so tempting, isn't it?
To throw up our hands and declare that this will never work.
To say that's it and throw in the towel. To lose faith completely in our fellow
Malaysians and retreat into a corner, declaring that ideals can never trump human
The myth of the peaceful protest,
I spent the last two days being in and out
of depression. It descended on me the minute I heard of violence perpetrated by
protestors at Bersih 3.0. Suddenly, my belief in the cause and the Malaysian people
seemed to crumble. After all our noble intentions, are we nothing more than a mob?
Yesterday, some first-hand accounts began to appear. Some of the political leaders
had incited the crowd to breach the cordon, they said. The crowd surged forth. The
police had no choice but to defend themselves with wave after wave of tear gas.
They had to mop up the streets of violent and unruly protestors. Things were broken,
cars were overturned. The myth of the peaceful protest was finally busted.
Or was it?
god! A flute! The humanityyyyyyyyy!
slept last night. I was in front of the computer until the early hours of the morning,
poring over news reports, videos, pictures. Trying to make sense of the events that
had dealt such a powerful blow to my faith. Then it dawned on me.
There were 250,000 plus peaceful protestors on the streets yesterday. Let that
sink in. Two hundred and fifty thousand people, just like you and me. With jobs
and hobbies and bills. And that was just in KL. There were scores of protestors
at other locations all over Malaysia and all over the world. The Bersih banner was
held aloft on top of a mountain. It was proudly displayed
under the sea. It was held aloft in KL,
in Penang, in Ipoh, in JB, in Kuching, in KK, in London, in Hong Kong, in Japan,
in Australia, in the US, in Canada - at over 70 locations all over the world.
All peaceful, save for one. KL.
reports grass violently trampled by protestors in Penang
People had begun gathering 12 hours earlier in KL. You've seen the reports.
People started pouring in on the night of the 27th. But no property was damaged
in that time. No policemen were attacked in the hours leading to Bersih. There were
thousands of Malaysians already near Dataran before Bersih even started. They could
have breached the cordon if they wanted to, really. They did not.
A team of independent observers called the protestors 'peaceful' and 'exemplary'.
Read the story here.
did any violence occur at 2pm, the official starting time for Bersih's Duduk Bantah.
I was there from 11am. There were thousands of people at the rallying points leading
to Dataran Merdeka. No incidences of violence. People were laughing, talking, singing
songs. Some exceptional young men and women were walking around with trash bags,
cleaning up after other protestors. Even cleaning up trash that was there before
we had started to gather. The atmosphere was festive. The camaraderie was infectious.
We were Malaysians. And we were there to build a better Malaysia. Peacefully.
So what the hell happened at 3pm?
We'd spent the day in a jovial, celebratory mood. Resting with friends in the
shade, I remember telling one of them that maybe the police had taken Bersih 2.0
as a lesson. Then we smelled the tear gas.
quite telling on the Malaysian government, I think, that a crowd of young, mostly
middle-class people at a peaceful protest immediately recognized the smell of tear
gas. But I digress.
At first the acid stench
of tear gas was bearable. We could see the clouds of smoke in the distance. The
crowd began slowly walking away. And then the canisters were fired into the crowd
and all hell broke loose.
You might imagine a scene of utter chaos.
Every man for himself, people stepping and clamoring over each other to reach safety,
to hell with their fellow man. For a second, this was my fear.
the crowd proved me wrong.
Our skin was stinging from
the chemicals, our eyes watering in pain, our breathing labored and difficult. We
had nowhere to go. People were everywhere, running, screaming, dragging their friends
and family behind them.
But voices began punctuating
"Stay calm! Don't run! Help the people
beside you!" they called in both Malay and English. There were shouts in Chinese
and Tamil as well, though I could not discern what they were saying.
I threw my voice in. "Sabar! Jangan panik! Makan garam! Basuh muka! Jalan!
Jangan lari!" I screamed over and over, to know one in particular. A young
malay man with Unit Amal did the same, repeating the call for calm over and over
Then the crush and pull of the crowd began
to slow. People looked at us and slowed their pace. They ate the salt and washed
their faces. They offered what they had to the people around them regardless of
race. I saw young men and women with faces red from the pain. But they bit their
lips and started looking around, helping the people around them.
A single, shining bud of hope sprang forth in my heart. "This," my
brain screamed in elation "is my Malaysia!"
were angry, though. They were angry at the authorities for their heavy handed tactics.
What did we do to deserve this? As we tried to disperse, we were caged in, exits
blocked, people forced to suffer the full effect of the burning tear gas. Isn't
the whole point of that vile fume to disperse people? Why kettle us into confined
spaces and flay us with wave after wave of that noxious stuff?
was just the beginning
Later on I read a tweet that
I felt perfectly explained the situation. "They didn't want us to disperse.
They wanted us to suffer." *
Even then, there was no violence.
There was pent up anger, but no violence. We dispersed however we could. We helped
whoever we could along the way. At 4pm, we made our way home.
So should we still believe in the cause? Should we still believe
in peaceful protests?
I'm not going to spend any
time here pointing fingers or assigning blame. There will be more than enough of
that in the next few days. Accusations will fly from both sides, fantastic theories
will be put forth, condemnation will spew freely from the ground. Once the dust
has settled, the truth will finally emerge triumphant, bloody but never beaten.
Until then, I would like to appeal to all my friends here, stay calm. Stay rational.
Be patient. Let the facts emerge. Have faith in your fellow Malaysians. If we lose
that, we have nothing.
Nobody said this was going to be easy. We
didn't really think we could breeze through this without having to face the tough
questions, did we? Face them we must.
we let the action of a few undermine our noble cause? Should we tear ourselves apart
pointing fingers and assigning blame, whilst our democracy and votes continue to
be stolen from right under our noses? Should we descend once again into apathy and
inaction because things didn't go exactly as we planned them?
There will be some difficult questions we'll have to answer. There are going
to be obstacles and challenges. There will be room for improvement and growing pains.
We must face and solve them all rationally. We will have to slog through the mud
before we reach our goal. But reach it we shall.
a line from a movie I like to quote all the time. The movie itself is cheesy, the
line however is not.
"Success will test a
man's mettle as surely as the strongest adversary."
Please excuse the gender specific reference. As I said, the movie's a little
cheesy. That single line of dialogue, however, is genius. It is both true and timely.
We have seen some success, now it will test us to see if we are truly worthy of
reaching our ultimate goal.
We cannot fail.
We must see this through, despite all obstacles and tribulations.
Stay united. Keep the belief alive. Trust your fellow Malaysians. Fight on for
our worthy cause.
We will succeed.
In case you're wondering, yes an Australian Senator was in fact present at Bersih
3.0 and he was tear-gassed too. He was part of an international fact-finding mission
on the electoral process in Malaysia. The team has stated that they have grave concerns
about the electoral process and Election Commission. Watch the press conference
*Unfortunately, I was not
able to find the original author of this tweet. If anyone knows, do tell so I can
correctly attribute the tweet.