When Ben Liew contacted me, asking if I could contribute to JUICE’s Merdeka issue, I wondered what I would be able to say which has not already been said each time August 31st rolls round. What more can we say, really, given the way so many things have been shaping, stalling, slipping in our country since the last Hari Merdeka?
Last year, around this time, I had just come back from a theatre residency in Japan. During the residency, I was given a lot of time to think about my art-making journey, what I wanted to do with my art, and what I planned to do after I returned to Malaysia. These thoughts inevitably bled into the performance I presented there, which then made me realize that most of my works were really about my relationships with our nation, our histories, our identities. I realized that my performances were about Malaysia and my own dreams for a better Malaysia.
At the same time, like many of us, I began to realize that Malaysia itself was performing in ways that made it harder and harder for us to watch quietly from the sidelines. Most glaring right now is the performance of Putrajaya in dealing with the eight demands for electoral reforms as articulated by the Bersih 2.0 coalition of NGOs – as I write this, six Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) members including Dr Michael Jeyakumar, the MP for Sungai Siput, are still being detained without trial; without doubt, their continued detention is a morally indefensible act. [Note: The PSM6, also known as EO6, were released on 29th July, after 28 days of incarceration.]
Yet the 9th July rally in Kuala Lumpur has shown that Malaysians of all ages, from a multitude of socio-economic and political backgrounds could come together peacefully to make their demands heard. And all the stories that broke out of that day – from the tenacity of Aunty Bersih, to A Samad Said walking the streets of KL barefoot after he lost his shoes running from the FRU, to tales of strangers passing round salt and bottles of mineral water after the latest round of tear gas hit the crowds – point out that even in the dark of night, there is light for us still.
Maybe that’s something to think about, when we’re thinking about Hari Merdeka and Hari Malaysia this year – that we must take back the meaning of what makes this country our country: as citizens, we are the conscience of this nation, and thus we must be heard.
Given the times we are in, we can no longer afford to be quiet. We can no longer afford to sit still. We can no longer afford to let others take us down roads, alleys, and paths that lead us away from our dreams, hopes, and longings for a better Malaysia. We can no longer afford to do nothing.
If we truly believe in Merdeka, and if we truly believe in Malaysia, then the time has come for us to stand up and be truly Merdeka in this Malaysia we can only call our home.
(This article first appeared, in a slightly different form, in the August 2011 issue of JUICE Magazine.)