 1965 he had taken part in what was called a ‘Revolution Cadre-ization’ in Jakarta. Even though the idea for this program came from President Sukarno himself, and was intended to be a way to prevent the reoccurence of racial tension as had happened in 1963. The ‘cadre-ization’ was actually open, involved 600 participants, and the instructors included General A.H. Nasution, General A. Yani and Ali Sastroamidjojo. Our informant was held at the Salemba prison in Jakarta, and in 1971 exiled to Buru Island in the Maluku islands. He was detained there for nine years, made to do forced labour, and finally released in 1979. He never got any apology whatsoever.

Meanwhile, another victim was actually a case of mistaken identity. She was only 14 at the time, but still arrested. The reason turned out to be that her name was similar to that of someone else the officials were looking for. She was put into prison without any explanation as to why. The prison food was inadequate, just corn and sweet potato mash with some salted fish that had gone bad. She was held at Wirogunan prison in Yogyakarta at first, then moved temporarily to Bulu prison in Semarang before finally being exiled to Plantungan prison near Semarang, central Java, together with other female political prisoners. She was freed only in 1979, so that she lost 14 years of her life without there being any crime whatsoever, other than having the same name as someone else targeted for arrest.

Just as interesting is the story in this section of a victim who at the time of her arrest was a university student in Yogyakarta and active in a student organization called IPPI (Ikatan Pemuda Peladjar Indonesia, League of Indonesian Youth and Students), of which President Sukarno himself was an honorary member. Initially, she was arrested and held without any clear reason. Four months later she was released because it turned out there were no accusations against her. She was given a formal letter of release. However, unfortunately for her, soon after she was arrested again. This time, her official letter of release became the reason for the officials to arrest and imprison her. She was tortured, abused and accused of being a member of Gerwani. She was once stripped naked in front of all the officials (all men) with the accusation that she had a tatoo of the hammer and sickle near her genitals … It is probably difficult even to imagine that a modern organization would make a mini tatoo on someone in such a place. Even so, quite apart from whether or not any of this made sense, or whether she had any relationship to those women who, so the story went, danced erotically at the Halim Perdanakusuma airfield in Jakarta, she had to spend well over a decade locked up in prison.

In this section we also meet a former revolutionary fighter who in his youth took up arms to protect Indonesia’s independence in the environs of Jakarta. When the revolution for independence was over, full of conviction he chose to assist the most populous group in the newly independent, agrarian nation, namely the farmers. His fight to defend the farmers subsequently led him to become the leader of the farmers movement, and then become a people’s representative in the House of Representatives (MPRS, Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat Sementara). But then, on 1 October 1965, an event beyond his knowledge happened, and it turned out that one result of it was that he was hunted and arrested. He was often interrogated by officials, and after the interrogation he usually had to be dragged out because he was beaten black and blue. People might well ask, was this the way that Indonesians showed their gratitude to former freedom fighters? But this was the reality that this informant experienced. And not just this. He was then exiled to Buru island. He was exiled by the citizens he had helped defend and whose independence he had fought for.

Another informant has a slightly different story. She herself was not tortured or imprisoned like the others. However, her suffering was none the less for that.

Because her father became a political prisoner (merely because they thought he had refused the request of the head of the kampung in Yogyakarta) and because her husband actually was a former political prisoner, she and her children were constantly stigmatized, ostracized and oppressed by society around them – and even by their own family circle. Pressure came upon pressure, unceasingly. The only thing that helped keep her living was her faith in God who was always kind to her, in happiness and sadness, and watched over her in sleep.

These stories are all true and are an inseparable part of the 1965 tragedy in Indonesia. Even so, as we know, stories like these are often absent from accounts about 1965 according to the official version of the authorities. In the official narrative produced by the New Order regime, for instance, the pattern of thinking is usually ‘black and white’ so that it seems easy to determine who is right and who is wrong, depending on who is doing the telling.

The voice of people at the grass roots has been ignored. Through the narratives in this section, you are invited to stop for a moment and listen to these ignored voices. From these accounts you might become aware that ‘survivor’ or even ‘victor’ is a more fitting noun for them than ‘victim’, because they managed to stay alive. Apart from managing to stay alive, they are also willing to speak to you about what they experienced, while at the same time giving meaning to that experience. Good reading.

Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

   by Dr. Baskara T. Wardaya SJ