Bersih through an 18-year-old’s eyes

An A-levels student details his experiences and the lessons learnt during the April 28 Bersih 3.0 rally.

By B Anand, Free Malaysia Today

Admittedly, this article might be a bit overdue, however it was mainly due to the fact that I’ve been bogged down with my upcoming A-levels. As I sat in front of my laptop the night before, watching the crowds assemble near Dataran, I was still mulling over whether or not I should attend.

A part of me posed the following questions: What if I get hurt, gassed or sprayed? What if I get arrested by the police? Was it wise to take such a risk right before such an important exam?

However, I also thought to myself: As a future law student, shouldn’t it be my duty to defend our right to protest? And more importantly, if ever I was forced to join the Malaysian diaspora, would I ever be able to forgive myself for not having tried fighting for my rights first?

In the end,regardless of the risks it posed, I felt that it was my duty to attend. Being 18, I am not yet eligible to vote; however I had always believed in the Bersih cause, as a clean and fair electoral system is the only way in which we could obtain a government that truly represented the interests of the people.

In addition to the above, I was also dumbfounded by the illogical reactions of certain quarters to the rally. And so, with vinegar soaked masks, swimming googles, earplugs, legal aid numbers saved on my phone, a towel, water and some food in my bag – I left the comfort of my home, ready for whatever might come. A part of me was excited to become a part of national history, however I would also be lying to say that I wasn’t nervous and expecting the worst.

I travelled to Brickfields with family members who attended the rally together with me. Police presence was relatively heavy, and I remained anxious as I walked past the officers. What if they decided to arrest me there and then? I decided to smile at them; to my surprise, they smiled back! I felt somewhat reassured, and the huge participant turnout reaffirmed it.

Upon joining the crowd, we coincidentally bumped into a group of church friends and began our march with them. To the chants of “Hidup Bersih!” and “Hidup Rakyat!”, we were cheered on by the many observers on the sidewalk and by a majority of the cars, motorbikes, a convoy of postmen and even a KTM commuter train who blared their horns in support of us.

While walking towards the city, I met people from all walks of life, of all ages, many races and many backgrounds; coming together for the good of the nation. Of all those people, the most memorable ones included a Standard Two boy, a brave disabled man on crutches, and an incredibly beautiful protester who was walking together with us (lets face it, boys will be boys).

Ever since the concept of 1Malaysia had been introduced, I had not an idea of what it meant until Bersih 3.0. By this point, every feeling of nervousness which I had felt before had practically disappeared. Never in my life, had I been so proud to call myself a Malaysian.

Businesses make a killing

Upon joining with the group from Central Market, we stopped for a break. To my surprise, I coincidentally bumped into a friend from school as well as a priest from a nearby church. Despite many businesses being closed, my group and I proceeded to an open Mamak shop to have lunch. To say that business was great would be an understatement.

There were many vendors making a killing from selling cold drinks as well. It was amazing to see how much fuss some businessmen had made in response to Bersih and the supposed millions-upon-millions claimed in losses. Had those businesses decide to open on that day – just like those that did – they would have made a killing too. Why bother getting into business when you don’t even know the basics?

After lunch, we proceeded to a stage at Central Market where we had the honour of seeing S Ambiga herself. I was unable to hear what she was saying due to the deafening cheers, however just being in the presence of such a great Malaysian was sufficient for me.

As a giant group, we then marched towards the direction of Dataran Merdeka with the chants of “Bersih!”, “Hidup Rakyat” and “Hancur Lynas”.

Admittedly, there were also chants of “Reformasi”, however these chants had little traction with the people. At 2pm, we were reminded to sing the Negaraku; and the entire crowd did so with spontaneity. The sound of our voices together were deafening albeit a bit out of pitch – though there was no doubt that a sense of nationalistic fervour had gripped the crowd.