Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul (aka Da Torpedo) is an ordinary citizen born into an impoverished Chinese family. Eager to learn new things, she managed to support herself through to a Master’s Degree. She is a straightforward, hard-headed personality who, because of hardship in her life, does not compromise on injustice. This has caused her problems all her life: she resigned from her second Master’s programme because of what she perceived as unfairness in the way the programme was being run; she quit her job as a journalist because she refused to write what the authorities told her to; she was put behind bars for her anti-coup activities; and she was targeted by the prison authorities for not agreeing with certain prison rules.
Drawing of Daranee by Wittawat Tongkaew
It may not be too much to call her a living history. Daranee was among the first group of people who came out to oppose the military dictatorship in 2006. She used up all her savings (after she had quit her journalist job) on anti-coup activities. Every day she would go on stage to give talks at rallies until late at night, especially on weekends, no matter how small the audience.
She kept learning and improving herself along the journey. Daranee is an avid reader, confirmed by the fact that she rented a 2-bedroom apartment: one room for the human, herself, and the other for her books, history and politics in particular. Still, she would not be known as a learner and instead her name is associated with labels and criminal cases.
It all started with a political crisis, when the unhealed wound of 1932 became severely inflamed. Realizing that the country was facing injustice, she sought conversations with other progressive individuals and academics, and expanded her horizon by attending public seminars and reading even more books. Several academics’ names were mentioned as having given light to her eyes. All of these provided her with the final yet crucial piece of the jigsaw – the role of the revered institution, the monarchy -- to complete Thailand’s political landscape.
Is this way of thinking and understanding about Thai politics so uncommon among many other Thais? The only difference may be that Daranee dares to raise questions, critical questions; something regarded as good practice by philosophy professors who generally encourage their students to do so. Daranee has been a fighter who dares to push the ceiling in the way revolutionaries create a legacy to pass onto the next generation.
We should bear in mind, too, that the post 2006-coup context differs from today. A lot of people were trying to push that ceiling – to speak about what could not be spoken. The thirst for knowledge was overwhelming. Many things were new to the people at that time. Some ceiling pushers made it. Some fell into the grounds of prisons. Some paid the price with their own living breath.
Daranee was the first brick to knock some sense into Thai people’s heads about the cruelty and backwardness of their own society. The expression of political views led to an 8-year sentence. Had her act occurred in a civic place where freedom of expression was upheld, she would have merely met with disagreement or social contempt. Sadly, that was not the case here.
What was taken out of her in all those 8 years, we do not know. What it means to have spent 8 years in prison might be beyond our imagination. When released from prison, one of the things Daranee learned was that mobile phones no longer had buttons. Calls are now answered by swiping. It took her a while to get accustomed to this new practice. It is a concrete example of the length of time involved.
Daranee left prison with no money left for her to start a new life. Many people do not know her. Some only remember her as a prisoner with a long sentence. Looking for a job has been a challenge because of her criminal record. She has been surviving by selling things at public events and through participating in political activism. Yes, one thing that has never changed is her interest and close observation of politics. She continues to ponder different activism strategies silently. How to improve the life and the living of grassroots people has always been her concern — as it was 8 years ago.
Due to her financial situation, Daranee didn’t get a health check-up on release. A malignant tumour, something she found while in her last years of imprisonment, was not diagnosed. It cannot be denied that this, coupled with poor prison conditions, stress and long-term consumption of painkillers, all contributed to her worsening health. Now, 3 years later, the symptoms of cancer have become apparent.
The pro-democracy fighter is still fighting, with one more battle to fight, which is that of her bodily pains. Medical treatment is going as slowly as the state welfare system allows. Putting the costs of medical treatment aside, there are still many other costs involved.
On the road to democracy, there are many people, not just Daranee, who pay a high cost for democracy. This is not a complaint nor a request for pity. It is the story of what is happening to a friend, a comrade, who is struggling, yet physically weary. It is an invitation for concerned individuals to express their solidarity so that Daranee can receive quality medical care and live a decent life, so that her remaining time can be spent on completing her book project, “The Last Stage of the Fight.”
With sincere gratitude and appreciation on behalf of Daranee.
From a friend.
Bank account details
Account name: Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul
Name of the bank: Kasikorn Bank, Thanon Padiphat Branch.
Account number and type: 016 - 3 - 38666 – 6. Savings account.