Sun, 08 Apr 2001

Former comfort woman continues quest for justice

By Kusrini

YOGYAKARTA (JP): Steadfast and unyielding in the face of ordeals -- these are the two qualities one can find in Mardiyem, a former jugun ianfu, or comfort woman, a euphemism for a sex slave during the Japanese occupation.

Along with fellow former comfort women in Indonesia, she is fighting for their fate. In 1993, Momoye, as she is known endearingly to her friends meaning "flower", made headlines the world over because of the demand that she made on the Japanese.

Along with the Legal Aid Institute in Yogyakarta, which acts as her legal proxy, she has been fighting for the fate of Indonesian comfort women, most of whom live in pitiable misery and abject poverty.

With tears in her eyes, as she tries to control her emotion, and constantly puffing on a cigarette, Mak Ingun, which is how she is called at home, talks about what she has gone through in her life.

"I am in fact very ashamed and on the brink of despair as my struggle since 1993 for the Indonesian comfort women has yet to achieve any results. However, I am able to remain steadfast and refuse to back down from my struggle when I remember how many fellow comfort women are leading a miserable life. Some of them are blind or physically handicapped and others live in poverty as they no longer have anybody," she said, tears still welling up in her eyes.

It is her great hope that the former comfort women will have a better life. The Japanese government must ask for forgiveness for what the Japanese soldiers did in the past.

"Former comfort women have a terrible plight. Apart from undergoing mental suffering, many of them are now handicapped because they had been tortured by the Japanese soldiers whose beastly desires they had to satiate. The most effective medicine for us former comfort women, is an apology from the Japanese government. I have allowed myself to be exposed and bear all the consequent shame but why is it that my effort is yet to be fruitful?"

Today energetic Mak Ingun lives alone in Suryo Tarunan, Ngampilan, Yogyakarta. Although she has one child from her marriage to Amingun, she never wants to trouble her child. She busies herself every day in various activities at the office of the Legal Aid Institute Yogyakarta or visits her former fellow comfort women or, even, participates in activities with fellow villagers.

In her 3m-by-10m house, she lives alone. When morning comes, there is not much that she can do. After the dawn prayer, she cleans the house and the yard. She looks after her plants, most of them orchids, which fill her yard. She does not cook as she simply goes to the nearby food stall and eats there. "Well, I live alone, you know," she says, chuckling.

Twice or three times a week she spends the day at the office of the Legal Aid Institute of Yogyakarta. Then she takes part in arisan (tontine) and Koran verse reading, an activity which she believes would be an asset for her in the hereafter and helps to kill time. Aged over 70, she still visits her former fellow comfort women, at least once a month. She gets around by bus.

When twilight comes and night falls, she feels lonely. The night feels too long as she has no friends to keep her company.

"I have neither a television nor radio receiver. I sold them both to survive. Yes, I still have a small old radio. I live on the soldier's pension of my husband, which is just enough to keep body and soul together. At night, I go straight to sleep. To dispel unnecessary nagging thoughts, especially memories of the gloomy past, I will chant a prayer until I fall asleep."