A student walks past graffiti inspired by an iconic photograph of the October 6, 1976 Thammasat University massacre painted on a wall of the university in Bangkok yesterday.
Universities honour students who lost their lives protesting dictator’s return.
THE EVENTS surrounding the Thammasat University massacre on October 6, 1976 have never been recounted in detail. But there are signs that stories about the incident are becoming better known as the era of social media broadcasts the details to a wider audience and battles fading memories
Forty years have passed and the incident’s legacies now exist mostly as mere word-of-mouth. Pages of mainstream textbooks have dedicated few paragraphs to record what happened during the massacre.
Thousands of people, mostly university students, gathered inside Thammasat to protest against the return to Thailand from exile of former dictatorial prime minister, Field Marshall Thanom Kittikachorn.
The university was besieged by security forces and angry mobs as the protesters were accused of being communist sympathisers. According to official figures, 46 people were killed, 167 injured and some 3,000 arrested. But survivors of the massacre put the death toll at 100.
Events are to be held today at various universities to commemorate the incident.
Kasetsart University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Faculty of Social Science yesterday arranged a round-table discussion on what the university suffered during the massacre, how it is presented in textbooks and media, and a comparison with foreign incidents.
“The utmost lesson is how we should share sentiment toward humankind. Different opinions must not be legitimate reasons for killing,” said student organiser Chalermchai Vadjang. “The story was too tragic to many to remember.”
Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Political Science will today hold a discussion titled “The 40 Years of October 6: The New Generation’s Commemoration”. Panel speakers include authors, a TV host, student activist and a scientist who will talk on how they viewed the massacre through their lenses of their professions.
None of guest speakers would have been around in 1976 and student committee member Phichaphob Khempudsa explained that this is intentional.
“It will be easier for people to understand why learning the massacre is important when explained through angles of modern figures,” Phichaphob said. “One takeaway is how clashes of thoughts could expand on a deadly scale. This is what the young generation should be aware of.”
Thammasat University will also hold a series of commemorative events named “40 Years after October 6 massacre, is it all forgotten?” at its Tha Prachan campus, scene of the massacre. Activities, ranging from academic discussion, expressions of condolence, music performances, a movie festival and books will be available to visitors from today until Saturday.
The objective is to remind society that history should be observed from rounded aspects, said the event coordinator Sura Kaewkohsaha. “It’s quite certain that we would face this kind of incident again if we never get to learn about previous struggles,” Sura said.
“We also believe that people are not likely to kill others once they know who they are,” Sura continued. “That’s why we would also put emphasis on the lives of the massacre victims. We want to show that they are, just like us, humans. They are somebody and not nobody.”
Sura said that he continued to been encouraged by public acknowledgment of the massacre while admitting that many students nowadays know merely that “there were a lot of students dying on the day”.
“Social movement is vigorous today thanks to advanced technology,” he said “Especially under this questionable political situation.”
Thammasat University deputy rector Prinya Thaewanarumitkul said that the university has kept traditions of telling what happened in the bloody October incident to its freshmen through commemoration events and documentary and movie screening.
Admitting that memories on the 1976 incident were fading, Prinya pointed that young generations are not to be blamed.
“The pre-coup political crises proved that we all learned almost nothing from previous frictions,” he said “The massacre ended with no prosecution against any perpetrators. We should seriously learn that violence does not solve tangles, but ideologies equipped with an democratic approach do,”
Former Thammasat rector Charnvit Kasetsir said he had high hopes for today’s young people compared to those of former generations.
“Times change and so do people. Eventually, many in bureaucratic system chose to favour predominant sides for their own sakes,” Charnvit said.
“Some of them kept relating their biographies for years without signifying how the people of today can learn from them.”
Charnvit also praised the increasing role of social media as an alternative for curious students and the public to mainstream media.
“Today’s students may not gather in massive movements like those decades ago, due to less suppressing contexts,” he added. “But I’m glad to see a resemblance between the two in terms of ideology.”