Din Daeng Intersection: a battlefield where people willing to take on the state

An interview with the page admin of ‘Thalugaz’ regarding the continuous clash with police at one of Bangkok's major intersections. They insist that they are within international framework of nonviolence while the violence comes from the provocations by Crowd Control Police.

A protester kics a tear gas canister at Din Daeng Intersection. (File photo)

For the past one month, confrontations between protestors and Crowd Control Police at the Din Daeng intersection have been occurring daily, even though the starting point was just a protest march to the residence of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, which is located in the 1st Infantry Regiment, to call for his resignation.

The confrontations lead to casualties and the confiscation of many protestors’ vehicles, as well as the arrest of protestors. As of 8 September 2021, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that the protest situation in August was intense, while arrests have occurred daily.

A crowd control police with his rubber bullet shotgun.

A total of almost 300 have been arrested and prosecuted just around the Din Daeng intersection and nearby, including repeated arrests. This started on 7 August and continued from there. The total of arrests is at least 225, with at least 15 aged under 15 years old, and at least 62 aged 15-18 years old.

In order to understand the group of protestors at the Din Daeng intersection, on 28 August, Prachatai contacted for an interview on Zoom the admin of the Thalugaz page, who is the founder of Thalugaz and is part of the coordination of protestors at Din Daeng.

Protesters at Din Daeng, raise the 3 finger salute while holding flares. (Credit: Nontawat Numbenchapol, Santitham Boonrasorn)

We asked about the formation of the group and the objectives of their approach, as well as their evaluation of the gains and losses so far from the protests at Din Daeng. 

This article was originally published in Thai on 8 Sep 2021.

Together for unity, not to be abandoned.

The Thalugaz page admin said that the group was founded on 20 August. Its objective is for the Din Daeng protestors to have unity. They didn’t want their comrades or allies in the protests to abandon them. They wanted people to accept their existence, to create legitimacy for them to express themselves in actions in this way.

Thalugaz protesters run away from tear gas at Din Daeng.

Another reason is because this mass of people as in the past, may not be counted, as other mobs may come out to declare that in terms of nonviolence they have nothing to do with this group’s actions, even though the actions of the Din Daeng protestors are within the international framework of nonviolence. It’s just that in Thailand there has not yet been concrete discussion about nonviolence as to what is violence, what is peace. 

The Thalugaz page admin revealed that honestly speaking, the Din Daeng intersection protests have not been worth the results, because the intention to confront the Crowd Control police – this is definitely not worth it. There are also youths among the protestors who are there only because they don’t have any social space to express themselves, since they were blocked from the mainstream protests because they are viewed people who use violence and so were denied being part of the united front.

It’s okay that the mainstream protests disagree with direct action, but they don’t want people to insult or condemn them, since it will give the state more power to crack down on them. Personally, the page admin had to say felt more than a little empathy about this since they had learned the lessons from the 2010 crackdown, which had employed nonviolent methods but was met with lethal weapons. 

Emphasis on survival, new government, vaccines, parents returning to work

Of course, this kind of protest has both gains and losses. For the good things about the Din Daeng protests, the page admin judged that one good thing was the exposure of state violence, with clear evidence that violence did not start with the protestors.

Protesters gather amidst what is believed to be tear gas and smoke flares. (Credit: Nontawat Numbenchapol, Santitham Boonrasorn)

For this they have to thank the mass media for their interest, and many people interested in the Din Daeng intersection protests. The page admin personally sees this as like Gandhi’s salt march, when he led protestors to be met with violence by state officials. This allowed outside society to know of the violence that happened.

This is the objective of rioting at Din Daeng. The admin thought that the negative results were, for example, getting arrested, bail money possibly forfeited, and criminal records – but it was all voluntary on the part of protestors. Thalugaz doesn’t want to interfere with the protestors’ decisions.  But because of their youth, some people may have joined just for fun and aren’t interested in the demands, or are just following what friends are doing. This is the more worrying issue.

From evaluating information from the frontline operations team, they found that most of the Din Daeng protestors really are marginalized people in urban society who have been impacted. 

“They don’t have demands like other protests, such as Prayut’s resignation, or a new constitution, etc. That’s not it at all. Their demands are for a new government, new administration, vaccines, and for their parents to return to work.

“These are survival issues of individuals; they are not issues that their group needs to socially crystallize from socio-political theories, but issues that they’re directly impacted by.”

The admin accepted that some of the protestors, who were a minority, really did carry guns, but they will have their own moral boundaries as to when to use them. The act of carrying guns among this group of people is the culture of their world view.

Protesters help each other to set off fireworks. (Credit: Nontawat Numbenchapol, Santitham Boonrasorn)

Carrying guns and bombs to intimidate or declare their power is like a rich person having a luxurious car or expensive watch. The page admin thinks that these are the same kinds of culture. But questions to the protestors through coordination with the operations team revealed that the protestors said that they would not use violence unless the crowd control police used violence first.

Also, the protestors accepted the issues that they (Thalugaz coordination group) proposed were related to an approach of responsive nonviolence. They are aware that the weapons that they use will lead to violence, and even to crimes that they are going to commit. The protestors themselves listen to this, because they are mostly people who have been to the main protest before and will already understand nonviolent approaches.

Violence started from the state

The Thalugaz admin talked about their perspective on violence. Violence depends on individual morality in defining violence in society. We have to accept that Thai people have been tamed for a long time.

When the lower class or us (protestors) stand up to fight back against the upper class, which is the state or the group that governs the people, most people will believe that protestors have no right to act that way because the state will fight back with more violence.

The truth is that’s not the point. The truth is that the violence which occurs does not come from the protestors’ side, but is provoked by the police.

For example, placing freight containers at the lines of confrontation or opening gaps in the line of containers to round up protestors, as well as using lethal weapons in violation of international principles of riot suppression. Rubber bullets are used to shoot at protestors at head-level or at close quarters.

Moves to suppress protests are made without prior warning. Since in the protest group there are also youths, it feels like gang fights. If you’re fair to us, we’re also fair to you. But if you play tricks, then we’re always ready to fight back. 

Personally, the admin thought that protestors are still within the framework of nonviolence, meaning they do not aim to hurt anyone or limit anyone’s rights or freedoms. They have not got together to go to policemen’s houses, there have been no guerrilla units. This opinion is not something Thalugaz defined themselves, but it is according to international principles of nonviolence.

(Credit: Nontawat Numbenchapol, Santitham Boonrasorn)

Until they were able to use the term responsive nonviolence, they spent quite a lot of time studying struggles from all over the world. Responsive nonviolence in protests has been steadily increasing. For example, throwing paint, burning pictures, and even burning police cars is still considered to be a nonviolent approach, since it is the destruction of symbols of authority. For example, if burning pictures, throwing paint and shooting fireworks at the police is violence, compare that to the case of road accidents where the chance of causing someone’s death increases every day.

These incidents are also violence, so why is it that people are still allowed to drive? But the violence that we are talking about is not determined by the people but determined by the state. Then the state instils these ideas through state organisations and authorities that have been oppressing us all our lives. 

“Violence is not designed from various events, but it is pre-determined what violence is and what nonviolence is. This causes the dividing line for nonviolence to be even lower. Additionally, people in society are used to being tame, which makes people say that nonviolence has to be like this, like that.”

A battlefield and a place where paople are ready to charge ahead and take on the state 

The Thalugaz admin continued that establishing Thalugaz was not only to create legitimacy for them (protestors at the Din Daeng intersection), but because they wanted to light up a topic and communicate the reasons why these protestors were dissatisfied. What were the reasons? And who are they, where are they from?

Protesters take a rest during a confrontation. (Credit: Nontawat Numbenchapol, Santitham Boonrasorn)

Since they are the urban poor and marginalized, it may be that they are from families who migrated from other provinces to work in Bangkok. It has to be accepted that Thailand has class barriers. The mainstream middle class is not very happy with the existence of teenage gangs and vocational college students. So neither side understands the other, or is connected to the other.

Each side holds onto the egos of their own personal morals. So when there is space at Din Daeng, it allows them to express their thoughts and shout out their frustrations to society and the mainstream protests that gave them hope, too. 

When asked about raising the level of confrontation, the Thalugaz admin said that the protests will continue at this level. There will definitely be no changes. Some of the protestors still place their hopes on the mainstream protests. They haven’t yet abandoned that approach, they still have faith in nonviolence and when they (Thalugaz) proposed responsive nonviolence, it allowed them to feel that they had space to express themselves.

They have accepted this, with Thalugaz taking the role of an independent mass movement that can join any group. 

“Thalugaz is not just the battlefield at Din Daeng, but is anyone who feels that they cannot take it any more and is ready to charge ahead and take on the state, as just a protestor, not with the responsibilities of being a guard or anything. This is one of the definitions of Thalugaz,” concluded the Thalugaz page admin. 

Thanarat Khiaolailoet was Prachatai's intern from Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University.

Source: 
https://prachatai.com/journal/2021/09/94905

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