The pandemic has certainly changed the way we, particularly peninsular folk, celebrate Merdeka since we gained independence from the British 64 years ago.
While the usual flag-flying could still be done at home, we no longer could gather at a public field or stadium to watch the official parade and enjoy the air of festivity.
In the pre-pandemic era, many people used to express their joy in various ways imaginable. For instance, the image of a person driving his Proton Saga, studded with miniature Jalur Gemilang all over the car body, stays fresh in our minds.
There were those who found excitement in mind-boggling ‘Merdeka superlatives’: the longest and biggest Jalur Gemilang, etc.
Of course, celebrating Merdeka means more than just doing the things mentioned above.
Like many other celebrations, there are deeper reasons that beckon us all to celebrate Merdeka in a big way and be proud to do so as people of this nation.
The fact that Malayans (or now, Peninsular Malaysians) have been freed from the yoke of colonialism is good enough reason to celebrate. This is because such freedom enabled this independent nation to supposedly chart its own course for the greater good of its people.
The socioeconomic progress achieved since independence is another major reason to celebrate, for it has brought about a significant improvement to the living standards of many people – one of the fruits of independence.
The raging pandemic also provides its reasons why we can and should still celebrate Merdeka – even in the confines of our home.
Merdeka amid the pandemic should give us cause to celebrate the ability and willingness of many people to cross ethnic and religious borders in extending assistance to the needy of various backgrounds – an achievement in which ordinary people should take pride.
People should build on this goodwill as it would help move the nation forward, especially if the people are united around the principles of justice, freedom, compassion and mutual respect.
Ordinary people have shown that when push comes to shove, they will come together to help the less fortunate in their hour of need, as exemplified by the white flag initiative and other such efforts mounted by other good Samaritans in our midst.
It is the spirit of being part of the larger ‘Malaysian family’ that moves many good-natured souls to go the extra mile to attend to the basic needs of the vulnerable in society. Hence, the #KitaJagaKita (we’ve got each other’s back) hashtag that signals the importance of taking care of each other.
Caring for each other also means the need to have empathy for and give support to others who seek justice, such as in the case of the job insecurity faced by frontline health workers, particularly contract doctors.
People generally interact freely and harmoniously when not subject to interference by certain politicians, whose political and material fortunes are founded on the cunning strategy of dividing people along racial and religious lines.
This is why politics should not be left entirely to politicians, especially when some politicians have no qualms about putting their narrow interests before the good of the nation.
This Merdeka, concerned people should find the strength to reclaim ownership of this land by participating actively in the democratic process. Casting their votes at the ballot box is not enough, especially now that we know that their votes have not been sacrosanct since the Sheraton Move.
People must hold their respective elected representatives to account for their actions and policies through various means, such as having interactions with them personally or virtually, or calling them out via the media.
This is especially so when the pool of poor and desperate people has grown in the wake of the pandemic, and the people must see to it that their government gives full attention to this grave issue.
Civil society groups obviously have a vital role to play in giving input in the decision-making process of the elected representatives so that the laws and policies the government crafts really benefit the people.
The youths, as citizens, have shown that they are also a force to be reckoned with by indulging themselves in mobilising people to participate in the democratic process.
As we all know, democracy does not progress in a linear fashion. There are setbacks along the way, resulting in such gains as civil liberties being rolled back, which is reminiscent of the bad, old colonial days.
That is why people should always be vigilant in protecting civil liberties and human rights that they already have attained and strive to push the envelope to further strengthen democratic practices and advocate for institutional reforms and greater freedoms.
Merdeka is not only an occasion for us to sit on our laurels. It is also a time to have the resolve to press for a much better country, as any patriot would. – The Malaysian Insight