In the earlier stage of outlining the project and collection of information, I intended this piece of work, called “The Silence of Southern Thai Women” to reflect the impact of violence upon women living in the southern border provinces of Thailand. After I had reviewed the data, I then realized that if I presented only the current situations, this piece of work would be just the same as other reports of daily situations in this consumerism society. The difference would only be that this work has been compiled and rearranged in a new form.
After I had a conversation with Adek Loh who worked as a wagon driver for a tour company, I immediately changed the outline of the paper. That is, when I happened to see his surname which was not the local language, I then decided to interview him about many topics. It was apparent that his father was an Isaan (people from northeastern Thailand) who Nikah (married) with a local Malay woman here. However, his father had learned the southern way of life, culture, tradition, and religious belief for a long time before marrying Adek’s mother. I was impressed by Adek’s question and admired his ability to learn from his life experiences when he said: “I don’t understand why there are so many critics who only analyze the Tak Bai and Krue Seh Incidents regarding the turmoil in southern Thailand. Don’t they know these are not the roots of the problem? I have not even finished M. 3 (Grade 9), I know it. So, what do you think about it, Kak?”
As I begin to explore the identity of southern people, it is inevitable to mention about ‘Adek’, ‘Kak’, ‘Mo’su’. ‘Mo’ji’, and others who have shared their feelings, opinions, perceptions, suggestions, and to explain the structure of their lives and of the communities which they live in at the present time. I first hesitated where to begin my story as my intention was to present to the public the reality of society as local people know it. It seems that the most important point is that their identity and the social realities are closely related.
Due to the above reason, and other reasons like the concept of othering, that is, the ‘us’ or ‘other’ division and (un) intentional social and political structure that have developed from the past till today made me decide to adjust my main points and presentation of this work. I would use less formal language and style as much as possible in order to be able to associate with the people’s way of life.
This work would not have been published without the encouragement from the Institute of Liberal Arts, Walailak University. I would like to express my thanks to Dr. Lertchai Sirichai for asking me to join this work; Assoc. Prof. Dr. Pimpawun Boonmongkon for their useful advices, and my colleagues at CHPS (Center for Health Policy Studies) for their concern for my safety. My thanks also go to Assist Prof. Arin Sa-idi from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Assist. Prof. Dr. Hasan Madmarn from the College of Islamic Studies, Ajarn Sakiroh Yaena from the Faculty of Communication Science, Prince of Songkla University, Pattani Campus and Dr. Gary Suwannarat for their amiable advice. I am very grateful to my research assistant, Mr. Mustafa Benharoon for his help, and my special thanks to the southern people who have shared their information, feelings, and opinions, which have all contributed to the completion of this project. I hope that this study will be of great benefit to the southern society of Thailand.
Lastly, I would like to give my thanks to my parents, and relatives in Phuket for their moral support and my praise to Allah for giving me an opportunity to do this work for my country, and to be able to complete it successfully.
Rusamelae, Pattani, December 2004
The Muslim provinces in Thailand’s Deep South
Since January 2004, various forms of media have portrayed the southern border provinces in a way that does not reflect the reality of the people’s way of life and society which is tightly bounded by religion and culture. The image presented to the public is that of rebellions, violence and terrorism. Though these areas are branded as dangerous places, the military is stationed in these provinces where the majority of the local people are culturally and religiously different.
I had an opportunity to have a conversation with a leader of the Peace Development Unit and his staff who were positioned at Kokpho Districit, Pattani. Before that, I had a talk with two sergeants at a private Islamic school within the same area. I didn’t have a chance to talk to other two sergeants, but merely made eye contact–one of them was sitting next to the military truck parked next to the school’s gate and the other sat at a distance of about five meters away from us. When I was visiting Babo’s 1 school and saw the principal almost finished talking to the two soldiers, I still was in conversation especially with the sergeant who was serious with his duty. After considering such a condition I planned to talk with him again later at his post.
The lessons I had learned from the conversations at the temples, schools, mosques and villages including traveling and collecting data at various places made me realize that the key objectives in this field operation and the ground information in understanding the local people’s way of life was still expressed within a discourse of otherness, ‘us’ and ‘other’. My question was then how could it be possible to overcome such a discourse since the soldiers had only a 2-day orientation about the local culture, religion and belief, before being sent to this region to carry out their duties for a year?
As for the community data base that the military men from other region have been using today, it is still limited within the concept of ‘national identity’ or ‘Thai-ness’. When the local people have different ways of life from the mainstream or are not familiar with Thai, the official language of instruction, they are put into a difficult and challenging situation by the question that is popularly asked among the people from advertising media, ‘Are you Thai?’
I would like to add that by being a Muslim woman who does not belong to this southern region helps me to see the society impartially, and with a broader perspective. That is, the cultural relativism and criticism which are mixed with the tradition outside the deep south may help to create a balance in depicting the society and in overcoming the discrepancies.
The Social Structure and Culture of the Deep South
I am not certain if the theory of ‘loose structure’ is applicable to Thai society in the southern border provinces of Thailand where the majority of people are predominantly Muslim, whose language for communication is Bahasa Malayu. They try to preserve their identity as the people of the Malay race. Whoever you are– young children, adolescents, working or elderly people both in urban and rural areas still adhere to their religion and culture. The majority of Muslim women wear Hijab 2 and Baju Kurung 3 while men have Nyagu 4 and wear Talo Blago or Tob 5 and Kapiyoh 6. Though some adolescents may feel embarrassed to wear the complete traditional dress because of its formality. This dress serves as a symbol of recognition that the person is Orae Nayu 7. Kecek Nayu, 8 is another example which identifies simply that a person comes from this region. However, if Malay speaks Thai or Kecek Sia 9with the local people from the same village, she/he will be criticized as arrogant. Any different cultural behaviors that spread into this region will be taken into thorough consideration before adapting as part of the local culture.
A man wears Talo Blago, while women wear Hijab
Therefore, to explain that Thai society is a loose structure can not be generalized with the version above that has been accepted for more that half of the century. At least, the examples of the people’s way of life which are easily noticed signify that this society has its own identity and is different from mainstream thought on ‘Thai-ness’. If this society, however, is generalized and explained according to the aforementioned theory, I still doubt what indicators can identify that this region shares a similarity with others in Thailand. Therefore, it should be known that their tradition, culture, and belief in this society have been passed on from generation to generation. An example is the marriage ceremony in which the bride and the bridegroom become royals sitting on the throne for one day. This is based on Java-Hindu marriage ceremony, and others influenced by the neighboring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and other Muslim countries. Based on the countries’ geographical areas, the ethnic relations, and the same shared belief are sufficient to explain that the deep south society is generally different from the rest of Thai society.
Assoc. Prof. Rattiya Saleh, an expert researcher studying the socio-culture in this region, explained that in order to understand the people and its environment regardless of its social structure and culture, one should not overlook its history. 10 Besides this respected guru or teacher, there are other local scholars who have long studied and known the history of this region including the interaction between people of different cultures. I was unable to bring the reader to details about its history, but I would like to pick up some views and facts that are related to the history in order to present a clearer picture of the society and its culture.
The relationship between culture and tradition always come together. What indicates the difference between one society from another is the ‘culture’, which has its own mechanism that ties people in the community together. The co-existence between people of different languages, races, and traditions, has not caused any group division and problems in this region. The following examples illustrate a good relationship of the people in this society and the interactions of cultures through contacts of Chinese, Buddhist and Muslim Thais that have remained until today.
“Adek-Adek magi masuk tengok kain muroh-muroh moleh-moleh ni.” – means “Come and take a look at these beautiful and cheap cloths.”. The above sentence belonged to the voice of ‘Apah’ (the informal term used to call a Chinese merchant) who was selling fabrics in his shop. He has been calling his clients in Malay for decades. Every time I come to Pattani to buy something and come across this ‘Apah’, I always receive the similar call. But, if people only see his back while he is calling his clients, they could understand and think that he is an ‘Abae’ 11 because of his local Malay accent. His clients are, of course, young Muslim women.
Khun Kru Tew is a local teacher who teaches social sciences and other subjects and is keen at passing on her knowledge and experiences to her students. She told me that she has been teaching at a public Pondok school for almost twenty years and also has a tea shop where many Thais Buddhists and Muslims come to drink. Nevertheless, being a teacher and a local resident in this place does not make Khun Kru Tew feel that Muslim students are outsiders. She added in her Southern dialect,
“During the Buddhist merit festivals in the past, we made sweets for Muslims and invited them to join us. When it came to Hari Raya (festive event at the end of Muslim fasting month), we went to their houses and were treated like members of the family. There were no discrepancies between us at all.”
After Khun Kru Tew finished talking, Mr. Wahab, the principal added that distrust and suspicions among people from various backgrounds and religions especially between the Buddhists and Muslims are increasing.
“A couple of days ago I went to buy something at Khun Kru Tew’s tea shop and saw people talking. As I entered the shop, the talks abruptly stopped. I really don’t know whether because of me or coincidentally the talks were about to come to an end”, he then turned his face and gave a smile to Khun Kru Tew.
The atmosphere of harmony among the local people of different cultures and ways of life in the communities which range from villages, markets, shops to student communities in schools and universities is slowly fading away due to the daily killing of monks, Muslim community leaders, teachers, and students. This has given a strong negative impact upon the innocent. The local Buddhist and Muslim students for example who used to engage in activities together, study in the same class together, and reside in the same dormitory are now divided and become suspicious of each other.
When I asked local people to identify the causes that make people distrust each other, many people said that it is derived from people’s desire to seek social and political power and benefits for themselves. The social, cultural and religious differences are not the real causes for all the tumult taken place in the south, but it has been made into the main factor for the unpeacefullness. Any characteristic that differs from the mainstream such as Bahasa Malayu and the regional educational institution such as Pondok are then seen as under standard, backward and unreliable. These differences clearly indicate the diversity of culture which makes people not belong to the same group with the mainstream.
Bringing forth the concept of mainstream culture formulated by the elites of central government which is limited in its explanation and lacks local participation leads to laxness in solving problems and unacceptance from the communities. The process of learning for the local people is closely associated with their way of life rather than copying or bringing foreign concept to change their identity. When a society is controlled under an autocratic rule, negotiations occur whether through political means, social reforms, and contesting culture sphere even through silent negotiation takes place like waves under water.
The important thought derived from the explanation of the social and cultural diversity from Toh Ayah, Siti, Po’ji, Po’su, Mo’ji, and Mo’su 12 is that the best solution is to go back to the root of beliefs. Many of them voiced that “we are made as men and women. We are born with differences and are from different races. However, the goal of these differences is for us to learn from one another.” 13 The prime concept, according to a middle-aged man referred to as Po’ji, is that “the problems will never be solved since nobody learned from each other”. The word “learn” according to one’s perception does not mean only ‘what to know’, but ‘how you know’ and ‘what to do next after you know.’ Mama 14, an administrator and activist, further explained that “if you want to do something for somebody, you have to sit in their mind.”
Revealing the marginalized people
Toh Ayah got off from his bicycle and headed towards the Masjid (mosque) on the opposite side in the village to perform his obligatory Friday prayer. His hazy eyes happened to see a big poster on the way saying “Terrorist Wanted” and walked closer to have a better look. Adek (young boy/girl) followed Toh Ayah and looked at the poster and conversed in the local Malay dialect about the person in the poster who has mustache, beard, and wears Kahpiyoh just like Toh Ayah, except that Toh Ayah is older than the person in the poster.
Toh Ayah with white Nyagu wears the Tob
Criticism of the governmental performances and dissatisfactions on the tumult including the posters wanting the so-called terrorists and rebels are seen throughout the town. However, the perception and reality toward such posters of the local people and governmental staff are different. The mainstream discourse views that, they are terrifying, and suspicion arises toward the people who still cling to their belief and tradition to the extent that they become stereotyped and marginalized. Besides this, terror arises and policies are propagated against those people who have similar appearance, dressing, belief and culture to Toh Ayah whose human rights and honor are violated.
Therefore, marginalization in this region is not only limited within its geographical locations and physical appearances, but also results from power relationships between the center and the people in the outer ring of that center who are rebelling to preserve their roles and identities. Marginalization in this context, therefore, does not mean the people who live at the country’s frontier, but the life of those marginalized men that I am trying to present to the reader is exactly located at the southern border of Thailand.
Many of Mama, Babo, and Budak Sekolah 15 told the stories of how they were being inspected at their dormitories and schools by the military men who claimed that their learning centers are suspiciously being used as ’ training headquarters for the rebels and a weapons depot.
“I asked a stupid question, “Is there any charge to inspect me?” He said no, but using the martial law as the reason. I would not have minded if they had entered the house with a polite manner, but they brought dogs and not even removed their shoes as they searched in the Masjids and bedrooms. They searched throughout the houses, Pondoks, terrifying the children and villagers at the same time. They surrounded us since three o’clock in the morning and eventually found nothing illegal. I asked him to write down the stuff that they confiscated. Babo invited the chief to have some tea at his house and asked why there are so many soldiers up to three hundred as if they had declared war upon us. He replied that his superior officer had got a report and if there is something wrong, they need to have enough men for back up. We were extremely upset for what they did because for all these years we have been maintaining good ties and cooperation with the government.” (The son of Babo, a private Islamic school in Pattani)
“Before the day of inspection, we found some foot prints of the military men at the school’s gate near the mango tree. The good thing was that the chief came to see Mama first and she requested them to come in half numbers, otherwise children would be terrified if they came in large numbers. Still, the children were extremely scared since three hundred came in. They searched everywhere and eventually found nothing. They even dug the holes where school girls hid their sanitary napkins with the belief that that was the place where the guns were hidden. Obviously, they criticized us for having stinky holes but it wasn’t our fault because ‘we didn’t ask them to dig there.’ We were also very upset with the media especially at one television channel reported that a sack of military guns was found outside the sign of our school name without interviewing us at all. We had no idea where that sack came from but this damaged the school’s reputation and importantly they didn’t even make any apology or amendments on that report (Mama, the manager of a private Islamic school in Narathiwat).”
“I am not afraid. We did not do anything wrong. Where should I move to live since my house is here? They really misunderstand us. Pondok is not the place that teaches only religion. We also learn many subjects of non-religious education system. I could be an electrical technician. There are also volunteers who teach computer and make batik clothes. They raise fish, birds, ducks, chickens, as well as do the gardening, plant rubber, and mushrooms. Mama teaches cooking and dress-making classes. In the evening, we learn Kitab. 16 So when can we have time to think about rebelling?” (A student from a Pondok Educational Institute in Yala)
The above saying reflects the feeling of suspicion, distrust and misunderstanding among the people of different cultures. There have been stories told about the violation of human rights e.g. entering a private room without removing one’s shoes which does not have much negative emotional impact on the Thai-Malay Muslims as much as bringing dogs to smell on one’s private and sacred areas. This is because Muslims believe that dogs and its saliva are Najis. 17 If we come into contact with it, the cleaning would be a big job to the extent that some Muslims are afraid of dogs while many others dislike it. I have seen children chasing away puppies when entering the village.
As for the opinions from the military men who are now seen as the outsiders in the eyes of the Thai-Malay Muslims majority, suspicion still exists. Here is a story told by a soldier:
“Many people ask me why I have to carry guns all the time as I visit villages or schools. They request us to take away the gun but I decline because we do not know where the bad guys are. We have to take guard of ourselves since our relatives, family, and children are waiting for us, especially now it’s quite difficult to do our job as things are getting more complex. The villagers are lying. They do not belong to our side and they do not speak Thai even though they live in Thailand.”
As for the governmental staff such as village chiefs, they feel uneasy in positioning themselves because they and the villagers are Thai Muslims descended from the same Malay race. At the same time, they have to work as civil-servants for the government and the Thai people. A senior villager said;
“It is actually not a complicated way to solve the problems. The authorities have to understand the cultural diversity and be sincere to find solutions. In the mean time, there are always problems in every direction that we turn to and we do not know from where we should start. Many of our chiefs have brought views and ideas from the local people to help solve the problems. However, I believe that those ideas and suggestions may have been stored in the drawer since I have never seen them being implemented. Today, we are like sitting on somebody’s big wastes. I’m just a small person whose wastes are very small.”
Uncle Ho originally came from the central part of Thailand. He no longer wished to migrate and intended to settle in Pattani because he has a grandchild now. (She has a Chinese look and fair skin) He opened a motorcycle repair shop with his son in the market and is now confident that he can support his family with ease after his retirement from the Department of Local Administration. Though, Uncle Ho is not from the southern region, he said that he would like to die here for he has a strong tie with this land.
“I wasn’t born here but I am already one of them. We have understood the problems since we worked here. But now, nothing can be done except having the sympathy towards the villagers especially those who live out of town. Giving out the origami birds on that day, there is nothing like kids playing cooking and selling. I don’t know what the government is doing in solving the problems here. They are solving problems in the wrong spot. Don’t you know that there were many drivers who hit children while they were collecting birds that were scattered on the road? In the past, we used to negotiate properly but now even diplomatic talks do not even exist. If violence still persists, certainly retaliation will be much worse because they have wives, kids and relatives. The newspapers! I won’t waste my money buying them, because I distrusted them many years ago. News on TV is just mundane. Well, the neighbors and the shop opposite my house are Muslims. We know each other well and never have any problems. But now people become suspicious of each other. If not necessary, we won’t talk about things that will cause troubles.”
Today’s present situation and atmosphere in the three southern border provinces are getting more ominous and causing a wider gap to the people of different cultures. This is because the military mechanism that is newly set up by the society causes polarization and the social facts of the situation is solely explained by the authorities who have social, economic, political and cultural powers. This has portrayed the southern image in a biased manner by denigrating local culture. The position that is locally structured and differs from the so-called universal culture reduces these marginalized people to a powerless state because such structure is not within the authoritative system.
Mama,Ming and a couple of female teachers have to help administer their private educational institution in replacement of Babo. Mama’s son and a village doctor were charged by a powerful nation’s intelligence agency as being members of a terrorist group that causes harm to society. Mama and Ming gave a remark amid the quiet and sad atmosphere of the Pondok that is left with only 55 students and a few teachers:
“Some journalists made false reports saying that our school has been deserted and ordered to be closed. Those who don’t know the truth just don’t libel us any further. If you want to speak or do something, you have to be sure that you know the actual truth; otherwise you are hurting others. However, some of them are nice. They helped provide something useful for the school when we told them what we needed. Later, some military men visited us to have some talks. That day, Ming saw a man standing on guard for his chief for a long time. He looked tired and sleepy, so Ming invited him to take a rest. Ming said she would take care of him and that he did not have to be worried. “This place is safe.” (Ming and Mama exchanged smiles.)
“Where is the justice?” is a question uttered in the universal language. It is sprayed in red on the zinc gate of the school as a symbol of the independent space to imply different explanation from the mainstream. It is also used as a means for negotiating and calling for justice in a state that marginalized people could ask for. Mama further explained that whoever remains alive must struggle for survival and fight side by side with those who are victimized by the authorities and must call for justice for the innocent and the institutions which are closely linked to the people in the community.
An English sentence is sprayed in red on the school’s gate
This school cannot continue its learning and teaching according to the educational structure designed by the central authorities because it does not meet with the community’s needs. Thus, the curriculum is then adjusted so that they can be used applicably to the present situation. Now this type of institution is recognized as ‘Mahavisshalai Rak Ya’ (the Grass Root University) whose curriculum is now combined with religious learning and teaching. Mama, Ming, and their fellow teachers including the villagers are also helping to run the school.
A board showing the programs in this academic year: Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine, English, and Accounting for Islamic Financial Institution Programs
Ming invited me to look at a wide empty field at the side of the school building and the flooded grass field. She said that people over here can not just wait for help.
“The empty field, apart from use for planting vegetables, pet fish, and children’s resting place, Ming would plant sugar cane with children for it can withstand drought and floods. People here must remain strong like the cane shoot. Regarding planting sugar cane, an instructor from PSU (Prince of Songkla University) did a research here and we learned how to plant it successfully. The profit we gain from selling sugar cane is spent for children’s food. No need to wait for the government’s help because we never know when we’ll get it. They keep saying that they have this and that amount for us, but we have never received it. Ming used to help coordinate with the villagers for a government project when the money was granted. But I got discredited after I realized that I had been cheated. Ming has had enough of this now.”
I would like to conclude about the lives of the marginalized people who are mostly Malay Muslims with Thai nationality that when considering present situation and their way of life, these reflected the static ways of the government thoughts especially in the field of education and development. This fact has been drawn from the valuable lessons the people learned in dealing with the management, protection, and problem solving which came from the insiders’ perspectives, Ming and Mama are representatives of women in the three southern provinces who have stood up to develop their home land amid the waves of violence.
There have been many lives of these marginalized people who have encountered with direct and structural violence that is similarly faced by other marginalized people in other Thai society. However, the southernmost people are facing problems that are more severe in terms of their cosmology which is different from the government’s. This has caused them to fight alone for a long time, to be expelled from their powerlessness in negotiation and they have been neglected by many governmental sectors. However, if those who have power have a new look at this area, southern border provinces, and view it practically as a potential region in mobilizing strength of the society and community. The interactions between the people despite their differences will be adjusted in accordance to the local cultural context and its specific condition. The main request local people make to the authorities is that at least the state and those who get involved in this region must not do anything that hurt them more than this.
What is underneath that cloth?
Many of my friends asked me why there were so very few voices of southern Muslim women in many literary works including research on Thai ethnicity. It is evident that the southern region is occupied by more than one million Muslims. Is the Muslim society reclusive or Muslim women are treated as properties of sharp-looking, long beard men? Do they prevent their women from exposing themselves in public and isolate them like many Muslim women who cover most of their bodies with their big cloak, or some who reveal only their big round eyes. This does not only look frightening, but also makes people curious to know what is hidden underneath that cloth. Many think that the cloth is something that limits Muslim women’s body, space and intelligence.
I told my friends what is underneath that cloth in terms of physical appearance is the same as what we actually see outside. Their stories and life experiences have similarities, differences, and varieties like women from different societies and cultures. Whether the cloth will have any significance on her physical body, space and reflect her gender as a Muslim woman or not depends on the explanations, values given, and meanings in respect to religious belief, culture and tradition. For example, a southern Muslim woman who conceals her body completely, and reveals only her beautiful eyes expresses her view:
“We have worn head scarves but what is underneath it (pointed toward her head) is not under the control. It is free to think and consider.”
This physical image becomes something that the outsiders consider as a representation of women’s attachment to her original tradition and culture. Using religion as a base explanation to give women’s position and fulfill the authoritative desire is thus bound to occur while the real cosmology indicates clearly that all men and women are equal. An Islamic teaching has warned me and children in the community to recite since childhood that “heaven lies under the foot of mother”, which reflects her important position indicating the great strength of human relationships.
Nevertheless, the structural relationship that exists in the present society makes many Mo’ji, Mo’su, Kak, and Adek take care of small children, do household chores, and work to support their family. At the same time, men are either enjoying riding motorcycles or congregating at a coffee shop having a local parliamentary debate on social, economic and political conditions of the country. Later, they invite each other to enjoy the pleasant sound of Caracatua birds, leaving other Kak and Mo’ji baby-sit their small children, cook food, do farming, plough their rice fields, and tap rubber without rest. And it seems that the so-called local parliamentary debate in a coffee shop becomes essential since it spreads to the public, becomes a formal activity, and more important than little voices of those Mo’ji.
Three years ago, Prof. Hisako Nakamura from Bunkyo University, Japan, conducted research together with three lecturers from PSU, Pattani regarding the social and religious values of southern Muslim women. The key point that I am going to bring up from these four researchers, apart from the images that have been portrayed about women taking care of their household chores and children is that all the tasks like doing the washing, cooking, and managing the house belonged to Orae Tino’s responsibility. They also worked outside their homes to help earn family income. Therefore, they had very little time for rest, religious study and other activities. The study encouraged men to take part in helping women do household chores in order to eliminate the mythical concept that the household job belongs to Orae Tino while administrative work belongs to Orae Nyate. I saw many young Muslim women work as experienced local politicians and superb local leaders. In the same time, there are some Muslim women groups established to empower their members and expand their roles in developing their local community.
Southern women’s economic, social and political participation is increasing especially in the economic sectors in which most women are involved in industrial investment. The study conducted by Assoc. Prof. Dolmanach Baka and the research team found that this transition would not have a major negative impact. Most Muslim businesswomen realized that working outside their homes helped improve their standard of living, reproductive health, and capacity to maintain their well-being. On the other hand, some villagers and Muslim scholars are worried about this transition. They thought it might weaken the Muslim community structure. So, women should work inside their homes and industrial work should be adjusted in a way that is appropriate to Muslim women’s condition.
The confrontation between the traditional way of life and modernity is inclined to cause struggle and negotiation. That is, a contesting discourse of capitalism that prioritizes money, and the explanations derived from suggestions on education and development to improve social, and economic systems, and even to improve women status, is a challenging issue for the society, because such changes are not familiar to the local people of the deep south. As a matter of fact, their past experiences in history and cultural domination are the local people’s lessons to be learned as examples for them to examine what is not within the original ideology, especially the concept of colonialism that is hidden under the shade of liberalism. These changes will be questioned and inspected by the society, even though some customs are not in accordance to Islamic cosmology.
Thus, the answer to my friends’ question of ‘what is hidden underneath that cloth?’ has no fixed equation. If we observe that the space covering man’s head with Kapiyoh is smaller than that of woman’s Hijab, it is not a key point for understanding or changing the perception of gender, or the gender relationships between Malay Muslim men and women. A confirmation from that pretty-eyed veiled woman is enough to explain the answer. However, the meanings, significances, and values given to what is underneath that cloth are important in defining social values and practices under cultural principles of patriarchy regarding to the perspectives of sexuality, procreation and reproduction. On the other hand, what is directly connected to life is made as important units of analysis in understanding and solving the problems of unpeacefulness in the three southern border provinces by analyzing the situation and then linking it to the complex culture, such as national security and assimilation.
At this time, the voices of Mo’ji, Kak, and Adek are becoming soft and almost fading away as the southern region of Siam is under the state control through the discursive practice in order to create the regime of truth and forming power relations with other areas. For this reason, probably most of the public truths presented by women are made inaudible. Their stories and experiences are also made invisible, without any gender sensitivity.
From my analysis, I believe that power relations between different spaces based on sexuality, gender, sexual behavior, ethnic relations and socio-economic and political conditions cannot be separated from one another. They have complex relations that link to one another as an important scholar of postmodernism viewed that the power relation is deeply rooted within the social structure. It is not repeatedly established beyond the society itself.
The points that I would like to present in this work are not limited only to the impacts of southern violence on women and children this year or during the period which I visited and spent almost four months by the end of this year here. But I refer to the violence that has been taking place for a long period of time in various forms. Actually, all the cases I have given do exist in flesh and blood. They are living human beings. However, in order to protect the rights, honor, fame, justice, and security of those who have been repeatedly victimized, and who have little voices that can not be heard in public or are afraid to be heard, I, therefore, give them pseudonym including Khun Kru Tew, Uncle Ho, Adek, Kak, and Mo’ji.
Decoding the secrets
Adek Nori is a tourist guide working in Pattani and Yala. She often shares her stories, especially about the Tak Bai Incident and the bomb placement in Yala, which were not far away from her office.
“Kak, do you know that a lot of people died here more than what was actually reported? But the news was censored. Nori doesn’t want to live here anymore. It’s very scary and I don’t know when I’ll get hit. After all, I live alone here.”
The stories told by Nori were filled with terror. She was concerned about her security and safety for she did not live with her parents but resided in a rented house that was near her office. She also often compares her present life to the time when she was studying and working in a neighboring country where social and economic development went together well with human development, focusing on morality and responsibility of the people.
Adek Nori often complains about her unproductive job due to the impacts of southern violence. The number of clients and tourists has declined drastically which decreases her extra income. Her financial source is usually derived from neighboring countries’ visitors who come to visit tourist attractions, including historical sites, villages, Pondoks, andother places. The southern tourist industry has linked between professions and the enhancement of the original southern culture, society, and community’s way of life. This is because Toh Guru or Babo, Mama, and students have opportunities to welcome state guests whose language and customs are not different from theirs. Besides, poor students also receive Sodokoh from these tourists. Despite the decreasing income from tourism, the state projects that bring southern students to fly on airplane to visit Bangkok, and other big cities in northern and northeastern regions together with other study tours or workshops outside the region have reduced Adek Nori’s complaints at a certain level.
Everybody has anxiety and fear towards the violence in the south. Though sister Jang is not of southern origin, her beauty parlor which has been open for almost three years is filled with a variety of clients including villagers, students, and workers. Sister Jang compared the present situation to the time when she and her family just moved in from Chantaburi province ten years ago:
“In the past, we lived so peacefully and worked with ease. Certainly, there was violence and killing which happened everywhere. But now, I don’t know why such problems occur often. My children haven’t gone to school for many days already. Everybody is affected. The south is not a pleasant place to live anymore. What about people over here, what can they do?”
Sister Jang’s last sentence was just a remark rather than a question to ask me because prior to this remark Sister Jang had already given the answer to this last question that the government must resolve the problems by peaceful means.
It appeared that the discussions in the women circle at Sister Jang’s parlor were not as heated as those in the local parliamentary debates in coffee shops. In fact, most of the discussions were related to the beauty parlor society’s fundamental principles in beautifying women. It was rare to find their normal talks not related to their beauty profession or to hear the impacts of the violence upon many village women. This is because they viewed such cases as something that should be handled by the government and the only place that would respond and accept the villagers’ comments is the local parliamentary debates in coffee shops.
I received a phone call very early one morning from Adek Nori. She seemed to have an exciting story to tell. Adek Nori recalled a violent incident she had witnessed in public with excitement:
“Kak, Nori saw a volunteer guard got killed in front my house. It was terrible! And guess what, the shooter wore a Da’wah cloth (headscarf) but didn’t look like a woman and a native from this region. That’s what I’ve heard from talks in the coffee shop. The shooter wore a headscarf sitting at the back of a motorcycle. Why did they have to do this? It was really scary! You must be careful, Kak. Don’t know anything too much. The scholars, researchers, human rights activists, NGOs and lawyers should be more careful!”
I asked Adek Nori why she particularly singled out these groups to be cautious. She said she heard people talking at the coffee shops about them. Such observation from Adek Nori’s has given me the image of the place and of the people taking part in giving comments and suggestions to solve the problem of violence in this region. These matters were not considered to be the responsibility of those who take care of the household, but of the administrators. Everybody has been affected by the southern incidents, especially the victims’ families. As for the groups that Adek Nori mentioned, many people think that their act is regarded as an act of balancing the state’s sole power that has existed in this region for a long time.
“This time they play hard. Dressed as women, veiling their faces. Actually, it did happen before, even though rarely so.”
Bae Ding shared his view above related to Adek Nori’s stories that the image of terrorists will not be limited to only Toh Ayah appearance in the future. Women who wear Hijab and adhere to their customs will be searched and investigated as are Muslim bearded men with Kapiyoh. Muslim feminine symbols will also be exploited as a tool to further create violent situations and distrust towards those who have a similar appearance as the terrorists.
The realities and tears
“When Bae Ding stopped at a check point, he was afraid even though he had not done anything wrong. If anyone wears a Kapiyoh, he will be thoroughly searched especially at the check point near the Kampong-Kampong, Women and children were very terrified. We told them as a precaution not to go anywhere alone, because it is dangerous and we do not know who is who. Five to ten or twelve years ago, things used to happen to women. They got raped. We knew who the culprits were, but we couldn’t do anything, because they were above the law. A couple of days ago, people in the village were telling a funny story about Orae Nayu and the inspectors at this check point. The local Muslims just came back from a wedding reception with their family. When they were asked where they came from, they answered, “just came back from ‘Kin Neaw’. The inspector became very furious, because he misunderstood thinking that he was being insulted by Orae Nayu. That inspector was from the northeastern part of Thailand, because he has the flat nose. (Bae Ding and a friend who joined in the conversation shared their smiles and laughed). Fortunately, another inspector who had lived in the area for a period of time walked in, and helped explain what this meant. The fact is that we, Orae Nayu can’t speak Fluent Thai, and some elderly people can’t even utter a word. This leads to miscommunication.”
Bae Ding’s stories reflect the misunderstandings leading to violent situations in the south including the roots of the problems and the consequences of solving the problems without a thorough examination. Even though this event occurred during a month of turmoil, BaeDing pointed out that when local Malays tell it, many can not resist smiling, laughing at the naïve answer. However, it insulted the soldier who was on duty in this region. The discursive practice in Thailand to other people comes through here by the image of Northeastern people relating to the sticky rice eaters who have flat noses. Similarly, whoever wears traditional dress, does not speak Thai fluently, or can’t speak Thai at all, and is an ustaz, has a tendency to be under suspicion and to be implied that he is a separatist rebel.
Stories relating to discrimination and group division play a significant role in presenting women as weak. The powers can control and exterminate those of different cultures by using ‘sex’ as a tool. The beginning part of Bae Ding’s story is clarified through Guru Mae’s narration:
“Incidents relating to this story were plenty but now there is less. If you take a walk somewhere outside the Kampong especially in … (a district in Yala Province), you may find some. Many of my students told about such incidents and asked for some advice for his relative who had experienced. He asked me if I could legally help them as I used to be a lawyer.”
After Guru Mae finished the story, he sat solemnly and said something further which was similar to Bae Ding’s statements:
“We have had painful experiences. We couldn’t do anything. Even Khun Somchai (Muslim lawyer) is missing. The senior chiefs won’t let their (Thai) institutions be affected.”
The bitterness of rape
Yoh was a Malay Muslim woman who was sexually assaulted at the beginning of this year. After Yoh and her female friend finished shopping at the night market, they both rode back to their homes on a Mutu Sika to prepare dinner. The distance between the market and their house was quite far. Though the road was small and dusty, people in this village including Yoh were familiar with it. When they arrived at the turn of the road in a rubber plantation, the light from their motorcycle shone and two men in uniform signaled them to stop. Yoh and her friend understood that they wanted to ask some questions. They were authorized in peacekeeping in this region. Yoh cooperated by parking her motorcycle. But, it turned out that she and her friend were kidnapped into the plantation and separated to different direction. They both struggled to escape from the physical subjugation but their crying for help went unheard because the incident that took place was far away from the villages.
“When we shouted for help, they slapped our faces. My friend spit at them, they punched her stomach – making her choke. Then they used plaster to shut our mouths. Now I could not hear my friend so I assumed we were separated to different directions. I thought that I could no longer escape and do anything. He dragged me further—quite far and I did not know the way because it was very dark. He stopped at a deserted hut then lifted me up. He did not say anything but immediately raped me. I begged him to stop, but he would not. He slappedand bit me, and it was very painful. Finally, he then tied my hands to a wooden log. Then he raped me again for the second time until he was satisfied. After that, he released me and said, ‘thanks sister, Malays are good.’”
Yoh continued with her story saying that she had lost her virginity against her wish that night. Until today, she still can not forget the pain and is always conscious of the incident of what she calls her sin.
The incident that happened to Yoh, her friend, and many other women is violence against women rooted in gender and power relations. Yoh and her friend whose sexual, physical and emotional rights were abused, were also affected by the structural violence. This is because the social structure has been associated with the people’s value system. In Yoh’s case, it is the value system that defines the loss of virginity before marriage as a sin. Yoh felt that she had committed a sin and lost her virginity.
The basic Muslim concept of sin is based on the principle that every human being is born innocent and sin-free. Everybody, however, must be responsible for their actions during their life and having pre-marital sex is considered as committing Zina or adultery. According to Yoh’s case, she did not intend to do wrong, but was forced. She is a victim of rape. When she went out shopping, she had no intention to commit Zina. Islam never sets a standard that distinguishes between a good woman and a bad woman based on virginity. The word ‘virginity’ is not specified within Islamic teaching, but serves as a message given to women and men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty. Yoh, thus, is not a bad woman or a sinner according to Islam.
Yoh’s community accused her of being incautious:
“Some people in the society refuse to understand me by saying that I was incautious for going out at night. I went out because of necessity. Normally, such incidents never occur.”
Assoc. Prof. Dr. Krittaya Archvanitkul explained that structural violence has no real ‘culprits’. It can be either an individual or an institution, and it originates from the structural violence that has existed in the society for a long time. This is why society does not regard it an issue of violence. Yoh’s sexual abuse is a subjugated painful sexual experience and that is direct violence. Meanwhile, issues of virginity and women living in certain space and time (incautious for going out at night) are structural violence. At the same time, dressing improperly, which is universally believed to be a cause of rape, is a myth of female body, for example. But in Yoh’ s case, this belief is not applicable because she and her friend were fully dressed, properly covered and they were also wearing the headscarves. The actual explanation to their situation is that women are often assaulted, victimized and sexually abused by men.
Rape and sexual abuse of women are often used as a tactic to terrify people and make the opponents mentally oppressed and embarrassed. Such tactic is used to satisfy the soldiers’ sexual desire and also a way to show men’s power during unpeaceful time. Besides this, raping women by the conqueror demonstrates his superior power, as Yoh explained:
“And (that man) said further, ‘go back and tell your bandit leader that if you shoot us, we will come back again.”
After Yoh was able to free herself from the rape with the loss of hope in finding her friend that night, she hurriedly went home crying and told about her nightmare to her parents. They consoled her, and tried to find ways to help her. However, it seemed that the voice of a rape victim who had been appealing through the judicial system for almost a year was in vain. Until today it was still left unheard. There was no news from her best friend or even any progress for her justice from the governmental sector. Today, Yoh resigned from her teaching career because of fear that she will be rejected from her institution if the truth is known.
Now, she has a small private business at home with her husband. She told me that she was lucky not to get an unwanted pregnancy and any sexually transmitted diseases. Her parents and family understood her and most importantly, they did not desert her. It took a long time for Yoh to recover from this incident. At this moment, she still lives in fear and suffers from a personality disorder.
The voice of Adek, Kak and Mo’ji
Mo’ji Yae is a sweet and calm woman. Though she has passed her retirement age, she has been the main financial supporter ever since her husband died. All of her four children live together in this old wooden house. Each of them works in the village by either being employed as a rubber tapper or a farmer. Mo’ji Yae said that everybody had to share their earned money to maintain the general expenses of the house and take care of the grandchildren. Though the sum of the total money earned in the family is almost the same as that of a government official’s salary at the bachelor’s degree level, Mo’ji was proud of her hard-working children who have never brought problems into the family. Mo’ji’s middle daughter is mentally unstable and does not work. She has five children who have not had a chance to study. Her eldest son works as a factory worker in town who comes back once a week and shares his money with Mo’ji and his younger sister and brothers. Her eldest daughter or Adek Ning whose age is about 12 years old talks very little but not to the extent that she hides herself or is afraid of outsiders. When I talked with her, she told me many stories. During the mid-day when the family members work outside the house, Adek Ning must take care of her mother and her three younger brothers. Though Adek Ning’s mother is mentally ill, she does not harm anybody. On the day that Mo’ji Yae or children’s Siti does not have to collect coconuts far from home, Siti quickly brings the coconuts back home and peels them under the stilted house so that she can help her granddaughter take care of her younger brothers.
Mo’ji Yae and Su, Mo’ji’s youngest daughter, described the conditions of Mae Song or the mother of Adek Ning in their Malay dialect mixed with a bit of Thai, which can be briefly translated as follows:
“She speaks without any sense and does not care about dressing. Just now, I told her to change but she refused. She is quite afraid of strangers. But with her children; she still knows them. With her family and neighbors, she is not afraid and doesn’t harm anybody. She has become like this ever since she had her third child. We took her to the doctor, but she still does not recover. Every time we go to the hospital, there is some expenditure since it is far away. The health officials used to visit here once in a while. Perhaps they are busy.”
“Imam, village chiefs, head of District Administration Organization-are all busy and none of them have come since her husband died. We just live like this. I feel pity for my grandsons who often ask for their father. Song doesn’t know anything but she looks gloomy though. She may understand to a certain degree, but like I said – people of her kind are just like this.”
Song’s husband was shot during the violence in the three southern border provinces in April this year. He came from the neighboring village, but located in a different district that is separated by a small road. They both had gone through Nikah ceremony according to religious principles by having local religious leaders, family, relatives, and villagers as their witnesses. However, both of them did not marry according to the state law, that is, their wedding was not registered. It was the husband who moved into the wife’s house, but his name is still in his previous house registration.
Both of their families’ financial status is not so different. Thus, the job in taking care of the rest of the family becomes Mo’ji Yae and Mae Song’s relatives’ burden. Su explained that everybody here understands well and does not ask for the brother-in-law’s family to help take care of the children. “We welcome any possible help that they can give us. Importantly, everybody at home has great love and a strong bond towards all the kids for they have been raised by us since they were babies.”
The chance to have access to information and news regarding the current situations of the country and civil rights especially family rights of the victim from the bloody Krue SehIncident and incidents of other places that happened on the same day is very little and varies. For the family of Mo’ji Yae, everybody knew that the father of her grandchildren had passed away and had been already buried. Nobody knew or even received the money that the government offered to the wife and children of the dead. However, nobody went to claim the rights for Adek-Adek and Mae Song. Su, Song’s sister, analyzed the situation:
“The government might have already sent the money, and it might have been delivered there (the house of the dead) because Abae’s name is not here. Perhaps they didn’t want to tell us or they didn’t know just like us and didn’t receive anything.”
I am not surprised to know that the people in this house do not have access to information and lack opportunities to call for their right and justice. That is because everybody leaves for work in the morning. Some come back for lunch and then go to work again from the afternoon till evening or till night time. Nobody keeps up with the news from radio or television because they truly have very basic necessities in the house. Nobody drinks tea in the coffee shop and talk about local situations. The village in this rural area does not have any beauty parlors and women activity programs. As I notice, most women in the community are housewives who take care of their children and do agricultural work on their piece of land. There are trucks coming to buy their agricultural products in front of their house. There is no collective activity of the village people and benefit negotiation with the middle-men traders. The meetings of women usually consist of relatives and a few friends. Most stories and discussions are about family and child problems. Men congregate during the Friday prayer at the Masjid. However, some work outside their village and do not attend the weekly meetings and thus lack information to pass on to women at home. Even the Masjid is not used according to its potential for the community benefit. This is because political matters are seen as worldly matters and if the community debates on politics and violence, they would be spied on. Even people living in the same village do not trust each other because they do not know “who spies for whom”.
When I asked the village chief why there were no public relations and dissemination of information about the local and government news in the village. At least there should have sound speakers from the community center or Masjid. The head of the community gave a depressing answer:
“We used to have sound speakers but they were destroyed. Children and I, and some assistants helped to fix it, but didn’t work. Everything is about money. Even the villagers do not love each other. They are not cooperative. Those who have power are politically abused. Whenever someone is in a high position, he will be in power. The opposite side with him will get assaulted. It is a pity that people in the same village disunite and have conflicts. In addition, the government lacks sincerity in solving the problems. They are even making money from the big budgets. Everybody knows it. The government budget hardly reaches us. However, the villagers are considerate. The Pondok’s Guru got some, but they don’t want to get involved in politics. They want to live in their own ways. We all live under fear and suspicions.”
After he finished speaking, the village chief then invited us to take a look at the bullet marks in front of his house. He left saying, “I have asked to resign many times, but the villagers and many senior citizens asked me to stay on. Whoever is in this position is all scared. Fortunately, I could manage to avoid the bullets safely.”
The loss of Ayah or beloved father of Adek Ning may have been seen by many people as the loss of an ordinary village man whose career was tapping rubber and who earned income for his family each day. He was not an important man in the community and did not have any social roles. He was recognized and believed by many people as part of the separatist rebellion. He was also believed to become a member of this ideological group because of deception and had to work for the ring leaders of the group. The more important reason is that he was poor and needed money to support his family. In the eyes of Adek Ning and her younger brothers, however, her father had always been important. According to the logic of rebellion, Adek Ning does not believe that her father was a terrorist despite some comments heard from her village members:
“He was a quiet man and worked on his own, never mingled with anybody. So, undoubtedly, people thought that he could be easily brainwashed and deceived to join the terrorists.”
Adek Ning does not argue with those people because they had their right to think so. However, she does not believe it as she has her own thoughts. Adek Ning expressed her views in her soft voice to let me know what she thinks in her mind in the Malay language and can be translated as follows:
“Dad was with us everyday. In the morning he tapped rubber. In the afternoon he went farming. I do not know why they shot Dad. He was kind. He got angry sometimes at younger brothers when they were naughty. He was also angry at Mom because she could not communicate with him. But I never saw him hit her. When Dad died, my brothers always cried asking for him. I also cried but now, I have stopped… I do not regret even though I do not study now. But, I want my brothers to study. I could read (books) some but don’t know difficult words. I can write but I am not good at it. Mo’ Suhas taught me.”
My colleagues who went to collect data with me really felt worried and shocked to know that children in this house did not attend school. Apparently, the government and Pondokschools are situated quite far away from the house. Su tries to teach her nephews to read and write to a certain level so that they can survive and would not be easily deceived by others. She has to work outside everyday. What worries us most is Adek Ning who is entering puberty. We are afraid that Adek Ning’ s limited knowledge, skills, and experiences would make her become another victim of direct violence. The structural violence that she and her family has experienced is severe for a little girl like Adek Ning to bear.
Women’s perspectives on violence
Wati and her husband just came back from hospital, where he was treated for injuries sustained during the Tak Bai incident. Her relatives, friends, and neighbors came to see the condition of her husband and interviewed him about the Tak Bai Incident with eagerness to know directly from the mouth of an insider rather than hearing from the governmental sector or national media. Wati’s small wooden house became smaller. The visitors were conversing on the porch of the house. Most of them were mainly men and elders of the community. Women sat inside the hall-like room with their children. Wati told us that on these days she had to receive guests who came to visit her husband. Actually, she had not had enough rest for the past ten days during her husband’s stay at the hospital due to her worry about his condition. She feared that if something happened to her husband, her children, including the new baby to be born in the next three months would be fatherless.
Wati was a healthy woman, aged 28, who could work at any types of job. She almost finished her Matayom Suksa 3 (Grade 9). Unfortunately, the family was facing a financial problem during the last semester of her study, and there was no one to take care of her younger brothers and sisters, so she had to quit school. Wati and her husband were distant relatives. They liked each other and their adults supported their relationship because her husband was a good and hard-working man even though he was not rich. She and her husband used to be employed in a neighboring country before her present pregnancy. Fearing that their children would not be able to study, they decided to come back to work in their hometown. When comparing the amount of salary earned from the neighboring country with that from her hometown, she admitted:
“The workload over there is about the same as here, but the income is tripled. We can live comfortably, and have no worry about shooting, being insulted and getting assaults from the governmental men. We were legal workers, so we were not afraid of anything. Many people here went to work there because there were no jobs at home. If there was one, the income was little – not enough to buy food. The government should be grateful to that country that helps our people earn a living instead of being unemployed. People over there do not do agricultural work by themselves such as tapping rubber and gardening. They hire us here to do the jobs. Now, our children are growing up—old enough to attend school and I am about to deliver my baby, so I decided to come back home despite the lower income. We think that living here—in our homeland is better. We don’t mind the small income. Just work hard. Now, Abaegot shot, he needs time to recover for many days before he can work. Alhamdulillah he survived, so I have to work harder because I am the only one who can earn right now.”
Wati’s husband was employed as a constructive worker. The income that supported his family was his daily income. If he did not work on any day, they would have no income. Wati worked in the agricultural field and did household chores. She listed her daily activities for me as follows:
“I used to wake up at 3-4 o’clock in the morning to tap rubber before prayingSuboh. But now, nobody dares to go out at that time because it is dangerous. It is lucky that the rubber plantation is not far from our house. Wati walked out alone. Abae stayed with the children at home. Then I went back home after I finished collecting rubber latex while Abae left for work. My eldest child went to school. He sent him to school. The youngest stayed home. Soon, the truck came to buy the rubber latex in the village. In this area, many people tapped rubber. Wati found something to eat in the morning, like Nasi Kabuthen left for farming at 11 o’clock (11.00 hrs). The youngest child also came with me. Sometimes I left him with my relatives. Then I came home to cook and eat lunch, had lunch, prayed Suhur, and rested a little until afternoon about 2 o’clock (14.00 hrs). Then I went to the rice field until 4 o’clock in the afternoon (16.00 hrs) then came back to make dinner. At that time the oldest daughter arrived home accompanied by her friends. Not worried about her because the school was near. Abae came back about 4-5 o’clock in the afternoon (16.00 – 17.00 hrs). Now, my womb was getting bigger. Abae rode his motorbike to give me a lift in the morning. In the evening, I waited for him to pick me up at the field. Everybody had dinner together. In the evening, I went to study Kur’Ae with Che Gu. Her house was about a couple of houses away. The children stayed with Abae. Sometimes, the youngest came with me. When I came back home, I prepared bed sheets for children to sleep. I did not sleep late because I had to tap rubber early in the morning–around 10 o’clock in the evening (22.00 hrs.). Children had to go to school too… I have to follow this routine until my last month of pregnancy. Then I’ll stop working hard.”
Wati’s daily life reflects women’s domestic roles which include taking care of family members and household chores as well as working outside their homes. Wati confirmed that she is able to work normally though she is entering her sixth month of pregnancy. She told me many times that it is fortunate that her husband is still alive though she has to earn an income alone this month because her husband needs time to recover for approximately two weeks. She thanked God again and compared herself to Kak Nu, the woman in the village who had lost her spouse. Kak Nu’s husband died in the Tak Bai Incident. Wati viewed that the sum of money given by the government cannot bring back the dead to life. The value of a human being and money cannot be compared. Wati was not angry at the government officials who followed their chief’s orders, but is upset at the orders given without thorough consideration:
“They should have used other alternatives in dissolving the crowd. Many people knew nothing. When will the assaults stop? All sides get hurt. Those who suffer most are the villagers. They fear what they do not see. They fear those who have power. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring…I am not angry but belittled by what they did to Abae. I feel belittled that the government does not care about us.”
Then, tears from Wati’s eyes trickled down her cheek.
Kak Nu’s house that Wati mentioned was not far away. I also met the Imam’s wife who was carrying rice, sugar, and some sweets. Kak Nu said that three days ago, the District Chief came to visit and gave her a small sum of his own money. The village chief had also helped coordinate with the state to give her compensation for the management of her husband’s burial. On the day of the event, Kak Nu and her youngest son aged seven, and her other two relatives visited her nephew who was serving in the military in another province. She and her son did not even have a chance to see the deceased for the last time – except Mang. Mang is her eldest son studying in M. 3 (Grade 9) at a private Islamic school in Narathiwat. After being informed by the village chief that her father was deceased, the grandfather or the children’s Che Wo picked up Mang at school, and went to the soldier’s camp (Inkayutha Boriharn Camp) in Pattani to retrieve the body. Mang said his father’s body was so black that he could not recognize him and his front teeth had disappeared. So the body of Kak Nu’s husband was buried before she returned. Prior to that, her relatives could not contact her so Kak Nu only knew that the Tak Bai Incident had happened and never thought that her husband would be among those who died in that protest.
Before her husband’s death, Kak Nu’s routine job was staying home, raising kids, and planting vegetables around the house. She was also a member of the Royal Handicraft Center Project. She showed me her flowery-embroidered material. Kak Nu’s embroidery was so exquisite that it made her design look like a painting as if she had drawn it herself. She told us that the income per piece was as high as 2,000 – 3,000 Baht, but it took almost a year to finish it. Many women in the village are members of the project, but the work is considered to be leisure activity apart from agricultural work. Now, Kak Nu takes a role as both father and mother. She is the breadwinner of the family. She has to work in a 0.8-acre of paddy field, taps the rubber and produces 4–5 rubber sheets per day. She told that she had no choice, but to take every job she could, because her children had to go to school. She herself neither had savings nor an inheritance except this old wooden house, paddy field and a small rubber plantation.
Kak Nu’s embroidery
Kak Nu’s neighbours told me that on the day of the event, many village people heard about the news of the people’s protest in Takbai and saw her husband walking out of the house to the main road in front of the village. Kak Nu thought that her husband might want to see what was happening there rather than to join the crowd. She confirmed that her husband was neither addicted to drug nor had any involvement with the local politics. She would console herself about her great loss. She thought it was Allah’s Takdir and thus did not blame anybody. However, she and her sons are still alive. She would like to see her children receive a higher education so that they will not have to suffer like their parents. Both sons are diligent and good at studies. The eldest son is studying at a Pondok free of chargewhile her youngest at a village primary school. She said that this loss had affected the family and the relatives psychologically and changed their attitudes towards those who are given authority to be in charge of this region.
Kak Nu said that after her husband’s death, her youngest son always cried for his father, begged for his return, refused to go to school and was angry at those who had hurt him. In the past three days, he did not wail anymore after she consoled him and explained to him to make him accept the reality. I then turned and talked to her youngest son. He was well- dressed, clean, and healthy. In my first impression of him, he looked shy. I later found that he was intelligent. He listened to our conversation and expressed his feelings occasionally. There was one time when Adek told me that after Ayah mati doh, he wished to be a soldier but he will not hurt anyone like Dad. Kak Nu added that, however, he wanted revenge for his father:
“Nobody in our house hates soldiers or the police because our relatives are also soldiers. We didn’t like the way the police did to us. At Krue Seh people used knives and weapons, but here they used only bare hands. The authorities treated them like they were not human. What can we do? The authorities have neglected us, which is bad enough and now they even hurt us. I wish the truth could be revealed to the public so that they would not hurt us again.”
The echo of pain from being the victims of violence has depicted the violence in other form that people in this region have experienced for a long time. I did not see Kak Nu’s tears running through her cheeks like others. She seems to be a strong woman, but who knows the pain she has to bear inside her.
The words uttered by the youngest son of Kak Nu were similar to those of Kak Doh’s middle son–wanting revenge for his father’s death. Kak Doh’s husband died in April this year, but her emotional condition was far worse than Kak Nu’s. She becomes depressed and mournful whenever she thinks of her lost husband and son together with her younger twin brothers who all died on the same day. Certainly, this is Kak Doh’s biggest loss in her life. She used to stay home taking care of her four small children, but now she has to go up the hilltops to tap rubber which is so far away. She leaves her house with her motorbike at 3-4 o’clock in the morning and arrives back home before her children leave for school. Kak Doh teaches her older children to help their younger brothers and teaches them how to make simple breakfast with ingredients available in the house.
When I was talking with Kak Doh at Mama’s or her mother’s house, I noticed that there were mainly women in the house. Most of the family members were elderly people and children. They looked very thin. They were coughing and sneezing including Kak Doh’s child. Ah was Kak Doh’s sister-in-law. She was in her late stage of pregnancy and expected to deliver her second child by next month. Ah said this baby will be her elder son’s company. Now, she goes back to live at her parents’ house which is not far away from the children‘s Siti’s house. Those who had lost their husband and sons received a government’s financial support, but some have not yet received the full amount. Except for Biboh, another Siti’s daughter-in-law, her money had been transformed into something else. Ah added:
“Kak Doh received the same amount as announced. The village chief helped organize it for her. Mine, took for months to get. By next month, hopefully, I will receive the rest of it. As for Biboh, she got it from a social worker: Yomade contact with Biboh. They asked her if she preferred to have milk or money. Money can be received only once while milk can be delivered monthly, and Biboh chose milk because she has many children. What I have heard from the news is that the victim’s families have received more than this, but need to claim it in Bangkok. We don’t know how to get to the place. We must have some expenses if we go there. We don’t know what to do and where to go and we don’t feel good about it. We feel as if we have certain privileges (ironically). Dek doesn’t want Thai Buddhists look at us like this. Yo looked at us with a strange look.”
Ah’s words reflected the lack of opportunity in receiving the ‘real’ support announced publicly by the government despite women like herself, Kak Doh, Biboh, and many others, who have to bear the burden in taking care of all of the household expenditures for the family. Ah feared that the good relationship with neighbors of different faiths would be disturbed if the government continued to use such measures in solving the problems of the south. There have been many times that the government’s words and actions go in different directions and its practices are not standard like the case of Biboh. I was surprised when hearing from Ah that the governmental units that had made contacts with the victim’s wives offered help differently, especially when they gave them milk instead of money. Ah added that Biboh was quiet, reticent, reserved, and talked less. She felt that her rights were being violated.
It seemed that the word ‘rights’ was a new word that Ah just heard from joining activities with other victim’s wives. These activities were set up by a non governmental organization from the central part of Thailand. Now, many sectors that provide aid and projects for development of women’s potentials come from the central part or international organizations that are not from Muslim countries. The cultural gap that arises when they conduct activities is the lack of cultural dimension in the local context. Generally, Ah viewed that the response is ‘good’ because many realize that they are not alone in facing their problems and encourage them to be able to struggle with their lives.
The local people and the local private organizations are unable to fully help themselves. Everybody is watched. No one dares to give help; otherwise she/he will be under the ‘black list’. I heard the news from a sister who led the youths’ activities in her local village that her house was burnt down. Documents of activities were searched when she was away from the house. The talks relating to what she knows need more caution, including talking on the phones because the lines may be tapped. She herself doesn’t even know which side or who is aggravating this violent situation.
Conclusion for those who are alive
I believed that many suggestions from various studies and debates can be applied to find solutions for the unpeaceful situation in the southern border provinces of Thailand. The most valuable are especially those views from the insiders’ perspectives. The governmental sectors must take them into serious consideration and try to solve the problems sincerely and practically. Solving or responding to the problems through the use of force will have a long-term negative impact on the society. Every individual who is facing such violence tends to have limited alternatives and be hindered from selecting the right path for peace. Using force as a response can only serve as a means for an immediate solution, but at the same time it creates an endless cycle of which causes endless loss of lives.
There has been a principal belief that it is the duty of the state and of the national security agency to be in charge of preventing the violence and finding solutions for peace in the southern region. I myself and others think that such an approach is unable to analyze and see the true problems in their complexity and it can not reach the root of the problems like the saying, “scratching at the wrong spot”. Quite the opposite, it generates even more problems.
Though I could not recall all the stories and reflect all the images of those who are affected by the violence that has been going on since the past till today in the southernmost part of this Land of Smiles, I tried to echo the voices of women and children and portray their unknown and forgotten pictures of their facial expressions, behaviors, smiles and tears. Every single voice that I heard is still echoing in my ears and every picture is still fresh in my mind. The violence leaves only pain and suffering together with the deep feeling of injustice.
To conclude: This small paper is the life story of those who are underneath the cloth whose roles are confined by the society as the ones who have the duty to take care of their house. Their potentials and roles in social and political participation have been neglected for long. The problems have piled up together with the culture of violence with which ordinary people like Adek and Mo’ji have lived for a long time.
The choral voice from the song ‘Pak Tai Rumah Kito’ may revitalize the local people to a certain extent after the great loss and death they suffer. However, the real need of human beings is justice and to be treated equally.
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