Friday, 25 Sep 2020

Thai pupils act out humiliating hair-cutting by a teacher

400 Thai pupils stage a protest against draconian new trend of teachers shearing pupil’s hair as punishment if they fail to wear an appropriate style

  • Thai pupils have been taking part in anti-government protests sweeping country 
  • At a recent rally two girls acted out a teacher cutting off a pupil’s hair
  • Social media has shown the humiliating practice in draconian schools 
  • Comes amid rising pressure on the PM to resign after ‘rigged’ election last year 

Thai pupils have acted out the scene of a teacher giving a humiliating haircut to a student to demonstrate the country’s draconian school rules. 

High school pupils have followed the example of university students who have been leading anti-government protests and last week 400 teenagers rallied outside the education minister’s office in Bangkok. 

The broader demonstrations accuse former general Prayuth Chan-ocha of rigging last year’s election after he seized power in a military coup in 2014.

At one recent protest two youngsters acted out the scene of a teacher cutting a pupil’s hair to an applauding crowd.

Teachers cutting a school girl’s hair in front of her peers at a school in Kanchanaburi in the west of Thailand in January 2019

A social media image which circulated last year shows a boy whose hair was cut by a teacher in Khon Kaen province

A 15-year-old girl stood crying while her hair was sheared off by the ‘teacher’ before falling down on her knees. 

It replicates the shocking reality which has been widely shared on social media, of children with savage-looking haircuts given by teachers as punishment for not having an appropriate length of hair. 

On Wednesday, hundreds of high school pupils besieged education minister Nataphol Teepsuwan outside his offices to make their feelings known. 

About 400 students wearing school uniforms with white ribbons, a symbol of the protest movement, joined in anti-government chants and gave three-fingered salutes, a sign of resistance to oppression borrowed from ‘The Hunger Games.’ Some tied white bows to the gates of the ministry.

Pro-democracy students raise a three-fingers, symbol of resistance salute and their mobile phone during a protest rally in front of Education Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday

Thai Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, center left in white shirt, talks to pro-democracy students during a protest rally in front of Education Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday

Pro-democracy students raise a three-fingers, symbol of resistance salute during a protest rally in front of Education Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand

When Teepsuwan and his aides appeared, a chorus of jeers rose from the crowd. He tried to talk to some students near the front of the group, only to be roundly scolded and told he was late so should go to the back.

It was a remarkable response to an authority figure from students schooled in a system that stresses deference and respect for elders.

He did as instructed, going to the very back of the group, then sat down and listened patiently to those there, writing down their complaints and responding, while sweating heavily in the afternoon sun.

Six years ago, Nataphol took part in large-scale street protests that helped trigger the army coup that brought Prayuth to power. Some student protesters blew whistles as he spoke, a disruptive tactic his own movement had used in 2014.

‘I’m happy that they dare to speak out and that they are interested in politics at this age, as long as their ideas are beneficial to the country,’ he said just before leaving. ‘They are the future and my future depends on them.’

Many pupils seemed unimpressed, jeering him again and making thumbs-down gestures.

Protests at high schools began last week with students showing support on their campuses for a growing wave of anti-government demonstrations led by university students.

Pro-democracy students raise a three-fingers, symbol of resistance salute during a protest rally in front of Education Ministry in Bangkok

Pro-democracy students raise a three-fingers, symbol of resistance salute during a protest rally at Mahidol University in Nakhan Pathom, Thailand

‘If we carry on protesting just within our school grounds other people won´t be aware of it. The wider we spread awareness the better for the cause,’ one 15-year-old said.

The student-led protests are becoming the most serious threat yet to Prayuth’s rule. 

As army chief, he seized power in the 2014 military coup and then retained it in a 2019 election widely seen as rigged to all but guarantee his victory.

But with key Cabinet posts still in the hands of former generals, people are weary of the military’s continuing influence on the running of the country and of Prayuth´s leadership and performance.

The economy has struggled to compete with its neighbors, even before the heavy damage inflicted by measures to counter the coronavirus pandemic.

The administration´s image has also been tarnished by corruption scandals for which no one has been held accountable.

The student protests have declared three core demands: holding new elections, amending the military-imposed constitution and ending the intimidation of critics of the government.

Protest leaders triggered controversy earlier this month when they expanded their original agenda, publicly criticizing Thailand´s constitutional monarchy and issuing a 10-point manifesto calling for its reform.

Their action was virtually unprecedented, as the monarchy is considered sacrosanct and any criticism is normally kept private. A lese majeste law calls for a prison sentence of up to 15 years for anyone found guilty of defaming the king.

One of the activists who allegedly made critical remarks, Arnon Nampha, was arrested Wednesday and charged with sedition and violation of a public assembly law for participating in a Harry Potter-themed protest on Aug. 3. Three other political and labor activists were arrested Wednesday, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. They were charged with sedition and other offenses related to a protest in July.

Pro-democracy students raise a three-fingers, symbol of resistance salute during a protest rally in front of Education Ministry in Bangkok

The group also tweeted that Arnon was denied bail and would be brought to the criminal court Thursday morning.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Thai authorities should drop all charges and release the detained pro-democracy activists.

‘The Thai government´s repeated promises to listen to dissenting voices have proven meaningless as the crackdown on pro-democracy activists continues unabated,’ said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. ‘The authorities should right their wrong and immediately drop the charges and release Arnon and other detained activists.’ 

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