Indonesia, 1965: A Conversation With My Parents

PAGE 1. A comic page of five panels drawn in black ink on a white background.
Panel 1. A close-up of a desk, showing a small plant in a glass beaker next to a laptop. Chitarum: “Mum, dad, are you ready?”
Panel 2 and 3. A man dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and sarong kneels on a prayer mat which is adorned with floral motifs. Mum: “Wait a bit, your father is still praying.”
Panel 4. A close-up of a dining table showing various dishes on it: fried chicken, rice, sambal, fried tofu, fresh cut tomato and cucumbers, thinly-sliced omelette. Mum: “Are you doing well? I cooked your favourite food today!” Chitarum: “Aww! Send me photos later!” Dad: “I just finished. Hi dear!” Chitarum: “Ah, dad’s here. Okay, shall we start?” Mum: “Go on!”
Panel 5. A family photograph showing, from left, a man, a young boy, two young girls, and a woman holding a toddler. The man is dressed in a dark two-piece suit. The boy wears a shirt and trousers; the two girls wear dresses; the woman wears a kebaya with batik sarong. They and all the people in subsequent panels are drawn without any facial features. Chitarum: “So…mum, dad, both of you were born in the early 60s. You were only babies when the 1965 incident happened. What do you know or remember from those days?”
PAGE 2. A comic page of five panels drawn in black ink on a white background.
Panel 1. A close-up of a young boy’s torso. Dad: “Can I go first?” Chitarum: “Sure, dad.” Dad: “I was still very small, but even I could tell the situation was very tense.”
Panel 2. A Fiat car is parked in a garage. Dad: “Our family had a Fiat car. It was stolen that night.”
Panel 3 and 4. A close-up of military officers standing in a row, in uniform. Dad: “My father, who was a military officer, tracked down the culprit. He found out that it was stolen by fellow officers, 
specifically the Tjakrabirawa regiment, the bodyguard unit of President Sukarno.”
Panel 5. Four officers stand in a bedroom, pointing their rifles at a man who is facing away from them with his hands held up in the air. Blood drips from a bullet hole in his back. Chita: “This is the first time I’ve heard about this. Why would they steal it?” Dad: “Nobody knows. We never got the car back. They were the ones who killed the six generals, after all.”
PAGE 3. A comic page of five panels drawn in black ink on a white background.
Panel 1. Four rows of officers, standing and sitting, in front of a building with the signboard ‘Rapat Kerdja Zeni Ad 1965’. Chitarum: “What was grandfather’s rank at the time?” Dad: “He was a lieutenant colonel. He was nominated as chief…but they gave the position to someone else…” Chitarum: “Why?”
Panel 2. Two men in suits and hats stand in front of a train station in the USSR. One holds a suitcase and coat draped over his left arm. Dad: “Well…you do know he was sent to Russia—then the USSR—for training, right? Other officers were sent to the USA.”
Panel 3. Seven soldiers pose in front of a tank. Dad: “Russia was a communist country, so he was accused of being one.”
Panel 4. Officers in uniform pose for a photograph. Dad: “Every officer who was sent to the USSR came under suspicion, while those who went to the USA were promoted to high ranks. My father was put on trial. Thank God, he was eventually declared a non-communist. He never said a word about this to his children.”
Panel 5. A woman in a kebaya and sarong feeds a young boy. Dad: “I learned it all from my mother.”
PAGE 4. A comic page of five panels drawn in black ink on a white background.
Panel 1. A man and woman sitting together; the man has his arm around the woman’s shoulder. Mum: “Okay, now it’s my turn! When your father and I were about to get married, he told me his family’s history. At the time, I worked in a state-owned corporation.”
Panel 2. A woman sitting at a desk with stacks of papers. Mum: “Every civil servant’s background was thoroughly checked. They asked who my grandparents were, what they did, if my family was communist-free!”
Panel 3. Men in suits sit at rows of desks, attending to paperwork. Mum: “Your father's family history could have become a problem for us.
Moreover, my father worked for a ministry. He was also a mentor in P4, the mandatory Pancasila education programme for civil servants.”
Panel 4. An older woman in a kitchen with mounted cabinets. Two Dutch clogs hang from a wall behind her. Mum: “I went to my mother for advice. But she didn’t say anything. She only told me to ask my father…”
Panel 5. The akad nikah ceremony for mum and dad, who are dressed in formal clothing. Mum: “To which he responded: ‘Doesn’t matter. It’s not a problem. Don’t worry.’”
PAGE 5. A comic page of four panels drawn in black ink on a white background.
Panel 1. Eleven young adults are sitting outdoors in a park. Chitarum: “So for 32 years, which is more than half your lives, both of you lived under the New Order regime. What do you think about that time?” Dad: “Actually, it was more pleasant…”
Chitarum: “How come?”
Panel 2. A man wearing a farmer’s conical hat raises a handful of ripe paddy stalks. Dad: “The government was orderly and organised. The most important thing was rice self-sufficiency! The Ministry of Information also did a splendid job back then.”
Panel 3. A protest against the banning of TEMPO, EDITOR and DETIK in front of the Ministry of Education, Jakarta. People hold up banners and placards which read ‘Anarki kekuasaan merusak negara’. Dad: “Information and data were centralised. It was clear, not muddled.”
Panel 4. The 5 August 1989 protest action at Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). Students reject the arrival of the Minister of Home Affairs, Rudini. Chitarum: “In the 80s, both of you were in college. There were many student demonstrations. What was your college life like? I heard that there were many spies, even on campuses.” Mum: “Yes, we had to be careful, but it wasn’t that intense. One or two of our friends were involved in the demonstrations, but they were fine.”
PAGE 6. A comic page of six panels drawn in black ink on a white background.
Panel 1. On the ground, a body of the alleged victim of the PETRUS (‘penembak misterius’, or ‘mysterious shooter’) action in Pondok Kelapa, East Jakarta, 1984. Chitarum: “Have you ever heard about the mass killings that took place under this regime?”
Panel 2. In a morgue at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital (RSCM), Jakarta, people lift up a cover to reveal a body wrapped in black: a victim of PETRUS, 1983. Mum: “Petrus? Thugs were shot dead immediately. Their bodies were found in the sewers! But people felt safe. They were all criminals anyway.”
Panel 3. Members of Pemuda Rakyat, the youth wing of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), detained by the military, 30 October, 1965. Chitarum: “Weren’t innocent civilians also mistakenly detained and killed?”
Panel 4. Women sit on benches in a room at Bulu prison in Semarang, Central Java, which housed 45 women political prisoners in 1977. A table holds jugs of water and plates. Dad: “It was done for the safety of the nation. It was a time of war. It was valid…”
Panel 5. Human rights activist Maria Catarina Sumarsih during the 536th kamisan, a weekly silent protest in front of the State Palace in Jakarta, on Thursday, April 26, 2018. She holds a black umbrella and stands behind a line of photographs of victims of human rights abuses. Dad: “...and the people were content.”
Panel 6. Flags depicting the face of Marsinah, a murdered labour activist from East Java, being hoisted by dozens of female workers who are members of the Federasi Buruh Lintas Pabrik/ Federation of Cross-Factory Workers (FBLP) during a worker demonstration in Bundaran HI area, Central Jakarta. 2014.
PAGE 7. A comic page of two panels drawn in black ink on a white background.
Panel 1. A person holds a baby in their arms while sitting on a settee. Chitarum: “Okay…it’s getting late. That’s all I wanted to ask for now.” Mum: “How time flies!”
Panel 2. Two people sit on the same wooden settee, one of them holding the baby on their lap. On the ground near their feet are books. Mum: “It was really nice talking with you, dear. We are really happy.”

Editor’s note: Each panel in the comic was drawn based on photographs from private or public archives.

Image notes and sources:

Page 1, all panels: Private archive.

Page 2, panel 1-4: Private archive.

Page 2, panel 5: One of the dioramas depicting the killing of six generals and one lieutenant during the 1965 coup at the Museum of Communist Betrayal, Lubang Buaya Museum Complex, Jakarta, Indonesia. 

Page 3 and 4, all panels: Private archive.

Page 5, panel 1: Private archive.

Page 5, panel 2: Photo of Pak Soeharto and Bu Tien at a rice harvest event. Published in Jurnal Diplomasi, Pusdiklat Kementerian Luar Negeri RI, Vol. 3 No. 3 September 2011. Accessed via Rumah Sidqi. Rice self-sufficiency is often celebrated as one of the New Order’s accomplishments, even though it only lasted five years (1969-1974) out of Soeharto’s 32-year rule and ended up eradicating the diversity of carbohydrate sources throughout the nation.

Page 5, panel 3: Photo of poet WS Rendra in the middle of a protest against the banning of TEMPO, EDITOR and DETIK in front of the Ministry of Education, Jakarta, 1994. Tempo magazine was banned for the first time on 12 April 1982. Robin Ong/ TEMPO. Accessed via TEMPO.CO

Page 5, panel 4:  Photo of the 5 August 1989 action in Bandung Institute of Technology. Students reject the arrival of home affairs minister Rudini. KPM ITB. Accessed via FaktaNews.

Page 6, panel 1: Photo of a body of the alleged victim of the Petrus (“penembak misterius” literally translates to “mysterious shooter”) killings in Pondok Kelapa, East Jakarta, 1984. Petrus lasted from 1982 to 1985. The operation targeted anyone deemed a criminal: recidivists, local gangs, unemployed youths and even people with tattoos. Anizar M Jasmine/ TEMPO. Accessed via DataTempo.

Page 6, panel 2: Photo of a Petrus victim on 20 May 1983 at Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital, Jakarta, 1983. Ali Said/ TEMPO. Accessed via DataTempo.

Page 6, panel 3: A photo of members of Pemuda Rakyat, the youth wing of the Indonesian Communist Party, detained by the military on 30 October 1965. AP. Accessed via Tirto.id

Page 6, panel 4: A photo of a room in Bulu Prison in Semarang, Central Java, which housed 45 women political prisoners in 1977, from Mia Bustam’s book Dari Kamp ke Kamp, 2008, pg. 263.

Page 6, panel 5: A photo of human rights activist Maria Catarina Sumarsih during the 536th kamisan, a weekly silent protest in front of the State Palace in Jakarta, on Thursday, 26 April 2018. The protests have been held since 2007 to urge the government to resolve human rights abuse cases, including the 1998 Semanggi shooting, which resulted in the death of Maria’s son, Bernardus Realino Norma Irawan. Article written by Marguerite Afra Sapiie. Aditya Bhagas/ Jakarta Post

Page 6, panel 6: Photo of the flag depicting the face of Marsinah, a labour activist from East Java, who was found dead after being tortured and raped on 5 May 1993, being hoisted by dozens of female workers who are members of the Federasi Buruh Lintas Pabrik (Federation of Cross-Factory Workers) during a worker demonstration in Bundaran HI area, Central Jakarta, 9 March 2014, from a 2020 article written by Jawahir Gustav Rizal and editor Virdita Rizki Ratriani. Priyombodo/ Kompas

Page 7, all panels: Private archive. 

Further reading:

Enin Supriyanto, Menolak Menunduk: Menentang Budaya Represif, 1999. 

Mia Bustam, Dari Kamp ke Kamp, 2008. 

Archive exhibition titled Visualization of the national history: From, by and for whom? curated by Hyphen —, at Gudskul, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2019.


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