The Thammasat University massacre of October 6, 1976, is perhaps the most savage example of state violence against pro-democracy protests in Thailand’s history. Along with Oct 14 1973, May 1992, and April-May 2010, the massacre, commonly known as “Oct 6,” is an integral part of the Thai state’s historical suppression of democratic voices.
In October 1976, students at Thammasat University were protesting the return of ousted dictator Thanom, who they had successfully exiled in 1973. Part of the protest involved a reenactment of the murder of two trade unionists by police that had occurred weeks earlier. According to ultra-royalist groups, such as the Red Gaurs and the Village Scouts, the actor resembled the Crown Prince, and the act was therefore deemed anti-monarchist. Armed and outraged ultra-royalist paramilitary groups and the Border Patrol Police surrounded the Thammasat campus area and attacked the students. The confined protesters were beaten, shot, raped, and lynched. According to official records, the massacre of students left 46 dead and 147 injured.
On Saturday, Thammasat University held an all-day event commemorating the 36th anniversary of the October 6th massacres. Along with political speeches, poem recitals, concerts, and remembrance events, Thammasat University hosted an academic panel that discussed political activism in Thailand since Oct 6. The speakers addressed the decline of student engagement in politics, and the need for greater tolerance to differing viewpoints in Thailand’s current political climate.
Panithan Prueksakasemsuk, the son of Red Shirt activist Somyot –who continues to wait in Bangkok Remand prison for the verdict in his lèse-majesté case—argued that the suppression of Oct 6 in Thailand’s collective memory has contributed to the current apathy amongst today’s younger generations.
His concern was echoed by a representative of the Student Organization of Thammasat University.
Students today don’t know much about the past…[they] aren’t involved in political movements. In the past, students were at the fore of political activism and progress.
The panel also discussed the prevalence of violence in Thai politics. For Dr. Suthachai Yimprasert of Chunalongkorn University, the use of violence is indicative of a social mentality that does not tolerate dissenting opinions.
Another panel speaker, the commissioner of information and witness investigator of Oct 6 warned that,
Ultra-royalism is just as dangerous as religious fundamentalism. It legitimizes violence against dissenters.
The panel also called for the abolishment of Lèse-majesté and the immediate release of political prisoners on the grounds that the system conflicts with the principles of liberal democracy.
Finally, they voiced concerns that the use of violence by the state and other actors will be normalized if perpetrators are not brought to justice.
Dr Suthachai said,
The Abhisit government could get away with killing civilians thanks to the support of the amaat. The ‘men in black’ narrative is a convenient fantasy meant to cover up state violence.
The commemorative event has a special significance to the Red Shirts. This violent response to a perceived threat to the monarchy in 1976 bore many similarities to the military crackdown of 2010.
According to Red Shirt leader Tida,
There are many parallels between the two events. The difference is that, instead of students and the middle class, the grassroots are now leading the fight for democracy against dictatorship.
The UDD hopes that students and the middle class will join the ranks of Red Shirt activists, many of whom were politically active in the 1970s. Democracy can only succeed if the coming generations understand its value and engage in its development.