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Researcher details shattered lives of local comfort women

"I was cooking in the kitchen. I failed to escape. They caught and raped me. I struggled against them but one of them kicked my head. My head was injured ...

"There were four big buildings where women serving Japanese soldiers were living. I had to serve 10 to 20 soldiers every day. I was punched all the time. It continued until 1945 when Japan surrendered."

The above is the testimony of 'P', a Malaysian 'comfort woman'. The term refers to a woman or girl forced to be a sex slave by Japanese soldiers during their occupation of this country from 1942 to 1945.

According to a Japanese lecturer, the 'comfort station system' was introduced by the Japanese army during World War Two in their occupied areas to 'prevent the rape of local women by Japanese soldiers, to limit anti-Japanese resistance in the occupied area, to protect the soldiers from venereal disease and to avoid international disgrace'.

Nakahara Michiko of Waseda University said initially, prostitutes were recruited from Japan, colonies such as Korea and Taiwan and occupied areas such as China, Burma, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, East Timor, Pacific islands and Thailand.

"According to advertisements, women aged between 17 and 28 from all ethnic groups were sought. Their payment amounted to more than S$150 (at that time)," she said in her paper entitled 'Comfort Women in Malaysia' presented at the Third International Malaysian Studies Conference which ended on Wednesday at University Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi.

Painful memory

According to Nakahara, comfort stations in Kuala Lumpur were set up in a large bungalow behind the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, four large buildings along Jalan Gurney (now Jalan Tun Razak) next to the National Library, the Tai Sun Hotel opposite the former Pudu Jail and a large house along Jalan Ampang, which was formerly used by high-ranking Japanese soldiers.

She said that there were others stations in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan (a large Tudor-style bungalow, the premises of the MCA Kuala Pilah branch), in Penang (at the Tong Lock Hotel at the junction of Jalan Burma and Jalan Zainal Abidin), Port Dickson, Melaka (the Seng Cheong building along Jalan Cheng Lock) and at Sepang (at a site where a Tamil school stands today).

Nakahara, who based her research on interviews with former comfort women, said that although P married in 1951, she was unable to have children due to the repeated rapes. Later, in 1952 and 1958, she and her husband adopted two girls.

"Her womb had become so infected that it had to be removed. She was unable to find relief from the psychological and physical pains caused by the rapes. She has never been free from the painful memory that she had been a comfort woman," said Nakahara.

"She hated sex or being touched and finally her husband abandoned her for another. She developed stomach ulcers, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes," she added.

Nakahara said when P heard in 1993 the call by Umno Youth International Bureau secretary Mustapha Yaakub for survivors of Japanese wartime atrocities to come forward, she responded through a letter written by her daughter-in-law and summoned up enough courage to talk about her wartime experiences.

"She thought that would the first and last chance for her to seek justice. But her dream, her letter, was left with the pile of other letters on a desk and abandoned forever," said Nakahara.

(Mustapha was barred from raising the issue of Malaysian comfort women at the United Nations Human Rights Conference in Austria in 1993 by Defence Minister Najib Tun Razak who was the Umno Youth head then.)

Umno member

Nakahara also related the story of an elderly Malay woman who had been a sex slave at a comfort station. The woman said that "... I worked like an animal, they did to me just as they liked. I had to obey their orders until the surrender".

"Her daughter told me her mother has nightmares and cries in her sleep. She used to wander aimlessly after the bad dreams," said Nakahara.

"She told me herself that she begged God for pardon for the sins she had committed. She still suffers from her memory and her feeling of having sinned. It seems nobody in her village ever told her that it was not her sin at all," she added.

Nakahara said the woman was a faithful Umno member and she trusted the party would finally start negotiations with the Japanese government on compensation and an apology for the wartime atrocities.

"She had asked her daughter to write a letter for her. However, her long suffering was left unremedied," she said.

Nakahara said she had also interviewed a Chinese comfort woman who was kidnaped during the Japanese occupation, taken to the soldiers' barracks and raped.

"She was raped every day. One of the young girls with her was forced to become a mistress of one of the soldiers. When she was pregnant, she had to abort the child," said Nakahara.

"The young girl and her family were later killed by Japanese soldiers for being 'collaborators'," she added.