My ‘yellow’ tale

By T L Cai | May 21, 2012

In my mind, April 28 was not going to be an ordinary day when I woke up just before noon. I had slept late after finishing work at midnight and spent some hours reading and pouring over Google maps to find the best parking space and plan my walking route to Dataran Merdeka.

I was full of enthusiasm for my first Bersih rally. It really felt good that I could add to the numbers. All week I was hoping that, in terms of participation, Bersih 3.0 would exceed the previous Bersihs. As it turned out, it was a resounding success and the rakyat delivered an equivocal message to the Barisan Nasional government.

I felt so good that even the usual transgressions on the road which, usually riled me, did not perturb me! I drove down Jalan Ipoh to try to reach Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, hoping to park in one of the many lorongs there but it was cordoned off.

I weaved my way through the many lorongs in Tiong Nam and found a car park right along Jalan Raja Laut. I parked and walked towards Dataran Merdeka. I saw many rally-goers dressed mostly in yellow. A large group told me they came from Ipoh. Many looked like they had been there overnight.

Everyone was smiling and many waved to each other. All races, all ages, all with a common purpose. It was 12.30pm and many were milling around or sitting down. I also sat down in front of the DBKL building and waited for the sit-in to start. I saw a young Chinese man with severely malformed limbs dressed in a Bersih T-shirt hobbling past. I smiled and nodded to him and he did the same. The Malay gentleman sitting next to me said, “Hati dia kuat”.

I moved on again and saw a group of young Malay guys dressed in their own yellow T-shirts which read “Kumpulan Bersih 3.0” sitting on the road. They had garbage bags with them. Two of them had gas masks on. They said their presence was to clean up garbage and that included Umno. They were a jovial lot but their mission was, nevertheless, serious.

An elderly pakcik wrapped in shawls was sitting alone in the middle of the road and I thought, “He is much older than my 63 years; if he can do it, so can I.” I made another friend and he obliged me with a snapshot.

At around 1.30pm, I was about 20 metres away from the perimeter of Dataran Merdeka but could not get any closer because of the huge crowds already there. People were peering over the heads of others to get a view of Dataran Merdeka. The atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. Tension, if any, was hardly seen or felt because everyone expected a peaceful sit-in protest.

Tear gas being fired

For myself, I thought I would sit for the two hours of the planned protest and then go home. Since the home minister had declared Bersih 3.0 as posing no security threat and the Bersih organisers had declared their intention not to breach the cordon around Dataran Merdeka, I was preparing to just sit peacefully somewhere.

I met an old schoolmate from Kuantan whom I have not seen for 25 years. I told him the green shirt was for Kuantan and the badge and yellow towel were for Bersih.

People were coming and going. I guessed most people did not know what was really going on at the centre stage where, apart from the intermittent chanting, various speakers addressed the crowds. Someone around me asked, “Where are the leaders?” Another said, “The crowd is getting bored.”

A little while later, cheers rang out and everyone peered over each other to see, as I later learnt, the arrival of some Pakatan Rakyat leaders. I did not really hear Bersih chairperson S Ambiga speak or her appeal for the rally-goers to disperse.

Suddenly, a huge roar rang out all around. Police were running through Dataran Merdeka and there was a lot of shouting. Then tear gas was fired into the crowd. One canister landed nearby and everyone was choking and bleeding tears. The crowd ran helter-skelter but so disciplined was the crowd that no one was trampled on.

I stopped about 20 metres away and tried to recover. I did not bring any salt but it was not in short supply as everyone helped each other with salt and water. My first taste of tear gas was not that bad at all especially after ingesting some salt and rinsing the eyes with water. Hey, I could take this again, I thought to myself.

The crowds continued to move along Jalan Raja Laut. I looked at my watch and thought, “What the heck, it’s only 3pm, the rally is not supposed to be over yet.” Others must have shared my thoughts and lingered around. By then the crowds were split into two main groups, one right in front facing the FRU and another about 50 metres back. People were not dispersing yet.

Tear gas was fired again as the FRU approached the crowds who seemed to be in open defiance. The crowds retreated only for a short distance each time.

The stand-off went on for another hour. At the junction of Jalan Dang Wangi and Jalan Raja Laut, there was a long pause and I could see huge crowds on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman as they seemed to be also in retreat. I went into a restaurant to buy a bottle of water. The queue to get a bag of ice was long but the crowd was patient.

As the shop assistant handed out the iced syrup, he shouted, “Tolong bayar di kaunter.” People were still in a jovial mood and someone responded, “Kita bukan Umno lah, Umno saja makan tak bayar.” Everyone burst into laughter.

I sat down on the road next to two young Malay guys astride their motorcycles. One was fuming mad. The gist of what he said was that he lived in Sentul Dalam, had applied for a low-cost home for years and did not get one.

Pistols drawn

An Indonesian living nearby got his home already. He gestured with his hands, indicating piles and piles of forms, and said that hundreds, like this Indonesian, had already obtained blue ICs.

They needed to pay only RM300, he added. He was angry that foreigners and illegals were now determining the future of the country.

Then Red Crescent trucks rolled by and stopped to distribute boxes of mineral water. The people applauded. Then the police vehicles came along and the Red Crescent people moved on.

Police patrol cars and motorcycles with siren screaming were speeding by, raising the tension immediately. (That must be the moment, as reported later, when the Datuk Bandar’s convoy turned tail and quickly exited the area.)

Defiance and anger at being treated with tear gas and chemical-laced water filled the air. A few water bottles bounced off some police vehicles harmlessly. That was the only aggression on the part of a few individuals I saw that day. It was nothing compared to the police violence I was to witness later.

It was around 4pm and the crowds were quickly thinning out. I walked on along Jalan Raja Laut. Small crowds of people were then on both sides of the road when suddenly a patrol car and several motorcycles pulled up on the opposite side of the road.

Out jumped several men in blue, with pistols drawn and started beating a few protesters. One ran into a side lane chased by two policemen. One was surrounded by a few cops and beaten badly. He disappeared from sight when he dropped to the ground. One was taken in a patrol car which sped off.

This disgusting display of unnecessary and unprovoked violence was indiscriminate and seemed random as people were already making their way home. All the time right behind the crowds, the FRU and the water cannon trucks were rolling forward.

With a last discharge of chemical-laced water at the junction of Jalan Raja Laut and Jalan Sultan Ismail, the FRU stopped. This was at about 4.30pm. I stood on the Sime Darby pedestrian bridge to get a better view.

People from Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman were seen crossing right in front of the FRU in the direction of Jalan Kuching. I wondered where they were heading to as there were no public transport stops there.

It seemed like an appropriate closing episode to a tumultuous afternoon when a young Chinese girl appeared on the road divider on Jalan Sultan Ismail, before the row of FRU. She held up a printed sign which read “18 Today. Peace. Justice.”

The writer was a participant of the Bersih 3.0 rally who recalls the events on that tumultuous afternoon.

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Monday, 21 May 2012 - 5:44 pm

    ///Bersih 3.0 would exceed the previous Bersihs. As it turned out, it was a resounding success and the rakyat delivered an equivocal message to the Barisan Nasional government.///- TL Cai

    Yes a ‘resounding’ success in terms of proving that Malaysians of all races, religion and creed and of all economic and social strata could unite under a common cause and be prepared to be counted by participating in peaceful way. No, not a resounding success at all if all these marred violence from authorities under pretext of stopping riot allegedly intended by opposition politicians in their antics to breach the barricades….I had expected this to happen – the excuse, which the breach of barricades afforded on a silver platter. Now, they would use the opportunity to charge Anwar Ibrahim, Azmin Ali – and various PKR politicians (reportedly) tomorrow, undoubtedly to try disqualify them from contesting next GE if they were found guilty. This time it has nothing to do with sexual improprieties that Malaysians don’t believe; this time they have video recording, and even the Economist said the duo had some explaining to do. Its a different ball game, and set back for PR. To keep dwelling on disproportionate police harsh action is to fail grasp the central issue that this brutal fall out/end to peacful rally is all part of an anticipated orchestrated bigger plan to pin point blame upon He Who Is Supposed to be the Glue of PR component parties. He is just too naïve to see it coming to resort to such antics!

  2. #2 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Monday, 21 May 2012 - 6:33 pm

    Hey perkasa, facebook founder married a pendatang. Quick, go and stage a perkasa protest there. How dare he deny umno’s universal supremacy by marrying a pendatang (well somehow).

You must be logged in to post a comment.