Predators and preys on July 9

By B Nantha Kumar
July 14, 2011 | Free Malaysia Today

Comment I am a photojournalist and having witnessed four major rallies – Bersih 1.0, Hindraf, Anti-ISA and PPSMI (a rally against the teaching of science and mathematics in English) – I feel compelled to register my shock and awe at how the July 9, Bersih 2.0′s “Walk for Democracy” turned into a playground for predators and a nursery for unconditional kindness.

There were thousands of Malaysian on July 9 in Kuala Lumpur, all aiming to find their way to the goalpost – Stadium Mederka.

They were all to assemble there and the Bersih steering committee would then march to the palace to give the King the eight-point memorandum.

The runup to the July 9 Bersih 2.0 was anything but smooth. Likewise on D-day July 9.

I must admit Bersih 2.0 was not the largest gathering of people I have seen. Some of the other rallies were even bigger.

But for reasons best known to Umno and Barisan Nasional, Bersih 2.0 peace march was branded as “dangerous” and its president Ambiga S, a traitor for urging Malaysians to support calls for electoral reforms.

Umno-BN was rattled by the Bersih 2.0′s yellow wave (their T-shirt was yellow) and they used all available avenues to warn and instill fear in the hearts and minds of Malaysians supporting the call for fair and free elections.

On July 9, I was told the police had placed nearly 7,000 personnel included Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) and its traffic unit in the “restricted” Kuala Lumpur zone.

Ninety-one people had been issued a restriction order and were barred from entering certain parts of Kuala Lumpur. Before, more than over 200 people had been arrested in relation to July 9.

All this was staggering for me.

Never in the past have I heard of so many policemen on the ground at one spot at one time or that a restrictive order has been issued.

Screaming and scrambling

I was stationed at Jalan Pudu.

By the time, the clock chimed 1pm, there were some 30,000 Bersih members who had flooded Menara Maybank near Jalan Pudu and Tun Perak intersection.

The FRU shot tear gas and sprayed a chemical-laced liquid from the water cannon directly at the protesters.

It was shocking. Thousands of men and women were screaming and scrambling for shelter.

But the police kept chasing and hunting them down like prey.

There was something even stranger – rows of FRU personnel kept relentlessly shooting rounds of tear gas directly at the crowd.

Their demeanour was clear – the FRU and police were there to hunt the protesters down, hurt and frighten supporters. They were not there to disperse the crowd.

In Jalan Pudu, for instance, they blocked off one end and ambushed the suppporters from Jalan Tun Perak.

The protesters had no place to hide and had to run into Tung Shin Hospital.

The second incident was when police started arresting supporters who refused to back off despite the tear gas and water cannon.

The police appeared uncontrollable. They punched some supporters and were physically brutal when making arrest.

Acts of kindness

At one point the Pasukan Unit Amal from PAS tried to calm the police, but a constable took out his gun and pointed it at him.

But his colleagues quickly grabbed him and dragged him away.

I have had sleepless nights since then wondering what would have happened had the policeman opened fire.

And what if the public had retaliated?

I was there and lived to tell the experience.

The police were more interested in arresting people than helping those who were injured.

There was an old Malay man who succumbed to the tear gas and fell to the ground convulsing. The police were around him but they did nothing.

One policeman actually poked the convulsing old man with his leg to see if he was dead or alive.

In the end it was the ordinary Malaysians who rallied together and carried him to safety.

Real victory

In another instant, I was caught in the middle of a massive crowd when the FRU started shooting tear gas at us.

I was unprepared and suffered shortness of breath.

Suddenly, a middle-aged Malay woman pull my hand and shoved a bottle of mineral water into it.

“Minumlah adik. Lepas itu bagi kat orang sebelah,” she said.

I hurriedly drank the water and passed the bottle around. When I turned to thank her, she had disappeared into the crowd presumably to help others with water.

I have no clue who she is or why she felt compelled to aid me but my colleagues stationed in other points of the rally have told me many similar stories of pure kindness.

Both the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional and opposition Pakatan Rakyat have claimed “political” victory on July 9.

But for me this is not important.

I am awed by the kindness I have seen and experienced, and by the simple truth that Ambiga – who on behalf of Malaysians called for electoral reforms and who was subsequently defamed – has united all irrespective of gender, age, race and creed.

I don’t know the woman who helped me, but then again neither did the thousands of others who were aided in their time of need during the rally on July 9.

This is the clean spirit of Bersih which BN and Pakatan will never understand.

This is to me the real victory.

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