The face of a movement

AMONG ALL THE photographs taken during the Bersih 2.0 rally, one stands out. In it, a petite grey-haired lady clad in a yellow T-shirt is seen standing in front of Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) troops who have just drenched her with chemicallaced water. Her eyes are closed in agony, her face a portrait of anguish. In her left hand she clutches a water bottle and a single stalk of daisies. In the background, 100 metres away, a battalion of uniformed officers and FRU trucks keeps watch.

The woman in the photograph was later identified as retired English teacher Anne Ooi Siew Lan. She said that her first reaction on seeing that photograph of herself was anger at the photographer, Hugo Teng. Despite initially being upset, Anne later relented when she saw the impact that the photograph had made.

On the same night the image was taken, it went viral on popular social networking sites and was described by some as a powerful symbol of one woman’s defiance in the face of authoritarian clampdown.

Anne said she cried and “felt proud and felt stupid” after the unexpected popularity of the photograph which sparked an immediate outpouring of emotion over the internet. Many embraced Anne as an icon of the electoral reform movement while others dubbed her “The Malaysian Lady of Liberty” and “Aunty Bersih”. Admirers created videos and Facebook fan pages for her, the most popular of which has garnered over 40,000 “likes” to date.

Admittedly overwhelmed by the attention, Anne is uncertain how to deal with her overnight fame. “I am new to everything, including Facebook.”

The 65-year-old Penangite witnessed the arrest of Pakatan Rakyat leader Sivarasa Rasiah after he attempted to negotiate with the police for safe passage for Bersih participants seeking refuge in the compound of Tung Shin hospital.

“I shouted ‘Tipu!’ when they arrested him. At first we were told they would let us pass through. We didn’t expect to get hit. Suddenly they shot at us again. I yelled at them, ‘Are we your enemies?’ It’s not right of them to do this to us,” she said of the four rounds of tear gas she endured.

Anne says she was frustrated but not surprised at the police’s aggressiveness, adding that the previous Bersih rally in 2007, which she also participated in, was more peaceful.

The former teacher of 35 years drew an analogy from her previous profession. “Police are like prefects in school who are supposed to help the teachers. They should not be arrogant… hounding us… treating us contemptibly, as if we were hooligans and scumbags.”

“ Police are like prefects in school who are supposed to help the teachers. They should not be arrogant… hounding us… treating us contemptibly, as if we were hooligans and scumbags.”

The former teacher of 35 years drew an analogy from her previous profession. “Police are like prefects in school who are supposed to help the teachers. They should not be arrogant… hounding us… treating us contemptibly, as if we were hooligans and scumbags.”

She was especially displeased with the controversial spraying of water cannons and firing of tear gas into the compound of Tung Shin Hospital, an incident police and government officials had originally denied. “How could they deny it? It’s a lie. I was there; I saw it with my own eyes!” Trapped inside the hospital compound with the main entrances blocked by the FRU, Anne started to panic.

“I was hysterical and desperate. My only thought was to get out and head towards the Stadium Merdeka. I screamed ‘Mana pintu?’

“I couldn’t climb over the fence to escape like the others. Two men pointed to the main gate of the hospital. ‘Go, auntie, go!’ they told me.” On walking out from the hospital, she was not arrested.

In front of Puduraya, she saw a bespectacled man in a blue jacket writhing on the ground, struggling to breathe. His hands were cuff ed behind his back. Anne says she shouted for the officers to let him go, but they did not have releasing instruments. Finally, she left the scene.

From Pudu, Anne walked to St John’s Cathedral to borrow a T-shirt, since her clothes were still wet from her encounter with the FRU. Aft er a short rest, she went to a nearby mamak stall to eat and proceeded on foot back to Masjid Jamek and then back to her home in Wangsa Maju.

Anne says a friend told her about Bersih, so she wore yellow the whole week before the rally. Despite the risk of arrest, she insisted on wearing yellow. “Why shouldn’t I?

“I cannot stand rubbish. The country today has become like a house full of dirty things. We need to clean our house, clear up the mess.”

Chung Hosanna was forced to hike up a small hill behind Tung Shin hospital to escape the tear gas and fru on 709. She was too chicken to wear yellow.



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