Communist victims exhumed in Bali to stop their spirits disturbing villagers

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Ida Bagus Krenda, 96, who witnessed the execution of communists at Batuagung village in Bali in 1966. Photo: Dharma Jaya The bodies were not in their proper place according to Hindu belief and have now been given a proper cremation. Photo: Dharma Jaya
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Villagers supported the exhumation of the bodies of nine communists executed in 1966. Photo: Dharma Jaya

Remembering Bloody October

Ubud, Bali: As creeping censorship of politically sensitive issues by Indonesian authorities attracted international opprobrium last week, the bodies of nine victims of the 1965 communist purge were peacefully exhumed in Bali to stop their spirits disturbing the villagers.

The Balinese village of Batuagung has been troubled by a high suicide rate for no apparent reason in recent years and villagers reported paranormal sightings.

“A villager said he was just chatting with another man, but then he noticed the other man’s head had fallen off,” village head Ida Bagus Komang Widiarta said.

“A few times also, students at an elementary school were possessed.”

The villagers consulted a Hindu priest and a dukun (shaman), who told them the spirits of nine communists massacred in 1966 and buried in a mass grave under a road in Batuagung were requesting a proper cremation.

“The bodies were not in their proper place according to Hindu belief,” Mr Widiarta said. “Therefore the villagers came up with the idea to cleanse the area … from things that happened in the past. There is no political aspect to it, none. We have no prejudices against the victims. We believe our people and we want to cleanse.”

Up to 1 million people with suspected leftist leanings were killed throughout Indonesia in 1965 and 1966 in what the CIA described as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century”.

The tragedy remains highly politically contentious as many of the country’s military and religious organisations were implicated in the purge. Indonesian President Joko Widodo rejected the idea of an apology to victims’ families on the 50th anniversary this year.

A survivor of the 1965 killings, now a Swedish citizen, was deported in October after reportedly attempting to visit the grave of his father in West Sumatra and a student newspaper from a university in central Java that featured stories on 1965 was recalled.

The national tragedy and Indonesia’s failure to reconcile with its past made international headlines this week after the Ubud Writers Festival was forced to cancel sessions related to 1965 and other politically sensitive issues.

It was the first time the festival, billed as south-east Asia’s biggest cultural and literary event, had been censored in the 12-year history of the event.

Amnesty International issued a statement raising concerns about continued attempts by Indonesian authorities to silence public discussions and disband events related to serious human rights violations in 1965.

“These actions are a clear restriction of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and must stop immediately.”

While the festival was preoccupied with handwringing over the censorship of the 1965 purge, the remains of nine of its victims were peacefully exhumed and cremated on Thursday in front of more than 200 family members.

The exhumation was attended by Ida Bagus Krenda, 96,  who witnessed the men being killed with swords and a wooden log in 1966, and still remembered the site of the graves.

Ida Bagus Ketut Siwa, the head of a sub-village in Batuagung, said the exhumation had been discussed for years.

“There were too many odd occurrences … Like the high rate of suicides, just in our banjar [community] we have 50 suicides by hanging. We can only start openly discussing the burial site after Gus Dur [Abdurrahman Wahid] was president and he cancelled the law that prevented people from discussing it. It was taboo for a long time for anyone to discus it.”

Mr Siwa said the spirits of the bodies could return to their resting place now there had been a proper cremation and the ashes thrown to the sea.

“Our intention is only to … save the Batuagung village.”

An all-day Pecaruan ceremony will be held on November 1 to cleanse the area.

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