Bersih through an 18-year-old’s eyes

An A-levels student details his experiences and the lessons learnt during the April 28 Bersih 3.0 rally.

By B Anand
Free Malaysia Today
May 15, 2012


Admittedly, this article might be a bit overdue, however it was mainly due to the fact that I’ve been bogged down with my upcoming A-levels. As I sat in front of my laptop the night before, watching the crowds assemble near Dataran, I was still mulling over whether or not I should attend.

A part of me posed the following questions: What if I get hurt, gassed or sprayed? What if I get arrested by the police? Was it wise to take such a risk right before such an important exam?

However, I also thought to myself: As a future law student, shouldn’t it be my duty to defend our right to protest? And more importantly, if ever I was forced to join the Malaysian diaspora, would I ever be able to forgive myself for not having tried fighting for my rights first?

In the end,regardless of the risks it posed, I felt that it was my duty to attend. Being 18, I am not yet eligible to vote; however I had always believed in the Bersih cause, as a clean and fair electoral system is the only way in which we could obtain a government that truly represented the interests of the people.

In addition to the above, I was also dumbfounded by the illogical reactions of certain quarters to the rally. And so, with vinegar soaked masks, swimming googles, earplugs, legal aid numbers saved on my phone, a towel, water and some food in my bag – I left the comfort of my home, ready for whatever might come. A part of me was excited to become a part of national history, however I would also be lying to say that I wasn’t nervous and expecting the worst.

I travelled to Brickfields with family members who attended the rally together with me. Police presence was relatively heavy, and I remained anxious as I walked past the officers. What if they decided to arrest me there and then? I decided to smile at them; to my surprise, they smiled back! I felt somewhat reassured, and the huge participant turnout reaffirmed it.

Upon joining the crowd, we coincidentally bumped into a group of church friends and began our march with them. To the chants of “Hidup Bersih!” and “Hidup Rakyat!”, we were cheered on by the many observers on the sidewalk and by a majority of the cars, motorbikes, a convoy of postmen and even a KTM commuter train who blared their horns in support of us.

While walking towards the city, I met people from all walks of life, of all ages, many races and many backgrounds; coming together for the good of the nation. Of all those people, the most memorable ones included a Standard Two boy, a brave disabled man on crutches, and an incredibly beautiful protester who was walking together with us (lets face it, boys will be boys).

Ever since the concept of 1Malaysia had been introduced, I had not an idea of what it meant until Bersih 3.0. By this point, every feeling of nervousness which I had felt before had practically disappeared. Never in my life, had I been so proud to call myself a Malaysian.

Businesses make a killing

Upon joining with the group from Central Market, we stopped for a break. To my surprise, I coincidentally bumped into a friend from school as well as a priest from a nearby church. Despite many businesses being closed, my group and I proceeded to an open Mamak shop to have lunch. To say that business was great would be an understatement.

There were many vendors making a killing from selling cold drinks as well. It was amazing to see how much fuss some businessmen had made in response to Bersih and the supposed millions-upon-millions claimed in losses. Had those businesses decide to open on that day – just like those that did – they would have made a killing too. Why bother getting into business when you don’t even know the basics?

After lunch, we proceeded to a stage at Central Market where we had the honour of seeing S Ambiga herself. I was unable to hear what she was saying due to the deafening cheers, however just being in the presence of such a great Malaysian was sufficient for me.

As a giant group, we then marched towards the direction of Dataran Merdeka with the chants of “Bersih!”, “Hidup Rakyat” and “Hancur Lynas”.

Admittedly, there were also chants of “Reformasi”, however these chants had little traction with the people. At 2pm, we were reminded to sing the Negaraku; and the entire crowd did so with spontaneity. The sound of our voices together were deafening albeit a bit out of pitch – though there was no doubt that a sense of nationalistic fervour had gripped the crowd.

As we approached Jalan Tun Perak, we could hear the chants and cheers of the mammoth-sized crowd that had already assembled there. We merged with the giant sea of people, and my group and I successfully got a place right outside the Burger King outlet (which was also filled to the brim, by the way). We had ourselves a great view, and the atmosphere was akin to a giant festival. We then proceeded towards the side of the Masjid Jamek station – where we had a seat.

We had no idea of what was happening at the other end, and were just minding our own business until we noticed a sudden rush of people. It did not take us long to realise that something was up, and that tear gas had been shot. We had no idea that the barricades at Dataran Merdeka were breached.

In the sudden rush, we had lost a cousin while heading to Medan Pasar – somewhat away from all the pandemonium that had spontaneously ensued. We stopped near the clock-tower to try and get in touch with my cousin. While doing so, however, we heard a loud gush of water like the sound of a distant waterfall. To our shock, large jets of water were being fired on the adjacent road (Leboh Pasar Besar). The entire crowd made a run for it. We had no idea where we were heading.

It wasn’t long until we began to feel the effects of the tear gas which had wafted from nearby. It felt like rubbing your body and face with chillies. We began to help each other in the crowd – some distributed salt and water, others helped the elderly – all of us random strangers.

We took random backroads and alleyways, eventually finding ourselves in the midst of the Pudu bus station where we took refuge. Still recovering from whatever had happened, I was made even more dumbfounded by the fact that they had closed the LRT station. Why bother ordering us to disperse, only to have the LRTs closed?

An hour later, when things had somewhat settled, we began to make our way home. Before leaving the Pudu bus station, I made it a point to give a yellow flower I had received from a protester to the police in the police booth at the bus station. They were surprised, to say the least.

From Pudu, we walked to Berjaya Times Square where we boarded a cramped Monorail filled with fellow protesters. Upon reaching KL Sentral, we were picked up by the cousin whom we had lost in the rally, who somehow managed to get himself home before us. In the car, I remained silent with a smile on my face – still trying to contemplate the day’s events.

Tunku and gang smiling

In a nutshell, I had walked miles-upon-miles in the blazing heat with thousands of people, I was tear gassed and ran instinctively; not knowing where I was going – and yet I was happy as ever. It just goes to show that the best thing to do in life is to follow your conscience, no matter how risky it might be – one of the many lessons being part of Bersih 3.0 had taught me.

I awoke the next day to the papers highlighting the supposed chaotic nature of the rally initiated by protesters. To say that I was angry would be an understatement. Looking at some videos that surfaced online, there was undoubtedly sporadic violence by protesters which had occurred; as a Bersih believer, I condemn such violence. But what about the numerous accounts of police brutality? Why did the media fail to acknowledge that? Selective amnesia perhaps?

It was incredibly appalling that some quarters refused to even acknowledge the aspects of unity and creativity seen, and the predominantly peaceful nature of the assembly. Do they not seem to realise that by doing so, they actually stand to give their arguments more credence?

Looking back at the rally, I see the denial of Dataran Merdeka as the protest venue a blessing in disguise.

Why? Because it symbolises the dreams and aspirations of our founding fathers which have yet to be fulfilled. They dreamt of building a society that would wholeheartedly reflect the will of the people, and not of a select few. Such a society could only be built by electing a government through a free and fair electoral process.

The spirit of those who fought for our independence years ago was very much present in Bersih 3.0; and as we continue in our fight for this cause, it’s safe to say that Tunku and gang are smiling from above – proud of everything we have done. Hidup Bersih, Malaysia Boleh!

  1. #1 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Tuesday, 15 May 2012 - 2:01 pm

    Some people like to hypothesize and ponder. Meanwhile umno continues to monkey about with our rights and our country and to plunder the country.

  2. #2 by monsterball on Tuesday, 15 May 2012 - 2:05 pm

    This is the kind of young smart Malaysians that Mahathir is very afraid of and Najib can get a taste for the reasons why.
    You can sat this young man…not yet qualified to vote is compelled to do something for country ad people.
    No matter how much Najib tries to project he is a caring and concerned PM…. no one will forgive all the thieves and robbers.
    “Lets together move forward as ONE” Najib wants said.
    It means we forget all the billions stolen…all the killings?
    Worst still…as he was projecting to be a caring PM…out come the bullies…the gangsters…creating trouble…inviting confrontation.
    Najib has nothing to say because he is such a nice guy PM.
    POORAH Najib…..and this young man is not an idiot to go through so much pains…defying with no anger shown.
    He will participate when BERSIH 4 comes.
    You can be sure of it.

  3. #3 by monsterball on Tuesday, 15 May 2012 - 2:10 pm

    “wants” should be ‘once” and all my other lousy english….should be accepted.
    Afterall…at Astro Channel 801…”Arena” managed by the Govt,…it said…”Boling Competition” teach the whole world new spelling for “Bowling”

  4. #4 by negarawan on Tuesday, 15 May 2012 - 3:25 pm

    More international pressure must be made on UMNO. UMNO has no respect outside of Malaysia. Look at how Najip is jeered in London. Let’s hope there will be demonstration in New York as well.

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