By Lim K.H.
27th August 2015
The villagers lined the street on both sides patiently waiting, hands behind their back holding a stone in each. It would be a matter of time that the Federal Reserve Units (FRU) or ‘Ang Thou Peng’ would arrive. They did. The FRU contingent arrived in their red trucks, and started marching in formation fully geared. The situation was tense. They marched down the road along Kampong Pulau or ‘Tua Lor Au’, as our village is called in Penang, within arms length of the people. It was a show of strength. Everyone waited patiently until one decided to release his stone with a good aim. Then all hell broke loose.
Villagers scrambled in all directions chased by the well-equipped police, who beat down anyone they could catch.
It got more violent by the day, as they introduced tear gas and eventually curfews to keep the villagers in their houses. Through the riot several canisters of tear gas fell through our atap rooftops into our kitchen when they were randomly fired from the street towards the village houses, forcing our family to take shelter.
What wrong have we done to deserve that treatment? The market strike in 1967 was a result of the currency devaluation. The weeks following the strike were fearful. Racial riots followed but how were they related? It was always easy to put the blame on race to stir up emotions and forget the real reason behind the events, in this case currency devaluation. The riots led to 24-hour curfews with short breaks for the purchase of food but shop shelves were empty. As an 11-year-old then, I could not fully understand the event or the implications of it, but living through the experience brought many lessons.
So why am I going back 48 years in undocumented history? Three weeks ago, I was confronted by a close friend when I could not show my clear support for Bersih 4. I questioned the logic of another street protest. I remembered 1967 with clear images of the events and do not wish to see a repeat. I am hopeful that our country still has strong fundamentals of a civilised society, rule of law, tested parliamentary democracy and a leader I once believed could lead this country out of the doldrums and bring our people together as ONE MALAYSIA.
Yes, I know the current situation in Malaysia is worrying and I share the pain as the cost of living rises against stagnant incomes, despite the well-crafted economic plans. I fear that corrupt practices may become a way of life and institutions weakened by poor leadership. But I harboured hopes that things would turn around, wrong-doers would realise that there is a limit to their misdeeds and that our tested democratic system would magically work.
But recent events have proven me wrong. The same rhetoric and racial tones are still being used to divide and rule. It seemed like no amount of pressure from well-meaning individuals in Malaysia and around the world could bring the current leadership to rethink for the good of the country.
It’s sad to know that while the people are not divided among themselves, there are forces pushing that agenda. I was in Kuantan, Pahang, during Ramadan and had the best time at the stalls sharing the wide variety of food on offer by polite and friendly people. One of the students I sat next to in school was Mustafa. The difference between us was that he plays hockey while I played rugby in school. I was trained as a Master Mariner and eventually commanded a Malaysian flag ship. On board, officers and crew work, eat, and live together as one close community. Our Malaysian issue was not about race. It was about leadership, accountability, integrity and trust.
In the last three weeks one thing became clear: hope has to come with action. If I don’t take action and make my way to Kuala Lumpur on 29 August, I know there will only be regret. So yes, I will be marching on Saturday and Sunday, ‘berganding bahu’ (hand in hand) with fellow conscientious Malaysians for that ray of hope and a brighter future for all Malaysians.
Capt Lim K.H. is a Malaysian who has had the opportunity to live and work with people of various cultures and backgrounds. He has been residing in Singapore for 13 years, but still stood up to sing Negara Ku when Malaysia won gold at the recent SEA games. The views expressed here are his own.