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Friday, July 29, 2011

A miracle happened on July 9, 2011

Sulaiman Kamal | 12:31 AM | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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My foray into rallies and protest marches started during the hey days of the 'Reformasi' Movement in the late nineties. However my first big march was the Bersih 1.0 rally, in November 2007, which drew around 40,000 people. The rally was marred by the police and I was caught in a crossfire of tear gas canisters near Masjid Jamek. I managed to retreat and joined the crowd in our march to Istana Negara to hand a memorandum to the King. Hindraf organised a march later that month and subsequently, in the 2008 general election, the BN lost its largest share of votes since 1957.
Like many others who had written so many heartwarming stories of their experiences of Bersih 2.0, I too had many misgivings on the eve of the march. The unbelievable campaign of terror, fear and intimidation by the government and extremist groups like PERKASA was enough to scare anyone from even thinking of participating.
However the Organising Committee of Bersih 2.0 and organisations like Lawyers for Liberty, SUHAKAM and other NGOs convinced me that the right to peaceful protest is enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous other international human rights instruments. I told myself that no PM, IGP or Home Minister can decree otherwise and deny our right to peaceful assembly.

Furthermore I knew that if I were to chicken out, many years from now, I will deeply regret for not taking this one chance to make a difference. So even with the omnimous thoughts of having to endure the traffic jam, police roadblock, inane questioning, harassment, verbal abuse, chemical-laced water cannon, tear gas, beating, arrest and detention, I decided to take the chance.
Friday night at home, I quietly gathered my things in a duffle bag, a towel, bottle of mineral water,extra pair of T-shirt and a list of legal aid organisations with their telephone numbers . As the hours passed, I could not sleep and kept thinking of the uncertainties that I'll be facing the next day and said a silent prayer.
JULY 9, 2011
The following morning saw the great “shutdown”, mainly of Kuala Lumpur and its surroundings but with it in lesser degree of the whole country to paralyse the movement of protestors into the city. The city was by now under siege by the government and KL became known as the 'Forbidden City of KL'. I woke up early, took the ERL around 8.00am and subsequently, a connecting ride on the Putra LRT. I alighted at the Pasar Seni station and saw heavy police presence, about seven to eight FRU trucks were stationed in front of Pasar Seni. All the roads around Chinatown, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Jalan Petaling, Jalan Sultan, Jalan Tun H.S. Lee were blocked by traffic police. I eventually had breakfast in a coffee shop near Chinatown as very few shops opened that day. I heard that the police distributed notices directing the shops and stalls around Jalan Petaling to close on that day.
A friend later joined me in Pasar Seni and we saw pockets of people; in groups of twos and threes along the road. Two FRU trucks were parked right in front with several policemen standing in front of the trucks. I also saw some people being questioned, arrested and taken into the trucks. Many of those arrested wore skull caps and something told me that the cops were going after PAS supporters. We then decided to move to Petaling Street. There was already a large crowd mingling around and we managed to find some friends in front of the Swiss Hotel and a few SUHAKAM observers stationed strategically at the end of Jalan Petaling. We also spotted a few SBs around and decided to join a group of our friends at The Olympic Sports Hotel in Jalan Hang Jebat. As we approached Rumah BP along Jalan Hang Jebat, we were stopped by two SBs, a young Chinese lady who spoke Mandarin and another young Malay SB. We told them that we were joining some friends at the hotel.They weren't happy with our explanation and threatened arrests but finally relented and allowed us to go.
We felt safe as we joined our friends at the lobby of the Olympic Sports Hotel as this was 'ground zero' i.e. the nearest spot to Stadium Merdeka. We were also told that during the wee hours of the morning, cops were knocking on hotel room doors and intimidating suspected rally participants.
About 2.30 pm we headed to the intersection of Jalan Hang Jebat and Changkat Stadium. A crowd had already gathered there, about 30 people and more joined from the direction of Jalan Hang Tuah. From where we stood, we could see a large police barridade in front of Merdeka Stadium. Soon the rain started to pour and I took shelter underneath my friend's tiny umbrella. We waited for 15 minutes and suddenly we heard a tremendous roar in the direction of Jalan Sultan. We just stood there, stunned! The marchers 50 came, 100s of them, no, tens of thousands of them came and marched towards Stadium Merdeka, shouting Hidup! Hidup! Hidup Rakyat! and 'Reformasi'. They beckoned us to join them which we gladly did in the open, pouring rain. The crowd only managed to walk to Changkat Stadium, where the FRUs had already put up barbed wires. Here, the FRUs and police observed restraint. They left the crowd alone and stood down. As the rain continued to pour, the crowd chanted and sang Negaraku. I quickly covered my head with a yellow T-shirt that I brought earlier at a 'thieves market' behind a back alley in Petaling Street and immersed myself in the crowd.
After several speeches by Pakatan leaders, the crowd headed down Jalan Sultan. Down the road, a carnival-like atmosphere filled the crowd again. There was a group of young people that waved long yellow ribbons tied to sticks. An ice cream vendor on a motorcycle did roaring business from the crowd who came by. I notices groups of really young, vibrant youths carrying the Jalur Gemilang, balloons, and blowing soap bubbles, singing 'We Shall Overcome' and local traditional songs.
We marched down Jalan Sultan heading for the Klang Bus Station. After several meters past the Uda Ocean Supermarket, I heard several gunshots and smoke enveloping the street ahead. The FRU had fired a round of acrid tear gas. The wind blew the tear gas away and we refuse to disperse. They fired another round of several canisters. An elderly Malay couple offered me some rock salt to ease the choke and pain as it was difficult to breathe. Again we stood our ground. Led by Wong Chin Huat, the crowd unfurled a large Jalur Gemilang and all of us instead stood at attention and sang the Negara Ku. The FRU got furious and fired several more rounds of tear gas. This time the tear gas effects were so bad and I relented. My lungs, eyes, throat and skin felt as if they were burning and I retreated to a side road.
My friend and I later decided to call it a day but to our utter disappointment, the LRT station was closed. So we waited till 5.30pm before boarding the train and headed for home.
Was it worth it? That is a question many have asked. To me, it certainly was. We stood our ground, proved to our government that some issues are just beyond the ethnic interest of any ethnic community. Most importantly we can come together as one people to demand what is rightfully ours. I guess the thing that feared them the most was that this was a multiracial grouping thinking along nationalistic and not racial lines.
The events of July 9th in Malaysia; whilst it brought out the worst in some, it brought out the best in others and this is where our hope lies. Below are excerpts of some of the participants' testimonies to shows how Bersih 2.0 brought out the best in us as Malaysians:
"I walked on that day, hand in hand with my fellow Malaysians of every creed and walk of life. Mother’s pushing their babies in strollers, a physically challenged man on crutches. What amazed me most was the presence of the middle class and professionals. They were here. Here with us. Here where it counts. When it counts. Wearing yellow. I cannot describe the feeling. Absolutely wonderful and positively beautiful. There and then, I had true hope. Hope for a better Malaysia for my babies.The real victor is of course the people of Malaysia. Malaysians of all races, faiths and walk of life walked in unison, side by side for one purpose. They chatted. They laughed together. They smiled at each other. They helped each other."
"It was in facing the brute force of the state collectively that people were prompted to help each other regardless of race, gender and religion There were entire families, people from same kampungs, from outstation states, even someone on a wheel-chair. And it was total strangers who went all out to help one another, without any qualms or calls needed."
"I am proud of the fact that I stood at Jalan Pudu that day with my fellow citizens demanding what is rightfully ours. When we sang our anthem there in the face of the riot lines, tear gas and chemical-laced water cannons from the police, it was my proudest moment as a Malaysian."
"When the tear gas stung your eyes so badly that you couldn’t see where to go, you put your arms around your friends’ shoulders as they led you away to safety."
"There was an overriding feeling of unity and pride that I have never felt before."
"Together, the crowd stood and marched to voice out and make the case for themselves, and for many others who couldn’t turn up. All of us stood proud, reclaiming our dignity by refusing to give in to the threats and the repression of the State."
"I want to thank everyone who made this experience so exhilarating and empowering for me, and I hope to rejoin the masses for the next battle, whatever and whenever it may be."
Bersih 2.0 is undoubtedly one of the most significant events in recent Malaysian history and we were all a part of that history.
While rally participants were doused with stinging tear-gas and chemical-laced water in Kuala Lumpur, elswhere in the world, the outpouring of patriotism and support was just as impressive. Malaysians were united as one in 40 cities to provide a voice for the voiceless in Malaysia.
I'm certainly no hero and I'm not going to pretend to be one. The real heroes of that day are Allahyarham Baharuddin Ahmad who paid the ultimate price in fighting a noble cause, the six members of the Socialist Party of Malaysia who, as we speak, sit in solitary confinement under preventive detention laws.
Pak Samad Said, our 76-year old National Laureate, who walked barefooted until he was stopped by the police near the Istana, where he had wanted to deliver the Bersih memorandum to His Majesty the King.
And how can we forget an elderly, frail lady who wore a yellow shirt, held a flower and walked towards the Royal Malaysian Police to ask for fairness and justice! They responded by shooting laced chemical water and tear gas at her. Yes the endearing Auntie Anne, the Lady of Liberty, a 65-year-old lady who took a bus alone, and walked all the way from the General Hospital to the rally centre.
Finally the brave, empowered people of Malaysia who overcame their fear of intimidation and harassment to uphold their fundamental rights and reclaim ownership of the governance of this country.
These were the true unsung heroes of Bersih 2.0 who made a miracle happened on July 9, 2011.

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