The Untold History: The Suffering of Indonesian Women in 1943–1945
- Author Putri Tifanny Azizah
- Published June 15, 2023
- Word count 761
It was promised that the people, including women, would receive proper education to contribute to their country's progress. However, it appears that the promises made by the Japanese people were not fulfilled, and it seems that the education offered to women was merely a ploy. The unfortunate situation where women were taken from their homes and forced into becoming sex slaves to fulfil the desires of Japanese soldiers is described in the book "Perawan Remaja Dalam Cengkeraman Militer" (Teenage Virgins in the Grasp of the Military) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer.
While in exile on Buru Island, Pram encountered many Indonesian women who were taken against their will and promised education and a bright future for their country. This dark chapter in Indonesian history has made me reflect on how fortunate I am to be an Indonesian woman in modern times. During the Nippon era, which is now known as Japan, being a woman was not easy, especially with poverty being a major issue and many people dying from hunger on the streets. Despite the chaotic situation, there was some hope as the Dai Nippon occupying army promised Indonesian youth the opportunity to study abroad in Japan and Shonanto (Singapore) through scholarships.
The youth of Indonesia, especially females, were forcibly taken from their homes and families, with some families even voluntarily offering their daughters. This was done under the guise of providing a better life for the girls. Pramoedya's book recounts how many Indonesian women were registered for scholarships and taken away around 1943, with trusted witnesses. One of the witnesses named Imam, testifying to this dark chapter in history. Imam saw the youth being transported by ship, and even his own brother was a scholarship recipient who was meant to go to Singapore but he was never returned to Indonesia until after the revolution. He said that he never reaches Singapore due to the ship was hit by a torpedo, Imam's brother also saw many Indonesian women on the ship who were all tragically dead.
The Dai Nippon army, who governed at the time, attempted to cover up this tragedy out of fear of their own misdeeds. According to his book, Pramoedya expressed doubt in the promises made by Japan, as he had negative thoughts about them. Although Japan claimed to be the protector of Asia and brought promises of freedom to Indonesia, they did not fulfil their role in protecting Indonesia. Instead, many Indonesian students were unable to study properly due to programs mandated by the Japanese army, such as Taiso (body exercises), Kyoren (march exercises), and Kinrohooshi (communal work). These programs took up valuable time that could have been used for studying. Additionally, if a student fainted during these programs, the Japanese would awaken them by slapping them roughly and repeatedly. Due to these actions, many Indonesian intellectuals, including Pramoedya, were uncertain about Japan's promises.
This portion of history had been concealed and obscured, resulting in an unknown tally of victims. Nippon's inclination to maintain a favorable global reputation had prompted them to withhold the truth. As a progressive country, I personally averse to any form of inhumanity, even when it transpires far beyond our borders, and particularly when it transpires within our own nation. As I delved into this part of history of my nation, I was struck by the plight of Indonesian women who were enslaved during the struggle for independence. While the heroic deeds of men are often celebrated, the sacrifices of these women have been largely overlooked. Even after our nation gained independence, many of these women were left to suffer in exile on Buru Island, without recognition or reward for their contributions. Based on Pramoedya's book, it is unfortunate that many of these women passed away while suffering, without the presence of their loved ones by their side. They were unable to pursue their education as promised by the Japanese. Even after Japan surrendered, it was difficult for them to return to their families and hometowns due to the emotional burden caused by their experiences.
They felt ashamed and powerless, and lacked the financial means to make the journey home. These women were coerced into leaving their homes under the impression that they would receive better educational opportunities, but instead were subjected to terrible acts of obscenity and humiliation. Their sacrifices were ongoing, long after our nation achieved its freedom. It is my firm belief that my dear readers would not tolerate nor condone the vile mistreatment of the mothers, sisters, and women within their communities, much like the unfortunate female victims of the years 1943–1945.
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