Building solidarity based on common history - Interview with Eka Hindrati, a researcher studying the “comfort women” issue in Indonesia

Posts Eka Hindrati

  • Created at2020.03.24
  • Updated at2021.08.24

Indonesia is one of the countries, along with Korea, that had been invaded by Japan in the past. Thus, the sad history of Japanese military “comfort women” exists in Indonesia as well. However, the investigations and the support for the victims of Japanese military ‘comfort women’ in Indonesia are not as vibrant as in South Korea. Eka Hindrati is an Indonesian researcher who has been persistently engaging in various activities towards the resolution of the “comfort women” issues despite many challenges. Through a written interview, we asked her about the progress of studies and investigations on Japanese military “comfort women” in Indonesia, and about what efforts are needed in order for South Korea and Indonesia to unite through the common history.



Eka Hindrati, a researcher of the Japanese military “comfort women” issue in Indonesia

Q. Please introduce yourself briefly for the Research Institute on Japanese Military Sexual Slavery's (RIiMSS) webzine <Kyeol> readers.

My name is Eka Hindrati, and I am an independent researcher studying the “comfort women” issue in Indonesia. I am closely examining the “comfort women” issue in Indonesia by working with Dr. Koichi Kimura of Japan, who had made the first public revelation about the Indonesian “comfort women” issue in 1992.

Q. The book 『They Called Me 'Momoye'』 (Momoye Mereka Memanggilku), jointly authored by yourself and Dr. Koichi Kimura, had already been introduced in the webzine <Kyeol> some time ago. Was there any particular reason that motivated you to engage in activities or research related to the “comfort women” issue?

The first time I learned about the “comfort women” issue was in 1999, when I was working as a radio reporter at <Internews> in Jakarta. I was running a program for women at the time, and I met Dr. Koichi Kimura and Budi Santoso (who later died) of the Yogyakarta Legal Aid Institute through a program that discussed the “comfort women” issue. That was when I first learned about the “comfort women” issue. I wrote an article about Mardiyem, who was a “comfort women” victim and also an iconic figure leading the vigorous fight to receive proper compensation for the “comfort women” victims including herself. She is the main character of the 『They Called Me 'Momoye'』 (Momoye Mereka Memanggilku). The article I had written then was broadcast in 50 radio stations across Indonesia.

Q. Despite all your efforts, the majority of South Koreans are, to my embarrassment, not aware of damages on Japanese military “comfort women” in Indonesia. Could you please explain to the webzine <Kyeol> readers in South Korea about the victimization inflicted on the Japanese military “comfort women” of Indonesia at the time?

Sure. “Comfort stations” were set up wherever Japanese troops were situated in Indonesia. Those “comfort stations” for the Japanese Army were widely dispersed from Aceh, the western end, to Papua, the eastern end of Indonesia. Those “comfort stations” scattered in the eastern part of Indonesia were populated by women especially from Korea and Taiwan.

The “comfort women” from Indonesia were categorized and assigned by their grades. That is, the fair-skinned Indonesian women from Manado, Sulawesi of northern Indonesia, as well as Chinese women, and the women of Dutch descent were exclusively set for the Japanese Army officers. By contrast, the brown-skinned women from Java Island were assigned to lower-class Japanese soldiers. The “comfort women” were aged between 16 and 25, but still included many young girls who had not even begun to menstruate yet.


Indonesia wakes up to the Japanese military “comfort women” issue

Q. Then, when did Indonesia become aware of the Japanese military “comfort women” issue?

In Indonesia, the Japanese military “comfort women” issue became public in 1992 for the first time. A newspaper reporter Joko Santoso first mentioned the story about his aunt who had been imprisoned as a “comfort women”. His aunt Tuminah is said to have been a sex slave at a “comfort station” named Fuji Ryokan in Solo, Central Java for three and a half years for the Japanese Army. Joko Santoso published articles about his aunt's experience as a “comfort woman” on July 16 and again on July 21, 1992 in the Suara Merdeka newspaper that he worked for.

The first study into the Indonesian victims of Japanese military “comfort women” began when Dr. Koichi Kimura and his wife Okcho Kimura, a peace activist, read the articles and visited Indonesia to meet with the Japanese military “comfort women” victims in person. The result of their study was introduced in various Japanese media, which prompted Japanese people to learn about their own shameful history.

In 1993, five lawyers from the Human Rights Commission of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (Nichibenren) visited the Legal Aid Institute Jakarta. They raised the issue concerning the compensation for the victims who had been exploited as sex slaves for the Japanese Army in the Asia-Pacific War. The visit of those Japanese lawyers was followed by an official statement from Indonesia's Minister of Social Affairs at the time, Inten Suweno, pledging that Indonesia would meticulously identify every surviving victim of Japanese military sexual slavery throughout the country.

Q. What was the response of Indonesian society when the Japanese military “comfort women” issue was exposed for the first time?

The statement from Inten Suweno, Indonesia’s Minister of Social Affairs at the time, got published in the Merdeka Daily News on April 20, 1993 and an investigation into the Indonesian victims of Japanese military sexual slavery. This caused tremendous social repercussions and shocks across the society, since a crime against humanity such as the “comfort women” issue had never been openly discussed after Indonesia's independence in 1945. According to the directions of the Minister of Social Affairs, the Legal Aid Institute Jakarta, a non-governmental organization, began receiving registrations from the victims of Japanese military “comfort women” and the labor mobilization. Afterwards, the task related to the registration processes was transferred to the Yogyakarta Legal Aid Institute.

Q. What were the results of receiving the registrations?

The registrations received from April 29 through September 14 in 1993 resulted in the identification of personal information for 1,156 victims of Japanese military “comfort women” and 17,245 victims of labor mobilization. Also, after Indonesia joined “the International Committee for the Asia Pacific War Victims Claiming Compensation” in 1995, an association consisting of former Heihos (兵補) started receiving victims' registrations in 1996. The aim of the registrations was to promote the reparation for the Indonesian victims in accordance with “the Agreement Individual Compensation for the Asia Pacific Victims of Japanese Aggression.” A total of 19,573 female victims of Japanese military “comfort women” registered before the deadline on March 30, 1996.

Q. How did the Indonesian government officially respond when the Japanese military “comfort women” issue was publicly exposed?

At the time, the Indonesian government expressed shock, dismay, and embarrassment for the fact that Indonesian women had been exploited as sex slaves for the Japanese Army. Yet, prioritizing a harmonious and cooperative relationship with the Japanese government, the Indonesian government did not want to get involved in the fight and struggle to resolve the “comfort women” issue. Also, the “comfort women” issue is not being properly taught in Indonesian schools, which is a shame.

Q. Then, how are civic groups reacting to resolve the Japanese military “comfort women” issue?

After the Human Rights Commission of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (Nichibenren) visited the Legal Aid Institute Jakarta, the Legal Aid Institute Jakarta carried out the registration process along with a status survey on the “comfort women” issue. Also, around the time when the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal 2000 for the Trial of Japanese military Sexual Slavery was held in Tokyo, Japan, the Legal Aid Institute Jakarta prepared a lawsuit on behalf of Indonesian “comfort women” victims, in conjunction with the Indonesia Women’s Coalition for Justice and Democracy (President: Nursyahbani Katjasungkana) and the Forum Resistance Military Against Women (Chairman: Dr. Koichi Kimura). Many lawyers attended the trial. This collaborative activity encouraged cohesive campaigns on the “comfort women” issue and thereby influenced public opinions in Indonesia.

Unfortunately, when the Women's International War Crimes Tribunal 2000 was over, public interest in the Indonesian “comfort women” issue began to wane. Therefore, several members of the Legal Aid Institute Jakarta, myself, and others interested in resolving the “comfort women” issue, convened together to found the Indonesian “comfort women” Advocacy Network (JAJI) in Jakarta in 2006. We then worked with activists in Central Java to push campaigns to urge the government to resolve the “comfort women” issue politically.

This network dissolved after several years of its activities. Afterwards, Dr. Koichi Kimura and I organized the Indonesian Ianfu Solidarity Network (JSII) in 2012. The organization and operation of this network is flexible, and anyone who desires to cooperate and support for the resolution of the “comfort women” issue can join.


South Korea and Indonesia have a common sad history; both countries need solidarity to resolve the “comfort women” issue

Q. What kind of activities is the Indonesian Ianfu Solidarity Network (JSII) currently engaged in?

Currently, as we do not have any special organization nor group that take charge of the “comfort women” issue in Indonesia, the Indonesian Ianfu Solidarity Network (hereinafter "JSII") is carrying out various campaigns to raise the “comfort women” issue as a social problem. Our activities thus range from book publishing, photo exhibitions, painting exhibitions, movie screenings, to press conferences, and so on, in order to shape public opinions. Although JSII’s activities are not systematic or vigorous as its operations are based on individual participation, JSII continues to focus its efforts on resolving the “comfort women” issue.

Q. You are said to have many keepsakes left by the Japanese military “comfort women” victims in Indonesia. What kinds of keepsakes do you have?

While visiting various parts of Indonesia to conduct research, I was able to witness myself the relics or the places of atrocities that emerged during Japanese occupation. I also encountered unexpected items related to the “comfort women” of Indonesia, such as Japanese Army’s liquor bottles, porcelain cups, empty cartridges, traditional Indonesian clothes worn by the “comfort women”, skirts, shoe bags, hats, medical devices, and many more.

The most impressive items for me were the medical devices for the “comfort women”. The first time I saw those medical devices was in 2002. I saw them through a photo that Mr. Sarmudji showed me and Dr. Koichi Kimura. Mr. Sarmudji was a former member of the Japanese auxiliary troops, Heiho, and now lives in Ambarawa, Central Java. The photo, which was taken in 1992, showed a metal medical device with a handle, along with three glass bottles for injectable solution, and two old bandages. The medical devices for “comfort women” depicted in the picture were brought to Mr. Sarmudji by his friend, another former Heiho, who took them from a ‘comfort station’ located in Surabaya, and were subsequently acquired by Mr. Sarmudji. Unfortunately, Mr. Sarmudji was unable to locate these medical devices in his house because he was repairing the house at the time. Mr. Sarmudji said that a Japanese person came to him and desperately wanted to acquire those medical devices. I met Mr. Sarmudji again in 2004 and only then did I get to see the partially damaged medical devices for “comfort women” myself. Mr. Sarmudji gladly handed those historical artifacts over to me.


Japanese Army’s liquor bottles, porcelain cups, empty cartridges, traditional Indonesian clothes worn by the comfort women, skirts, shoe bags, hats, medical devices


Q. Thank you for all your sincere answers, although this was a written interview. Lastly, could you tell us that in what areas can South Korea and Indonesia cooperate together to resolve the “comfort women” issue?

I am learning a lot from the diverse activities that South Korea engages in to resolve the “comfort women” issue. The erection of ‘the Statue of Peace' in efforts to gain international support, the initiation of campaigns through various programs, and so on have left me a big impression. Inspired by such efforts, I am now preparing various cultural programs with my colleagues in South Korea, Taiwan, the USA, Germany, and Japan, as the part of contribution to resolving the “comfort women” issue.

South Korea and Indonesia share a sad past of “comfort women.” Despite this shared past, the bilateral cooperation between the two countries towards resolving the “comfort women” issue has not been active. I think that Indonesia and South Korea, both having experienced the Japanese invasion in the past, should cooperate and support each other to empower the international movement that pushes and politically urges the Japanese government to resolve the “comfort women” issue.

I also hope that South Korea and Indonesia would be able to cooperate in various joint initiatives on the “comfort women” issue, by organizing joint seminars, publishing booklets, screening movies, hosting photo exhibitions, and so on. South Korea's diverse and zealous social movements can greatly influence Indonesian people who are depending heavily on Japan economically and are also not well informed of the nature and current status of the “comfort women” issue.

Lastly, I would like to express my deep gratitude to RIMSS's webzine <Kyeol> for providing me with the opportunity to inform the people in South Korea about the realities of Japanese military sexual slavery, “comfort women”, that had occurred in Indonesia.

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Writer Eka Hindrati

1975년 12월 1일 인도네시아, 자카르타에서 출생. 1999년부터 인도네시아 '위안부' 문제 연구 및 전문가로 활동 중이다. 현재까지 인도네시아 전역에 거주하고 있는 '위안부 '피해 여성 45명을 직접 만나 인터뷰를 진행. 이중 Internews 라디오에서 기자로 근무할 때 인도네시아 중부 자바, 욕야카르타에 거주하고 있는 '위안부' 피해자 마르디엠(Mardiyem) 할머니에 대한 일대기를 취재한 '위안부' 문제를 인도네시아 언론 사상 최초로 전국 50개 라디오 방송사를 통해 알렸다. 2007년에는 고이치 기무라(Koichi Kimura) 박사와 함께 마르디엠 할머니의 일대기를 5년 동안 정리하여 『그들은 나를 ‘모모예’라고 불렀다』(Momoye Mereka Memanggilku)라는 책 제목으로 출간했다. 이는 인도네시아 ‘위안부’를 다룬 최초의 책이 된다. 2009년에는 『일본 군국주의와 아시아-태평양 지역에서의 전쟁 범죄』(Japanese Militarism & Its War Crimes in Asia Pacific Region)라는 제목으로 책을 출간했고 '위안부'에 대한 세번째 책으로 (가칭) 『일본 군국주의 발 아래 자바 처녀들』(Nona Djawa Di bawah Telapak Kaki Militerisme Jepang)을 준비 중에 있다. 책 출간 이외에도 인도네시아 ‘위안부’ 문제를 사회에 알리는 다양한 캠페인을 진행하고 있다. 중부 자바, 솔로(Solo)에서 '위안부' 사진전을 개최했고 2016년에는 자카르타에서 8명의 여성 화가들과 함께 '위안부'를 주제로 한 작품전을 열었다. 인도네시아 '위안부' 문제에 대한 협력 체계를 강화하고 사회적 캠페인을 활성화하기 위해 2012년 고이치 기무라 박사, 아누르라 사푸트라(Anugrah Saputra)씨와 함께 인도네시아 '위안부' 연대(JSII)를 결성했다.