The Spirit of Peace of Women in the Red Zone

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Members of Simpang Dua Village youth group cut their chilli plants

Baina laid her head on the back of her palms looking over the backrest of her chair. On purpose she sat down reverse on her chair. Her voice was soft when she was telling the fragments of her life between 2001-2004. The dark ages of conflict between Aceh Freedom Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian Army that broke out the land of Serambi Mekah (Veranda of Mecca).

“It was the fasting month. I forgot that it was the day of sports training. When I was passionately helping my mother in preparing the food for breaking the fast, I was called by a soldier. I was remembered that I had to practice volleyball. He was angry with me and yelled at me. Then he asked me to go to the river behind my house. I had to sit in the river for hours, until the break of the fast.”

The girls from Simpang Dua Village, East Kluet Sub-District, South Aceh District revealed that the volleyball practice for women was a must. It was the Indonesian Army who made it an obligation.

Though cold and hungry, this girl who was still in junior high school at that time didn‘t have any courage to resist. “He carried a gun. I was not allowed to get out from the river until he told me to do so. If we resisted, the gun points were already at our heads.”

Such a confession was also revealed by three friends of Baina’s. They were Abizah, Marina and Bangun Hayati. According to the three girls who were active in the youth organisation, there was no word of “late” for them.

“We were not allowed to come late even just for one minute. If we came late, everyone knew the consequence of it. We would be punished running around the court 10 times or as often as they liked, having to sit in cold water like Baina, doing push ups, etc. Some of us were even kicked,” said Abizah, who was also an elementary school teacher in her village.

Baina who was active in her role as a treasurer in the youth organisation in her village added that when conflicts occurred there were always people who had to lay in water or treated badly by the military personnel every day. “The number of our clothes was no longer enough for us to wear. My father was often immersed in water when he didn’t know the answer to the military’s questions. On the way home from the field, he had often to stand in water by some angry military personnel. How many times he had to do that was countless. But I once resisted. The military person kept quiet. They were arbitrary,” Baina said, laughing in triumph.

 Close supervision

Living in a village that was considered the area of the Aceh Freedom Movement (GAM), which was often called the red zone, meant that we were under a close supervision. Several obligations regardless the conditions of the village were applied.

The head of the Youth Organisation of Simpang Dua Village, Marina, said that even to meet the need of food the people had to obey the rules applied by the personnel of the Indonesian Army. The people were obliged to plant sweet potato and vegetables in their yard.

”We were not allowed to work on our fields. If we wanted to go to our fields we had to pass the checkpoint, report there and we were searched. We were asked to leave our ID card at their hands. We were not allowed to bring rice or food. They suspected that we brought food for the members of the Aceh Freedom Movement (GAM).”

Marina also said that rice and food that belonged to the villagers had to be kept at the checkpoint. Every day the villagers had to come to the check point to queue for rice according to the numbers of the people in their family. This experience created the need for a new strategy for most villagers.

”If we had to go to the market for our family needs we had to be careful to get exactly right the amount so that it wouldn’t be taken by the military. Unfortunately, although we had bought grocery according to our needs, they still took some from us.”

It was not only matters of life that they controlled. Even the relation between human beings and the Creator was controlled. ” Attendance on the Friday prayer was controlled too. Those who didn’t attend the prayer were noticed. They created various punishments. For boys and men these punishments were harder,” Marina said while slightly laughing.

 Displaced

If asked to count how many times the people had fled, Marina, Baina, Abizah and Bangun Hayati said they couldn’t remember anymore. In their memory, every time there was gunfire in the village or hills around their village the people fled. Mass displacement occurred twice.

”We, from Simpang Dua and Simpang Tiga Village, once fled to Malaka Village, sheltered in a junior high school building. It was the fasting month and there was gunfire. We fled because we felt threatened. We fled for more than a month,” said Abizah. Bangun Hayati and Baina nodded their heads, agreeing to Abiza’s words.

Following a threat, people settled temporarily in a village behind the hill, Paya Ateuk Village in Pasie Raja Sub-District. ”Every time we returned from our displacement, things were messy. Our belongings were gone. Nobody knew where they were gone. Goats, chickens … all gone,” Marina said.

”It was weird, though, that no dead animals were found. All were gone,” said Abizah, who was the secretary of the Youth Organization at the time.

”Goat shit was brought into our houses. They also put it in our clothes which we left behind. I don’t know what to say. Uugghh … never let such a thing happens again. We are tired,” Baina added with a sigh.

 Gaining back the spirit

During the conflict, the youth and all other villagers was scared of both conflicting parties, the Indonesian Army and the Aceh Freedom Movement (GAM). ”They both had guns. Women were forced to practice volley ball by the military personnel. If we resisted we had to stand in water. Consequently GAM considered us as having a close relationship with the Indonesian Army, though actually we were forced to do what they wanted us to do. Our life was threatened by the Aceh Freedom Movement. Both of them had made us scared,” Bangun sighed.

In peaceful times like now, the four young women want to forget their past despite the pain remaining because of repeatedly being treated badly. Challenge after challenge had to be faced by the women who are enthusiastic about developing their village.

”I can’t forget the shameful treatment I received from the military, nor how they treated our brothers? Frankly, even under the most painful conditions we had to protect our brothers in the hills. However, after a peace was achieved, they got jobs, all kinds of assistance, whereas we are left without any attention. They don’t care about their sisters and other brothers who are left in agony because of the conflict,” revealed Marina.

On the other hand, some youth activities from before the conflict were not practiced anymore until now. Some people even opposed the revival of a youth organisation.

”How can we achieve something like our parents if we are prohibited to carry out activities. We are never told why our activities are prohibited. There are only rumors saying that girls are not allowed to do sports and dance. We simply want to train primary school students to dance,” said Abizah.

“How can they just expect us to stay home idly? No art is allowed. Even it is Acehnese culture that we learn. It is strange that girls are not allowed to advance themselves,” said Baina.

Marina hopes that peace will really become true in a real form. ”Peace is peace. But please return our spirit so that we don’t only remember our bitter past. We want our enthusiasm for arts and social activities to return. Art equipments used to be available but now all are destroyed by the conflict. It is just not right to prohibit something without any reasons.”

Luckily, village administrators, including geuchik (village head) and youths fully support the girl’s activities.

Ninuk Setya Utami

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