Friday, September 10, 2010

Thailand’s deep South is becoming a camp for social outcasts

The idea of sending violent students to the South for 're-education' is nothing new; we've been sending problem people there for decades

If Education Minister Chinnaworn Boonyakiat is to be believed, then our education planners and the system that they built are in serious trouble and there is urgent need for an overhaul in terms of mindset and approach.

Chinnaworn has also said that the idea of sending violence-prone students to the deep South, where the ongoing insurgency has claimed more than 4,200 lives since January 2004, has been overwhelmingly welcomed by the country's education planners and officials. It is generally assumed that if these students are exposed to "hardship", perhaps they will learn to appreciate the things they already have, and decide to make the best of their lives rather than fight with other students simply because they come from another educational institution.

On the surface, the idea doesn't sound bad, although no one wants to admit that there may be some degree of satisfaction given the "payback" nature of it all. But such an assumption is based on the wrong premise. Moreover, it would be a grave mistake to assume that violence in the deep South is the same as everywhere else in the country.

Although the Thai state has found it difficult to come to terms with its unpopularity in the deep South, the ongoing violence there stems from a century-old disenchantment that is deep rooted in the Malay people in the southernmost provinces following the annexation of the region by Siam over a century ago. Essentially, the conflict is rooted in Thai nation-state building and the legitimacy of the state in the Malay historical homeland.

The problem with violence-prone students who embrace gang mentality and are willing to take the lives of students from other institutions is social in nature. One can blame bad upbringing, an uncaring home and school environment, lack of self-esteem or confidence, not to mention unrewarding career prospects upon graduation.
This doesn't mean the problem with these kids is simpler than the problem in the deep South. While one is social in nature, the other is political.

It seems that these points have not been understood in the debate among our educators, who appear to be ready to send troubled, violent young men from Bangkok's rough and tough technical schools to the troubled and violent deep South. Can these educators explain the kind of benefits these kids might gain from being sent to the Malay-speaking South as opposed to, say, the Northeast?

Also, has anybody bothered to ask people in the deep South how they feel about this?
According to the educators, the idea is to place these students in the care of soldiers serving in the deep South. But given the kind of professionalism displayed by our men in uniform, one wonders if such exposure would benefit the students at all. Perhaps they could pick up tips on how to abuse or even torture insurgent suspects or, in their case, students from a rival school.

Perhaps they will learn to become patriotic. After all, this is what the Thai authorities are trying to instill in the Malay people in the South: Be patriotic, obedient and don't make any trouble for the state. Learn to be grateful for what the state gives you, and forget about your own history, identity and culture. You are now part of Thailand. Learn to live here because you are a defeated people. And by the way, here are some problematic young men from Bangkok. Make them feel welcome.

It seems that the deep South has become a dumping ground for Thailand's problem people. From landless veterans and poor farmers to corrupt cops and government officials, the deep South is their last stop. Sending students from trouble-plagued schools in Bangkok is just the latest idea in this long-standing tradition. Who will be next on the list of social and political undesirables to be sent into exile in South? The Nation Bangkok

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