A mum keeps the faith in a democratic Thailand
RAISING a child and doing part-time freelance work to make a living should occupy enough of Nuttaa Mahattana’s time. But this 39-year-old activist has shouldered an extra load: the call to help return the country to democracy.
“I know that we don’t get anything in return for now, but I can’t pretend as if nothing is happening,” Nuttaa said. “I just follow my passion. It makes me happy to think that my deeds can, more or less, call for justice for those with their rights infringed.”
Her usually soft-spoken voice became rousing when she shouted through speakers in pro-election rallies on January 27 and February 10 – incidents that resulted in her facing charges ranging from breaking the junta’s ban against political gatherings of five or more people and the public assembly bill, to sedition. If found guilty, she could face one to seven years in jail.
“Fight on, Khun Bow!” red-shirt supporters, using her nickname, cheered as Nuttaa went to the Constitutional Court office on Wednesday to file a petition asking for the junta’s ban to be reconsidered.
Nuttaa is a familiar face among the pro-democracy activists challenging the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which will have been in power for four years in May.
Her debut in the activists’ circle came shortly after the 2014 coup, when she played khim, or Thai cimbalom, in a busking project to raise funds for political prisoners.
In December 2016, she joined the campaign to free Jatupat Boonpattararaksa or Pai Dao Din, who was denied bail after he was detained on a lese majeste charge. The following April, she led a group of concerned citizens to file a petition to seek the lost plaque commemorating the 1932 Revolution.
These activities, along with movements by politicians, are often seen by the authorities as the work of an “anti-junta network” connected to one another with political backup and financiers.
Nuttaa shrugs this off, standing firm that she works independently. “We share similar ideologies, so our support for each other happens naturally,” she said.
She said that her observations of student activists showed that it was not expensive to run assemblies. All they need to pay for are transportation, documents, an Internet connection, speakers and rental costs. Fundraising and donations are often made on case-by-case basis.
“I assure you it’s cheaper than our cosmetics,” she said jokingly. “This can be the new ecosystem of the political movement: no large cash backup, no political powerhouse, no violence involved.”
Nuttaa’s interest in politics dates back to 2006 when Thailand saw a fresh political divide between pro- and anti-Thaksin Shinawatra groups that was consequently ended by a coup.
The divisions remained and there was another coup, with those coup leaders now ruling the country.
Nuttaa said that there was no time for her to hesitate in leaving her comfort zone.
She once held down a secure job as a corporate marketing director, but Nuttaa now contributes 40 per cent of her time to political activities, 30 per cent to raising her 10-year-old son, and the rest to freelance jobs as a special lecturer.
With more and more charges being levelled against activists, students and journalists, she has had to elevate her efforts in the journey towards democracy. She is positive that these efforts will yield fruit, because “society’s running out of patience with the junta”.
Being a teacher, the mother has started teaching her son, Neo, a basic concept of democracy. She once took Neo to military court in Khon Kaen to observe Jatupat’s case, allowing him to understand this side of his mother’s life.
Neo and other members of the new generation help her maintain the belief that there is hope as long as faith in justice is retained.
“I tell my son and students: if you believe in justice, you have to give your all to prove that this faith is fair,” she said.