Friday, July 15, 2011

BERSIH 2.0 - Was it worth it? by Abdul Haleem

This is an account taken from the writer's Facebook Page :

BERSIH 2.0 - Was it worth it?

by Abdul Haleem on Monday, July 11, 2011 at 8:34am
Was it worth it?

It has been twelve days since I have seen my wife, my son (who has just turned three) and my one month old daughter, sweet little Lana girl. If I don’t go down to see them this weekend, I will not see them for at least another week. Three days ago my wife and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary, whilst we were apart. I had a choice to go back to Penang and be with them for the weekend, but instead, I chose to go down to Kuala Lumpur to support Bersih 2.0.
I arrived in KLIA at about 10:30 in the morning. The airport looks eerily deserted. As I traveled light, I literally ran to get an ERL ticket and jumped onto the train. As my excitement grew, I looked around to see KL appear as a ghost town. Even on Hari Raya holidays, you’ll see more cars in Sg Besi Highway compared to this particular Saturday.

Walking out from KL Sentral, I was shocked to see a huge presence of FRU units and police. I assumed this is to ‘manage possible demonstrates who might alight in KL Sentral and walk towards Masjid Negara.’ I proceed to my hotel which is just across from KL Sentral. Coming out from the elevator I was greeted by two cops who are stationed there. I told them I am here to check in and they let me pass. I did notice more polis in the lobby but I was still naïvely thinking that they were only there for general safety. I checked in, went to my room and changed into something more comfortable, (not the official t-shirt though) and walked back to KL Sentral. I was surprised when I was still managed to get a ticket to Masjid Jamek.

As soon as I alight in Masjid Jamek LRT station – I could feel the atmosphere. The party is definitely ON. I remember thinking to myself that being alone may not help at all. Thus, I seek a group to join. Within 5 minutes, I noticed a crowd of about 30 people gathering at the junction of Amanah Rakyat Building. As I join them the leader starts to give a speech.  A journalist told me it is Dr.Hatta Ramli from PAS who is giving the speech and he will lead this group to Stadium Merdeka.

We manage to walk to Menara Maybank  without any trouble. By now the group size grew to hundreds, as we are now joined by other political figures such as Tony Pua from DAP.
Suddenly, without any warning, teargas and chemical laced water were shot and sprayed towards us.  The effects were immediate and were more than I could bear. As this is my first face off with such hostility, like many hundreds around me, we ran to seek shelter. We climbed the stalled escalator towards the main entrance of Menara Maybank and worn out and almost defeated, we crumbled to the floor for a decent breath. The teargas effects were agonizing and thanks to the expertise of FRU chemical unit, the chemicals were burning my skin. There were number of Makciks hand in hand with their teenage daughters. Although people were outraged, we remained civil and this was when I learned my first two lessons of the day.
  1. Despite the anger, frustration and pain, all of us were civil. Very civil. I instinctively knew that it wasn’t a good time to break and thrash everything that was in front of us. Although vandalism is part of mass rallies everywhere else, it wasn’t here. Not one person vandalized anything.
  2. True unity is in action. People genuinely care for each other regardless of ethnic, religious or status differences. Everyone was ONE. Malaysians. With all due respect Mr.Najib – this is 1Malaysia with substance. Not the kind of crowd with free 1Malaysia tshirts waving the Malaysian flag whilst thinking of the free food which will be provided later.
Was it worth it to join the rally? Definitely, I have no doubt in my mind. I felt a sense of solidarity with all those around me, in a way which is almost unexplainable.

After 30 minutes of a break and recharging myself with a can of Redbull, I seek to rejoin the masses.  I found a huge group just in front of our newly renovated Pudu Bus Terminal.  By then, the marchers had already experienced rounds of tear gas and trigger happy water cannons. I watched in shock, as water ran down the street like a flash flood. Somehow, I manage to sneak into the crowd.

Someone told me how MP Sivarasa was negotiating with the polis and whilst he was negotiating, I had the pleasure of experiencing something, I will never forget for the rest of my life. Despite the drizzling rain, the uncertainties and the risk of being fired by another round of teargas, the crowd spontaneously starts to sing Negaraku. It was such an awesome moment in my life, that I had goosebumps.

 Later MP Sivarasa informed us that the police were allowing us to march on one side of the road towards Jalan Sultan. Deep down inside, I was like ‘yeah right’. Less than 10 minutes later, he and couple of other negotiators were whisked away by the polis (they were later arrested) and all hell broke loose. Rounds of tear gas and sprays from the water cannon, force the majority of the group into the Tung Shin hospital compound. I initially thought that it was a safe bet to be in a hospital compound. Boy oh boy, it was a perfect trap for us. Yes, they did shoot tear gas inside the parking compound of the hospital.

 Being cornered with nowhere to run, not less than 30 guys and girls were arrested, including me.  I was handcuffed using some sort of cable tie (which I use wildly in my job), but the only difference being, this one is much larger. The cop who drags me from Tung Shin Hospital compound all the way to Menara Maybank was very civil, but not the FRU personnels, who were standing along the street. At least five of them make nasty remarks about my disability.   I was grouped with not less than 50 other detainees in Menara Maybank waiting for the famous Black Maria.  At this moment, I learned my next two lessons whilst waiting for the Black Maria.  
  1. I first met the now most famous Bersih 2.0 figure, ‘Aunty Bersih’, whilst the crowd were singing Negaraku. She sang along. Despite her fragile state and clearly suffering from earlier teargas effects, she holds on to the flowers. Determined and courageous, just like Ambiga.  This aunty came around to the staging area where we have been held up and with full respect, she bows in front us – the official detainees.  It was so touching. I learned that this is a fight for everyone. This is a fight for the future of our kids. The fight to save this beautiful nation.
  2. Not less than 5 good Samaritans came around and passed us fresh bottled waters. They bought it and brought it to us. For some of them whose hands had been tied at their back, they even hold up the bottle whilst they took a sip. Who are they, politicians? Nope. Suhakam? Nope. Just another MALAYSIAN. I learned that this is who we are. What we are. Utusan, Ibrahim Ali and their fellow goons surely have no idea what is like to be on the ground.
 Was it worth it to join the rally? Hell yeah!
After being help up for almost an hour, we were taken to Pulaupol. Man, the place has been setup for a carnival. A number of makeshift tents, mobile lavatories, temporary surau’s and being Malaysians, buffets included. This is surely a good PR job by PDRM. My estimation is not less than 500 detainees in there at this time.  It was tough and as this is my first time being detained, I was calm, as I knew that being tense will not help anything at all. Our MYKAD’s has been taken away. We were allowed to use the lavatory and Surau’s but not allowed to use the mobile phone. Despite this, I continued to text my brother and other friends. I was informed that the lawyers were not allowed into the Pulaupol compound. Within an hour, all the formalities were done. No statement was taken.

The chaos really began when the cops started a roll call to return us to the MYKAD. Imagine a guy with loud speaker calling out name after name. Somehow, this is a blessing in disguise. During this roll call, every time a non Malay name comes up – the crowd cheers for him loudly, followed by a big round of applause. At about 8 pm, my name was called and I hitched a ride on PDRM buses which ferries the released ‘detainess’ back to KL Sentral. I got off just outside the main entrance of Pulaupol and joined my brother and his colleagues. 

A few minutes later – something unexpected happened. Harris Ibrahim was walking out calmly from the crowd at the main entrance of Pulaupol. I can’t help myself but call out his name loudly, I went up to him and embrace him.  I did see the kind of joy in his eyes knowing all his efforts had paid off and I am sure he could see in my eyes the kind of satisfaction I had, because I had joined this rally.

Was it worth it? – Do you need to ask me again? – What’s next my fellow brothers and sisters?

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