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Lose an eye, lose a job

Santipong Inchan, 25, lost his right eye to a rubber bullet during the military crackdown at Khok Wua intersection on 10 April 2010.  He got a job as a news translator in December, but had to quit after three weeks because his remaining eye could not take it.

Santipong is the younger of his family’s two children.  His father works for a state enterprise and is close to retirement, and his mother is a housewife.  He had not long before graduated from the Faculty of Arts of Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai with a major in English.

Santipong at Testimonies of April - May Victims at Thammasat on 25 Sept 2010

He recounted that on that day, he and his parents were at home cooking food to be distributed free to the red shirts at the Phan Fa bridge, as they were sympathetic to their cause, and were closely watching the news on the internet.  They learned that the military were about to disperse the protesters. 

The family arrived at the rally site at about 2 pm.  His parents remained at the Democracy Monument.  Encouraged by announcements from the stage, Santipong went to help other protesters push against the military force at Khok Wua intersection. They thought that they would help add to the numbers of protesters in the hope of preventing the crackdown, and they would then go home like they had before.

He sat at the intersection where the protesters and the military troops formed lines facing each other.  Between them were the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority’s yellow metal fences and some space. At about 4-5 pm, canisters of tear gas were dropped from helicopters, dispersing both the protesters and the troops.  However, the protesters later regrouped and resumed their activities, singing and dancing.

After everybody stood up for the National Anthem at 6 pm, there were movements on the soldiers’ side.  Some red shirts went to ask the troops what was happening, and were told that the soldiers were just rotating their shifts.

Then the protesters placed a photograph of HM the King on a piece of white cloth in a bid to show their loyalty and their desire to have his protection.

At dusk, the troops started to move forward, despite the photograph, and some protesters had to run to recover it.

Urged by the red shirt leaders to push the troops back, Santipong was on the front line.  They pushed back and forth with the troops for quite a long time amidst the continuous sound of gunfire and explosions.

‘Then I was hit with tear gas, so I stepped back.  I washed my face with water, and when I was looking up, I was hit by a rubber bullet under my eye.  I asked for help and was taken by motorcycle for first aid at a medical tent, and was then in a Vachira Hospital ambulance to the hospital at about 8 pm.  I underwent an operation some time after 11 pm, as there were many injured persons and the operating room was too busy.’

He was given an anaesthetic.  When he woke up, he still had his eye, but his sight was gone.  According to the doctors, the eye was damaged; it would be left in place for 7 days in case it improved. 

It was eventually removed.

His mother told this reporter that if they could turn back the clock, they would not have gone on that day.  

‘It’s not worth it.  Even if we fought on, we wouldn’t get justice anyway.  I feel very sad at the state Thailand is in.

‘I don’t want my son to be any hero.  I’m not proud if anyone calls him a hero.  We went there because we saw that there were only ordinary people.  We’d go there at night to listen to the speeches, sitting on a mat on the tarmac which was as hot as a stove.  But they were all old people.  What were they sitting there for, if not for their ultimate aims.  I believe that.  Protesting is not easy.  So my family made food for them.

‘We went to call for democracy, but nothing has happened.  Even when many people have been killed, no one has ever come out to take responsibility or feel remorse.  They even blame the dead instead.  And those who survived have been hunted,’ his mother said.

After losing his eye, he had to keep using eye drops all the time.  He could not lift anything heavier than two kilograms and could not bend down lower than his waist, as the pressure would split the wound.  And he had to be careful not to let dust or water into the wound.

He received financial help of 15,000 baht from the Royal Household Bureau, and the operation to remove his eye was free.  He also got some donations toward an artificial eye, but they did not cover the cost of nearly a hundred thousand baht.

He had become quite accustomed to it when he got a job with a media outlet as a news translator.  He started work on 1 Dec.

Although he was excited and happy with his first job, his remaining left eye could not take the work as it requires looking at a computer screen for long periods of time. His eye went dry and his vision became blurred.

He put up with it for 20 days, but had to call it quits at the suggestion of a doctor who found that his problems resulted from excessive eye strain.  He was warned that if he continued, he might lose his remaining eye.

His employer offered to reduce his workload, but he turned the offer down as, he said, he did not want to take advantage of his colleagues and the company.  So he quit.

During the interview, he turned to pick up a glass of water to his right.  He missed it a few times.  He was always missing things and bumping into this and that while walking, but he was starting to get used to it.  He said that with his restricted vision he had to do everyday things more slowly.

‘Everything in my life has changed, but my ideology has never changed.  I remember well what they have done to me.  I’ve just lost one eye.  Many others were maimed or killed, but their families still fight on.  I’m also not giving up, as I still have one eye left.  I have to take good care of it to survive.’

With resignation he said that nowadays almost all jobs required computer work, so he did not have much choice other than running his own business where he does not have to sit in front of a computer screen for long periods.


Original reports by Chada Aiyakupt, Matichon