Bersih 3.0: My side of the story
KUALA LUMPUR, April 30 — Before telling my story, I would first like to clarify where I stand. I stand as a Malaysian, I stand as an individual who believes that Malaysia is a beautiful place, and deserves good governance.
I joined the Bersih 3.0 rall, not only to champion for free and fair elections. I joined the rally to lend support to many fellow countrymen who believe Malaysia deserves good governance. I joined the rally because I believe that, as an individual, I can make a difference. I joined the rally because I am Malaysian.
There, I joined the rally. Should any of you find it offensive, go read something else.
By now, you should have already read the news and will most likely be talking about it over the coming weeks, and have your stories to tell. Glad to have walked with you along Jalan Tun Perak, and glad to have ran with you along Jalan Raja Laut.
This is my story.
Almost at every turn, you can see the colour yellow. Yellow from Kelana Jaya LRT station, all the way to where I started walking, Pasar Seni LRT Station. You can feel the carnival-like atmosphere and the odd feeling of the streets of Kuala Lumpur being devoid of any cars or motorcycles.
The streets were painted yellow, with many colours in between. There were police personnel standing, watching from a distance under the scorching sun, and there were the rakyat, walking together as strangers united, albeit temporarily. Many roads were barricaded, forcing the public to walk at controlled zones.
The FRU was not around.
I soon made my way to Jalan Tun Perak where I believe most of the demonstrators were. The crowd was unbelievable. It was deafening, and chants were immediately overheard. I walked pass the Kuala Lumpur High Court, and finally saw Merdeka Square. There, the FRU trucks parked. It was a very colourful sight.
There was the yellow, blue and red from afar and all seems peaceful.
I managed to find a comfortable spot at Jalan Raja, and stood a comfortable 50m away from the barricade, with enough space for people to walk. There I sat.
The sun was burning away my skin as I drink from the bottle I had with me. Every passing cloud was such a relief, and any wind that blew felt like air-conditioning. It was 2.00pm and everything went fine and peaceful.
There were chants, speeches and shouts that one expects from a demonstration. There was no violent pushing, only people trying to get through the crowd. There were no taunts, provocation or arguments, only people trying to get the message across. Please know the difference.
I stood to look around, because quite frankly, the tarmac was too hot to have a seat for too long.
Suddenly, it all went chaotic.
I was standing quite close to the barricade, and I can see the police running back. As if by a signal, all of them fell back to the FRU units who were ready with their riot shields, tear gas and water cannons.
The people broke the barricade and charged. I stood there still shocked and worried because I start to see the water cannons in action. I was pushed to the front and, as I walked closer, smoke started to rise in front of me. The wind was working against the FRU, so the people marched on.
The water cannons then moved, and push the crowd back. We, the people, ran back to Jalan Raja and as I was running back, three canisters of tear gas flew over my head, and landed in front of me. While the wind direction did not change, it now blew towards the crowd, and I was not spared. I took a deep breath, and made a run. I had to run past the tear gas, because hot on my trail is the FRU with the water cannons.
My eyes burnt, my skin burnt, my nose and throat burnt. The sharp and stinging sensation was very difficult to bear, but it wasn’t the time to think about it.
With my eyes half open, I ran to the side and had to jump over a fence. Throughout the entire run, I had to force myself to breathe, as difficult as it was, I needed to breathe.
This is what I saw. I saw people falling all over the place, with some falling behind the fence. I saw faces of people gasping for air. I saw the faces of people drenched with their own tears. I saw the noses, flowing like a tap.
I saw strangers, helping each other out. I saw strangers offering water and salt. As I ran to a small lane, I took a rest, and helped others as they ran into the lane, seeking refuge. There were people coughing, choking and some even passing out. It was chaotic, but at the same time it was inspiring to see complete strangers, quickly becoming friends.
The lane was a refuge only for a little while. More demonstrators poured in to the little lane, and then it was gassed. We made a run, careful not to tire ourselves too quickly.
I made it out to Jalan Raja Laut, right in front of DBKL. In the building, behind the glass doors were DBKL personnel, standing and watching as the demonstrators struggled to keep up.
Salt and water was still being offered. Some of the barricades were toppled over to spill precious water out. It was overwhelming to see how help was freely given at such a time like this.
Being quite far from Merdeka Square, I thought I was safe. I thought wrong. We were being hunted down, and were then gassed for the third time. I sought refuge in a small ATM room, which honestly smelt like vomit.
It’s a choice I had to make, and I held my breath for as long as I could. I can’t stand the smell anymore and made it out, and immediately felt the stinging sensation from the tear gas. It was slight, but I did not want to risk it anymore.
I ran past to the rear of DBKL and saw a bunch of policemen running towards me. I then made my way to Jalan Parlimen with some help from my friends, walking alongside the police. I believe they won’t get gassed, so I felt relatively safe. They were friendly, and were not provocative.
Nothing much happened to me after that as I sat down on a bridge over Sungai Gombak, munching down on some Tiger biscuits that I brought with me. I could still hear tear gas being fired along Jalan Tun Perak.
I heard stories from friends stuck in Masjid Jamek, along Jalan Tun Perak, but I can’t say much of it, since I wasn’t there.
Before ending my story, here’s what I want to share about how it got chaotic. What I saw was the police suddenly falling back, and then the crowd pushed forward. What I experienced was being chased by FRU who are supposed to protect Merdeka Square and disperse any that got too close to it.
There are reports saying that the crowd tore through the barricade, which caused the police to fall back, and FRU sprung in motion. However you look at it, I believe it was wrong for the demonstrators to lose sight of what they are here for.
The majority of Bersih 3.0 knew and understood that violence must be avoided at all cost. I also believe that the big majority of the Bersih 3.0 supporters disagreed with the actions of a small group of angry protestors that crossed the line.
Violence from a small group of protestors marred the otherwise peaceful demonstration. The FRU played a cat-and-mouse game, gassing the demonstrators more than necessary. I will not comment further on what I have heard from my fellow friends that were splintered off during the chaos.
I believe, as mature citizens of Malaysia, we have to stand for what we believe in lest we have nothing left to stand for, and we must never lose sight and focus from that we believe in.
Always remember, violence is not the answer, and I believe that the massive majority of Bersih 3.0 supporters never intended it to be violent.
I know that there are reports of undercover thugs being placed to create chaos and to damage the credibility of Bersih 3.0. I also know that there are reports of undercover thugs purposely damaging the police vehicle, which ended up hitting the demonstrators.
I urge all responsible Malaysians not to draw up conclusions based on emotions. Investigate, if you must, and by all means, find the truth.
I also believe that as responsible Malaysians, we have to be fair in reporting what we saw and experienced, to cast a fair light on both sides of the divide, and to avoid misleading others into drawing the wrong conclusion of either side.
I will go again, if the purpose of the demonstration is right. Why? Because I care enough. Because this is my land. Because I want to make a difference. Because I am Malaysian.
I believe some of you might disagree with what I shared. Good. Now go write your story. Let’s agree to disagree.
P/S: Oh and by the way, I am totally against the FRU tear-gassing the peaceful demonstrators more than necessary.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider