The desire of royalists to see everyone kowtowing to monarchy has become a crusade for many, egged on by the royalist regimes of recent years. The ballooning use of lese majeste is only one element of this. There’s also the multitude of “little” enforcements, many aimed at students, making them acknowledge hierarchy and status.
One might have thought that by the time students got to university, such childish royalism might have been more limited. But in Thailand’s infantile world of royalists who think they need to make the “children” kowtow to the seniors/teachers/royals, there’s uniforms, royalist ceremonies (many “invented” recently and said to be “traditional”) and royalist propaganda deluging universities (not to mention military thugs and other “authorities,” in uniform and plainclothes).
One of the saddest stories we have seen coming out of Thailand under the military dictatorship is from Chulalongkorn University, a bastion of ultra-royalists and political yellow shirts.
The Bangkok Post’s story is of the “freshmen initiation ceremony at Chulalongkorn University,” itself a ridiculous effort to enforce hierarchy and to instill royalism, said to have “descended into chaos and controversy when a group of students staged a walk out and one of them was put in a chokehold by a lecturer.”
Yes, you read that right, a university-level “lecturer” attacked a student. It is Khaosod that identifies the “lecturer” as “assistant professor Ruengwit Bunjongrat.” We clipped this picture from his page at the Botany Department, where he is listed as holding a Masters degree.
Khaosod also has some video of the event, where another unnamed professor tries to stop it being filmed, cursing the student filming as an “asshole.” It says the student who was assaulted by the royalist Ruengwit was Supalak Damrongjit, who is a fourth-year student at the Faculty of Economics and also vice president of student council.
This royalist assault took place at one of the invented traditions at Chula which had students dressed in white uniforms made to sit on the ground in a very light rain and “prostrating themselves to pay respect to the monument of the university’s founder, King Rama V, and take an oath before the monument.”
Student activist and president of Chulalongkorn University’s Student Council Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, who “has campaigned against sitting on the ground and prostrating during the ceremony,” claimed “a deputy university rector promised that the university would provide an area for students who did not want to sit on the ground.”
He says “the lecturers broke these promises as all students were ordered to sit on the ground to pay their respects…”.
Netiwit walked out. That was when the assistant professor grabbed another student in a headlock and abused him.
One of the university’s deputy rectors, Associate Professor Bancha Chalapirom, babbled that “the university did not force students to sit while it was raining. He said there was a slight drizzle and students agreed to carry with the ceremony and were given raincoats.” He says no one was forced to sit or prostrate.
That seems neither here nor there as the professors tried to stop students leaving the ceremony.
Bancha “described” the events leading “up to the professor restraining the student…”. He says:
“The freshmen paid respects three times, recited their oath and sang the song. But during the ceremony, Netiwit and his friends came out to pay respects in an awkward way as the student council. This made the officials overseeing the ceremony come out and pull them aside, and though it looks like an assault, it wasn’t…”.
Bancha said royalist Ruengwit is “hospitalized for stress after the incident went public.” We have no sympathy. But Bancha went further declaring the attacker as “a person who loves students and didn’t want anything to happen, so he went to pull out the students…”. Royalist love can be tough love. Ask those who have survived murderous royalist attacks in the past.
When all Thais should be ashamed, yellow shirt social media is fulsome in its praise of the royalist thug professors.
Update: Kong Rithdee at the Bangkok Post has an insightful op-ed on this shameful royalist assault
… you just can’t manhandle your students like that, no matter how many wrestling matches you’ve watched or how detestable you find youthful activism. Physically restraining a student who might or might not have shown disrespect, by a professor of all people, and in a public gathering being observed by reporters? What can we expect next? Baptism by fire? A crucifixion?…
Like everything in Thailand these days, the Chulalongkorn incident is symptomatic of a heavily polarised nation. Every dispute, every conflict, every argument reignites the debate between tradition and progress, between the reactionary and reformist, between the headlocker and headlocked. Even the most respected institute of higher learning, supposedly the nation’s cradle of intellectualism, has become a mud-filled, gladiatorial pit where underdog fighters face the wrath of their Roman rulers. They got the thumbs-down and look what happened….
Like everything in Thailand these days, the Chulalongkorn incident is symptomatic of a heavily polarised nation. Every dispute, every conflict, every argument reignites the debate between tradition and progress, between the reactionary and reformist, between the headlocker and headlocked. Even the most respected institute of higher learning, supposedly the nation’s cradle of intellectualism, has become a mud-filled, gladiatorial pit where underdog fighters face the wrath of their Roman rulers. They got the thumbs-down and look what happened.
And that’s fine. A university should be a battleground for ideological contests. What isn’t fine is anger manifesting itself through violence. Without being alarmist, sometimes it’s good to remember that Oct 6, 1976 didn’t happen in a vacuum. One thing lead to another, and another, and then to something that could never be undone.