It is 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 flaws.
The myth of the peaceful protest, busted?
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
My god! A flute! The humanityyyyyyyyy!
I hardly 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.
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.
peaceful, save for one. KL.
Bernipu reports grass violently trampled by protestors in Penang
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.
Nor 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.
is 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.
Then 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
voices began punctuating the panic.
"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 in Malay.
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
single, shining bud of hope sprang forth in my heart. "This," my brain
screamed in elation "is my Malaysia!"
People 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?
This 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.
Can 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?
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.
There's 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.
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.
P.S 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 here.
*Unfortunately, I was not able to find the original
author of this tweet. If anyone knows, do tell so I can correctly attribute the