The Month of Aryati and Women’s Day

This article is a translation of the article Bulan Aryati dan Hari Perempuan by Umi Maisaroh. To read the original Bahasa Indonesia version (highly recommended), click here.

In March, there is a day specifically dedicated to women. Since a few years in Berlin, the day even became an official holiday. That day is Frauentag, women’s day, which falls on March 8th. In this month also Aryati will introduce herself. Aryati, a woman who was born and died in one night.

This month had become even more tempestuous as it was opened by a demonstration at the “Friedensstatue“ in Berlin on March 1, 2022. Copper colored statue in the shape of a female body with Hanbok1. The statue became a symbol of “comfort women”, women who were forced to become sex slaves for Japan during the second world war. At the demonstration, activists, students, and female artists from various countries voiced their aspirations. The cold Berlin air seemed to be burned by their spirits. They not only fight for gender justice, but in particular, they protest wether the statue will be removed from the place. The statue has become a symbol of the evil that has ever happened in the history of the world. The removal of the statue means the murder of humanity.

Judging from the historical significance of the statue, I felt like I was experiencing deja vu. Such history also happened in my country, which also happened to be the inspiration in our project “Aryati”. In Indonesian history I am familiar with the term Jugun Ianfu: women who were forced to become sex slaves by the Japanese army when they colonized Indonesia. There are many sad stories about Indonesian women who became victims of this slavery. Although Indonesia does not have a special statue like in Berlin, but the stories of the victims and the thousands of books written about them, make this event not easily erased from our history. And the project “Aryati” is an attempt to reaffirm that history. History punishes us, that I and any of us, cannot go back in time. Some things in the past may be fixed, but many things can’t. And now, with the statue removed, will they escape responsibility for their mistakes? Can they erase past mistakes? Can the wounds of the victims be healed? Do they guarantee that it won’t happen again now and in the future?

For more than 1.5 hours, the women stood around the statue and took turn to gave speeches. The cold air did not shake them. The darkness of the sky did not discourage them. Together they reinforced each other, like the jargon written in various languages on their placards: We remember, We fight, We endure.

Suddenly I found myself in a world full of evil. Called to fight. Dragged to fight. I felt like I was being forced to dig a hole, but then I threw myself into it.

As a woman, was I born on earth just to fix injustice and suppress patriarchy?
Do women have no other purpose in life than to break down the walls that hold up their dreams?
Can’t women live peacefully without bearing the burden of being a woman?
I, as an Indonesian, do I have to avenge my ancestors who had been forced into slavery and tortured physically and mentally since the 18th century?
Do I have to carry the sorrows of my ancestors in my blood and soul for the rest of my life?
Am I not entitled to seek the superiority of my ancestors over the invaders?
Am I not entitled to corner the invaders and their descendants with a lifetime of guilt?
Am I not entitled to demand compensation for what they did to my ancestors?

The wind suddenly rolled my screams into a song that was never heard.

While the demonstration was not over, I heard Aryati whispered quietly. Aryati’s body wobbles between them. Empty.

1 korean traditional women’s clothing.

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Not an artist, nor a musician, Azhari orbits around the amazing people in Berlin. Translating his admiration towards them into words.