by Goh Siu Lin on Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at 9:02pm
I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister and I happen to be a lawyer too.
Mine was a spontaneous decision to go to the rally.
Something struck a chord in me when I heard my senior partner tell stories of BERSIH 2007, of volunteer lawyers at remand hearings, on their feet, hours on end, tirelessly going through file after file before a Magistrate, till the wee hours of the morning. So, I decided to take the plunge, and give my support to BERSIH 2.0 by offering my legal skills.
The next hurdle was tougher, which team in the Bar Council should I sign up for? Urgent arrests? Monitoring? Both had its own risks. In the end, I signed up for both.
Monitoring needed us to be on the ground, near the people.. near the FRU.. near the POLICE... tear gas.. water cannons.. risk of racial riots, injury, arrest. Not to mention the Patriot, Perkasa and the Silat guys would be roaming free too. Didn't fancy bumping into any of them. My cha cha spins and dips would definitely not save me here!
Urgent Arrests had its own dangers as well... I worried about being thrown in jail indefinitely. Just like the 5 young legal aid lawyers. So, don't ever think that being a lawyer gives you a force-shield of immunity. Not in Malaysia! Read this if you don't know what I'm talking about: http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/general/lawyer_arrested_unbelievable.html
Still gung ho, I encouraged lawyers from my firm to volunteer and bouyed by the moral support, I attended briefings for both teams. I must commend the Legal Aid Centre team who had prepared us very well, they were great. The KL Bar Auditorium was jam-packed with young volunteer lawyers. Felt so proud of them all. When the director of the Legal Aid asked, "Why are you joining the urgent arrest team?" My answer was short, spontaneous and simple. It came from the heart. "For Malaysia!" my voice rang out and I was taken aback by the heavy applause. Wow. Everyone had the same sentiments!
The turnout for the Monitoring briefing the next day was smaller in comparison, about a third of the Urgent Arrest numbers. Many were first-timers. 75% comprised young members of the Bar. More than 50% were female! Isn't that great? Unfortunately, not many there looked like they could protect ME.
Attending the briefing didn't really give me additional comfort. The situation was still so tense and uncertain, BERSIH 2.0 had no venue, no permit, no nothing. So, it was difficult to plan our route in advance. I still remember one of the speakers saying, "If they shoot tear gas, just run for your lives." "Huh? That was it?? No safety tips?".
We were also warned, "Try not to get arrested." , psyching us mentally for a lawless kind of environment. "Great stuff." I murmured to myself.
We were taught what to do with the rock salts and vinegar/lemon. For the uninitiated, if you ever get tear gassed, suck on the rock salts, like you would a sweet, then spit it out. Please don't swallow or gobble it down like some people I know. Not wise at all. :). After that, whip out your lemon/vinegar cloth and cover your nose and mouth and inhale.
Friday night at home, I gathered my things, note pad, cloth, cap, water bottle, rock salts,extra change of clothes. I packed sandwiches and biscuits. The hours passed, I couldn't sleep, I was on tenterhooks. In the wee hours of the morning, 1.36 am, I received an SMS "Cops knocking on hotel room doors. Just give cooperation. They just under orders. Kesian jugak dia orang. Offer them some makan minum". My nervousness escalated.
I listened to the gentle breathing of my babies. I prayed silently in the quietness of the night, thinking of the many Malaysians here and far. I prayed to God for good governance, fair elections, an end to corruption, tyranny and oppression. I prayed for a united people. "May God keep the peoples of Malaysia safe and sane tomorrow."
I leaned down and smelt my baby's head and my daughter's hair. "I hope I will be around to put you both to bed tonight." was my immediate thought.
Saturday 5.30am. I felt so alert, ready to face the challenges ahead of me. My good friend, Wee Tee arrived at 6.30am and we set off to KL Hilton at Sentral to pick up another pal, Jane. There was no traffic. We sailed through Jalan Damansara, Jalan Semantan, passed Carcosa and ended up at Hilton Sentral all in 10 minutes. We headed towards KTM, I got down from the car and negotiated with police at the first barricade, got through. Felt exhilarated. Second barricade, also a breeze.. it was surreal driving towards Central Market. No other vehicle was in sight, it felt like a war zone. We parked at Central Market. The only civilian car there. To our right were the FRU trucks and police doing drills. "Hey, the parking attendant looked at us in admiration!" said Wee Tee, and we giggled conspiratorily, amazed that we had gotten so far. We made our way to Bar Council, and stopped by a mamak stall for nasi lemak. It was 8.35am. At the next table - plainclothes cops who seemed to be checking us out.
BC briefing at 10am. My colleagues and I began to feel fearful of what lay ahead, I think I must have gone to the ladies umpteen times. Another friend's face was white and tense as news streamed in of arrests, at that time, 238 detainees. Bail going rate was RM8,000.00 apparently.
My team set off at around noon, soon thereafter, I could hear the roar of the crowd, we turned back and there they were, a sea of people converged in a stand-off with the FRU at Leboh Pasar. "Ting! Ting!" Two warning bells. 3 rounds of tear-gas were released. My first taste of it. We ran away, choking. I could hardly open my eyes, my eyes were stinging, the skin on my face, smarting and itchy. As for my poor team-mate, he threw up by the roadside. It was then that our fear dissipated. We had a job to do.
The whole afternoon was action-packed, overhead helicoptors, cat and mouse games between the people and police. Thankfully, our team did not witness any serious incidents of police brutality. Although the FRU had moved from Central Market towards Kota Raya where the second round of tear-gas was shot into the crowd, this was neutralised by the heavy downpour. At this point, the police began to arrest people indiscriminately about 500 metres away from where we stood. We couldn't interfere. Our duties were to impartially record what was happening before our very eyes. I saw a young Indian boy, eyes wide-open in fear, a malay youth, his face wincing in pain as he was dragged to the nearby waiting Black Marias.
This was followed by chants of "Hidup, Hidup, Hidup Rakyat". "Hancur BN" "Allah-hu-akhbar!". All peaceful and in a celebratory carnival atmosphere, people stopped to buy ice-cream from the ice-cream man who was doing roaring business.
I saw people of all colours. Chinese Ah Peks, Minahs from Kelantan, Indians, people of all walks of life. Mother's pushing their babies in strollers, a man holding up his crutch as if it was a mace. What amazed me most was the presence of the bespectacled middle class. They were here. Here with us. Here where it counts. When it counts. Wearing yellow. I cannot describe the feeling. Absolutely wonderful and positively beautiful. There and then, I had true hope. Hope for a better Malaysia for my babies.
Well, it's been 4 days since the BERSIH 2.0 rally, yet, I still get overwhelmed with emotion whenever I read BERSIH 2.0 media reports and the avalanche of first-hand heart-warming stories, videos etc etc. I grieve also on the passing of the late En. Baharuddin. My emotions turn on like a gushing tap. In fact, I was a weeping softly over lunchtime today, having just watched another BERSIH video, so I ended up being red-eyed just before having to meet some clients. :)
It was enriching personally. I learnt so much from the whole experience. I learnt how to conquer my fear. I saw Section 42 of the Legal Profession Act in action. I saw something magical happening to us all in BERSIH 2.0. We banished apathy. We took our citizenship seriously. We took our country seriously. We now take voting seriously.
Malaysia is our birthright and nobody can ever take that away from us.
I am writing this for my babies. What I did, I did for them, not as a lawyer, but as a mother.
Goh Siu Lin