Rape and Racism in Indonesia

where women live in fear – Published on Dissident Voice, by Abdre Vltchek, May 10, 2013.

My good friend, a Chinese Indonesian lady, recently got grabbed and assaulted, in the middle of Jakarta, in broad daylight.

When it happened, I was in Japan and we exchanged several messages, and emails. This was not the first time such a thing had happened to her and she felt humiliated, defeated, and thoroughly vulnerable.

“I wish I would be born as someone else – not as a Chinese. I wish I would look like everyone else”, she wrote.  

I spent half a day convincing her that there was nothing wrong with being Chinese, or belonging to any other ethnic group. It was Indonesia that had failed her; the country that, since 1965, performed three genocides fully backed by the West, the country, which has been using sexual violence in order to paralyze its own population with fear.

I asked my friend to write, to give me 3 stories, one of her own, and two of others. I asked her for three simple examples. “I will put them into context”, I promised.

She said ‘yes’ and she delivered. And I combined their simple but symbolic stories with a much bigger and terrible story that has never been told: one with unimaginable sexual violence that Indonesian women have had to suffer since 1965.

This story was always taboo here, but finally, I realized it has to be told, without doublespeak and in plain language … //

… Anna is not the real name of my friend. Almost none of the Indonesian victims of harassment, molestation, even rape, would ever dare to identify themselves.

After all, Indonesia is the country where sexual terror against women has been something entirely usual, biasa, since the days of the Western-backed coup of 1965.

Daughters who have been molested do not confide in their parents; female victims who become targets of rape do not report the crime to the police, which itself is notorious for molesting, harassing, and raping women.

In Indonesia, to be violated is to become kotor, dirty. Victims are taught not to feel any outrage. Instead they feel shame; they are used to hiding instead of coming forward and fighting for themselves and for the others. There are some exceptions, but extremely few.

There are no mass movements and protests of outraged women as in India. There are no powerful films exposing sexual violence, like the brilliant recent award-winning Egyptian one called Cairo 678.

The victims of the 1965 genocide, victims of the East Timor genocide, victims of the on-going Papua genocide; victims of racism and religious discrimination, victims of sexual violence; all those victims have been successfully frightened into silence … //

… In and after 1965, rape and sexual torture were used in the most beastly ways. Many women belonging to left-wing organizations, including Gerwani, had their breasts and genitals ‘amputated’. That was biasa, or ‘normal’, too.

The military, religious cadres, and also millions of ‘common Indonesian citizens’ took part in the most appalling acts. Entire myths justifying their participation in the slaughter and rapes were created and perfected. Between 800,000 and 3 million people: leftists, PKI, intellectuals, teachers, atheists, and members of Chinese minority, had been systematically liquidated.

All the legends were thoroughly grotesque, but they served as foundations for the twisted logic, from which post-1965 Indonesia has been constructed.

Almost all the myths had a sexual undertone, like those that spoke of wild orgies thrown by PKI (Communist Party of Indonesia) and its women’s organization Gerwani. It was said that women belonging to the left castrated Indonesian army generals. Such myths were deliberately created in order to justify the gruesome sexual violence that followed … //

… Indonesia is one of only five countries on earth that I know, where I do not dare to walk down the street looking straight ahead. I am trying to avoid insulting grimaces, aggressively pointed fingers and shouts like bule (albino, anyone of lighter skin). The other 4 countries (and I have worked in a total of 150 of them, on all continents) are war-torn and post-genocidal sub-Saharan states of DR Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and (only in rural areas and slums), Kenya.

But true horror is reserved for foreigners with dark skin, particularly those coming from Africa. I spoke to one former Kenyan MP and one Ethiopian UN expert, both having decided to explore Indonesia after attending official meetings for several days.

“Do you know what is monyet?” Asked my good African friend.

“Monkey”, I replied. “Why?”

“This was the most commonly heard word I encountered in Indonesia.”

“Did you go to zoo?” I was surprised.

“No”, he looked down. “I was just trying to walk down the street.”

Bules can leave, and most of them already have. Just compare the numbers of foreigners in Indonesian malls (the only ‘social gathering’ places left in the country where all public places were ‘privatized’) and those of Bangkok, Hanoi, or Kuala Lumpur.

But most of the local Chinese and Papuan people do not have such luxury.

Stripped of their culture, language and identity, forced to bear Indonesian names, to behave like Indonesians, to think like Indonesians, they are still insulted, humiliated, and violated.

Suharto and his military and religious cohorts had a clever plan: they murdered countless members of Chinese minority, raped their wives and daughters, and inflicted such terror that people could hardly move, and then they handpicked several Chinese businessmen to serve as their economic lieutenants. It is because they knew that after such a terrible bloodbath, Chinese people would never dare to rebel. Otherwise an encore was always behind the corner.

Indonesia adopted perverse philosophical and moral codes. Perpetrators, murderers, torturers and rapists have been walking tall, proud. Victims who were molested, raped, and humiliated, felt shame: ‘dirty’.

I have a friend. She has a son. She is Chinese Indonesian. Once she told me that she was raped and her son is a product of that ‘shameful’ night.

Another friend of mine was molested as a child. She was assaulted in her own home by two young men from her neighborhood — men that ‘did not like Chinese’. They had sexually abused her, for hours. “I felt terrible shame”, she said. “And the following days when we were playing outdoors, they kept giving me those looks…” “Playing outdoors?” I thought I misunderstood. Those people would surely be in detention, facing charges and soon on trial? But no, they were free and still insulting her. She didn’t tell anybody, not even her parents. Nothing bad ever happened to her tormentors … //

… (full long long text).

(André Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker, and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His critically acclaimed political revolutionary novel Point of No Return is now re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and market-fundamentalism is called
Indonesia: The Archipelago of Fear. He just completed a feature documentary Rwanda Gambit about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website. Read other articles by Andre


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