Jakarta. Acclaimed Indonesian writer and activist Putu Oka Sukanta launched his latest book "Cahaya Mata Sang Pewaris" ("Finding the Light in the Descendant's Eyes") at Goethe Haus in Central Jakarta on Friday (21/04).
Born in Singaraja, Bali, in 1939, Putu realized at an early age that writing is his forte. At the age of 16, he actively wrote poetry and short stories, publishing his first novel in 1963.
"I started to write when I felt the need to express myself. Writing to me is a medium to express what's inside my heart and my mind," he said.
Despite his advanced age, the 78-year-old shows no signs of slowing down. With his latest book, he feels that he carries a responsibility to reveal the truth about the 1965 tragedy so the people, especially younger generations could learn from it.
More than half a century after the 1965 tragedy, Indonesians remain divided about the events and the history is slowly vanishing from the nation's historical record.
"My goal is actually very simple. I just want to establish an equal society, despite the differences. These victims and their families are part of our history and they deserve to be known and recognized by society," Putu said.
The book presents the stories of 25 men and women whose family members were hunted down and taken away by the military regime for allegedly being communist sympathizers during the Suharto regime.
He said the book aims to provide creative room for those who have gone through the process of dehumanization and have been marginalized by society.
"They do not have room and freedom to express their feelings, hopes, and identities. So, I am here as their friend to help make their dreams come true," he said.
Gita Laras, the daughter of a 1965 fugitive who was imprisoned in Salemba, Central Jakarta, said the book helps her cope with trauma and anxiety.
"My tears were streaming down my face when I wrote my story but I am hopeful that this book can be an afterthought for the younger generations to not get provoked easily if similar things happen in the future," she said.
Nasti Rukmawati, who wrote the chapter "Langkah Hidupku Tak Membuat Tangis" in the book, had a similar experience.
Raised by a literate mother, Nasti said reading and writing are inseparable from her.
"I have never been afraid to tell people that I am the daughter of a 1965 victim. If I keep myself in silence, no one would know what really happened in the past," she said.
Like others, Putu also hopes readers will appreciate the other side of history.
"With this book, I hope my friends [The 1965 fugitives and their families] can share their stories so things like this won't happen again in the future. That's why this event is called 'Mencari Terang' ['Seeking Enlightenment']."
In addition to the event, a short documentary "Bangkit Dari Bisu" ("Rising From Silence") by Shallahudin Siregar, and a short clip of "Ausschnitt Fernseharchiv: Fritz Bauer Spricht Zum Eichmann Prozess" – Fitz Bauer's speech about Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann – were also screened during the book launch.
Besides writing and teaching, Putu is also the founder of Lembaga Kreativitas Kemanusiaan (Institute of Human Creativity), a nongovernmental organization focused on restoring the humanity of those affected by the 1965 tragedy through films and educational activities.
Putu also received the Hellman/Hammett Award in 2012 for his commitment to freedom of expression and his dedication to confronting persecution.