An initially hesitant Yuganeshwaran Muthumaniam got caught up in the excitement on the streets, where he noted that Bersih 2.0 had succeeded in uniting Malaysians in a way that Najib’s 1Malaysia had failed.
Before I relate my experience with Bersih 2.0, just a little bit about myself: I am just an ordinary Malaysian dude who lives a run-of-the-mill existence just like most of you. Perhaps I should declare myself as an activist who loves to indulge in outdoor activities, especially hiking. I am also an avid reader of non-fiction such as write-ups about Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Yes, I am totally into politics – or should I say, I am interested in the political affairs and thinking that have sprouted in our nation.
Now, my interest in politics also means I get the latest political updates. Browsing and comparing the news reported in both local newspapers and online sources, I realise the news articulated in the mainstream newspapers is more biased and papers over reality. This was proven during Bersih 2.0, based on my own experience throughout the rally.
I was captivated by the Bersih 2.0 announcements found online. My aspiration to stand up for the motherland prompted me to attend Bersih 2.0. I vowed not to miss the event the way I missed the first Bersih rally in November 2007. This time I vowed to myself that no matter what happened, I would be in the rally.
And so I was! Before the day arrived, I tried to thrash it out with my friends, but they seemed to be not-so-interested; they even discouraged me. So I stopped discussing it with them and searched for a soul who might share similar aspirations. I was longing for someone who would support me, someone who would encourage me, who would just lend a hand to spread my wings into the rally.
I kicked off by purchasing a Bersih 2.0 T-shirt via online. They sent it to me via courier service. Alas, the courier reached my boss! (I had given my office address for the courier.) The next day he texted me appealing to me to change my mind about wearing that yellow T-shirt, as he felt that something would happen to me (such a concerned heart, he was). Not wanting to worry this kind-hearted dude, I told him I was only collecting the T-shirt and didn’t intend to wear it.
Days passed and finally it was the eve of the rally. I was still mulling over whether I should attend the rally, when I came across the Facebook status update of one of my friend’s regarding the rally. On Friday morning, I received an invitation (via SMS) to a special prayer held in church, significantly about peace and harmony in the nation. I then decided to attend this special mass before making a final decision.
During the mass, I met one of the top opposition MPs and Selangor State exco member; I even ended up snapping a picture or two with her. She was impressed with my yellow appearance (yes, I was wearing the T-shirt!) and affirmed that she would be looking forward to meeting me at the rally the next day. It looked like a big adventure was about to unfold. That night before I shut my eyes, I told myself that no matter what, I would be at the rally the next day. After all, what is life without real adventure?
The big day…
Finally the day arrived. On Saturday, I was supposed to return home after work to pack some of my things for the rally. Unfortunately I couldn’t get back home due to time constraints. My friends (I managed to persuade a few) were waiting for me at the KTM station. Since I was half- an-hour late, they made a move first, promising that we would catch up with each other near KL Sentral.
Once I stepped into the KTM Station, I noticed a few policemen scrutinising ‘suspicious’ folks. This time, bless me, I was not wearing the yellow T-shirt, thanks to my buddies’ warning. As I waited for the train, I came across my pal’s brother, John. Fortunately, he was also on his way to the gathering.
My buddies who left earlier texted me to join them at Pasar Seni. Throughout our journey in the train to the spot, I felt a sense of excitement welling up inside along with some uneasiness. The train dropped us at the Masjid Jamek station after an announcement that the it would not be passing or stopping at the Pasar Seni station. We were probably the last batch of passengers as we heard that the station was temporarily closed after we left.
Soon the much-awaited moment arrived and the adventure began. I heard policemen shouting to the public ‘‘Cepat-cepat, semua keluar melalui sini!’’ The rally participants’ voices added to the din: they were chanting ‘‘Hidup, hidup! Hidup Bersih!’’
After we left the train station, we were at a complete loss as to where to head to; we just wandered around, perplexed. I managed to call one of my pals and he asked me to go near the Pudu Raya bus station. Just then, we reached Menara Maybank, and I spotted thousands of people chanting near there. At once, we joined them – yes, we had finally joined the rally! It went off in such a harmonious manner that I did not even realise that I had lost track of my friends.
It was almost 1.30pm when a Malay sounded the alarm to the crowd, ‘’The FRU are here; stand by everyone!’’
We did not run or step back; we came together, united – Malay, Indian and Chinese – all standing close to each other, standing up for our rights, bare-handed (none of us was armed). A Malay companion was distributing salt to everyone. I managed to grab some.
Out of the blue, without any warning, the FRU attacked us, spraying chemical water. Luckily, I managed to make my way into the crowd. This was followed by tear gas canisters, almost six to seven shots at once. The first canister fell just a short distance from where I was, trailed by another canister which landed right in front of me.
Within five seconds, my eyes were filled with tears. I was coughing badly and my body was aching with a burning sensation. Everyone was running for their lives. It felt as though we were in a foreign country where the citizens would run for their precious lives from the nation’s enemy (you know the one that we have been viewing on television news). But sadly, this took place in our very own nation, where the police who are supposed to protect the people were instead doing the opposite, hitting and injuring us. After all, we did not intend to create violence; it was truly meant to be a peaceful rally – to convey our message in the most non-violent and diplomatic manner. But our good intentions were not respected. We were assaulted and hurt.
The crowd ran towards Jalan Pudu. I couldn’t even breathe for a few seconds; a Chinese friend passed me a wet towel to wipe my face. I felt totally dehydrated and was thirsting for some water (I had not managed to pack anything from home). An Indian uncle passed me his bottle of water to be shared. This was not only happening to me, but to everyone there as well.
We helped each other despite our different skin colours because we were all Malaysians. Yes, Malaysians. Not Malay or Chinese or Indian but we were all Malaysians. At that point, something crossed my mind, the 1Malaysia concept may have failed in Putrajaya but here at the Bersih rally, it had been realised on the ground.
Thank God, it then began to rain; somehow the rain water helped us to wash away the chemicals. Our spirit was not vanquished though; we ended the rally by singing our national anthem, Negaraku. A few Malay friends and I made our way near the Tung Shin Hospital and took a break there.
The FRU, all over again, were closing in. We, the poor crowd, were scattered again, running for our lives. Most of the protesters took the path towards the right of the hospital while the Malay guys and I took the left. We scraped through bushes and finally exited near a Hindu temple close to Pudu. Then we walked back to Pudu Raya. Our attempt was foiled since we ended up right behind the FRU. Since we could not join the crowd, we decided to walk down Petaling Street towards Stadium Merdeka. When we reached Jalan Sultan, a Malay man was running towards us, warning us not to proceed as the police were arresting everyone. We separated at that point and, thanks to him, we escaped from being caught.
As it was already 4.00pm, I decided to head back home. The Pasar Seni station was closed, so I had to walk towards KL Sentral. Finally I reached home safely, and life returned to normal after a complete rest at home (although it took a few days).
In a nutshell, although the physical effect of the attacks has vanished, they have left an indelible imprint reminding us of the government’s close-minded approach to the rally, which even hurt innocent people. The biased news coverage, which gave the impression that we had created all the havoc when in reality it was the FRU and the police action that led to the turmoil. Sooner or later they must answer for their actions. Yes, they will because God is there and no one can blindfold Him.
As for you people out there, you have read many reports and accounts of the rally in the media, but do you know that the truth lies beneath the news reported? Please weigh things carefully before coming to any conclusion.
Written by a Malaysian, Yuganeshwaran Muthumaniam, for Malaysians.