More than 100 academics and activists throughout the country have issued a joint statement in support of an embattled lecturer in Isan, Thailand’s Northeast, who has received threats and online bullying after expressing her disapproval over hazing rituals.
On Friday, 28 August 2015, 120 academics and activists from various universities signed a joint-statement, urging Mahasarakham University to give protection to Lalita Hanwong, a History lecturer of the Faculty of Humanities of the university, after she was intimidated by many students for criticising hazing rituals, which is a part of the SOTUS (Seniority, Order, Tradition, Unity, and Spirit) culture common in many Thai universities.
Among the signatories are Kasien Tejapira, a renowned political science lecturer at Thammasat University, Shintaro Hara, a linguistics scholar at Prince of Songkla University in Pattani, and Angkhana Neelaphaijit, a renowned human rights defender.
On 24 August 2015, Lalita posted a message on her Facebook profile, criticising the hazing rituals of the College of Music of Mahasarakham University after she saw that the freshmen of the faculty were ordered to shave their heads and wear banners and funny clothes both in and outside the university.
“Just try and do research on it; if the students who were forced to go through these hazing rituals can study better or have more social life, you can shower me with complaints” wrote part of the message that she posted on Facebook.
After the message appeared, she was bullied with harsh online comments, mostly from students of the College of Music of Mahasarakham University. Some students even posted messages on social networks with pictures of weapons, threatening to kill or to rape her.
The conflict became publicised when the ANTI-SOTUS Facebook page shared information about the online threats against Lalita and issued a statement, saying that the pro-SOTUS students should be investigated and held responsible by the university.
There has been no statement from the rector or lecturers of the College of Music of the university. On the contrary, some lecturers reportedly supported the pro-SOTUS students.
In the letter of support to the embattled lecturer, the academics and activists stated that Mahasarakham University must ensure that the university is a venue where people can express opinions freely without fear of repercussions.
“As academics we stand for freedom to express one’s opinions freely and culturally in the universities which is instrumental to the generation of knowledge and personnel to serve society. We support the lecturer who has become the victim in this incident,” said the joint statement.
After facing threats and intimidation, Lalita said that she only wanted to encourage students and other people to think whether the hazing activists and SOTUS culture really created bonds within educational institutions.
“After my fellow student activists have all grown up, we still have good connections because we treated freshmen equally with reason and without force. Personally, I do not think that the SOTUS culture does foster love among any group better because I grew up without it and it proved that people love each other more voluntarily than by force,” Lalita told Prachatai.