Within days, flags of contrasting colours have become popular and convenient symbols of expressing particular sentiments among ordinary and restless Malaysians in the wake of the pandemic and prolonged lockdowns.
While a white flag stands in sharp contrast to a black one, they both carry significant meanings that have gained traction among the public.
It appears that these flags have been used by ordinary people, whose initiative can be read as an assault on the political hegemony of the ruling pact.
As a people’s initiative, the #BenderaPutih or white flag movement was triggered by a deep concern for the basic needs and survival of the distressed and destitute in our midst, largely made vulnerable by the lockdowns that brought about a loss of businesses, jobs and incomes, and rise in delinquent loans, domestic violence, despair and even suicides, among other unpleasant things.
White flags that are raised outside homes indicate an urgent call for aid in the form of food and other essentials. They help alert helpers, thereby facilitating speedy assistance.
Certain Good Samaritans had even volunteered to extend financial help to the needy to settle their unpaid house rents and car loans. Such is the extent of concern and empathy shown by fellow Malaysians driven by the human urge to save lives and protect the dignity of the vulnerable as fellow human beings.
This white flag initiative has spread like wildfire. It has now seen the participation of not only concerned and caring individuals but also local communities, NGOs, business establishments and police personnel. It has become so much a people’s movement that any attempt to hijack it by certain politicians for their vested interests has earned the people’s wrath.
Indeed, any effort to halt the movement in its tracks, let alone mock it, is frowned upon by the public. For example, a representative of the Sungai Acheh assembly member in Penang reportedly scolded some desperate families from the Transkrian estate for having raised white flags to seek help. Such an uncaring attitude did not go down well with concerned Malaysians.
A number of Pas political leaders, for instance, have attempted to stop or hinder this movement by dismissing it as mere political propaganda, supposedly aimed at discrediting the Perikatan Nasional government. The Kedah government discourages residents from raising white flags and instead encourages them to contact local authorities or mosques for food aid.
Such a directive only prompted shouts of #KerajaanGagal or failed governance from affected people. Politicians of such disposition should have seen it coming instead of burying their heads in the sand.
There are people who have faced dire financial setbacks brought about by the lockdowns. Many have struggled to put food on the table – and the white flag initiative is certainly a lifesaver.
There are others who are so vulnerable and desperate because of the pandemic-induced lockdowns that they are even willing to ‘overcome’ their sufferings by snuffing out their own precious lives. They have nothing else to lose, it would seem. To reiterate, preventing suicides is one of the main objectives of the white flag initiative.
The other people’s initiative, #BenderaHitam movement, which involves hoisting black flags physically or virtually, has also gained the attention and participation of the public. The key demands of this initiative: Muhyiddin Yassin to resign as prime minister, Parliament be convened and the state of emergency ceased.
Ruling politicians have also buried their heads in the proverbial sand all this while, particularly when it comes to the last two demands.
The pandemic and the questionable way it is being handled, as well as the worrying direction the country is taking have given rise to frustrations and criticisms in the public domain – which probably explains why many people have raised the black flags despite a warning from Bukit Aman that those who take part in the protest may be probed under the Sedition Act, the Penal Code and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
The respective meanings that have been etched in these two different flags and made popular among the people should not be lost on the ruling elite. To miss or ignore this drift would be at the latter’s own peril. – The Malaysian Insight