United we stand
KUALA LUMPUR, April 30 — The one thing that I have chosen to come away with from Bersih 3.0 is unity among Malaysians.
From the moment I stepped out of the Pasar Seni LRT station for the sit-in to the time I left the area, I was touched by how people went around helping each other.
I moved to the Masjid Jamek LRT from Petaling Street under the leadership of Wong Chin Huat.
However I was part of the stragglers as I wanted to catch the feeling of the moment on video. People were walking side-by-side, chanting “Bersih” every now and then. Before they started walking, Chin Huat led the group in singing “Negaraku”. There was this patriotic feeling that permeated the scene. At that moment, my heart swelled with pride and I really felt proud to be Malaysian. It was a feeling that engulfed me throughout the walk to the end point and even when I sat down with my fellow countrymen in hope for cleaner elections.
However, that feeling rings hollow when I think back to the reception we, the 250,000 of us gathered just beyond Dataran Merdeka, received at the hands of the police.
The first inkling of trouble came about an hour into the sit-in. I had just found my spot and about 10 minutes in, people around me got excitable.
“They’ve fired it.”
Oh boy. Going into this, I came prepared — salt water, soaked material to cover my face — but people around me and in front of the area that I was (and beyond) were sitting quietly and observing the request of Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, co-chair of the Bersih 2.0 steering committee.
I didn’t have any idea why they fired into the crowd. Sense of survival told me I had to get out of the corridor and onto the main road, which I did. At this point, my eyes were itchy. I tried to move forward but got stuck near the entrance of the Masjid Jamek LRT station. Then, the police truck, which had advanced from its original position, fired another canister. This really got my system. My eyes and skin burned, my nose unloaded itself and I felt nauseous. I couldn’t make sense of where I was going so I latched on to someone else and got as far as the Burger King building. There, I found a spot and gratefully munched on salt a stranger was passing around.
I moved across the main road to the street just behind Lebuh Ampang when I felt a little more stable. From this point, I observed more canisters thrown onto the street. It wasn’t long before they fired at the both ends of the street I was standing on. Getting out of the area made me feel like we were cattle being herded. There was no escape route, it seemed, until three young men yelled for us to cut through the car park just opposite Reggae Mansion. It was just chaotic as people squeezed past the entrance single file and spilled into the car park.
Once out, I waited for a couple of minutes at Lebuh Ampang before making my way to meet my friend at the Masjid India area. Keep in mind, we were cut off from contact as the lines were down. I couldn’t make calls or get calls. Even trying to access the Internet was such an issue. I was just heading there on faith.
As I tried to make my way to Coliseum from the alley just in front of Mydin, there was an ambush. First a canister was fired into the road near Coliseum, then in front of Mydin. I have two functional legs, it wasn’t an issue. However, there was a disabled beggar at the centre of this alley. Thankfully, two young Malay boys picked him up and put him in between two vehicles closer to Mydin.
Time and again throughout the two hours I experienced tear gas, this was the common thread.
People worked together to lessen the impact of tear gas fumes by handing out salt or water for use by others. Concern for one another, strangers until that moment, was really touching, more touching in fact than the unity shown earlier as we walked towards the Masjid Jamek station.
I only regret that the men in blue, our protectors, chose to do the exact opposite.
Besides choosing to act aggressively towards peaceful participants by firing 40 tear-gas canisters, they also penalised people on their way out of the area.
Today, at a press conference held by the Bersih 2.0 steering committee, I was especially aggrieved by the account of Fazwan, a 23-year-old from KL.
He shared how after he was handcuffed by police, they set on him. At the session today, his face was a jigsaw of blue-black marks thanks to his inability to protect his face.
Was any of it (the excessiveness) necessary?
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Malaysian Insider