“What is your relation to Supot Jaengrew?”
“He is my grandfather.”
I asked the question after I called out the names of the students in my third-year Contemporary Thai History class. A loud voice answered from the back of the classroom. It was the first time that I had taught and that was the first moment that I met Lukkate, or Chonthira Jaengrew. She is a very slender young woman with a high voice who wears large, round glasses. She is the only woman among the fourteen students from the Neo Democracy movement who were arrested and imprisoned on 26 June 2015.
I asked her, “Do you know that your grandfather is an important intellectual?” She looked surprised and said that she did not.
Lukkate's answer indicated that until then, she was like any other third-year university student whose daily life was comprised of studying and getting together with friends. She was not at all interested in politics or political activism. I do not know whether what I did, telling her how important her grandfather is within Thai political history, was right or wrong. But it became a turning point in her life.
Lukkate came to class early the next week and told me that she had talked to her grandfather. He answered some of her questions but not others, and spoke briefly on some issues and went on for a long time about others. She told me that her grandfather had many books, and that she filched one to read. I took a glance at the book in her hands, Duay Rak Haeng Udomkan (A Love of Ideals), by Wat Wanlayangkul. I told her, “Hey! I adore that book. When I was studying at Ramkhamhaeng, I read it over and over again. Activist students liked to read it.” We chatted for a bit longer, and then she deserted me to go sit at the back of the classroom and I started the class.
Lukkate had another fifteen weeks, or one term, with me. After a bit, she began to change. She liked to raise questions about this and that in the classroom. She liked to read books and sometimes I saw her sitting and reading novels under the Srinakharinwirot University Social Sciences Building. Once it was Pisat (The Specter) and another time it was Fa Bo Kan (The Sky is No Barrier).
Most of Lukkate’s friends at university were fairly progressive. They were interested in politics and understood her, even though they did not always join her in political activism. But I recall one day when she and her friends awakened and organized a candlelight vigil at Srinakharinwirot University to oppose the violent political protest of the Peoples’ Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). Many people joined that vigil.
After that, an older friend that I respect called me and said that he wanted to invite the students from Srinakarinwirot University who organized the candlelight vigils to meet and share experiences with other student groups. I remember the day that Lukkate, Khao (a second-year student), and I went to join the meeting. It was late when the meeting was finished and Lukkate invited me to go eat dinner with her new activist friends from other universities. “Eh, you should all go,” I said. She smiled and raised her hands to wai me goodbye. Then she turned back to continue chatting and laughing cheerfully with her friends. I stood and watched until they disappeared into the shadows. A waft of cool air passed, and I felt a sense of hope.
From that day forward, Lukkate’s political activism continued to intensify. We still chatted, but less so than before. Then, on the day that she was arrested by soldiers when she ate sandwiches in opposition to the coup, she asked me to appear as her guardian. She did not want her parents to know what had happened.
In 2015, she was frequently missing from the classroom and doing activism instead. But she finished her studies. She took her final exam on 22 May and then, with no time to change out of her student uniform, she went to express resistance to the coup in front of the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center (BACC). This time though, a police notice was sent to her house and her parents severely reprimanded her.
She told me that, “Being arrested does not bother me at all. Being rebuked by my parents is far more upsetting.”
A few days later, she left home and went to stay with friends. She told me that on 24 June, the students planned to file a complaint at the Pathumwan police station against the police officers who used violence against them at the BACC. And then she and her friends really and truly did so.
On the evening of 26 June, I was out at a meeting outside Bangkok. Lukkate texted and asked me to call her and so I did. Her voice was cheerful and held not even a trace of fear. She asked me, “Do I have to go in person to receive my diploma? I want to quickly go get it and keep it with me.” I recommended this and that to her and we said goodbye. A few minutes after we hung up, she was arrested.
I no longer know what else to say at this moment other than:
“Release Lukkate and her friends! They have done nothing wrong!”
Translated by Tyrell Haberkorn.