Ex-political prisoners stage plays to survive stigmatization
The commemoration of the abortive coup blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) is still a few months away, but former political prisoners always remember Sept. 30, 1965, as the day that changed their lives. Following the attempt, which claimed the lives of six Army generals, the Indonesian Military, with the help of mass organizations, prosecuted anyone thought to have links with the PKI. The precise number of fatalities has been disputed, but some put the number as high as 500,000. Those who survived the massacre lived with the stigma of communism and lost their civil rights. One of them, Nani Nuraini, is now 71 years old.
“Even though we are now aged and frail, we still keep smiling and fighting,” said Nani, who claims she has just been fighting for her rights. At the Central Jakarta District Court in 2008, she won the right to a lifetime identity card just like any other elderly citizen. In April, however, the same court rejected her request for rehabilitation.
She was arrested in 1968 and sent without trial to Bukitduri Women’s Penitentiary in South Jakarta for seven years, simply because, at a young age, she had performed as a presidential palace dancer at the party’s anniversary gathering in June 1965. Nani has lived with the stigma of being an ex-political prisoner and communist sympathizer ever since.
While waiting for her appeal, Nani keeps busy with Wanodja Binangkit, a performance group she founded in 2005 with other female ex-political prisoners and victims’ families. “Wanodja Binangkit means women full of wisdom. It was set up in the hope that we can rehabilitate our names and will no longer be known as wicked and evil,” Nani said.
Nani is not alone in seeking rehabilitation. Amnesty International estimates that more than a million people were imprisoned without trial in the 14 years following 1965. Those who were linked to the PKI were not allowed to become civil servants, military or police officers, teachers or preachers. They were subject to surveillance and their ID cards were labeled “ET” (ex-political prisoner). Though years have passed since the government removed ET status from ID cards in 2004, Nani once saw a banner warning of the influence of the PKI during a performance with Wanodja Binangkit.
Sri Sulistiowati, 71, currently in a nursing home in Jakarta, has also suffered as an ex-detainee. Unable to bear the shame of reporting to the local military post every day, she left her hometown in Cirebon. The former journalist has since made her living selling rengginang (rice crackers) and terasi (shrimp paste) as no one would employ her. “What saddens me most is the impact on my sons. It is hard to find a job with a mother who was a political prisoner,” she said. Things are better since the reform, and now her three sons and six grandchildren have found proper jobs, Sri, however, has never received any compensation for what she endured during four decades.
“It is nice that our government has decided to apologize, but it’s not enough, We’re getting old, We can wait no longer,” Sri said. First and foremost, she wants the government to rehabilitate her name, then to pay back what they seized. “They took my house. They should at least give me the most modest home now,” (aml)