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

Anne Pohlman (2011). Ashes in My Mouth: Women, Violence and Testimony during the Indonesian Massacres of 1965-1966 PhD Thesis, School of Languages and Comp Cultural Studies, The University of Queensland.

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Author Anne Pohlman
Thesis Title Ashes in My Mouth: Women, Violence and Testimony during the Indonesian Massacres of 1965-1966
School, Centre or Institute School of Languages and Comp Cultural Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-08
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Total pages 233
Total colour pages 2 colour pages - pp. 231-32
Total black and white pages 231
Language eng
Subjects 20 Language, Communication and Culture
Abstract/Summary 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 in Indonesia. In the aftermath of a coup on 1 October 1965, an estimated 500,000 men, women and children were murdered and a further one million politically detained. These purges were perpetrated by the Indonesian military together with co-opted civilian militia groups against the military's mass-supported political rival, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). This thesis documents and analyses the testimonies of predominantly women survivors of the massacres and political detentions in order to examine the forms of violence perpetrated against women during these events. Overall, the thesis explicates the gendered dynamics of the violence of 1965-1966 and women's testimonies 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 testimonies are explored thematically in order to chart some of the trends, similarities and differences amongst 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 sexual violence 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 genocidal episodes. In particular, I examine sexual violence against women and girls as material forms of 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 torture during 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 massacres and mass arrests could be. These acts of persecution were targeted in that women and girls who became victims (as with men and boys) were most often in some way associated with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) or one of its associated organisations (such as the Communist-aligned women's organisation, Gerwani), either through their own membership or through their familial relationships. Conversely, others were murdered or detained arbitrarily 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 American genre, testimonio, in which performing testimony is a fundamentally political act. In the decade since the fall of Suharto, efforts by human rights advocates to establish a truth and reconciliation commission into abuses committed during Suharto's “New Order" regime have continually failed. In this context, these women's testimonies are performed as part of a larger 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 there must be an official acknowledgement of harm done to them and millions of others; and (3) reparation be given to survivors and victims'families as restorative justice for the loss of so many. The fundamental rationale of this study is that, given the continuing reluctance by successive Indonesian administrations since the end of the New Order regime to address the atrocities of 1965-1966, the work of collecting, documenting and analysing survivors' testimonies is now urgent. The testimonies of women survivors, which have long been occluded, are essential both to an analysis of the violence perpetrated in the aftermath of the coup 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.
Keyword Indonesian history
genocide studies
gender studies
Additional Notes 2 pages of colour photos - pp. 223-2

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Created: Thu, 24 Nov 2011, 16:54:17 EST by Miss Anne Pohlman on behalf of Library - Information Access Service