This is the tale of that act of cowardice and the reasons why I did it. I want readers to assume THE position: our position as students in a local public university – the fears we face and the oppression that we have to endure daily.
I went to Perhimpunan Mahasiswa Negara 2011 (PMN 2011) a few days ago. Unfortunately, halfway through that mentally stimulating programme, I got cold feet and ran away. I’m ashamed of that act. But I thought (and still think) it was necessary to do so. It was a Hobson’s choice and I regretfully chose to exit. This is the tale of that act of cowardice and the reasons why I did it. I want readers to assume THE position: our position as students in a local public university – the fears we face and the oppression that we have to endure daily.
Hopefully, you might understand our plight.
Hopefully, you might understand why freedom and liberation means so much to us, who are denied of this right.
Hopefully, you might play your part and support us.
Biarlah saya membuka pekung di dada saya asalkan saudara dan saudari memahami kesusahan kami. (I’m anonymous anyway.)
I went to PMN with two friends, Klatoxx and Sinyu. As a student from a public university (IPTA), I travelled to the venue of PMN situated in KL at the KL Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall near Victoria Institution by public transport. It took us an hour and a half to get there and it cost us RM10 for a round trip! That was the only option we had. It was a tough decision, but we did it because we wanted to participate at PMN 2011. We wanted our voices to be heard even at a cost of RM10 (lunch and dinner was free anyway). We arrived at the venue around 10 am.
We registered. We met a few of our mates from our IPTA. I was pulled aside by one of those mates, Baxter who told us that there might be spies from our IPTA coming to monitor us. He cautioned us against allowing our pictures to be taken by these suspicious spies. Baxter told us from a legal point of view that there was nothing illegal about this forum and that we should have fun. Sounds contradictory, but … yeah.
I was reciting profanities in my heart after talking to Baxter. Officials from our IPTA just won’t stop harassing us! The night before PMN, we did a cost-benefit analysis on whether we should go to PMN. Of course, there were risks. However, from a legal point of view, this wasn’t a political assembly or a rally. This was just another forum for an intellectual discourse. It was also at a private venue. Apa salahnya? Besides, our IPTA didn’t issue a circular prohibiting us from attending this assembly.
While I was lepaking with Klatoxx and Sinyu outside of the hall, a guy approached us. He had a camera. He looked older than most of us and wore a coat, to appear younger maybe. However, he had a tag which means he must’ve produced a student card at registration. A part-time student? A student, who dropped out a long time ago, did a few odd jobs, repented, realised the value of education and took an undergraduate course? The first thing he asked us was “Korang dari mana?” We told him the name of our IPTA. He asked us what course we were taking and which semester we were in. We answered politely and reciprocated with the same questions. Apparently, he was from our IPTA as well (surprise, surprise). This guy was acting weirdly. Why didn’t he ask our names at all or introduced himself? We didn’t wear our tags yet at that time.
He then told us that he saw a couple of students from a branch campus of our IPTA. He said he was happy to see a lot of students from our IPTA and said he took pictures of those kids from that branch campus. “Nanti aku nak ambik gambar korang pulak yea, boleh?” he persisted. We said later and not now.
“Confirm mamat ni spy,” I whispered to the other two.
“Agak ah,” agreed Klatoxx.
We entered the Dewan and took our seats at the designated spots. I was separated from Klatoxx but I was beside Sinyu. I didn’t register to be a speaker as I wanted to lay low and not be too flamboyant. Takut spy tu rasa I threat. There were many empty seats, sadly. I think there were many people who registered online but were intimidated with the threats by the authorities. The authorities are tightening the screws of repression against us students. Or maybe it was just apathy amongst us. Students, after a long time being ignored (since 1971) just couldn’t care anymore about forums. What a disappointment.
The event was kick-started at 10.30 am by the moderator from UKM. He told us that he wanted to use the word “aku” instead of “saya” as it sounds cooler. We were cool with it. The first agenda of the day was for us students to voice out issues and grievances. Speakers who registered were given 5 minutes to speak. There was a potpourri of students from universities (both public and private) all over Malaysia! Around 30 institutions if I’m not mistaken. There were around 150 students, I think. Students began voicing out issues pertaining matters regarding university life.
These issues were something which we could relate and identify with. The discretionary powers of the Pak Guard, the inefficiencies of the Student Affairs Department (HEP), issues with tuition fees and scholarships, and AUKU (UUCA) were brought up and discussed. There was rousing applause for every speaker. There was an admirable sense of decorum and civility in the way the students conducted themselves (both speakers and listeners) which could put any member of the Malaysian Parliament to shame. This forum was an outlet for us to voice our grievances with fellow students who understood our plight. Since complaints to the proper channels (the bureaucracy) usually fell on deaf ears, what alternatives do we have? None. This Assembly was far from political, it was apolitical.
I saw the spy (let’s call him Spy A, shall we?) writing notes when students from my institution were speaking. He was sitting with two other people, one male and one female. The female (Spy B) looked too old to be a student. The male (Spy C) on the other hand looked young and was feverishly taking notes. All three wore coats. What is it with coats and looking young with these guys? Come on lah.
I also had a chance to speak. I think people didn’t get what I said or agreed to the things I said as there was no rousing applause after I ended my speech. Oh well. Maybe those spies didn’t understand what I said either and would ignore me. I was also firing tweets on Twitterjaya. Apparently on Twitterjaya, famous tweeters were tweeting (and re-tweeting) about the event, encouraging us and even offering suggestions. I didn’t get a lot of responses from my tweets. Oh well.
We ended the first session at 1 pm. Two more sessions to go! Before breaking for lunch, we were divided into four groups. The issues which we discussed in the first session were categorised under four titles. Each group was given a category and was to discuss the issues under that category. You know, like identifying the problem, methods to solve the problem etc. Sounds like fun, kan? Unfortunately, this was not meant to be for me.
While we were having lunch, I saw Spy A conferring with B and C. Then Spy A came up to us (Sinyu, Klatoxx and I), trying to strike up a conversation using bahasa pasar orang muda. I tried ignoring him. I was shaken after the first conversation with him. I didn’t know why. Sinyu on the other hand was having a more cautious conversation with him. At least that kept him at bay. I heard that Spy A and Spy C were Pak Guards from our IPTA. They didn’t look familiar to me. After all, there were many Pak Guards plying their trade by oppressing students at my IPTA. My heart was pounding like mad. Would he remember my face? Did he look at my name tag? Did he take my picture?
I didn’t want to leave due to those flimsy reasons. However, the straw which broke the camel’s back was when I heard from my colleagues that a circular was issued by HEP of my IPTA prohibiting us from attending PMN under the pain of suspension or expulsion. Haram. “Fuck,” I cursed. The circular was issued the same day as the Assembly, during the event. I recalled my administrative law class where my lecturer (a very nice person) was talking about notices and how a notice must be issued within a reasonable time before action can be taken. Administratively speaking the administration was administratively wrong. The grounds for banning PMN were also flawed. This wasn’t a political gathering or a rally. This was like a birthday party or a forum. Sesuka hati je nak larang orang.
Fresh from reading Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom and a bit about Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha, staying on would be a form of civil disobedience. It would be a form of non-violent resistance against these self-righteous nut jobs. However, fear was crippling my spine. I tried to assure myself by saying there is nothing to fear but fear, but this voice is dwarfed by a louder one saying you’re gonna get screwed over man! You see, fear stems from uncertainty. Uncertain of what would happen next and uncertain of your fate.
I knew the circular was wrong and could be challenged. However, I chose to err on the side of caution. The cost of being expelled or suspended was too high. I thought about my mother and father. They cautioned me against entering politics at student level if it meant that I was to be expelled from university. I would just disappoint them. I remember when I received the offer to enter university and the first day my parents sent me to university. It meant the world to them seeing their kid enter university and having a chance to be a somebody one day. They trusted my judgments and supported every activity I entered. To be expelled from this IPTA would crash their hopes. True, my family is rather conservative and result-oriented, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I understood their position. My mother’s father was a rubber tapper while my father’s father had two jobs to sustain the family. Both of my parents had eight siblings. They knew what hardship felt and how education could transform an individual for better. They didn’t want me to be expelled and end up as a nobody. We’re not rich and we cannot afford private tertiary education.
You know, I don’t mind going to prison (after I finish my degree) for my political beliefs. Of course I don’t want to, but if you put it on a weighing scale (yes, the one on BN’s logo), I would rather be in prison with a degree than have my education rescinded. Restrict a man his freedom of movement, he can survive, but take away his education and you rob him of his dignity and his ability to self-actualise.
You see the dilemma that we students in public universities face? We want our voices to be heard but at what cost? Losing your tertiary education? The Government is holding our education at ransom just to ensure we don’t participate in politics which is a right of every citizen. I don’t see any harm (tangible/intangible) if students go to a forum discussing issues which affect our interests. Even if it is illegal, it is a victimless crime. No harm befalls anyone else. What is the rationale for doing this to us? The administration arbitrarily bans PMN without due consideration because they can! I just wanted to scream out loud in anger. Even if participating in politics was such a sin, why must our education suffer? We’re talking about suspension or expulsion people! I can’t believe that this is the mentality which persists among our bureaucrats who ideally believe we can become a world class university. Wow!
I had no ill-will against Spy A. He was just doing his job – just a servant who follows the chain of command. But that feeling turned to anger when I observed his mannerism. There was something malicious about him. It looked like he enjoyed being there picking out students. It seemed like fun. He didn’t seem reluctant at all but pursued his duties ecstatically and earnestly (like all Pak Guards do). I wanted to harass him with questions. Don’t you think what you’re doing is wrong? Is it fair to persecute students who believe in a certain cause? How can you sleep at night if your actions reporting us would lead to our expulsions?
On the way back, I took a hard look of the people around me on the public transport. They were ordinary, average people. Did they know about us and our plight? Do they care enough to take action against the Government?
Who among them would go out and protest with the students to abolish these oppressive laws? No one would. They’re too caught up with their own lives and how to make ends meet. As long as the Government satisfies their lives, why would they go against the Government for a bunch of students?
If the answers to the above were resounding affirmatives, AUKU would have been abolished 40 years ago since its inception. The struggle remains.
Now that you have read this article and understand our grievances, what would you do?
“An unjust law, is no law at all.” – St. Augustine of Hippo
Batu 5 is a law student. He is an active member of Twitterjaya. He feels that there needs to be more social mobility in this country. He also is a dreamer as he plans to establish a company with his girlfriend and which is too big to fail for Malaysia. He believes that Malaysia is in a class war, and his class, the learning/student class is losing out.