Malaysia

Uniquely Malaysian — AJ

July 17, 2011

JULY 17 — I’m no hero. I’ve never pretended to be. I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I’m orderly, logical, patient and above all, a realist. 

So when it came to Bersih 2.0, I too, like many others, debated between attending and not. Would I really make a difference? I even checked with my company’s HR department and was told that since the rally had been declared illegal, it would be against my employment contract should I be convicted of a crime. 

And coming three weeks before my year-end bonus, it was a lot to put on the line. I flip-flopped in the days leading up to July 9 about whether it was really practical for me to attend. 

So when the Agong came out with his statement and suddenly the prime minister agreed to grant access to a stadium, I was relieved beyond words. This surely legitimised the cause, and ensured that my bonus and livelihood would still be safe if I attended.  But this relief was shortlived, as the offer was rescinded; the PM passed the ball to the police, who in turn lobbed it on to the Home minister who then threw it on to the RoS who simply let it drop. I was shocked and appalled by this complete lack of responsibility and accountability from the authorities. 

And the affront to commonsense continued in the days leading up to the rally, with the roadblocks set up to inconvenience the public, and with the police arresting individual after individual against all Constitutional rights. 

And still I hadn’t completely resolved to go — until I was having drinks with some friends and we were engaging in the common Malaysian pastime of exchanging stories about evading police summons when stopped for speeding, etc. The stories started innocently with cases where fast talking was sufficient, but quickly progressed to those having to “settle” on the spot. 

Then there were stories of police abusing their powers, hauling scared teenagers to stations and getting their friends to empty ATMs to get them out, and even a case where a female friend had to make out with the officer to avoid being taken to the station. It made my blood boil. All that power, and no accountability. What if, one day, it was me or someone I loved in such a position? 

That’s the day I decided to walk. I would like to say it was primarily for Bersih 2.0’s eight-point manifesto, but it was for more than that. It was in protest of the fact that our government and civil service were warped beyond a point that I can accept – when I, and every other person I know, has become a victim without even realizing it nor questioning it. I felt Bersih only scratched the surface, but maybe this walk would help shake the government’s hubris. 

I walked on that day, hand in hand with my fellow Malaysians of every creed and walk of life. There were the supporters from various political parties. There were the trendy and hip Gen Ys – with their stereo playing the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, carrying balloons and blowing soap bubbles. 

There were the elderly and the disabled and I wondered at their resolve. I was struck by how amazing we were as a people. I didn’t consciously notice that we were from all different races until I reflected back after reading the online commentaries and stories. 

I had taken it for granted on that day and I’m glad that all the Ibrahim Alis in the world with their race rhetoric hadn’t polarised my feelings for my fellow Malaysians for this to be something of particular importance to note at the time. 

There are so many moments from that day that stick out in my mind: 

A police officer wishing me the best, with a “Jaga diri hari ini, ‘dik”, making me realise there are still good people within the force who are there to carry out their job and protect civilians. The awesome resolve of some Muslim brothers who were in mid-prayer and continued to do so even as tear gas bombs were mercilessly shot in their midst and people ran, coughing and choking around them. When we safely reached the top of a narrow flight of the stairs, while engulfed in tear gas, as there was no pushing, and no individualistic recklessness whatsoever. The surge of pride when, cornered at Tung Shin hospital by two groups of storming police officers, the men folk rushed forward to face the oncoming charge, and locked arms to barricade and protect the women in the group from possible harm. These and many more marked the triumph of our rakyat’s spirit that day. 

And above all that, throughout the day, there was an overriding feeling of unity and pride that I have never felt before – except briefly back in ‘08 when walking into my polling station to cast my vote for the very first time. It was the unmistakable feeling of joy and pride of being uniquely and unitedly Malaysian. 

So I walked on 9/7 and I thank my fellow countrymen for giving me that very precious experience. I’ll not forget it.