Piece of Mind: In the Story of the Gerwani Women, Truth and False Memories

Faiza Mardzoeki

Last month I visited the Monumen Pancasila Sakti at Lubang Buaya, Jakarta, for the first time.

Those two words, “Lubang Buaya” (crocodile hole), have been on my mind since I was in primary school in the 1980s, attending Pancasila morality classes and history classes, where we had to study the 30th September Movement, the so-called G30S/PKI coup attempt. This was the date the “New Order” was established, crushed by General Suharto. It began at Lubang Buaya, where seven officers were killed.

At the Lubang Buaya Monument, there stands a statue of the “Heroes of the Revolution” and a diorama depicting the historical treasons of the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) and the alleged torture of the generals in 1965. It gives the impression that the PKI was brutal and sadistic and the armed forces heroic. I looked for any information about the Indonesian women’s movement Gerwani (Gerakan Wanita Indonesia): nothing.

My impressions of those times always involved Gerwani. These immoral and devilish women, who slashed the generals’ private parts and gouged out their eyes. I didn’t understand that Gerwani was actually a women’s organization. The words “Gerwani” or “PKI” aroused feelings of something fearful and forbidden, but the main thing was to remember the dates for school tests. The fearfulness was heightened when we were taken to the local cinema to watch the film by Arifin C. Noer, “Pengkhianatan G 30 S/PKI” (“Treason G 30 S/PKI”).

That was the first time I had ever been to the cinema. There must have been tens of thousands of children throughout the country sitting, for the first time in their lives, in darkened cinemas watching the bloody, horrific scenes in the film; watching a Gerwani woman say in the most sadistic of tones: “Blood is red, General!”

By 1998, I was an adult, reading more and meeting a wide range of people. Among the women imprisoned, as a result of the events of Sept. 30, I began to understand there was another story of torture and trauma at Plantungan Women’s Prison, in Central Java.

I also visited the women’s prison site, where the Gerwani women were imprisoned.

Say the word “Gerwani,” and it evokes the memory of those evil, torturing women. Even today, daring woman who stay out too late at night might be labeled with the term.

But why? Gerwani was the biggest women’s organization in Indonesia with 1.5 million members. Its activities included literacy programs, founding kindergartens and advocating gender equality. Gerwani supported the policies of President Sukarno.

And, I later learned, the accusations of slashing privates and gouging the eyes of the generals was a total lie.

In the 1980s, the army hospital autopsy reports on the generals were found, revealing that no such torture occurred. I read the translation of each of the autopsies published in Cornell University’s Indonesia journal. According to the reports, the generals had been shot, and some had minor injuries. But the alleged torture never took place. I had been lied to in school, along with millions of other children.

Instead it was the members of Gerwani, thousands of them, who were tortured and sexually abused. They were raped, beaten and forced to dance naked while being photographed by their guards.

How could it be that in Indonesia, this country I love so much, there could have been the mass killing of our own people and the vicious slander of women who were just striving for what they believed in. To disagree, to campaign against an ideology, that is a part of political life and such rights should be protected by the law. But why did some people want to carry out this sadistic mass annihilation?

A truly great nation will not only celebrate their heroes, but will also have the honesty to recognize the evil and injustice that has caused so much suffering among the people. Great people are those who can learn from their mistakes.

Faiza Mardzoeki is an activist, playwright, theater producer and director of Institut Ungu. She can be contacted at faiza.lane@gmail.com and www.institutungu.com.

Source: Jakarta Globe

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