Further down Tun Perak, looking towards Raja Laut. | Photo by Marcus van Geyzel

“Yes, the police were violent. But that was expected. What most of us did not expect was for the crowd to be equally violent towards the police, and therein lies the crux of these unclean thoughts.”

On April 26, 2012, Tunku Abdul Aziz stood up in Dewan Negara and stated his opposition to street demonstrations in principal due to the fact that taking to the streets, though peaceful, would lead to some form of violence. He gave the example of a protest in London that broke down into chaos. He then went on to speak on his worries of the Air Asia and MAS deal, raising concerns on how it offered no benefit to MAS.

But no one bothered with the latter part. It was not covered in any headlines and the current DAP member and Vice Chairman has now resigned after the fallout of what can only be called sensationalist reporting.

Now I’ll be frank. I didn’t support the first Bersih rally because it was done too fast after their demands were made public. The government could not even deal with the indelible ink because, Malaysia being predominantly Muslim, some paranoid nut decided to raise the question of whether it was halal to use it. This was, of course, regardless of the fact at the time that it had been used in elections of Muslim nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran because, contrary to Islam being universal, what is halal everywhere else may not be halal in Malaysia.

This is similar to how I experienced turkeys for Thanksgiving in the supermarket may have the Philippines’ halal logo but still be deemed haram by Malaysian halal authorities.

Anyways, the question on indelible ink, the National Fatwa Council of Malaysia, or the other NFC as I would like to brand it, was only resolved on January 11, 2012, after it had gone through chemical analysis by the Malaysian Chemistry Department.

As far as I’m concerned, in retrospect, I joined Bersih 2.0 because nothing was being done by the government to pave the way for free and fair elections, as you can clearly tell by the date that the indelible ink made its way through the labs. Thus, I was justified to take to the streets, and you can read my recollection of experiences on that day here as well.

Sadly, when it came up to Bersih 3.0, I was still wondering whether or not to join the protest a week beforehand. This can be recorded through various coffee shop sessions with friends discussing if it had been enough time given to the government for further reforms to have taken place. And then, I watched the debate between Ambiga and Khairy Jamaluddin and thought of a valid reason to take to the streets for Bersih 3.0 and for the LGBT community to take part in it as well.

For one thing, I can clearly state that Malaysian LGBTs are living in a climate of fear to this day because we cannot even talk about ourselves in a safe space, let alone an open forum, without some overzealous religious person coming in and stating that our lives are forbidden. And this has led to most Malaysians who are LGBTs, with the resources to do so, to migrate out and live a full life overseas, regardless of the call by Minister’s for all of us to be patriotic and suffer taunts, jeers and, for some of us, widespread discrimination and physical violence. This applies mostly for the transgender community.

Fact is, they have constitutional protection that somehow slipped through the cracks when one talks of gender equality.

Thus, it came to my mind that Bersih 3.0 was to fight for the right of Malaysians overseas to vote. After all, the news was rife with talks about why migrant Malaysians could not vote. They don’t pay taxes was MCA’s rally cry. Wisma Putra was more than happy to note that those who migrate overseas did not register with embassies and consulates, and thus it would be hard to keep track of them.

Permit me to say this, but both excuses are utterly bogus. The first one being that there is no legal challenge against Malaysians not having the right to vote because they don’t pay taxes. Otherwise, most UMNO members in the rural areas would be illegible to vote as well, let alone the votes in Sabah and Sarawak being thrown out.

The second one is quite worrying.

I say that because from having been sent overseas, I know that anyone with a Maxis line such as myself would get a text telling me the location and phone number for the nearest embassy or consulate. So is Wisma Putra telling me that our Prime Minister can use a telecommunications company to send out Happy Mother’s Day greetings in Malaysia, it can use it to track and monitor movements for the police, but it can’t automatically register a Malaysian carrying a Malaysian SIM card overseas, to the nearest embassy or mission?

During the debates, the one thing that I thought should have been a rallying cry for the Bersih movement for the right to vote abroad was a simple statement; it’s not new. Malaysians have been going overseas and have been specifically in the United Kingdom since before our independence. Has it never occurred to this government that, instead of having Malaysians spend their overseas earnings on plane tickets, they should instead show their patriotism by being able to vote overseas?

So on 28 April 2012 I decided to head down to Bersih 3.0, a sit down protest as close as an individual could get to Dataran Merdeka. This was the objective, this was the rally and this was what was supposed to take place starting from 2 p.m onwards. It was widely publicised, it was known to all, and many decided to arrive early and breathe in the atmosphere that was festive in the hot and dry sun.

Myself, I took a cab from Shah Alam to Kelana Jaya LRT station at noon, crossing my fingers and hoping that the government did not issue out an order to close the stations. I was in luck. By 12:30, I was on board an LRT heading into Kuala Lumpur, and would be arriving at Pasar Seni station in about 40 minutes. There were no issues with the train, other than it being packed to the brim with people in clothes of assorted colours with some wearing pale yellow t-shirts instead of the Bersih bright yellow ones.

Arriving in Kuala Lumpur at about 1:10, I was amazed with the fact that everyone was already on the move somewhere or another. I was even more surprised by the fact that there were already Bersih supporters leaving via the LRT. I asked a few about why they were leaving, and some stated that it was either too hot, or they couldn’t deal with the politics being brought out. Fine enough. Bersih is supposed to be apolitical and if people thought it was heading down the path of political speeches, they have every right to brand Bersih supporters of high calibre as hijacking the movement.

I only managed to find some friends by 2:00 p.m. because I was taken in with the fact that it was truly a carnival atmosphere. You had people dragging out coolers selling drinks, food trucks selling kuih and heck, you had people in the green Stop Lynas t-shirts collecting empty cans and bottles in green trash bags while some protesters were taking photos in front of the police lines. In fact, it was surprising to see that the Occupy Dataran protesters still had their tents pitched up in front of the Bar Council while one of them was playing with a recorder.

I had brought with me a book, a change of clothes and even 2 bottles of 100Plus to drink or douse myself with if things went awry. I managed to meet up with a few LGBT friends, sat down for a while, looking around at a sea of people which were definitely more than 100,000 people. I saw the wire barricades, and even saw the police taking to the shade due to the heat. I was at the bridge across the Klang river, behind Central Market when I saw the first bell being tolled on the water cannon, along with a signal to the FRU to put on their masks being issued. However, since no action was being done by either side, I walked away.

As I was heading towards Masjid Jamek where a larger, more rowdy crowd were chanting Bersih slogans, I managed to ask a lady who was coming out of the McDonald’s to get on her bike faster and get out before the tear gas came along. And I got hit mildly than those in the front, for sure, but it was still a stinging sensation that led me to get some salt and then douse my eyes with 100Plus for sure measure. Then came the shouts of anger, yelling things like “Tukar Government” and “Kurang ajar” by people who seemed like they just wanted to trigger further hatred and violence.

Now let me say this clearly. You get teargassed, you run, you recuperate and you gather once more in a different location. But this time around, the crowd headed back towards the police line and just started chucking things at the police. At this point, it was clear that people had forgotten what Bersih was about and were just taken over by emotion. It was at this time I decided to walk away, back towards Central Market. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted by another volley of tear gas even before fully recovering from the first.

It was only once I reached the area around Pudu Sentral that my phone, which had not been receiving any messages or being able to send out any form of communication, suddenly came alive. Tweets stating that Ambiga had called for the crowd to disperse from Malaysiakini came in. Then came further tweets about violence breaking out in front of Sogo. Then there were rumors that a cop died, followed by rumours that the press had been shoved in front of the barricade and gassed along with the protesters, and finally, a rumour came out that three people had lost their lives being run over by a police car.

It was chaos. Sheer and utter chaos.

It was not the Bersih 2.0 atmosphere of people grouping together after being gassed and then continuing their march. This time around, what happened was a breaking up into smaller groups that could only be equated to what you have ever read about guerrilla tactics in war. People broke into smaller crowds and started jeering the police while a majority just tried to look for a safe location.

Most of those who had had enough decided to seek refuge in Pudu Sentral. As I was walking down Jalan Pudu towards the Pasar Seni LRT station, I even noticed people crowding into a 7-Eleven across the street which was packed till people had their faces pressed against the glass. And while all this was going on, I need only remind everyone that the roads were still in use and that traffic was still moving. Luckily enough, there were no rumours that any Bersih protester got hit by a bus.

I took to sitting down at a stall and started reading my book. It was at this time that I noticed that the owner was kind enough to keep her business open and serving food at a time when the police were still launching volleys of tear gas. Some Bersih protesters decided to join me in taking to the stall and eating lunch, while some ordered drinks and bummed cigarettes off of me while just talking. It was at this time that people, in smaller groups, decided to go ahead towards Central Market and challenge the police further.

All in all, I sat and watched, through six volleys of tear gas. Some of the stall customers were in disgust at both the police and the protesters. Note that the customers WERE protesters as well. And through all this, the foreign workers who were walking up and down just looked around wondering what the heck was going on. There were Filipinos, Bangladeshis, and heck, a 4WD from Johor, a family of five with a newborn baby inside, who were caught in the crossfire and just joined us at the stall and asked what was going on, calling on frantic friends and relatives, telling them what was going on.

It was at this point I thought of a few points to ponder. Firstly, due to the increasing frustration brought on by the teargas coming from nearby the LRT station, if the order was to disperse, why block people from heading towards public transport?

Secondly, why still have the roads open that may cause injury?

And finally, why was the order to disperse not made widely known by both the police and the Bersih committee?

Surely, with people holding and trucks mounted with loud hailers clearly seen and heard around, there would have been a call for calm and an order to disperse clearly given. But there was no such order. In fact, I got all the news in the form of a tweet.

It was around 4:00 p.m that things had come to a manageable calm around the area that I decided to walk down the road and head for the LRT station to go home. And it was also at this time that I crossed right in front of a small group of protesters egging the police on across from a line of FRU police members in full riot gear, backed by a water cannon truck and two RMP jeeps, with a superior officer holding a hailer telling everyone to disperse. At this point, the LRT station was packed with people just lining up to buy their tokens while others just sat and talked about what took place.

I decided to walk to the Kuala Lumpur KTM instead and decided to head home. From Section 18, Shah Alam, I took a cab back to Section 8, rereading tweets and news bulletins of what had took place throughout the protest. It was truly chaos. It was only once I got home and surfed the web that I noted rumour after rumour of barricades being broken, cars being overturned, a policeman dying, three people dying in an accident after a police vehicle lost control and rammed right in front of Sogo.

It took a while for me to actually come out and compile my memories altogether while people were patting themselves on their backs stating job well done, issuing out statements starting with “My Fellow Malaysians” and politicians heading out stumping at ceramah’s using Bersih as a rallying cry for people to continue fighting for change. It took longer for me because I was beginning to question everything. I was beginning to question whether it was worth it.

Was it worth it to change a peaceful protest into a riot till nearly 8 p.m in Kuala Lumpur by breaching a barricade, thus endangering thousands of lives?

Was it worth it to put all the blame on the police when the provocation clearly came from the side of the minority of protesters?

Was it worth it to not even have a sliver of pragmatism to issue out a single apology, from either side, over the transgressions that day, and instead just start blaming one another for the violence and congratulate everyone?

It is true that we called for free and fair elections under the Bersih banner, but forgive me in being a critical thinker in saying that getting people to be violent and high tailing it before you get caught is truly an act that befits the yellow you wear. Now while I will continue to support Bersih’s call for free and fair elections, I cannot help to think that the last protest was botched.

Yes, the police were violent. But that was expected. What most of us did not expect was for the crowd to be equally violent towards the police, and therein lies the crux of these unclean thoughts. While the Bersih committee has come out and told the police to go ahead and detain those who were the troublemakers on that day, it is clearly safe to say that they have not done anything to be pragmatic in apologising or even feeling guilty for the violence they incited when they lost control and let their massive day out in the open be hijacked by politicians with their own agendas.

And for that, I think both Bersih and their allies need to sit down and ponder their related co-dependence on one another. Because honestly, I don’t trust people changing a peaceful protest into a riot by getting them to storm a barricade, giving the police a provocation to react the way they did.

Click here for more Bersih-related articles on the blawg.

Hafidz Baharom is a nonsensical openly 'overtly happy' individual who spent his childhood in Shah Alam, went to school in Shah Alam and got his degree in Shah Alam. He writes at his Tumblr blog,dubmeshalom,...

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