Don’t just ‘cari makan’, take a stand
A Samad Said urged intellectuals to stop being ‘carma’ (cari makan) and dare take a stand against cruelty and injustice.
Fighting for what is just and right has its ‘price’, one which not many are willing to pay, especially writers or journalists. It explains then why the mainstream media had nothing favourable to write about July 9, 2011, the day when Malaysians fearing nothing joined hands in demanding electoral reforms.
The conventional media instead lambasted the rally, themed ‘Walk for Democracy’ and organised by election watchdog Bersih 2.0 as being a destructive force aimed at disrupting unity among the people.
Writing what the political masters dictate explains why the mainstream media has failed to regain its lost respect and credibility among the conscientious Malaysians.
But then for a former newspaper man-turned-poet and novelist, the rally had every merit to it. So much so that Abdul Samad Muhammad Said or better known through his pen name A Samad Said made sure he was among the many Malaysians who supported the cause championed by Bersih.
Pak Samad, as he is populary called, was a former editor of the Berita Harian in the 1960s and 70s.
In May 1976, he was hailed as the Pejuang Sastera (Literary Exponent) by the Malay literature communities and linguists. In 1979, he was awarded the Southeast Asia Write Award and in 1986 he was bestowed the title of ‘Sasterawan Negara’ or national laureate, in appreciation of his contributons to the nation’s literary heritage.
So when Samad made news in connection with the election watchdog Bersih 2.0, it took many by surprise.
In spite of the heavy police control on July 9, Samad, a poet and novelist, managed to walk, that too barefoot after his footwear went missing in a scuffle when the police fired tear gas towards the protesters at the Kuala Lumpur Sentral, to Istana Negara. He was only 200 metres away from the national palace gates when apprehended by the police.
Prior to the rally, the Barisan Nasional government filed sedition charges against Samad and other leaders of the Bersih 2.0 coalition of NGOs.
Stop the ‘carma’, take a stand
However, arrest was the least of Samad’s worry. Instead, he urged intellectuals to stop being ‘carma’ (cari makan) and dare take a stand against cruelty and injustice. He did not mince his words when he castigated the mainstream media which demonised the rally.
“Writers seldom take a stand. Most of them are ‘carma’ and are always prepared to not take a stand. This has caused all the evil to grow and spread tremendously.”
“For the mainstream media, Bersih is dirty. I’m also surprised, why these experienced pressmen who have won awards here and there, can smear Bersih. I know they are from the ‘carma’ group.
“Fortunately there is still a small number of writers who dare to take a stand, who know that Bersih is pure,” Samad told the 250-strong audience who filled the Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall auditorium under the close watch of several plainclothes policemen on July 3, days before the rally took off.
Have Samad’s words awakened the consciousness of the mainstream media writers or have they dismissed his call for them to fight injustice as a spur of the moment remark?
Indeed, there is truth in every word uttered by Samad. To stand up against injustices or to perpetuate them, is for every writer to ponder.
The 76-year-old unassuming Malacca-born poet then went a step further saying he would boycott all government events, his way of protesting the government’s crackdown on the rally protesters.
Paying the price for ‘truth’
Samad together with Bersih 2.0 chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan and other activists was instrumental in organising the ‘Walk for Democracy’.
On June 28 this year, the septuagenarian Samad was hauled up for 90-minutes by the police who questioned him about his poem ‘Unggun Bersih’ (The Bersih Fire) recited at the ‘launch’ if the Bersih 2.0 rally on June 19.
Besides ‘Unggun Bersih’, Samad composed two other poems, ‘Peludah Warna’ and ‘Semarak Menyala’, supporting the call by Bersih 2.0 for free and fair elections.
A furious Samad condemned the move, saying the authorities were treating poetry as a weapon.
‘Poem has now become something extraordinary; it has now become a weapon,” he later told reporters.
Samad was investigated under Section 4 (1) (b) of the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 27 (5) of the Police Act 1067 which relates to unlawful assembly.
The laureate, synonymous with his shock of white hair and flowing white beard, was saddened that the authorities viewed his poem ‘Unggun Bersih’ ‘with prejudice”.
“In my poem, I did say that we need to purify democracy, not muddle it or pollute it…and in poetry, those are suggestions that are very pure and should be appreciated, not viewed suspiciously.
‘Personally, I find it rather strange why this has happened. A writer contributes through his art, to document a situation that is worsening, but it is viewed with such prejudice. This saddens me so,” Samad then said.
Pursuing freedom of expression
Far from cowering the literary community, Samad said the actions of the police would instead spur a more spirited movement from his peers and fellow writers in pursuing freedom of expression.
“It may be seen as a warning but for writers, this would spur and encourage them as they begin to realise that literature has power too. I intended to produce something that was pure, not to incite.”
During his police interrogation, Samad was among others asked where he obtained his ‘datukship’ from and whether the poets at the Bersih 2.0 launch were paid to recite their poems.
His ordeal at the hands of the police was condemned by scores of writers, artist and political activists.
“We are appalled that the reading of a poem can be considered seditious,” a statement signed by more than 150 writers, activists and artists in different disciplines stated.
“In the context of the many arrests that have been recently carried out on sympathisers of the Bersih 2.0 rally, we believe that the investigation on Datuk Samad amounts to an act of harassment and intimidation.
“This is something that we, as citizens of Malaysia, do not condone,” it said.
The authorities were reminded that Samad was a “nationally respected and internationally recognised public figure who has provided leadership and guidance for the benefit of many.”
The statement also said the police harassment would not stop Malaysian artists from continuing to support the principles of freedom of speech and expression.
Indeed, it is all about principles. Samad’s age and appearance may defy his courageous convictions but then this is one man who will not feign ignorance when democracy back home is under threat.
Malaysia desperately needs courageous people like Samad, unpretentious and firm in their belief, upholding the advice of British premier Benjamin Disraeli – “Never apologise for showing your feeling. When do you so, you apologise for the truth.”
Jeswan Kaur is a freelance journalist and a FMT columnist
[Gambar Faisal Hasnoon/Flickr]