Thammasat University massacre remembered

On the occasion of the 44th anniversary of the 6 October 1976 Thammasat University massacre, a three-day event was held at Thammasat University, including a series of panel discussions, concerts, and a pop-up museum.

The Red Gate seen through the augmented reality application at the pop-up museum. 

Organised by the October 6 Museum project and titled “Hanged” (“แขวน”), the ‘on-site museum’ is currently housed in Thammasat University’s main auditorium at the Tha Pra Chan campus and uses augmented reality technology to present the story of what happened on the morning of 6 October 1976 through the use of superimposed photographs and sound clips.

Situated at the door to the auditorium and the starting point of the exhibition is the ‘Red Gate,’ a rusty metal gate upon which Chumporn Thummai and Vichai Kaetsripongsa were found hanged on 24 September 1976, after they had been putting up posters protesting the return of Thanom Kittikachorn to Thailand.

Flowers left at the Red Gate, which mark the starting point of the exhibition. 

The gate was retrieved from its original location in Nakhon Pathom by a group of academics and activists from the Documentation of Oct 6 Project in July 2019 and has been kept in a warehouse for the purpose of becoming part of an exhibition on state violence and the 6 October massacre.

“The meaning of a museum has changed from the past. The first year after we got the gate, we just did a simple exhibition, but this year we have improved. A museum as we understand it is story telling. Whether we have a place or not is not the point. We start from telling one story and then slowly link it to many other stories on a scale we can manage. Actually, from the hanging, we can link it to many other things. The simple question is who did it, what happened, and so on,” said architect Benjamas Winitchakul, a member of the team behind the exhibition.

“The gate in itself, its meaning is a perfect fit. It is the opening, the start of the story. The story of the electricians being hanged came first, and then other events followed.”

The team behind the exhibition, from left: Thanapol Eiwsakul, Pattaraporn Phuthong, Benjamas Winitchakul, and Priyakorn Pusawiro. 

Using a tablet provided at the exhibition, visitors can see a photograph of the bodies of Chumporn and Vichai hanging from the gate. Inside the auditorium foyer, visitors can also use tablets to see photographs of the massacre superimposed onto a large banner of Sanam Luang, as well as a view of the university football field and Sanam Luang outside of the auditorium windows, while hearing a sound clip of a radio broadcast from the day saying that those killed were Vietnamese, a message which was used to demonize the students and justify their murder. They can also scan a number of QR codes printed next to the names of a number of known victims to read about them. 

Priyakorn Pusawiro from the Computer Engineering Department at the King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi led a team from Digital Picnic in creating the augmented reality images for the exhibition. She explained that this is a site with a history of violence, and that they wanted society to see that this is a fact that happened at the time, so they use real photographs and the actual location combined with augmented reality technology. She also mentioned that they might turn the exhibition into an application in the future.

A crowd gathering at around 18.00 on Tuesday (6 October) to listen to researcher Wattanachai Winichakul give a guided tour of the exhibition. Wattanachai's older brother, historian Thongchai Winichakul, was one of the leaders of the student protest in 1976.

“You can never erase images of the past and images of the truth. We just used technology to augment it for the younger generation to see the history of 6 October which was never included in textbooks, but it is here, and it will inspire them to find out more,” said Priyakorn.

“Museum is translation, an exhibition of knowledge. It doesn’t tell anyone what to believe, but museums play a role in presenting the truth and letting the audience interpret it according to their beliefs as well, not forcing knowledge on them. We focus on the fact which is access through seeing. It’s a fact without any emotion. It’s an experience-based lesson by bringing back the past, and hoping that it will be an inspiration for young people to find out more.”

A loudspeaker used by the students, riddled with bullet holes after the events of the morning of 6 October 1976.

The museum also includes an exhibition of some belongings of victims of the massacre, such as school uniforms belonging to Jarupong Thongsin, a pair of jeans belonging to Danaisak Eiam-khong and a page from his father’s diary detailing the day the family was informed of Danaisak’s death, as well as a loudspeaker the students were using on the day, which is riddled with bullet holes. Meanwhile, the names of those killed during the massacre are read out from a speaker near these objects.

A copy of the Daily News from 7 October 1976, containing pictures of the massacre, is on display at the exhibition. 

Between 4 – 6 October 2020, there was a series of panel discussions about political issues in Thailand, film screenings, stage plays, as well as concerts by Rap Against Dictatorship and the Commoner Band. During the evening, a candlelit vigil was held at the 6 October 1976 memorial sculpture next to the auditorium building, where visitors to the event are invited to light candles and place flowers in memory of the victims of the massacre.

The exhibition will be at the main auditorium until 11 October and is open between 10.00 – 20.00 each day.

Visitors lighting candles at the 6 October 1976 memorial sculpture.

Meanwhile, at Chulalongkorn University, the Faculty of Political Science Student Committee also organized a memorial event, including an opening ceremony for the Wichitchai Amornkul and Dr Boonsanong Boonyothayan Meeting Room, named after two alumni of the Faculty who were killed during the events leading up to and on 6 October 1976. 

Gallery

Flowers placed at the 6 October 1976 memorial sculpture in memory of the victims of the massacre

Wreaths placed at the 6 October 1976 memorial sculpture from various student groups and political parties

The diary of Danaisak Eiam-khong's father, opened at a page containing the detail about the day the family was informed of Danaisak's death.

The Commoner Band performed at the Sri Burapha Auditorium.

A panel discussion on Thai politics in the view of the younger generation. 

Student protest leader Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul lighting the first candle during the candlelight vigil for the victims of the massacre. 

Flowers and candles were placed at the 6 October 1976 memorial sculpture during the candlelight vigil which marked the conclusion of the three-day memorial event.