The fall of the PKI, Suharto and the destruction of the women’s movement

Tempo – October 9, 2015
Gerwani member being taken away by soldiers (Algo-1965)
Gerwani member being taken away by soldiers (Algo-1965)

Shinta Maharan, Yogyakarta – A book discussion on the works by Professor Saskia Eleonora Wieringa from the University of Amsterdam has attracted sympathy from many circles at the Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University (UIN) Student Centre building on the evening of October 9.

At least 80 people – students, pro-democracy and human rights activists, non-government organisation activists (NGO) and journalists – came to hear the discussion in the Central Java city of Yogyakarta.

The event was organised by the gender division of the Yogyakarta Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), the Satunama Institute and the Sunan Kalijaga UIN Arena Student Press Institute (LPM Arena).

The discussion was held in concert with the commemoration of 50 years since the genocide. This September 30 is exactly 50 years since the crimes against humanity surrounding the 1965 affair erupted in Indonesia. To this day, the state has still not acknowledged these crimes against humanity.

A speaker from the women and politics division of the Satunama Foundation, Nunung Qomariah, said the discussion was important to expose the historical truths hidden by Suharto’s New Order regime. Gerwani is still seen as an immoral women’s movement.

“The younger generation needs to know [Indonesia’s] history beyond that of the New Order’s version so that they don’t see things in black and white. [So they’re] not quick to blame others and easily provoked”, said Nunung.

Saskia’s book titled The Destruction of the Women’s Movement: Sexual Politics in Indonesia after the Downfall of the Indonesian Communist Party (Penghancuran Gerakan Perempuan Politik Seksual di Indonesia Pasca-Kejatuhan PKI) discusses how the military completely destroyed the women’s movement, maligned the Indonesian Women’s Movement (Gerwani) and what took place at the Crocodile Hole (Lubang Buaya) on September 30, 1965.

The book is based on a dissertation by Saskia which during the New Order era was heavily censored in order to protect the identities of the women interviewed by Saskia.

The 542 page book paints a picture of how Gerwani was banned and tens of thousands of its members killed, tortured and jailed. The president during the New Order era, Suharto, launched a sexual smear campaign against Gerwani as a justification for the killings. Gerwani members were accused of betraying the country and of being sexually immoral.

Saskia, who has been researching the 1965 affair for 30 years, revealed that the newspapers published by the army’s information office claimed that Gerwani members were involved in the killing of the generals at the Crocodile Hole. This slander was “proved” on the basis of testimonies by the numerous victims who were forced to strip completely naked and dance in front of soldiers. The soldiers then took photographs of them.

Several of Saskia’s informants also testified about female prisoners who were stripped naked and photographed by soldiers then the photographs were published as if they were at the Crocodile Hole. The military use all kinds of methods of sexual torture against political prisoners.

Saskia herself has had a long experience as a women’s movement and solidarity activist in a third world country. In the mid-1970s, she established a women’s study group and published a journal. She also taught women’s issues, gender and sexual studies. Saskia has published more than 20 book titles and over 100 articles.

A UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta student from the LPM Arena, Jamaludin Ahmad, said that the book discussion was important to uncover the historical truths that have been distorted by the New Order regime. “Student and youth groups must think critically about the government’s version of history”, said Jamaludin.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was PKI Jatuh, Soeharto, & Kisah Penghancuran Gerakan Perempuan.]