Exasperated by the indefinite closure of most economic sectors during the total lockdown, Malaysians have taken matters into their own hands through the #benderaputih (white flag) hashtag across social media.
The movement encourages anyone in dire need of assistance during the extended lockdown period to fly a white flag or cloth outside their home as a means of signalling to their neighbours which households are facing extreme difficulties with obtaining essentials such as food.
Absolutely in awe at how the rakyat has come together to start this #BenderaPutih campaign to pull through for our brothers and sisters in need! Please, I beg, raise a white flag if you need help with food and other necessities!! We’re all in this together #RakyatJagaRakyat pic.twitter.com/Dtd7SAiuJa
— Isobelle Robbert ✨ (@teaweaporcupine) June 29, 2021
— 👻 (@elle_kj) June 29, 2021
Several have also stressed that the white flag should not be seen as the traditional symbol of defeat or surrender, rather a signal of support.
I may not lead a luxurious life but I will try my best to support #benderaputih🏳️. The government may have failed you, but let’s not let humanity die. I urge all the youth of Malaysia to support your friends and neighbours during this tough time. We are in this together.
— Jisnukvitran Vejayaindren (@jisnukvitran) June 28, 2021
— Nasyy 🇲🇾🤝🇵🇸 (@lilacaspia) June 29, 2021
Ssimilar to the #kitajagakita (we take care of each other) movement that took root early in the pandemic, it appears that politicians, such as Minister for Housing & Local Government Zuraida Kamaruddin, are attempting to co-opt the #benderaputih movement soon after it arose.
#kitajagakita was largely abandoned by many netizens when the government began adopting it.
Netizens later started to use the hashtag in an ironic manner as a means of criticising the government’s handling of the pandemic.
“#BenderaPutih exist because of government’s failures to protect rakyat. How dare you hijacking the people’s initiative?! Step down from the government,” said one Twitter user.
#BenderaPutih exist because of government's failures to protect rakyat. How dare you hijacking the people's initiative?! Step down from the government shameless and useless bitch. https://t.co/fmPJad4lCC
— 🐰 (@AiraAzami) June 29, 2021
Bipartisan hijacking of #BenderaPutih as politicians from across the divide join the white flag campaign started by ordinary social media users as a means to help others in need of food and immediate assistance. Posters by Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin (L) and Amanah (R). pic.twitter.com/ZYWRS2oix7
— emmanuelsamarathisa (@esshimself) June 29, 2021
you’re literally supposed to be doing more than this.. #benderaputih shouldn’t even be happening right now if it weren’t for the government, that includes you la if you’ve forgotten. you’ve failed the rakyat and this is just shameless of you to be promoting this initiative https://t.co/ulIHUO1f8V
— mio (@SyMiaSara) June 29, 2021
Malaysia has been in and out of various versions of the Movement Control Order (MCO) since early March 2020, causing extreme economic distress and job losses for many.
The latest iteration is a Phase One “full movement control order” that has just been extended indefinitely until daily new COVID-19 cases fall below 4,000.
This is on top of the state of Emergency declared in January and is set to end in August, resulting in a suspended Parliament.
Recent news reports have also indicated a rise in the number of suicides and attempted suicide cases during the pandemic.
Suicide helpline Befrienders KL reported receiving 50 per cent more calls between March and May this year compared to the same period the year before.
Penang police Commissioner Datuk Sahabudin Abd Manan announced that there have been 19 recorded suicide attempts in the state between January and May this year in the northern peninsular state.
This is on top of 53 deaths by suicide reported in Penang in the same period.