Another life was needlessly and prematurely lost recently as a result of hazing at a technical college.
Veeraphan Tamklang, 22, a sophomore at Rajamangala University of Technology’s Uthenthawai Campus was pronounced dead two days after he was carried out of a college building on May 27. CCTV footage showed Veeraphan being carried out, appearing unconscious, not long after he entered the building.
While the investigation is ongoing as of press time, some senior students involved have already confessed to hazing the 22-year-old civil engineering student, the university administration says.
As many as 12 senior students are now believed to have been involved. The twelve attended the funeral rite of Veeraphan on Thursday and said they didn’t mean to kill the victim. Doctor ruled that the victim died of pulmonary embolism, although his family says Veeraphan was fit before he entered the building late last month on that fateful day.
Leaked social media chat among senior students showed that Veeraphan was a victim of hazing as a punishment for disobeying seniors that wasn’t supposed to have been fatal.
This perennial act of brutality, masquerading as a ‘proud tradition,’ will certainly claim more lives in the future. Beside more needless deaths, such practice inculcates deep-rooted autocratic culture and culture of violence. It is similar to hazing within the armed forces faced by some mandatory military conscripts, particularly in the army, where young people are coerced to follow instructions, not matter how senseless, or face corporal punishment, if not lynching.
What hope do we have for democratic culture in Thailand when what is nurtured is for people to obey without questions?
Democratic culture has to be nurtured and it cannot survive when many people prefer an autocratic culture which passes ‘tradition’ as necessary ‘discipline.’
Admittingly, Thai education system has made some improvement over the past few decades, making corporal punishment by school teachers unlawful. Four decades ago it was simply the norm and acceptable even at elite schools.
However, hazing and dictatorial initiation rites by senior college students continue unabated among some groups at some colleges and universities, while compulsory military conscriptions ensure that many young Thai male learn to obey orders without question.
Just opposing coup and military junta alone won’t ensure Thailand becomes democratic. Thailand needs a deliberate campaign to prevent young Thais from being propagated with autocratic culture through these groups and institutions. These people learn to obey or face brutal punishment. For Veeraphan, it costs him his life.
Some may say hazing and initiation rites bond members and enhance a sense of belonging. Yes, but if it’s done through coercion and violence. The price to be paid is not only unacceptable and breeds nepotism among members of a specific group on top of autocratic culture.
Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, the former junta leader and still prime minister, knows this all too well. He indirectly appointed virtually all the current members of the senate and in turn, relied on them to help select him after the 2019 elections to return as prime minister. Tell me this is not nepotism at its most shamelessness and look at yourself in the mirror.
If we cannot connect the dots and do something about these anti-democratic aspects of Thai culture, then there’s little hope to talk about genuine human rights and democracy.
Until these barbaric ‘traditions’ and practices are consigned to history, more young Thais will end up like Veeraphan and the hope of an equal and democratic Thai culture elusive. Elections alone are no guarantee for a democracy.
We need democratic culture as well.