Numnual Yapparat & Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Recent pictures in the news have appeared showing shirtless young men forced to lie face down on the ground by armed soldiers and police. These pictures cannot fail to immediately remind us of the brutal atrocities carried out by soldiers and police against unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators on the 6th October 1976, in May 1992 and at Takbai in “Patani” in 2004. This state violence is celebrated by the ruling class and they proudly claim that this is the way to solve all problems.
But these young men (there are a few women as well) are not demonstrators, they are “Wan Boys and Sgoi Girls”; motorcycle youth. They are not criminals either. Wan Boys and Sgoi Girls hold mass motorbike races on large streets in Bangkok late at night. They love their motorbikes and wear screened T-shirts and flip-flops. The girls paint their faces white with bright red lip-stick. Most are working class technical students with limited life prospects. These are no “Hells Angels”.
Now, it is true to say that these races can prove a little dangerous for those involved or some innocent passers-by. They may cause a little nuisance by closing off roads and there may be some instances of fights breaking out between different groups, although their main aim is not to set up rival gangs to cause fights. Some groups are also led by son of local policemen using their “influence”. But this does not mean that Wan Boys and Sgoi Girls are thugs.
The mass crackdown on Wan Boys and Sgoi Girls shows that the extreme conservative royalists who run Thai society are incapable of relating to young people and in conservative Thailand there is no room for originality and difference. Without such a space for differences how can society ever debate social problems and find solutions?
Let us get some perspective here about the real criminals in Thailand.
Almost daily, various royal parasites cause roads in Bangkok to be closed off for hours so that they can wiz past in their luxury limousines. This takes place during the day when honest citizens are trying to travel to work or travel home at the end of the day.
The present dictator, his supporters in the Democrat Party and various fawning military groupies are all responsible for the cold-blooded murder of pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010 and the destruction of democracy and civil rights. The conservative and royalist elites have pocketed the wealth of society which is produced by others, creating great economic inequality.
Yet the Wan Boys and Sgoi Girls are portrayed as people who cause social problems. Reactionary psychologists are quick to state that these young people have become “addicted” to fun! They wisely claim that it is all a symptom of “failure” at school and the need to find recognition. Other commentators and bigots crowd in to blame these youth for violent crimes, gambling, drugs and wild sex.
If anyone is “addicted” it is the Thai ruling class who are addicted to violent suppression.
Rabid middle-class royalists support this suppression of the Wan Boys and Sgoi Girls. Some suggest that they should be “sent to the South to be killed by the separatists”.
The experience of school in Thailand is one of mindless hierarchy, enforced obedience, uniforms and stupid punishments. In wider society people are told that they must crawl on the ground in front of the royals a bow to the power of those in charge. No wonder young people use various means to escape.
The military government has now initiated what it calls a 7 day “shock therapy” course for Wan Boys and Sgoi Girls detained by the army and police. It consists of interviews with reactionary psychologists, training in discipline by the navy and being forced to listen to endless talks by Buddhist monks. In reality, the people who really need “shock therapy” in order to mend their ways are the murderous military rulers.
The phenomenon of Wan Boys and Sgoi Girls and the response from the conservative elites, the military and police, is just another symptom of the crisis in Thai society, which results from social changes and the desperate attempts by the ruling class to maintain the status quo.