A student revolt in the making

A bigger uprising – student power combined with people power – will truly be a force for change, which the government cannot beat back with all the bullets in its armoury.

In many universities academicians have come out in support of the right to speak their mind and they are roundly supported by their students. This is a significant development because for far too long, campus life has been debilitated by the energy-sapping restrictive laws. 

Free Malaysia Today

A bullet for speaking your mind. But bullets cannot destroy the spirit that moves people to fight for principles, ideals, ideas, causes. Throughout history people have been killed for their belief and vision and yet the tide of change kept sweeping down the road of human affairs. Many of the great ideas were forged in the heat of revolutions, conflicts, upheavals. Resistance to change often by the elite class long corrupted by wealth, power, greed had proven effective as it finally crumbled against the “great movements of popular passion”. Governments in whatever form inevitably die when the popular will turns into an all-conquering force for transformation. It is impossible to stop citizens – be they young or old, farmers or students – from rushing forth to rally round the banner of an idea whose time has arrived. In Malaysia, the fight for basic rights and freedom of expression has surfaced again and its arrival cannot be halted.

First it was the mammoth Bersih 2.0 rally that the government tried to crush with an iron fist. It failed. The protest spawned reforms in its wake that lent strength to the movement for democracy. People rose up in anger against injustice, corruption, dirty politics, electoral fraud and showed their steely determination in the face of a harsh crackdown. The state employed its full power to beat back the brave citizens but it was unable to trample on their free spirit. Bodies were crushed but the spirit remained unshackled and soared to greater heights. Now another movement is welling up and this time it is flowing out from the portals of universities. At the vanguard are students whose battle cry has resonated through the campuses. They took up the cudgels on behalf of an academician who was villified for speaking out in the hallowed tradition of freedom of thought. The professor had merely expressed his opinion on a matter of public importance, which is his indisputable right. He did not challenge or deride the institution of monarchy.

The state read an old, out-dated script when it masterminded the attack on the don. It continues to believe that academic freedom is bad and must be gagged at all cost. It sees students as chattels and academicians as sheep. Any murmuring of discontent in the halls of academia is seen as a threat to the stability of the governing class or even the monarchy. Scholars have always been persecuted for their learned and reasoned arguments against the deceitful and devious ways of the state. Minds forged on the academic anvil cannot be easily bent to serve the interests of the political leaders. The students who warned the government of a “bigger uprising” if it does not act to restore academic freedom are not acting out of ignorance. Their protest against injustice is born out of conviction. They have their own mind and they know that the nation’s leaders are not governing according to acceptable standards of democratic behaviour.