Sat, 04 Jun 1994

Partinah, a woman who devoted her life for her country

By Riyadi

JAKARTA (JP): Partinah Iskandar is one of the few living Indonesian women who took part in Indonesia's struggle for independence.

A septuagenarian, Partinah is now an active member of Wirawati Catur Panca -- Sanskrit for woman fighter of 1945 -- an organization of women who showed their bravery during the flaming years of the Indonesian revolution.

Born into the Javanese gentry in Tambak village in Purwokerto, Central Java, she had the privilege to attend HIS, an elite elementary school during Dutch colonial times.

After completing her early schooling, she was again among those fortunate enough to continue their studies, this time at an finishing school for women aristocrats.

Just prior to the Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies (the popular name for Indonesia then), Partinah's family fell from the top of society when her father lost his job with a private railway company.

The family then moved to Jakarta to try their luck and found Partinah a teaching job at a kindergarten to support the family.

Young Partinah's political awareness blossomed along with the fledgling Republic of Indonesia. She then bonded herself to the Barisan Putri (Women's Front), a subsidiary of the Barisan Pemuda Asia Raya (The Great Asia Youth Front).

Notably active and devoting herself fully to the organization, she often organized political discussions with noted freedom fighters such as H. Agus Salim, Syafruddin Prawiranegara, Sutan Syahrir and others.

In this organization, Partinah met a young activist, Iskandar, who later became her husband. Celebrating their marriage, they managed to have a very simple party. "A wedding party was a luxury at that time," she reminisced.

Instead of having a honey moon, the newly weds were absorbed in the clandestine struggle against the Japanese rule over Indonesia.

Kartini and Sukarno

Partinah once organized a commemorative party for Kartini Day, a celebration of women's rights, at the defunct Cikini zoo (now Taman Ismail Marzuki cultural center).

Present at the ceremony were a number of political activists, including Sukarno who later became the country's first president.

"When Sukarno arrived at the zoo, the ceremony was not ready. So Sukarno said to me, 'Hey, it's already late. Call everybody and let's start it now.'

"As I was the one who was entrusted to conduct the ceremony, I ordered everybody, including Sukarno and all the Japanese officials, to start the festivities," Partinah recollected, saying that this is only one of her many memories with Sukarno.

On August 17, 1945, when Sukarno proclaimed Indonesian independence, the Women's Front under Partinah was busy preparing the national flag.

"At that time, we worked round the clock sewing red-and-white flags and move about distributing them in every corner of the city," Partinah said.

The Women's Front also helped organize large crowds of people to go to Ikada square (now the National Monument square) to hear Sukarno's speech. Thanks to their efforts throngs of people went to the square despite the fact that it was heavily guarded by Japanese soldiers.

"The Japanese occupation troops were armed with bayonets and armored vehicles. They tried to threaten us with their guns, but women were never afraid of such a threat, so we just walked on to the square.

"A sea of people swarmed at all parts of the city's square. All of us were patiently waiting for Bung Karno who then arrived very late," Partinah stated.

Bung Karno was the popular nickname for the charismatic Sukarno, who was noted for his gift as a great orator.


Jakarta was never calm after the arrival of NICA (Netherlands Indies Civil Administration) soldiers, and many clashes happened in the city.

When Partinah's husband drove her and friends to a vegetable market in a Japanese military truck, Dutch servicemen caught them and detained them for one week.

"It was only one week, but the suffering was unbearable, especially when I heard my husband screaming. He was cruelly beaten by Dutch soldiers of Ambonese origin," she recalled.

When the city's security worsened, Partinah and her husband, together with other fighters and refugees, fled to a guerrilla bastion in West Java.

Her activities were mostly behind the front-lines, helping make and distribute ammunition, giving first aid to injured soldiers and handling public kitchens during the war.

"My most unforgettable experience during my wandering about villages was that I realized how poor Indonesian people were. They ate whatever they could find, and they wore whatever they could, such as clothes of gunny sack material which were full of lice," she said poignantly.

When the Dutch government finally recognized Indonesia's sovereignty in 1949, calm prevailed in the capital, allowing Partinah, her husband and other guerrillas to return to the city to breath the air of freedom.

In 1952, however, her husband Lt. Iskandar was assigned a new post in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan. With a heavy heart, Partinah quit her studies at the military tactics school in Cimahi, West Java, and followed her husband.

It was not until 1959 at 37 when she finally met her dream of having a daughter. Then later came a son, who now stays with her in a simple house in Jatinegara, East Jakarta.

"I was quite late to bear children. But I don't regret this, because I sacrificed my youth for love of Indonesia," she said in a dignified tone.