Time to Acknowledge the Truth About '1965'

3 Nov 2015
Carmel Budiardjo
Appeared in: 

It was early in the morning of Oct. 1, 1965, that my family and I woke up to the deafening sound of army trucks driving up and down outside our house in Menteng, Jakarta. One of our close neighbors was Gen. Nasution, who had apparently been one of the targets of an attempt early that morning by a group of soldiers to overthrow the government of President Sukarno.

At first, we had no idea that anything terrible had happened but, later that day, we were advised by a friend to leave our home for somewhere safer. A few days later, we returned home and soon afterwards a gang of youths forced their way into our house and started searching our book shelves. They apparently wanted to see whether we had any books about communism or anything left-wing. They even pulled up the floorboards in my bedroom, creating a terrible mess. They were looking for 'evidence' about me because I was at the time a member of an organization called Association of Indonesian Scholars (HSI).

It was not easy to find out what was going on. Radio news programs had been taken over and almost all the newspapers in Indonesia had been forced to close down except for a new one calling itself (as I remember) Api Pancasila, which began to appear. It published gruesome accounts about how six Army generals had been kidnapped and killed, their bodies thrown down a well in a place called Lubang Buaya. There were even reports about women members of an organization called Gerwani who had allegedly tampered with the sexual organs of the officers who had been killed.

By this time, my husband had been arrested and taken I knew not where. When I discovered that he was in Salemba Prison, I went there but wasn't allowed to meet him. All I could do was to send in a couple of packets of food. For a couple of years, he was in and out of prison.

In March 1968, while he was at home, a soldier came to our house and wanted to ask me a few questions. They dragged me, and him, onto an army truck and drove us to a place I know not where. I was dumped in a building where I shared a room with eight women, one of whom was holding a newborn baby on her lap.

By then, many of us already knew that tens of thousands of people had been killed. I spent three years in Bukit Duri Prison, until I was released after an intervention by a lawyer who confirmed that my British nationality was still in place. I was taken to the British Embassy, given some decent clothes, and taken to the airport to fly back to London. As I was leaving Bukit Duri, some of my cellmates shouted: "Tell people over there what's happening here. Help us to get out of here!"

Not long after arriving back in London, I set up an organization called Tapol, after the Indonesian abbreviation for "political prisoner." Together with relatives and friends, we campaigned for many years but it wasn't until the late 1970s that all these women and men were finally released. We campaigned especially for the thousands of men who had been dumped on an inhospitable island called Buru and left to fend for themselves.

In 1995, I published a book, "Surviving Indonesia's Gulag." One chapter is about the many young girls who were imprisoned with me. This is what I wrote about one of the girls:

"I never got to know the real name of 'Si Gendut' or 'Fatty' as she was called. She was the youngest woman in Bukit Duri during my time there; she was only thirteen at the time of her arrest in October 1965. She was a rough-and-tumble, poorly educated, but high-spirited girl who never wanted to be left out of anything. She wasn't a member of any of the left-wing youth organizations but when she saw other boys and girls leap onto a truck in the kampung where she lived a few days before 1 October, she cried for her mummy until they let her in... She was transferred to Plantungan (a concentration camp for women) and I spotted her in a film of the camp by a Dutch television crew which I watched many years later in London."

Little did we know at the time that the massacres that occurred throughout Indonesia from October 1965 until March 1966 had left about one million people dead.

To this day, the truth about what happened fifty years ago is never mentioned in books used in Indonesian schools. The massacres are still shrouded in mystery.

It is high time for the government and for schools in Indonesia to acknowledge the truth about the terrible killings that swept across Indonesia fifty years ago.

Carmel Budiardjo, a British human rights activist, is the founder of TAPOL.