No heroes allowed here

No heroes allowed here

If only we had a Martin Luther King Jr, a Nelson Mandela, a Mahatma Gandhi or an Aung San Su Kyi. But even those individuals are imperfect and have their detractors.

However, at the very least, their messages are widely applauded, while they as messengers are admired by and large. They are viewed as heroes in their respective struggles for human rights and democracy. They live in history. Their deeds taught to school children. 

So here we are. Sometimes a solution is so simple, yet seemingly so impossible. 

In any society, at moments in history, a hero would come along. He or she would be far from perfect and have his or her detractors, but he or she would manage to form a bridge and get the message across. 

In the past, Thailand had such heroic messengers too -- Pridi Banomyong and Puey Ungpakorn are among them. Even if, in the end, they both passed away in exile, humbly, not in luxury, their messages remain with us to this day, and they as messengers are admired, even if not by all. 

But while they live in history, their stories are not taught to school children. They are people we rarely speak of. 

Disappeared: Porlajee "Billy" Rakchongcharoen (Bangkok Post file photo)

The issue isn’t why Thailand is lacking in heroes. Rather, it is how heroes are treated. Be that as it may, Pridi and Puey were national figures. What of the lesser known heroes, the ordinary people fighting for extraordinary causes? 

It was but a month  ago that Karen rights defender Porlajee ‘’Billy’’ Rakchongcharoen disappeared after he was arrested in Petchaburi's Kaeng Krachan by national park chief Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn. 

Here was a man fighting for the rights and livelihood of his people, who are mostly illiterate forest dwellers whose ancestors have been living in this land longer than most of us who called ourselves Thais. 

Billy has disappeared and Chaiwat is the one drinking wine and exchanging favours with powerful patrons and politicians. Here’s someone who’s an integral player in the web of the Thai patronage network. 

Hardcore devotees would throw in names like Thaksin Shinawatra, Jatuporn Prompan, Nattawut Saikuar and Arisman Pongruangrong and call them heroes. They would throw in names like Suthep Thaugsuban, Sondhi Limtongkul and Chamlong Srimuang and call them heroes. 

No, those people live well and are well-protected, integral members of their respective patronage networks playing the power game. Heroes don’t have powerful patrons or play the power game. 

Heroes don’t bomb, burn, siege, storm, corrupt, perform black magic rituals or paint someone’s house in blood using women's sanitary napkins.  

Muslim human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, murdered. Environmental activist Prajob Nao-opas, murdered. In fact, since 2001, more than 30 human rights defenders and environmental activists have been killed, according to Human Rights Watch. 

These are the names that won’t be in history books, not taught to school children and not even recognised by most Thais. Not to mention, no suspects have been prosecuted for their murders.

Of the international heroes mentioned at the beginning of the article, two were assassinated, one died of natural causes and one still fights on. All are widely celebrated. 

In Thailand, they are either made to disappear or die humbly in exile. Their deeds are not taught in schools. Their names are slowly forgotten, or barely known at all. 

This is the message this country sends to anyone who would dare be a hero.  

Voranai Vanijaka

Bangkok Post columnist

Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

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