The False Memories of Gerwani Story

Still related to my previous writing A Visit to “Monument Pancasila Sakti”, while i was in the Torturing Verandah, i saw two women wax-figures inside the old house. They were known as GERWANIGerakan Wanita Indonesia [Indonesian Women’s Movement].

There were some stories that I heard when I was a kid, that women in Gerwani were trained to torture our military personnel including gauged their eye balls, cut male’s private organ and ate it, slashed one’s body and mutilated. Inside a mind of a 7 year old little girl, of course it was a horror, but there was a slight of sanity inside of my mind that said: “Is it true? Did they really do that?” Further, there was also a mockery that if a woman was independent and loudly spoke their mind, that woman would be labeled as Gerwani. That’s not cool, huh? Instead, I don’t mind to be labeled as that.

One of the woman who are Gerwani

Until one day, about one year ago, my friends took me to a Nursing House where the ex-Gerwani and other people who were labeled as PKI were cared. I was afraid actually, because of the memories that had been planted when I was a kid that Gerwani and PKI were cold blood evil and there was nothing good inside of them.No no, it was so wrong.

That was the very first time I saw people who were so aged were happily welcoming us at their place. Oh, it made me teary..Even though they were old, they still had the spirit for this country. They lived together, shared room and waiting for the Death to depart this life. Some of them were abandoned by their family because of the bloody story of G30S/PKI and some of them didn’t have family member. Honestly, they were the nicest people I had met. They told us stories about what was happened that time and I enjoyed that. There was false stories related to the rebellion of G30S/PKI. It was all political issues. Guess what? I believe in them, instead of stories made up by the New Order government.


Yesterday, while I was browsing on Gerwani, I read about this wonderful writing by Faiza Mardzoeki. I’m gonna put her writing into my blog. Follow this link for the source:

False Memories

Last September I visited for the very first time the Monumen Pancasila Sakti at Lubang Buaya. Although this was the first time I had been to Lubang Buaya, those two words – “Lubang Buaya” – were very familiar indeed to me, almost seared into my mind. I think I first began to hear those two words when I was still at primary school, in the 1980s, when we sat through Pancasila Morality classes. In the history classes we had to study the national historical incident, namely the 30th September Movement, or as it was known in the formal curriculum, the G30S/PKI. The short version is that I had to remember that this was the date that the New Order was established, that the “PKI rebellion” was crushed under the leadership of General Suharto. We were told the story in school that this PKI rebellion was led by Aidit, that it rocked the whole country and that it began at Lubang Buaya and was accompanied by the murder of seven generals, who were later given the title, Heroes of the Revolution.

The museum, which I visited with a friend, comprised two areas. The main building was the Museum of the PKI Rebellion (Communist) – – that was the name on the building’s front signage. It was two story building, both of which floors were packed with a diorama that gave a version of the history of “PKI rebellion”. The other area was around the Lubang Buaya Monument, a statue of the “heroes of the revolution”, as well as there being a diorama depicting the torture of the generals.

As soon as I stepped inside, all my memories from primary school came flooding back. As I walked along looking at the scenes in the diorama and reading the texts that accompanied each scene, I recognized the version as being not too different from what had been taught at school in the 1980s. The diorama described itself as the monument to the history of Communist treachery, from 1926 until 1965. The impression that the scenes were trying to convey was that the PKI was brutal and sadistic and that the Armed Forces were heroic.

I looked for any information about Gerwani. But there was not a single item of information anywhere. My memories of the story of the “G30S/PKI” from school always involve GERWANI. Always. We were taught in class that these immoral, degenerate and devilish women, slashed the general’s penises and gauged out their eyes. During this whole period, from primary school until high school, I never really understood what this thing GERWANI was. As I child then I didn’t really understand that GERWANI was actually an organisation, whose members were all women. From the time I heard the stories of penis’s being slashed and eyes gauged, the words “Gerwani” or “PKI” aroused feelings of something fearful and forbidden. One avoided at all costs ever pronouncing those two words. The main thing was to make sure to remember all the dates in case you needed to know it for school tests. The sense of fearfulness and something forbidden were heightened even more when all the school children were taken to the local cinema to see the film by Arifin C Noor,“Pengkhianatan G 30 S/PKI”. That was the first time I had ever been to the cinema in my home town of Purwokerto. There must have been tens of thousands of children throughout the country sitting, for their first time in their life, in a darkened cinema watching the bloody, horrific scenes in the film. I still can picture vividly in my mind’s eye today the scene where a Gerwani woman at Lubang Buaya says in the most sadistic of tones: “Blood is red, General!”

What about after September 30?

As I walked around, my mind went back to those classroom lessons. I think we were only ever taught that the “incident” took the lives of seven generals and officers, and a young girl, Ade Irma Nasution, the daughter of one of the generals. I don’t think there was much else explained clearly. There was just this vague sense of hearing that people who were thought to be in the PKI or Gerwani were arrested. Nothing much clearer than that was ever explained. Perhaps I was too young then to understand more. My duties then were to go to school in the morning, the madrasah classes in the afternoon and to learn to recite the Holy Quran at night, and that was all.

By the time the New Order government fell, I was an adult who had had the chances to expand my horizons, by reading and by mixing with a wide range of people. I had come in contact with many kinds of people. Among them were women who had been imprisoned as a result of the events of 30 September. I begun to understand there was another story behind what I had been taught at school. Beyond the story of the killing of the seven generals and the heroism of General Suharto at that time, there was the story of Buru Island prison camp, Plantungan Women’s Prison, prisons everywhere, torture and trauma. Sad and painful stories of hundreds of thousands – even as many as 2 million –Indonesians suffering exile and rejection – imprisoned, tortured and killed because they were accused of being PKI or Gerwani. These stories were never taught to us at school.

Gerwani and Indonesian women

If from our mouth come the sounds: “GER-WA-NI” the memory that always first comes to mind is of those immoral women dancing naked before they slashed the generals’ penis’s and gauged out their eyes. This was the official classroom story. Even today, a women seen as being too daring, going out too late at night and so on, might often be labeled a ‘gerwani’ woman. But perhaps the impact is different if we say, more slowly also, the full name “Ge-ra-kan Wa-ni-ta In-do-ne-sia” – the Indonesian Women’s Movement. Perhaps the reader may want to know more or even can imagine that there was something different to all this.
Gerwani is the short acronym for Gerakan Wanita Indonesia, – Indonesian Women’s Movement – a movement that is a valid part of the Indonesian nation’s historical experience. It was the biggest women’s organisation in Indonesia (maybe even in the world) with 2.5 million members. Their activities included literacy programs, running kindergardens and advocating equality between women and men. Politically, Gerwani supported the programs and policies of President Sukarno. Umi Sardjono was Gerwani’s President and Sulami was the secretary-general.

Sexual Political Slander

If Gerwani was an organization whose activities comprised advocating the emancipation of women and supported the Sukarno government’s policies, why instead was it pictured as being this brutal and immoral group? This picture of Gerwani was not only spread through schools and a film, but all media. It was pervasive. Millions of children throughout Indonesia had to be utterly convinced of its truth.
Later I learned, however, that the accusation of slashing the penis’s and gauging the eyes of the generals was a total lie – a conscious lie, repeated over and over again.

In the 1980s the autopsy report by the Armed Forces own hospital on the generals was found and published revealing that there was no slashing of the private parts or gauging out of the eyes. I read myself the translation of each of the autopsies published in Cornel University’s Indonesia journal. The generals had indeed been shot dead, and some had other minor injuries. But the sadistic torture by Gerwani women had never taken place. I had been lied to at school, along with millions of other children.

Rather, according to the research of Saskia E Weirenga, a professor at the University of Amsterdam, it was indeed the members of Gerwani – thousands of them – who were tortured and sexually abused after their arrest, in prison. Based on research and also interviews with Gerwani survivors, she found a pattern of horrific sexual abuse, including rape, forced oral sex, being forced to dance naked while being photographed. Sulami, in a filmed interviewed, told of how she had to stand naked while soldiers through knives at her, just missing. This was a form of terror aimed at all the 2 million members.

The Future?

How could all this have happened? Kok Bisa? How come? How come? How come? 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 and struggling for what they believed in. This question haunts me day and night? To disagree, to campaign against an ideology and viewpoint one doesn’t agree with, 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 brutal and sadistic mass annihilation. Why?

Gerwani members and their families have suffered great trauma as a result of the discrimination and stigmatization they have experienced after they were released from prison. There is a deep and widespread stigma: “Immoral and bad people and families: PKI”. The ongoing anti-communist and black propaganda, as well as concrete discrimination, has been sustained this for four decades.

As one of the indoctrinated generation who for a long time accepted the official version, I started to meet survivors and victims, and their families. I read more books based on scholarly research have all helped show me another reality. I have also gone back and read some of the newspapers of the day, reading horrific and bizarre lies and stigmatization even in so-called reputable newspapers? I visited the Plantungan Women’s Prison Camp site, where Gerwani women were imprisoned for more than a decade.

Talking with the survivors has revealed so many tales of horror and inhumanity, many of the experiences inflicted on them precisely because they were women. Women and their sexuality were so often held to be the cause and origin of all chaos. What the Gerwani women experienced was a crime against humanity that has never been acknowledged and rarely spoken about.

There are women who were members of Gerwani, or accused of being members, who still survive today. After their release from Plantungan prison camp, they still suffered stigmatization and discrimination. Many of them now are in their twilight years; they are aged in their 70s, 80s, or even 90s.

A truly great nation, a great people not only celebrate their heroes, but also have the honesty to recognize the evil and injustice that have been perpetrated and which has caused so much suffering among the people. A great people is one that can learn from its mistakes (FM, October 2012)


2 thoughts on “The False Memories of Gerwani Story

  1. by any chance, do you ever encounter a video about two old gerwani woman living in very poor condition, but there’s a scene in which they still remember gerwani song/mars and they sang it with passion beside the firewood ?
    i saw it once in youtube, and now it disappear and i can’t find it anywhere.

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