The sea of yellow during Bersih rallies makes it difficult to zoom in on unusual characters, save for a few who try to be a bit more creative by wearing unique costumes - or doing actions to attract attention from the crowd.
However, seasoned Bersih rally-goers would attest to how disabled activist Isaiah Josiah, although clad in a yellow Bersih T-shirt, stands out like a sore thumb.
With his crutches, Isaiah, who has never missed a single Bersih rally, braves the crowd despite his physical disabilities.
So enthusiastic he is when it comes to Bersih rallies that he has embarked on a one-week hunger strike, starting at midnight today.
The campaign, which Isiah called a “fasting and prayer” session, is to pray to ensure that the rally will go on smoothly.
Despite his enthusiasm in joining Bersih rallies, he admits that some have been hard on him.
Roughed up by the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU), tear gassed, you name it, he went through these.
He also claimed he once had this asked him by the police: ‘Eh, you orang cacat tak boleh duduk dalam rumah ke?’ (Why can’t you, a disabled person, stay home?).
But, thankfully for him, he said, the police nowadays are friendly towards him. This may be due to him constantly raising the issue of the low wages paid to disabled people.
“I raised these things in a few ceramah, maybe that’s why the police are happy. My enemies are not them, but the people who are holding positions.”
Sacked for Anwar activism
The 50-year-old, who holds a diploma in business administration, also has his own business in management and consultancy firm, which is now in its ninth year of establishment.
Isaiah was once sacked from his job he held then, for being involved in the ‘Free Anwar Ibrahim’ movement and was left jobless for seven years.
“I sent 67 applications; even though I have the qualifications, but because I am disabled, I received no reply,” he said.
Employment aside, Isaiah used to be involved with the ‘KL Tak Nak Insinerator’ movement and had even joined the walk from Dataran Merdeka to Kuantan in protest against the Lynas plant.
Having been involved in activism for the past 15 years, his NGO, KL Rise and Shine, which was established last year, provides counselling and assistance to disabled people.
“We don’t give out cash. Instead, we give out provisions like sugar and rice, and we encourage disabled people to get jobs.
“We don’t want to encourage them to forever depend on others,” he added.
Suffering from a congenital hip dislocation, the married father of one has gone through at least 17 operations from the age of 19, to repair both his hip and spine.
Here is Isaiah’s story, in his own words:
I AM A MEMBER OF PKR. I have been with the party since day one, since 1998. (But) I always keep my NGO work, politics and my business separate. I decided to join PKR for its concept, which is to reform the government. I currently hold the Batu PKR division organising secretary post, a position I have held for more than a year.
IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO DISCIPLINE WHEN IT COMES TO JUGGLING MANY THINGS. We need to discipline ourselves. We must always have faith and confidence, trust ourselves, not cheat anybody and be straightforward. We should know which one is our first priority. My priority is that I will raise my voice for the people.
THIS IS NOT MY FIRST HUNGER STRIKE CAMPAIGN. I planned such a campaign during Ramadan this year. The campaign was to call for the release of Anwar, the abolishment of the goods and services tax (GST) as well as for fresh elections. After some advice from certain people, especially Muslims, I decided not to go through with it, because of the fasting month.
THERE WILL BE ANOTHER CAMPAIGN FOR ANWAR’S RELEASE. The next campaign is coming very soon. I chose to call for Anwar’s release because, from day one, he has been victimised. We know there’s very strong evidence that he’s not involved, but he was penalised. Imagine such a thing happening to our family. I have strong feelings that Anwar is innocent. It has nothing to do with my membership in PKR. I’m doing this as a human being.
DESPITE MANY RALLIES, WE LACK THE SPIRITUAL ASPECT. The Rukunegara states ‘believe in God’. Everything we do must be under the banner of God. When we make sacrifices like tying ourselves away from food, maybe God will hear our prayers. We must trust ourselves and be confident that God will take care of us. If we trust God, then we shouldn’t worry.
MY FAMILY IS WORRIED WHEN I GO ON HUNGER STRIKES. Spiritually, I came into this life empty, and will leave empty. During this period of my life, the things I have done, these are the things that I will take together with me. My wife and son are not happy with my hunger strikes.
But in my religion (Christianity), anything I do for somebody is equivalent to doing it for God. When I die, I will leave this world – my wife won’t follow me, neither will my son. What’s going to follow me are the good things I’ve done.
If I can walk from Dataran Merdeka to Kuantan in six days, fasting is not a big issue. In one week, I will lose six to seven kilogrammes. I will lose some weight, but I won’t lose my spirit.
I HAVE STRONG CONFIDENCE THAT THERE WILL BE SOME CHANGES COMING FROM THE HUNGER STRIKE. Maybe there will be greater public awareness on the issues we face. Malaysians are good ‘coffee shop talkers’, they don’t come forward to talk.
After this campaign, I hope more people will come forward to speak in public. In other countries, they will really protest if they disagree with things like the GST, for example. Here, an issue can be raised for one or two days.
The public is not aggressive enough. In South Korea, they will go on strike for one week. Malaysians are not like that. If they can do that, the government will shiver.
MY DISABILITY DOES NOT AFFECT ME. I’m independent; I do everything, I even cook sometimes. I believe that the disabled people are much better. Unfortunately there’s no proper education given to normal people stating that disabled people are much better.
During the last Bersih rally where there were hundreds of thousands of people, I was there. If I could be in a crowd with a disabled condition, others have no excuses not to.
I AM NOW IN THE PROCESS OF SETTING UP AN OKU BUREAU IN PKR. We definitely need such a bureau to raise issues that affect us, the disabled, through political means. But many OKU people I have talked to are worried about come forward on this because they fear that their allowances will be cut if the government finds out that they have joined the bureau.
So, while setting up this bureau, I am also setting up a fund for this, in case the government pulls out their allowances.
MY ADVISE TO THE RAKYAT: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. We need to rise for our freedom, we need to speak up. A government should only hold power for two terms - this can solve many problems.
For the rakyat, you must always remember that you are the ones who elected the government. Because of your votes, they in government are getting their salaries. So you shouldn’t be scared. They are the ones who should be scared!
Malaysians Kini is a series on Malaysians you should know about.- Mkini