Fighting for land lost during Indonesia’s communist purge

After the tragedy of 1965 – which saw half a million suspected communists killed in Indonesia – dozens of families in Cilacap, in Central Java were forced off their land.


Senin, 24 Okt 2016 08:41 WIB


Muhamad Ridlo Susanto

Rubidi Mangan Sudarmo (Photo: Muhamad Ridlo)

Rubidi Mangan Sudarmo (Photo: Muhamad Ridlo)


After the tragedy of 1965 – which saw half a million suspected communists killed in Indonesia – dozens of families in Cilacap, in Central Java were forced off their land.

The expulsions were led by Rubidi Mangun Sudarmo, a man the victims were not quick to forget.

But half a century later, Rubidi and the victims are on the same side, fighting back for their land.

KBR journalist Mohammed Ridlo has more.

Karsiman would never forget one name: Rubidi Mangun Sudarno.

For decades he held a grudge.

“I really wanted to hit him after he described why he had evicted the people of Cikuya,” said Karsiman.

“Initially I did not want to ask when I saw him some years ago. His son was running for parliament in the election and he asked the people of Cikuya to support him. But I refused.”

At the age of 15, Karsiman was evicted from his family’s land in Cikuya, which is now the village of Bantasari in the Central Javan town of Cilacap.

Rubidi was a commander at the time and oversaw the evictions in 1965.

More than 70 families were kicked off their land in Cikuya for their suspected links to the Indonesian communist party, or the PKI, while others were arrested.

But 45 years later Karsiman and Rubidi met again through the Local Farmers Organization (OTL).

“I knew he joined the organization from the beginning. The group was founded in 2001, but I didn’t meet him until 2010. After there was land distribution, he appeared,” explained Karsiman.

By then the tables had turned.

Two hectares of Rubidi’s land was also seized by soldiers during 1965 – so he joined the farmer’s organization to fight for it back. 

“I am a victim but I kept silent for a long time,” he told me.

“But now the situation is changed now. Before this era, it was a military government.”

Rubidi is 83 years old now.

In 1965 he was a political figure in the area, which is why he was chosen by the military to be a commander, one of the men in charge of the communist purge.

As a commander Rubidi arrested and interrogated scores of PKI members and sympathizers, and also witnessed them being executed.

It wasn’t an easy task, especially as his father in law was a PKI local elite and his wife was a leader in Gerwani, a women’s organization closely associated with the PKI.

But a young Rubidi accepted the task. His life was at stake, he says, if he refused.

“My main task was to restore the community back to normal. This meant that people got back to their homes, and farmers back to the fields. We called it a security operation. After the three-day operation the men doing the operation were back at home.”

That operation targeted people in Cikuya, as it was believed some PKI members were hiding out there.

Rubidi says he persuaded Cikuya residents to leave voluntarily.

“I said something like, 'if you was remain here, and there are fugitives, you will be under threat. It would be better if you willingly go to the village of Majenang.’”

But Cikuya resident Adminem has a different version of the story.

She was threatened with a gun and told she had to leave the village, while her husband was arrested by soldiers.

Adminem said, “I was forced to go, told I would be shot if I didn’t leave. All of them carried weapons and wore brown uniforms, police uniforms.”

Adminem and her four children were taken to Majenang by truck.

“We were like animals. I felt humiliated. Sometimes I remember those days. But I tried to accept it and hoped we would be able to get our land back.”

Today, Rubidi, Karsiman and several other victims are in the same boat – they are fighting to get their land back from the state.

And Karsiman says he has finally forgiven Rubidi.

“I don’t feel a grudge anymore because now we have the same fight. He also supports and joined our group and explained the land eviction cases in that area.” 

But returning that land is complicated now – for years private companies have been operating on it, running chocolate, rubber and pine plantations.

The government has pledged to redistribute the land, but Rubidi and Karsiman aren’t sure they will see it in their lifetime. 


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