By June Rubis
14 July 2011 | LoyarBurok
We were so close that I could wipe the sweat off his forehead if I had wanted to. Instead, I stood uncertainly in front of him, not wanting to push forward.
His expression on his face mirrored mine: which was of fear. After exchanging a glance with me, he looked away and determinedly stared into space, while in locked arms with few of his blue-clad colleagues.
I saw more police milling around and they did not stop us from entering KL Sentral. There were many chances to arrest the BERSIH leaders as soon as they had stepped outside the hotel. But it seemed to me that the police had a different plan: they wanted to ambush them, and pick them off one by one.
There was no sense of danger because the police had so far let us go ahead. Sure, we all knew that eventually they would arrest the BERSIH and political leaders but we had no clue of how inhumane it was going to be.
When we found ourselves maneuvered into the tunnel, we started running as fast as we could.
Even if we had never imagined that we would be tear-gassed in the tunnel, there was that imminent danger.
I was in the middle of the crowd when I reached the end of the tunnel, relieved to be out of the ominous place. But by then, there was screaming because the FRU had started shooting tear gas straight towards at us. I saw it with my own eyes, the FRU was aiming directly at the people, and not over our heads.
The message was clear to me: to hurt and maim as many as possible, even though these were peaceful demonstrators, many of whom are respected political leaders of our country. It was only after that I had heard that Anwar Ibrahim and his bodyguard were badly hurt for being shot at, along with another PAS politician who was in front of the crowd.
I stood in shock and confusion, not knowing what to do. By then, I had to start running back into the tunnel because the crowd had panicked and turned back away from the shooting. I had feared that if I did not run back into the tunnel, I would have been trampled on.
And so I ran into the tunnel which was the worst mistake to make.
Pain. So much pain. In my eyes, skin, and worst, my lungs. I could not breathe, I slowed down into a walk-crawl.
I knew instinctively that I was not going to die in the tunnel but every sense in my body was screaming otherwise. The pain was so immense that I wanted to crawl into a ball and sob but I knew I had to keep moving, but where?
There was tear gas coming from the other side of the tunnel, and as I stood in confusion, trying to breathe, I saw a tear gas canister roll beside me. It had a blinking light on, and more gas was streaming from it.
I panicked and ran away from it like it was a bomb.
People were screaming and shoving themselves into a bus company booth. They were pushing each other towards the wall because there was confusion on where to run. Where could we go? Tear gas emanated at both ends.
I felt a strange sensation of drowning because I was so disoriented with pain that I had no idea where both ends of the tunnel were. The tunnel was in darkness with smoke from the tear gas. I could not speak and so tugged on anybody close by, as an appeal for help, please help me get out of here. I was shaken off, and ignored.
I have heard of so many heart-warming stories coming out of the rally but I have to say, I did not see the best of humanity in the tunnel. Everybody was out to save themselves but how could I blame them?
We were ambushed like animals.
For the grace of God, I managed to stumble towards the opening of the tunnel. Each step towards the end was a physical relief because I could breathe a little better as fresh air mixed with tear gas. But I was still in immense pain and shock.
There was screaming by the police waiting for us at the end of the tunnel, and there was one who screamed at me, “Kenapa berani pakai baju tu? Kenapa berani??”
Confused, I tottered away from the yelling, but was dragged back towards the wall where I was told to stay put.
Ambiga and Maria Chin were already arrested and it took six men to pin down Ambiga’s bodyguard to the wall. I did not see him struggle, and was confused of the excessive violence towards him.
Ambiga, even after the tunnel tear gas attack, had so much presence of mind, to speak kindly and gracefully to the police to let up on her bodyguard, and to tell him how much she appreciated that he took such good care of her. He was the best of humanity in the tunnel that day, to put Ambiga’s safety over his, and to ensure she got out safely.
Another young man who was caught, was punched and kicked while trapped against the wall.
There was kindness only after, and I have to thank the employees of the bus company who kept giving us water.
I cannot tell you how incredibly impressed I am of Ambiga and Maria Chin who have shown so much strength and leadership throughout the day. I tell you this with much honesty, because I had spent the entire morning with them and saw how focused and strong they were.
Their thoughts were always of the people on ground zero, and of their safety. Their thoughts were of the rakyat.
Yes, Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, and Pak Haji were present in that Hilton room but they only came much later when everything else was decided upon. I saw clearly how the leadership of BERSIH 2.0 came from Ambiga, Maria Chin and the steering committee, and no one else.
Believe what you may about Pakatan Rakyat using BERSIH 2.0 – I would think it was the other way around, and by the rakyat.
And this is what we have to remember: for those of us who mobilised on that day, we now understand how important it is to come in solidarity, and to stand for something we believed in, even though we were so scared.
We saw that despite our fear, that our government of the day is more afraid of us than we of them hence the “worst campaign of oppression in many decades” as termed by Amnesty International.
We saw that as one person we can make a huge difference, especially when we come to stand together, and say, this is not right.
Can we now translate that into ensuring free and fair elections? As BERSIH 2.0 continues the push for electoral reform, can we not make our own individual choices by registering to vote, ensuring our friends and family are registered to vote, and to report any unfair discrepancies come next General Election?
Remember, it does not stop there, and we can continue to make our voices heard.
They may treat us like animals but we have shown them on that fine day, that we are not. I am so proud of my fellow Malaysians who came in the thousands, held peaceful assemblies throughout KL and looked out for each other.
Stand strong, and stay firm, Malaysia.