Stephen Hawking got to the Pearly Gates only to discover that entry control had been outsourced to a Thai company. The entrance to heaven had been transformed into an excessively curlicued arched gate as rococo as any you’ll find in a gated community in a Bangkok suburb, connected on either side to a nondescript wall adorned with razor wire, broken bottles and hastily scrubbed out graffiti of a black leopard’s head.
The recent disrobing of Venerable Sermsak Thammasaro or “Monk Ti” for his dwarfism has spurred discussion about Thai Buddhism and discrimination. According to liberal Buddhist monk Venerable Phramaha Paiwan Warawunno, Monk Ti was disrobed because ordination of the disabled is against the Buddhist Vinaya. According to well-known religious scholar Surapot Thaweesak, Thai Buddhism tends to rule in favour of the clergy, and under the power of the Sangha Supreme Council (SSC), does not allow other parties to pass judgement on cases or issues that crop up.
Prejudices surrounding the physically disabled abound, not least society’s view of them as nonsexual beings. Ironically, while the disabled are often barred from sexual education, disabled women are 1.5–10 times more likely than abled women to be sexually abused. What’s more, disabled women are often forcibly sterilized, raising the issue of the degree of “rights” they have concerning their own bodies.
The draft constitution going up for the referendum vote on 7 August degrades the issue of disability rights to an appalling level. It shows the junta’s point of view of the disabled as those who should receive public support but are deprived of guaranteed disability rights. According to experts, this situation will weaken the force of law for equality for the disabled.
The draft constitution is a written attempt by the junta to take Thai politics and society back to the pre-Thaksin era. The draft not only aims to prevent the emergence of a Thaksin-like government, but also the emergence of Thaksin-like policies, which were tangible and ‘edible’ for the poor.
Even though the disabled have long been seen in Thai dramas, the representation of them is problematic and unrealistic, which leads to misperceptions. Movie directors state that disabled characters should be seen as ordinary human beings.
Chaiwat Limprasertying, 33, knew he was gay when he was 12 years old, when he found himself different from others. But he is used to being different. He was born deaf. He couldn’t tell anybody about being gay at that time. “It was like being doubly disabled, and I was embarrassed to tell others about my gender identity.”