Zaharom Nain describes the scene at Ambiga’s house when a bunch of ‘petty traders’ and racist youths turned up with their unwelcome messages.
Well, this seems to me, forgive me, to fall into a very simple trap. Illegal assembly, violence provoked, more anti Bersih fuel and headlines. Ignoring idiots is much better, they look foolish. It is foolish to fight with s**.
– Sean, my expatriate English friend
God, that lot are b…. losers. And a crowd of men menacing a woman in her position is tiringly predictable but still horribly depressing and threatening behaviour. Not sure what they were selling but every trader I saw was having trouble keeping up with demand, at least until their customers were tear-gassed. – Tessa, my friend and colleague from New Zealand
The text message that I received from my old friend, Kee Thuan Chye, last Wednesday read, “Wanna join me for the pooja at Ambiga’s home tomorrow?”
Indeed, Thursday was going to be the first of the two days during which the anti-Bersih petty traders’ led by the slimy Jamal Mohd Yunos had planned to set up stalls in the enclave where Bersih co-chair Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan lives.
I’d never really met Ambiga before, save for two fleeting moments, the first at the Lawyers’ march against the (then) Peaceful Assembly Bill and, the second, on that fateful Saturday afternoon of 28 April 2012.
So, when Thuan Chye’s text message came through, my almost instant response was, “Sure, what time do we go?”
The reason I wanted to go wasn’t so much because I was looking forward to a confrontation with, not one, but two groups of what I believed (and still do believe) were moronic thugs.
Indeed, imbeciles who didn’t know what the issues were all about but, given the lowest monetary incentive possible, would nonetheless go out to pick a fight against a defenceless woman.
Like those butt-exposing ex-soldiers who would have probably lost us any battle with the Girl Guides of America, let alone a konfrantasi with any of Malaysia’s enemies.
No, confrontations with such butt-heads, I felt, would be an utter waste of time and effort and, as my concerned English friend, Sean, reminded me in his e-mail to me, would make me stoop down to their primitive level.
Indeed, the reason I said `yes’ to the invitation was to give me the opportunity to, hopefully, meet up with this remarkable, decent woman whose only `crime’, I felt, was to have alerted all of us Malaysians to our right to a free and fair election. And to ask that we be given nothing less, as befitting a `democratic’ society.
When we finally arrived in her neighbourhood that Thursday afternoon, the place looked like a crime scene, with almost a hundred police personnel and DBKL enforcement officers having set up a roadblock at the top of her street.
After we had walked through the army of newsmen and women, we were warmly greeted at Ambiga’s gate by the always smiling Hishamuddin Rais and ushered into her home.
Well-wishers and friends apparently had been in and out of the house since morning. One could sense the family’s bewilderment and perhaps annoyance at this ongoing disruption to their daily lives, the feeling of having their personal space and privacy violated by people who, frankly, couldn’t see any picture, let alone the bigger picture.
In a corner sat the serene, the almost regal Pak Samad, calmly waiting for the traders and other assorted yobs to come a-calling. Ambiga was the consummate hostess, offering us drinks, curry puffs, and even what seemed to be a freshly-baked `Viva Bersih’ cake.
This despite the fact that many of us were perfect strangers to her and her family, despite the fact that all this was clearly testing her, her family and her neighbours. But as she rightly put it, all this is also education for the people. It will make us see the true nature of those supposedly leading us.
At around 4.00pm, an hour later than expected, as we Malaysians tend to be, the police let through the leaders of a bunch of youngsters – a group whose totally forgettable name now escapes me – to send their `memorandum’.
All I remember is that they had white T-shirts that proclaimed `Halau’. Evidently these drop-outs don’t know the difference between a memorandum and a mimeograph. Indeed, it was nothing more than a sick, vicious, racist attack on Ambiga.
I felt then that if, god forbid, I had been their parent, I would have disowned them a long time ago.
Next came the `main act’, the petty traders. Surprisingly, they’d changed their tune somewhat, assuring us all that they would not now hold a two-day pasar malam on the road outside the house.
Why the change of mind, I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess, save for the possibility that they finally realised that they were making a total mockery and utter ninnies not only of themselves but also of their benefactors.
Indeed, since the deputy IGP made that unfortunate – and, let’s face it, quite irresponsible and plain stupid – statement, virtually inviting uncivilised acts of intimidation of this nature, Malaysians have been extremely vocal condemning these acts that indicate a descent to lawlessness. And condemning the people they perceive to be behind these acts – the very same people who profess to be leading us.
And as the dust settled in Damansara Heights that Thursday evening, as we walked to our car parked beside two busloads of what looked like mak ciks, pak ciks, and their anak remaja, I couldn’t help wondering what the package deal had been for them – a few ringgit each perhaps, plus a day trip to Putrajaya, with lunch thrown in?
How cheap, how unnecessary, I said to myself. And I remembered Ambiga’s apology at the `post-pasar malam (that never was)’ press conference.
An apology for not having fought hard enough to prevent the situation in this country from descending to this pathetic level.
It is an apology, I strongly believe, that this gentle, stoic woman need not have to make. Instead, it is an apology that the leaders of this country should make to us all.
Zaharom Nain is an Aliran member based in the Klang Valley.