The beginning of the university year in Thailand is marked by reports of physical, mental and sexual abuse against freshman students during initiation activities. Violence during these hazing rituals has decreased thanks to pressure from the media and civil society organisations, but has yet to be entirely eliminated.
These days, freshman students are made to undergo callous activities and accept ‘Missions Impossible’ in order to be accepted by their seniors. Such activities include jumping into wastewater, countless push-ups and drinking loads of liquor. But some activities can be lethal and several students are reportedly injured every year.
One particularly shocking case
last week took place at Silpakorn University (SU)’s Faculty of Fine Arts. Various students reported to Anti-SOTUS, a network that campaigns against human rights violations in universities, that their seniors forced them to strip and touch each other’s genitals during an initiation ceremony.
Freshmen were awoken in middle of the night and ordered to take their clothes off, before closing their eyes and lining up for a group shower. Some of them were ordered to lie down and put their faces against the buttocks of other students, or to give handjobs to other students.
“When I was sleeping, they [the seniors] woke me up and started yelling. Then they ordered all the men to take all their clothes off. At that time, there were friends of mine there who are third gender. They had to do it too,” an unnamed student told media. “I was just too afraid to be embarrassed, because everyone else had to take everything off.”
Public outrage climbed even higher after lecturers and seniors not only admitted the allegations, but tried to defend them, claiming that these activities are good icebreakers that aim to create love and solidarity among new students.
“From the perspective of disliking [initiation activities] it is, ‘Hey, what right do we have to order them to strip? Can’t we just take a shower normally?’ But another perspective likes to think that we are coming to live together. When we do something, we do everything together. In this faculty, we always help each other. I say this was an initial icebreaker,” said Wattanan Phatlom
, a fourth year student.
“I admit that my faculty really had a naked group shower, but not in an indecent way. It’s like the military. I don’t see anyone condemning the military.” said Prakarn Jantaravichit, assistant to the Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty.
“We can’t make everyone happy. There will probably be someone who disagrees. Sometimes there’s no violence but they will disagree anyway,” said Yanawit Kunchaethong, Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty.
After these attempts to defend the university’s traditions met a backlash, SU on 21 September published a statement
urging all students and lecturers to stop giving interviews on the issue in order to avoid further misunderstanding and humiliation. The statement also urged all faculties to immediately end all initiation activities.
While the Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar face a humanitarian crisis, Islamophobia in Thailand is also growing. Due to the restive Deep South conflict, Islam has been identified by some as a threat to national sovereignty and Buddhism. The climate of hatred reached a point last week where the authorities decided to step in.
On 19 September, security officers arrested Aphichat Promjan at a temple in southern Songkhla Province and took him to the Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police in Bangkok for interrogation.
Aphichat was a radical anti-Muslim Buddhist monk known for encouraging violence against Muslims, especially in the far southern provinces. He made headlines after he proposed on his Facebook account that the government burn a mosque for each Buddhist monk killed in the restive Deep South. He also idolized Ashin Wirathu, a Burmese monk who has called for a purge of the Rohingya.
“Have you ever seen a Buddhist monk teach how to make bombs? Have you ever seen a Buddhist monk teach how to set fires? Have you ever seen a Buddhist monk teach how to make a car bomb? All these traits exist only in those who believe in Islam. Examples can be seen every day. Don’t you see them in the three Deep South provinces?” said
Nonetheless, the arrest of Apichat was seen as problematic by human rights organizations. After the arrest, the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) and other civil society organisations working in the predominantly Muslim Deep South issued a statement
calling for the authorities to release Aphichat, saying that the arrest could exacerbate the situation.