Fifty Years on: A Personal Story

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1 Oct 2015
By: 
Carmel Budiardjo

It was early in the morning of 1 October 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 neighbours was General 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 leftwing. They even pulled up the floor boards in my bedroom, creating a terrible mess. They were looking for 'evidence' about me because I was at the time a member of an organisation called 'Himpunan Sardjana Indonesia'
[Association of Indonesian Scholars]

It was not easy to find out what was going on. Radio news programmes had been taken over and almost all the newspapers in Indonesia had been forced to close down except for a new newspaper 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 organisation 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 didn't know 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, taken to the airport to fly back to London. As I was leaving Bukit Duri, some of my cell mates 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 organisation called TAPOL (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 girl, a high-spirited girl who never wanted to be left out of anything. She wasn't a member of any of the left wing  youth organisations 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.'

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Little did we know at the time that the massacres that occurred throughout Indonesia from October 1965 till March 1966, had slaughtered about one million people.

To this day, the truth about what happened in Indonesia fifty years ago is never mentioned in books used in Indonesian schools. The massacres are still shrouded in mystery. Even the books used in Indonesian schools say nothing about what happened.

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.

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Carmel Budiardjo, recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, 1995.