Ashes in My Mouth: Women, Testimony and Violence during the Indonesian Massacres of 1965-1966

'It's bitter to remember, very bitter. My memories taste bitter in my mouth. But people must know what happened to us. They must know what happened' - Ibu Lia, former Communist Party leader and long-term political prisoner. Ibu Lia was
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  PhD Thesis Abstract  –  Anne Elizabeth POHLMAN (#33511296)Ashes in My Mouth: Women, Testimony and Violence during the Indonesian Massacresof 1965-1966   It’s bitter to remember, very bitter. My memories taste bitter in my mouth. But people must know what happened to us. They must know what happened.-Ibu Lia, former Communist Party leader and long-term political prisoner. Ibu Lia was one amongst millions adversely affected by the eradication of the Left inIndonesia. In the aftermath of a coup on 1 October 1965, an estimated 500,000 men, womenand children were murdered and a further one million politically detained. These purges wereperpetrated by the Indonesian military together with co-opted civilian militia groups against the military’s mass -supported political rival, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Thisthesis documents and analyses the testimonies of predominantly women survivors of themassacres and political detentions in order to examine the forms of violence perpetratedagainst women during these events. Overall, the thesis explicates the gendered dynamics of the violence of 1965- 1966 and women’s t estimonies about these experiences.The thesis brings together the testimonies of individual women, such as Ibu Lia,amongst the millions affected by the killings and mass political detentions. These testimoniesare explored thematically in order to chart some of the trends, similarities and differencesamongst the experiences of these women. Specifically, I investigate three core themes: women’s experiences; giving testimony about these experiences; and the material forms of  violence perpetrated during the killings and detentions, paying particular attention to sexualviolence against women.This research provides the first in- depth examination of women’s experiences during the killings and political detentions following the 1965 coup. This study into women ’s experiences and testimonies about the violence emphasises the gendered nature of genocidalepisodes. In particular, I examine sexual violence against women and girls as material formsof violence during the massacres and subsequent period of political detention. Specifically, women’s experiences of sexual violence during the killings and as part of subsequent tortureduring detention are discussed through an analysis of women’s testimonies and secondary accounts.The thesis also shows the great range of  women’s experiences of becoming victims of genocidal crimes. The stories of individual women’s experiences of being captured and/or   killed highlight both how systematic and arbitrary becoming a victim during the massacresand mass arrests could be. These acts of persecution were targeted in that women and girlswho became victims (as with men and boys) were most often in some way associated withthe Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) or one of its associated organisations (such as theCommunist-aligned women ’s organisation, Gerwani), either through their own membershipor through their familial relationships. Conversely, others were murdered or detainedarbitrarily because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, others because of opportunistic disputes over land and possessions, others again because of mistaken identity.Methodologically, I frame this project within what is traditionally a Latin Americangenre, testimonio , in which performing testimony is a fundamentally political act. In thedecade since the fall of Suharto, efforts by human rights advocates to establish a truth andreconciliation commission into abuses committed during Suharto’s “New Order” regime have continually failed. In this context, these women’s testimonies are performed as par  t of alarger socio-political goal of demanding investigation and redress for the massacres of 1965-1966. Women who participated in this project often did so with an explicit, political purpose.Many clearly articulated that they gave their testimonies in order that: (1) the violence of 1965-1966 and other mass crimes during the New Order never be repeated; (2) that theremust be an official acknowledgement of harm done to them and millions of others; and (3) reparation be given to survivors and victims’ fa milies as restorative justice for the loss of somany.The fundamental rationale of this study is that, given the continuing reluctance bysuccessive Indonesian administrations since the end of the New Order regime to address theatrocities of 1965-1966, t he work of collecting, documenting and analysing survivors’ testimonies is now urgent. The testimonies of women survivors, which have long beenoccluded, are essential both to an analysis of the violence perpetrated in the aftermath of thecoup and to current truth and reconciliation efforts. More than forty-five years after the coup,this project aims to support those who survived and who have begun telling their own stories,bearing witness to a violent, silenced, and mostly forgotten history of Indonesia. Moreover, this focus upon women’s experiences, women’s lives and women’s testimonies attests that genocidal processes and persecution are gendered, as is their narration.
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