My teenager Nadia ‘grew up’ on 428.
by Joyce Ho
My younger teenager went into Bersih 3.0 as an innocent teenager in human rights matters. She was only interested in her teens pop groups, fashion and tweeting with her friends, but on 28thApril 2012 at Bersih 3.0 she grew up.
On 28th April 2012 we could not get into Brickfields but managed to get into Lake Club and parked our vehicle there. In the club’s lift, we met up with a senior civil servant and his family who encouraged and congratulated us on our courage to take part in Bersih 3.0. We asked him why weren’t he and his family joining us he replied that as a civil servant he was not allowed to take part, but he and his family fully supported Bersih 3.0.
That was the first of many experiences for my teenager on that day – on how we just made friends with strangers who had the common understanding of Bersih 3.0, how we bonded regardless of race, religion and age.
She saw a group of elders walking out of Lake Club who were also going to Bersih 3.0. She heard how they had never been to any rallies before but this time, they felt strongly they had to make a stand.
She saw, as we were walking towards Masjid Negara, policemen on motorbikes who passed us honked in support and gave us the thumbs up!
She then saw huge number of policemen and their vehicles as we neared Masjid Negara. Instead of feeling safe in the presence of policemen, my younger teenager instinctively was fearful. It was her gut feeling then! I had to reassure her there was nothing to be afraid of. She then mingled with the crowd in Masjid Negara and it was here that she witnessed for the very first time in her life scores of water cannon and FRU trucks passing us to go on to Dataran Merdeka. Very innocently she asked what were they for? Sadly I had to tell her it would possibly be used against us. It was then that I sensed, like all mothers, a semblance of fear in Nadia.
We made our way towards Dataran Merdeka. In front of the former British Council, she met up with familiar faces. Then she came face to face with a barricade of razor wires and plastic barriers. Behind these were policemen who were relaxed and friendly. They had asked her to be careful as the razor wires were very sharp. My younger teenager felt better with these policemen who smiled and talked to her. We sat down briefly for a photo shoot of our small version of “duduk bantah” then.
We then made our way to the railway station trying to get to Central Market. At the railway station she met the “No to Lynas” group, chatted with them for a while and continued her way. Inside the railway station, she met up with this group of tired looking ‘pakcik-pakcik’ who had just arrived from Ipoh. My younger teenager was amazed to see how these pakcik-pakcik identified themselves with us just because we were wearing the same Bersih 3.0 t-shirts. They came not knowing the way to Masjid Negara and we showed them the way. Before we parted ways, they had asked us to be careful and take care of ourselves. My younger teenager was so touched that this group of elderly men who came all the way from Ipoh were concerned about her safety and having just met her.
We then continued our way to Central Market. The crowd there was festive and cheerful. She then saw her mother screaming out in delight! My younger teenager saw me hugging my friends from Bersih 2.0 in pure joy. It was such a great moment to meet up with my friends again. We then parted ways, onward to Petaling Street to meet up with her uncle and aunt who were taking part in a rally for the first time in their lives. I refer to them as rally neophytes.
My younger teenager turned to me and said that I was wrong, earlier, to tell her could be dangerous for her to come along. She said it was fun, like going to a great big concert. I was happy for her that she was enjoying herself.
We then got onto Jalan Tun Perak and the crowd got really dense but even more carnival-like. At this point in time, we got separated from her father. We continued to make our way past Masjid Jamek. The crowd was enjoying themselves in the afternoon heat. We were all singing “Bersih, Bersih, Bersih, Bersih, Bersih” to drum beats. She turned to me smiling and said again, “It’s really like going to a great big concert. This is fun.”
Less than 5 minutes after she said that, without any warning, we heard the first tear gas canister being fired. Being her first time hearing it, my younger teenager had no idea what it was. I told her it was the tear gas and get ready for torment. She asked innocently how bad can it be? I saw the smoke of the tear gas in front of us and we all turned to walk calmly back towards Masjid Jamek. With the gas behind us, I had thought it would not be so bad after all and started to distribute salt, water and wet wipes. But how wrong I was. Less than three minutes later, I saw and heard the 2nd tear gas cannister being fired right into the crowd in front of us! We had no choice but to walk right into the cloud of the tear gas.
We had no choice but to walk into the enveloping tear gas. It affected us both at the same time. My younger teenager got hit real bad. She was gagging, vomiting, retching – it broke my heart. But I was also glad to see her determined to soldier on. Trying to help others whilst she was also retching, she dropped our packet of salt. She wanted to pick it up but the crowd pressing forward did not allow her to do so. She collapsed and I picked her up. Again, she collapsed and I barely managed to pick her up the second time. The third time she collapsed, out of nowhere strong arms were at hand to help her along the way. Arms of angels, I am convinced!
We made our way to the junction of Leboh Ampang, still gagging and throwing up. Then she screamed “What did we do wrong!?! We did nothing but sing and they attacked us!” No sooner were these words uttered, a second onslaught of tear gas shrouded us. We ran into the side alley to escape but we came upon another group of FRU who fired tear gas again at us!
It was like we were in a war zone - ambushed from all sides with nowhere to run. Finally we decided to just stay put and bear the tear gas showered upon us. The police definitely did not want to disperse the crowd. They had wanted to box us in to torment and torture us with tear gas!
My younger teenager could not believe her eyes. Could not believe that policemen whom her mother had just told her hours ago not to be afraid of, were attacking her and her fellow Malaysians.
Yes, for the first time, she felt really united with her fellow Malaysia who suffered the effects of tear gas like her. No need for slogans of 1Malaysia – it was in Bersih 3.0 that she experienced the truly united Malaysian feeling. No race, religion nor age mattered. We were just fellow Malaysians in this together.
Then her survival instincts kicked in. She was up and running, helping those who were badly affected by tear gas, giving them water, salt, patting their backs to provide relief to them. She was on her way in to help those in the alley behind Masjid Jamek. She was frozen to the ground at the scene that greeted her. She saw policemen beating up people who were gagging from the effects of tear gas. People who went to help were also beaten up. Mercifully shortly after, the bullies left and we helped those affected in however we could.
Her point – to show them she was harmless! To her great delight she then met her schoolmates who were also there in support of Bersih 3.0!
We tried to get out many times but everywhere we turned, the roads leading to Lake Club were blocked off! Finally much later at about 6pm we turned into Petaling Street. Stalls had already opened for business. People were out shopping, Bersih 3.0 supporters were tiredly making their way home, or should I say finding their way home. We sighted our favourite soya bean stall. Just as we reached the soya bean stall, those bullies fired off another volley of tear gas ! Those morons with no grey matters between their ears actually fired a tear gas canister into Petaling Street without any reason, without any provocation!
The soya bean stall owner and his customers scrambled for cover. We witnessed a Malay family with very young kids – they too were not spared the fury of the police.
My Nadia could not believe the stupidity of our policemen! We had to take refuge in one of the motels and wait for the gas to subside. Her father finally made contact and we reunited to walk towards Lake Club. It had been a long day.
Came Sunday morning, my younger teenager eagerly picked up the newspapers. On reading the headlines, my younger teenager, a mere seventeen year old could decipher the truth from the lies. She could not believe the lies that were already spewing from our local dailies. She has indeed grown up as she witnessed and experienced firsthand the blatant brutality inflicted on the Bersih participants by none other than those pledged to protect us. But most significantly, she witnessed the true spirit of Malaysian united in the struggle for their fundamental rights. She witnessed with her very own eyes that race, religion and age do not matter. She witnessed and knew the Rakyat never wanted war, only peace.