My daughter asked me yesterday if she would be arrested by the police for wearing her ‘ baju sukan ’ (sports gear) that is yellow in colour. We all laughted at her seemingly innocent question and assured her that nothing of that sort would happen.
Normally I drop her 50 meters away from the school and she walks to the campus with her brother everyday. But today as I sent her to school for her extra class, she insisted that I drop her inside the school campus for fear of being arrested by the police.
Though I was shocked at this request, this made me think about the pathetic situation this country is facing today as we struggle to explain the logic of certain actions to our younger generation.
‘Cycle rally lorry rally’ is a phrase that I learned during my childhood days. The person who can repeat this phrase a few times without any mistakes is considered an intelligent person. This is a tongue twisting exercise.
I tried it many times but could not master it until I practised it with much concentration. Many tried but could not make because they had given up half way. It is the word ‘rally’ that makes it difficult to pronounce the phrase correctly.
It was really fun to play this game and all of us enjoyed doing this. I still play this game with my children. Perhaps, all of us can try saying this phrase “cycle rally lorry rally’ and see if we can repeat this without any mistake.
The Bersih 2.0 reminds me of this phrase that I learned when I was just a 6 or 7 year-old child. But today the word ‘rally’ has created fear in the mind of many Malaysians.
The police and government appear to be suppressing the rights of citizens to express their legitimate concerns in a peaceful manner. It is tragic to see that we have authorities who, without fail, have the gall to link basic issues raised by the rakyat, to religion and race and try to score political points.
It is a disaster to see that we have authorities who even dare to demand that Ambika’s citizenship be revoked, thereby showing little respect to the constitution of this country. It is unbecoming to see the silence of authorities when individuals and groups dare to declare war against citizens who speak up their concerns and want to claim their rights.
We have groups and individuals who deliberately want to create chaos by calling for counter rallies with the insiduous aim of inciting disturbances in this country. But surprisingly all of them are portrayed by the media as heroes!
But the major setback among all this is the response of the authorities to address the issues that is being raised by the civil society group. The authorities seem to be going after people instead of addressing their concerns. The general perception is that the government of the day is defensive and working against the rakyat.
We have to understand the meaning of s rally and Bersih in the context of a tainted electoral roll, biased media and a mysterious postal votes system as alleged by the civil society groups.
Rally basically means “to gather again; to reunite.” etc. In financial terms, it means ‘an upswing or brisk improvement in market activity and prices after a downturn’. The word bersih means ‘clean’.
When we put all these issues together, and then look at the word ‘rally’ and ‘bersih’, it really makes sense for right thinking Malaysians to say it correctly. But this can only be done if we concentrate on issues rather than persons. Going after individuals will not solve the issues raised by the civil society groups.
In my understanding, Bersih is not about any particular individual but about issues and concerns of citizens on the conduct of elections in our country. That is why even our King suggested that the intention of Bersih is noble.
If we only focus on these issues, then we can understand Bersih correctly. The government has a responsibility to clear these issues raised by the civil society groups as proposed by the King.
Those who do not focus on the issues but on individuals cannot understand the words 'rally' and 'bersih'. It is like those who still find it difficult to say the phrase ‘cycle rally, lorry rally’ correctly, because they are not focused.
Rally is for right-thinking people and not for people who wish to hold a 'counter-rally'. It is for people who want to do it peacefully. But those who want to repeat what others are doing are called ‘copycats’. They do not have any stand but simply want to follow what others are doing. It is not for a purpose. It is primarily to make chaos.
When people fear that the credibility of any institution is compromised for power and personal gain, then we must be ready to hear the corrective voice of people and understand the issues clearly in order to make the system right.
Here we cannot be defensive. Transformation can happen only if we accept our weaknesses. Many religions and nations have taken the path of reformation only by correcting its past mistakes. As Gandhi had said, "a religion that takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion". This is true in the case of nations as well.
Today, Malaysia is gripped with a paranoid culture where so many hate campaigns in the name of politics and religion are propagated by certain quarters. In addition, our society, including children are also fed with pornography and sodomy by the media.
The portrayal of such unsubstantiated stories in the media makes us wonder if our society has lost its good sense. Anyone who says the word ‘rally’ and wears ‘yellow’ are treated with suspicion and even linked to Christian and communist conspiracies.
In that sense, my daughter’s fear is genuine. What is the guarantee that any one person on the road will not stop her and ask for her particulars because she is wearing yellow? What is the guarantee that a police officer will not stop her and ask her intentions?
The task of every Malaysian, irrespective of gender, race, religion and political ideology today is to say correctly and loudly what is to be conveyed to the government of the day to solve the concerns raised by the civil society groups. i.e. an independent election commission, an independent media and cleansing of electoral rolls.
We need to ask: How transparent would our election be if we require the voters to use the indelible ink for voting? How transparent would our electoral system be if we have a legitimate postal ballot system? How about a caretaker government to conduct elections?
How can this be a threat to any nation? How can the people who voice these concerns be treated like terrorists? The question is not about holding a rally or not holding it or holding it in Merdeka Stadium or on the streets of KL. The question before the government is to set a mechanism to address the concerns of the electorate, the rakyat of Malaysia. Let sense prevail for the sake of our children and future generations.
Rev Thomas George is a clergyperson of the Mar Thoma Church.