A grim outlook for the deep South from a reporter’s perspective
Nation Television reporter Sathien Viriyapanpongsa spent his childhood in Pattani. Of late, he wrote a commentary offering his perspective on the unrest situation which has beset the region for nine years since January 2004 with no end in sight.
The followings are excerpts of his commentary:
Since 1957, January 16 of every year has been designated as Teacher’s Day in order to commemorate teachers for their pivotal role in educating students so that they will become law-abiding citizens in the future.
Teacher’s Day in 2013 should have a profound meaning because throughout the preceding year several teachers fell victim to the violence in the deep South. Teachers have been seen as the weakest victim similar to “a lamb in the middle of the fire”.
For the past nine years, a total of 158 teachers have been killed with the latest victim, Mr Chonlathee Charoenchon, a Muslim teacher of Ban Tanyong school in Narathiwat’s Bacho district, shot dead at the school’s canteen on January 23.
Security has been beefed up with security forces assigned to provide around-the-clock security to teachers. High-risk allowances and fringe benefits have been promised to teachers to encourage them to stay on in the region rather than moving out to safer places outside the region. Of course, these measures will boost the morale of the teachers and students alike. But the problem has gone far beyond that point.
The killings of teachers are not just a desperate attempt of the Muslim extremists to survive or an attempt to create a situation as claimed by the authorities. Instead, the main objective of the killings of teachers is to divide the Thai Buddhists and the Malay Muslims, to sow the seed of mutual distrust and religious conflict between the two peoples.
It is noteworthy that most of the victims were teachers of state-run schools which normally accommodate students of both religious faiths. But when a teacher of the school was shot dead, what usually followed was the concern among parents of the Muslim students that their children might get hurt which eventually led to the decisions by the parents to move their children out of the state-run school and put them into private religious schools.
It is indeed shocking that the number of Muslim students in state-run schools is fast declining while, on the contrary, the number of students in private-run religious schools is steadily increasing.
If the unrest situation persists, mutual distrust between peoples of the two religious faiths will widen with the undesirable effect – that is Thai Buddhist and Malay Muslim students will stay separately in different schools. Hence, the bondage and friendship that used to exist between the two groups of students will gradually disappear and finally they will turn their backs against one another.
As I grew up in Pattani during my childhood some 20-30 years ago, I dare say that there was no gap between Thai Buddhist and Malay Muslim students. None of us would say I am Buddhist and your are Muslim and we could not live together in peace. Like children in other parts of the country, they played together and lived together regardless of their differing religious faiths. There was no religious boundary which separated the two groups of children. This land was our land – not your land or my land.
We had mutual respect with one another without anyone telling us because we were friends. The big word which is difficult to understand such as “identity” could be made easier to understand if the Thai Buddhists and Malay Muslims were friends since their childhood.
It does not matter what is the meaning of “identity” as what really matters is we are friends. This is the starting point of peace and harmony.
Is such atmosphere of friendship, peace and harmony still exist today? The sad truth is that the region is under an atmosphere of fear and mutual distrust. Children of the two religious faiths are studying in separate schools and have turned their backs against one another. They seem to live in two different worlds with no more room for friendship.
Imagine what will happen ten years from now when the children of this generation grow up. Although the southern region is not physically separated, the peoples are already divided.
We may praise teachers on Teacher’s Day or show our condolence to families of the fallen teachers on the same occasion. But the loss of one teacher should serve us a reminder that it means the division of people sharing the same land.
Note : Translated from "ครูตาย แผ่นดินแตก" เมื่อสายสัมพันธ์พุทธ-มุสลิมกำลังกลายเป็นอดีต By Sathien Viriyapanpongsa