- Sexual slander and the 1965/66 mass killings in Indonesia: political and methodological considerations
- Journal of Contemporary Asia
- Volume | Issue number
- 41 | 4
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
Indonesia has been haunted by the "spectre of communism" since the putsch by military officers on 1 October 1965. That event saw the country's top brass murdered and the military attributing this putsch to the Communist Party. The genocide that followed was triggered by a campaign of sexual slander. This led to the real coup and the replacement of President Sukarno by General Suharto. Today, accusations about communism continue to play a major role in public life and state control remains shored up by control over women's bodies. This article introduces the putsch and the socialist women's organisation Gerwani, members of which were, at the time, accused of sexual debauchery. The focus is on the question of how Gerwani was portrayed in the aftermath of the putsch and how this affects the contemporary women's movement. It is found that women's political agency has been restricted, being associated with sexual debauchery and social turmoil. State women's organisations were set up and women's organisations forced to help build a "stable" society, based on women's subordination. The more independent women's groups were afraid to be labelled "new Gerwani " as that would unleash strong state repression. This article assesses the implications of these events for the post-1998 period of Reformasi and reviews some recent analyses of 1965, state terrorism and violence and reveals blind spots in dealing with gender and sexual politics. It is argued that the slander against Gerwani is downplayed in these analyses. In fact, this slander was the spark without which the bloodbath would not have happened and would not have acquired its gruesome significance.
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