Monday 11 July 2011

Was it worth it to join the July 9 rally? — Abdul Haleem

JULY 11 — It has been 12 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 fourth 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 10.30am. The airport looked eerily deserted. As I travelled light, I literally ran to get an ERL ticket and jumped onto the train. As my excitement grew, I looked around to see KL as a ghost town. Even on Hari Raya holidays, you’ll see more cars on the Sungei 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 was to “manage possible demonstrators who might alight in KL Sentral and walk towards Masjid Negara.” I proceed to my hotel, which was just across from KL Sentral.

Coming out from the elevator I was greeted by two cops who were stationed there. I told them I was there to check in and they let me pass. I did notice more police 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 was in Masjid Jamek LRT station, I could feel the atmosphere. The party was definitely ON. I remember thinking to myself that being alone may not help at all. Thus, I sought a group to join.

Within five minutes, I noticed a crowd of about 30 people gathering at the junction of Amanah Rakyat Building. As I joined them the leader started to give a speech. A journalist told me it was Dr Hatta Ramli from PAS who was giving the speech and he would lead this group to Stadium Merdeka.

We managed to walk to Menara Maybank without any trouble. By now the group size had grown to the hundreds, as we were 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 was 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 a number of mak ciks 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.
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 vandalised anything. True unity is in action. People genuinely cared for each other regardless of ethnic, religious or status differences. Everyone was ONE. Malaysians. With all due respect, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, this is 1 Malaysia with substance. Not the kind of crowd with free 1 Malaysia T-shirts 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 Red Bull, I rejoined the masses. I found a huge group just in front of our newly renovated Pudu Raya Bus Terminal.

By then, the marchers had already experienced rounds of tear gas and water cannons. I watched in shock, as water ran down the street like a flash flood. Somehow, I managed to sneak into the crowd. Someone told me how MP Sivarasa Rasiah was negotiating with the police, 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 hit by another round of tear gas, the crowd spontaneously started to sing Negaraku. It was such an awesome moment in my life, that I had goose bumps.
Later 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 a couple of other negotiators were whisked away by the police (they were later arrested) and all hell broke loose. Rounds of tear gas and sprays from the water cannon forced the majority of the group into the Tung Shin hospital compound.

I initially thought 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, no fewer than 30 guys and girls were arrested, including me. I was handcuffed with 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 dragged me from Tung Shin Hospital compound all the way to Menara Maybank was very civil, but not the FRU personnel, who were standing along the street. At least five of them made nasty remarks about my disability, SAY WHAT IT IS. 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. 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 tear gas attacks, she held on to the flowers. Determined and courageous, just like Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan.

This auntie came around to the staging area where we were held and with full respect, she bowed 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.

Not fewer than five Good Samaritans came around and passed us fresh bottled water. They bought it and brought it to us. For some of us whose hands had been tied behind our backs, they even held up the bottle whilst we 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 Malaysia, Datuk Ibrahim Ali and their fellows surely have no idea what it is like to be on the ground.

Was it worth it to join the rally? Hell, yeah!

After being held for almost an hour, we were taken to Pulaupol. Man, the place was set up for a carnival. A number of makeshift tents, mobile lavatories, temporary suraus and, being Malaysians, buffets included.
This is surely a good PR job by PDRM. My estimation is no fewer than 500 detainees were in there at this time. It was tough and as this was my first time being detained, I was calm, as I knew that being tense will not help anything at all.

Our Mykad were taken away. We were allowed to use the lavatory and suraus 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 our Mykad. Imagine a guy with loud speaker calling out name after name. Somehow, this was a blessing in disguise. During this roll call, every time a non-Malay name came up, the crowd cheered for him loudly, followed by a big round of applause. At about 8pm, my name was called and I hitched a ride on a PDRM bus which ferried the released “detainees” back to KL Sentral.

I got off just outside the main entrance of Pulapol and joined my brother and his colleagues. A few minutes later something unexpected happened. Haris Ibrahim was walking out calmly from the main entrance of Pulapol.

I couldn’t help myself and called out his name loudly. I went up to him and embraced him. I did see a 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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