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Friday, July 01, 2011
Stop the hazing
Lying face down en masse in the scorching sun.
Crawling on one's abdomen. Running until one vomits. Shouting at the top
of one's voice for hours to declare love and loyalty to one's
Like their predecessors, the first-year students at Maha Sarakham
University this year had to undergo the same grueling "cheering"
sessions and severe military-like exercises in the heat till many of
Like at most universities in Thailand, they had to go through the
same hazing rituals that supporters hail as an effective rite of passage
to foster group unity, while opponents condemn it as systematic
dehumanisation to sustain militarism. Fear of ostracism has effectively
kept the students quiet over the years. Not this year, however.
Amid popular discontent and the itch for change that is sweeping the
country, a group of Maha Sarakham students felt emboldened enough to
question the abusive hazing system.
"But this has been our institution's tradition for the past 40 years
and we're not going to stop it," the hazing leader declared angrily when
their ritual was interrupted by a group of students holding placards
shouting, "Stop dictatorship."
"You're challenging our power," he roared, and told his team to snap
pictures of the dissenters so "they can leave the system in a 'soft'
manner". He also accused them of lacking pride in their institution and
told them to go study elsewhere.
It is chilling. No, not the abuse of power of the hazing team. That
is only ugly. What is chilling is the cheering from the freshmen's
crowd. Despite the abuse, the humiliation, they still subscribe to the
authoritarian system and want it to continue.
As I watched the YouTube clip of the incident which has stirred
public debate about hazing, I felt like I was watching the origins of
our own political mess. Our politicians are corrupt and hopeless, yes.
But is it the only reason why we are trapped in political violence? Is
it because we cannot undo the fierce authoritanism that permeates every
atom of our society, including ourselves?
Look how we line up our kindergarten toddlers and tell them to turn left and right like soldiers before class.
In primary and high school, look how teachers strictly monitor the
length of the students' hair as if it was a matter of life and death.
Like in the military, obedience is drilled into our kids as the golden
value to make it in society. Thinking differently is not only
discouraged, it is condemned as a challenge to authority.
School is then where the children's questioning mind and creativity are systematically killed.
It is also where militarism is drilled into our psyche since
childhood. The same for the deeply entrenched belief that we have to
conform, to be part of the group, in order to survive and succeed.
Despite its abusive nature, it is difficult to fight the hazing
system because it also rewards the conformed with a sense of belonging,
and a chance to use that power, too, when their time comes.
The young dissenters at Maha Sarakham University know what they are
up against. They have made it clear, therefore, that they are not after
the discontinuation of the rab nong initiation rites, but to free them
from the spirit of "dictatorship" and replace it with that of
participation and social service.
Working together for a good cause is a powerful bonding ground too,
they argued. Their petition has received wide external support. But
could it bring about any change in their university?
Maha Sarakham University rector Supachai Samappito reportedly said in
an interview that Thailand would be in a bad shape if the roon-pi
roon-nong seniority culture that fosters bonding and instils a love for
one's university were to come to an end.
Would it, really?
Hazing feeds on the belief that the use of violence is okay if leads
to submission and order. Don't be surprised then, that it will be
"business as usual" next year at Maha Sarakham.With politics heating up
to near bursting point, don't be surprised either, if we see tanks
rolling out onto the streets again.
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