Monday, April 30, 2012

Bersih 3.0... What I Saw and Felt

My generation is a generation brought up on the ghosts of 513 (May 13, 1969). My parents come from the generation who witnessed the horrors of 513. The ghosts of 513 somehow were never laid to rest because the atrocities of the actions were never condemned outrightly. In fact 513 was used by politicians to justify the need to correct an economic imbalance in the society, an act which had we done in the right way, would have allowed that imbalance to be corrected too. We could have helped each other grow together. But we pitted one against the other... The largesse of today is in part a legacy from that event. And it has divided us since...

So walking among the crowds at Pasar Seni on the morning of April 28 touched me in a way I can't quite describe. I saw pakciks, makciks, aunties, uncles, sitting along the corridors waiting for the Duduk Bantah to begin. Some of them had stayed overnight in the city area. And all of them had this same goal... Bersih for their children and grandchildren.

I never imagined that I would witness Bersih. Other Half and I had a dinner to attend that night. The thought of not going for the dinner crossed my mind many times in the weeks leading to Bersih because I, like most post 513 gen will steer clear of trouble even if it came at an expense to us. But a series of small events and missed encounters brought us there. And seeing the senior citizens, I realized that these people overcame a greater hurdle to be there and I was humbled. They belong to the generation who lived through 513, and I am sure many must have been traumatised by it. So to be there must have taken great courage.

We had initially just wanted to go into KL, have a quick look and then get out. We parked our car at Amcorp Mall and walked to the LRT station. There were police stationed at the station but they looked bored. The station was quite empty. I thought the rally might not be getting such a big crowd. It was around 9.30 a.m. then. We waited for our train and when the first train passed, both of us were shocked that it was jam packed with people in yellow and green. We decided to wait for the next train. It was quite full also but we managed to squeeze in. Upon arrival at Pasar Seni, we were greeted by a sea of people. As we walked out, we saw some people crowding around a white haired man. I had walked past him when I realized it was Pak Samad. There was a row of police behind him. It was as if he was being held by them. Many stopped to take photos with him and he obliged. I shook his hand and mouthed a word of thank you. And again, I was humbled. There, before me, a thin sprightly old man and he was there. And many of us younger ones were afraid. It must have been a tiring time for him.

As we exited the station, we saw people crowding around someone. It was Nizar, the former MB of Perak. Other Half managed to shake hands with him. I heard him saying.. what we were seeing around us was 1Malaysia... referring to all of us of different races who had turned out. I couldn't agree more. It was like nothing I have seen before. Anyway, Nizar is well liked back where i come from.

We followed the crowd and headed towards Pasar Seni. There was a huge crowd and a carnival like atmosphere. Not long after, we saw Ambiga walking into Pasar Seni... surrounded by people in purple T-shirts (Badan Amal) who formed a protective semi circle around her. It was around 10 plus or 11 in the morning. People were nodding to each other and offering smiles. At no time did I feel that they were out to cause mischief. And we felt safe. We walked along Pasar Seni. Drinks and ice-cream sellers were doing a roaring business. The makan shops must have had a field day. But shutters were down for other shops. And guess what, I was able to buy mineral water for just RM1! Some ice-cream sellers even gave discounts because they said Bersih is also for them.

Every where, Malays, Chinese, Indians and others were friendlier than I've ever experienced. If you want to see 1Malaysia at work, I tell you, it was there in that crowd. I find it hard to believe that these people were out to cause violence. The had their iPads, Galaxy Tabs, iPhones and were happily snapping away. You would not bring such expensive gadgets if your intent was to riot!

I noticed one thing though, when I took out my phone to use Google Map... KL has become unfamiliar territory, I found out that I could not load it. At that time, I thought it must have been due to congestion. So many people were there and I thought it was only normal. It was only later that I read that there might have been attempts to jam the mobile phones.

We met some friends and we hung out together, sitting along the corridor down the road from Pasar Seni and watching everything that was happening around us. Some youths planked themselves momentarily on the road for a photo shoot. You can never hope to do that in KL in broad daylight on any other day, I supposed. Some brought drums, carried posters. A group passed us chanting anti-Lynas slogans but basically they were harmless. There was one placard which contained a vulgarity which I felt wasn't quite appropriate. But on the whole everyone was well behaved. After a while of hanging around, we decided to just walk around. It was already almost 12 noon. We even saw a family of Mat Salleh with 3 kids ambling past. I guess they must have felt it safe enough. Maybe they came from a country where dissent is allowed and freedom to protest is accepted. By then we had stayed longer than I had in mind. And everywhere there was a carnival like atmosphere...

We walked back to the LRT Station. I stood by the stairs trying to count how many people were filing into the streets from the LRT station. I guess about 50 people or more were going down the stairs per minute. And it had been like that since morning. The flow only tapered off a bit at around 1.30 p.m. An Indian foreigner asked me why so many people had gathered. He told me he's from Delhi and was working in KL. He spoke quite good BM if I might add. We also saw Ngeh Koo Ham and spoke briefly to him. He had just come in on the LRT.

And I saw Pak Samad still there, cutting a forlorn figure sitting on a mat and reading. He was by then sitting behind the row of policemen. I overhead one young policeman telling a passerby that he needed to rest for the afternoon. I stood there by the rail watching him for about 20 minutes. Many thoughts went through my mind and admiration too. Later I read that he was being held.... I don't know whether it's because they fear untoward incident happening to him. He is after all our national laureate, a living treasure. Could it be that someone knew that violence was going to happen?
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
To be there.... it must have been hard on him, as for the many senior citizens I saw, for the day was hot and humid. I saw this pakcik sitting along the corridor along the shops facing Pasar Seni soon after this long procession stopped there. How not to feel for this cause when you see seniors like him braving the heat of the day..... and with a cool headband to decorate his kopiah too! The sun was beating down on us. And yet people stayed, not because they were forced but because they wanted to. People were there on their own accord. I bet even the National Day celebration cannot get this many people. I walked around the station and this is what I saw from above on one of the roads...
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Right after I took this picture, a guard came and politely told me that they were closing that section. Apparently they didn't want people to crowd the already crowded station. From another vantage point I could see scores of policemen. But they were just standing around. And I thought that augured well. Little was I to know that the scene would turn ugly later.We left soon after the walk towards Dataran started. We did not want to be late for our dinner appointment. By the time we got to PJ a friend SMSed us and told us that they had dispersed and were also back in PJ. And so we thought everything had gone well until we opened up our FB.

There was violence... and even during dinner, some of our friends had accounts of what had happened in KL filtering in.... from friends who were still trapped in KL. They had to look for means and ways to get out because the LRT stations were closed. Many had accounts of being tear gassed. Some of our friends' kids had gone for the rally and had been tear gassed as well. You know something, parents of my generation are allowing their children to stand up for their rights. Something is changing. Our parents would have gone to the ends of the earth to stop us from going.

Watching the videos in the aftermath, I asked myself whether the violence had been necessary. And as more details started to filter through, it's hard not to feel for those who were tear-gassed, or were violently and brutally handled by the people in uniform who seemed to show no restraint. If before this I felt that Ubah was still possible from within the establishment, increasingly I am being convinced that a total Ubah is necesary. We must Ubah! We need to! When demands for something that is morally sound and right are met with tear gas, sprayed with chemically laced water and handled with brutal violence, it's also an indication that we have lost our souls. We have traded our souls for the material and power. Increasingly the PM's transformation drive is beginning to sound like mere rhetorics.

250,000 people showed up on the streets on 428. I am greatly touched and humbled by the seniors who showed up. I even saw one wheelchair bound person in yellow! And that was only for KL, the only place which imposed such harsh and restrictive measures, and the only place where punitive violence happened. What has become of our nation? Instead of sitting down to address these demands, we encircle the meeting place with razor wires, fired tear gas cannisters, sprayed water laced with chemicals, order the uniforms to bear down on our own, unleashed brutality and violence... We should weep for Malaysia because some politicians, even those from the Opposition too did not stand firm. I cannot agree with Anwar's statement that he would defend the youths desire to move in too. The Bersih Movement Steering Committee had already decided not to breach the cordoned area..... He should have indicated a firm no breaching. As the outcome has shown, you cannot negotiate with a government made up of leaders who have sold their souls. There are many questions and I wonder if they will remain unanswered. The government is awfully good at selective amnesia.

Despite the violence, let not the real reason for the gathering get pushed to the sidelines because of the drama and opportunistic politicians trying to score points for themselves... sometimes our vision gets blurred by them. 250,000 stood up to be counted. It's an incredible figure. For Malaysians to rise up like this, I guess this might also be an indication that many of us are approaching the final straw. If each one represents another 10 eligible voters, that's quite a lot of people. They are demanding for a clean governance... Is that too much?

Create in us a new heart, and renew a right spirit within us.......

1st May 2012
I think I shall just link up to other posts of people who were at Bersih that day as I stumble onto them.
  1. Bersih, The Perfect Assembly, Almost
  2. Bersih 3.0, My Experience
  3. My Bersih 3.0 Experience: Behind the Barbed Wires
  4. Bersih 3.0: The Good, Bad and Ugly Malaysians
  5. A Tale of 2 Sit-ins: JB vs KL
  6. Bersih 3.0: Detained for 11 Hours
  7. They Were All Yellow: My Bersih 3.0 Story
  8. Many People Failed Malaysia On Saturday: A Malaysian
  9. Analysing Bersih 3.0
  10. Good, Bad and Ugly of Bersih 3.0

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