'Rap nong' still too brutal

'Rap nong' still too brutal

Hazing. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Hazing. (Bangkok Post file photo)

It is hard to believe in this day and age that a university student could find his life snuffed out by a hazing prank, given the publicity surrounding such ceremonies and repeated efforts by universities to stamp out the violent and degrading treatment which is often involved.

Hazing rituals, known as rap nong in Thai, are an initiation rite for freshmen and have been a staple part of Thai university life for decades. So, too, have reports of such hazing ceremonies getting out of control with senior students taking it upon themselves to inflict cruel and unusual punishment on their young charges.

Many students resort to heavy handed pranks including physical attacks as part of the activity. Little surprise if the occasional "prank" goes wrong and results in serious injury or worse to the young freshmen who feel obliged to do as their seniors demand.

The tragic case of Veeraphan "Pleum" Tamklang, 22, a second-year student in civil engineering at Rajamangala University of Technology Tawan-ok's Uthenthawai campus shows that despite the public condemnation for hazing's excesses, the ritual is still alive and well.

His senseless death took place following a clandestine hazing ritual that a group senior students held at the campus late last month in which Pleum, as class leader, took part.

The university's CCTV footage captured the moment at 8pm on May 27 when Veeraphan entered the building with a friend; he was carried out of the building and taken to hospital an hour later. He died eight days later in hospital from severe concussion. Yesterday, 12 senior students went to his funeral asking his relatives for forgiveness.

Ironically, the students admitted they kicked Veeraphan as a penalty after he refused to share his views on hazing. All 12 students -- who are to be dismissed from the university and are likely to face police charges -- insisted they did not intend to do any harm.

This will not be the first time seniors have lost control of such an activity, and it is unlikely to be the last.

The challenge is how society should solve this problem. The public has rightly condemned their conduct, but in one sense the students are merely acting out what they have been taught.

Netizens have branded them as "killers" or even "murderers". Needless to say, the students' future looks dim. However, there is also a risk that once justice is served in this case, society will quickly forget -- until the next case comes along.

The students are a product of a culture of violence where a spartan bootcamp mentality prevails in various social institutions including military conscription and pi-nong relations between young men. Some Thais seem to think that meting out harsh treatment to one's juniors is part of a rite of passage to adulthood.

Of course, many senior students involved in inflicting sadistic hazing rites on their juniors were themselves once victims.

It is time the authorities, especially the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation that oversees universities, once again step in to take control. In 2019, the ministry asked universities to prevent violence in hazing. Obviously, that hasn't worked.

The ministry might also need to tackle the culture of violence which surrounds young men. It should promote alternative activities such as university sports and volunteer work as part of the rap nong experience.

Regardless of the crime they committed, the students are a product of our culture. Offering them a culture of peace, not just the usual condemnation and legal censure, is likely to show dividends in the long run.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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