Thammasat’s “liberalism,” uniforms and Aum

28 09 2013

Readers will likely find a story at University World News informative. It tells a story of class and authoritarian control at Thammasat University, some of which is new information for PPT.

The story is prompted by the anti-uniform efforts of Aum Neko, who now finds herself accused of lese majeste.uniform

On uniforms, the story told is far more interesting than we had previously thought.

For example, it is said that Thammasat under its regulations is “one of the few in the country that does not require students to wear uniforms…”.

Yet its Rector Somkit Lertpaithoonis quoted as stating that:

the institution only “encourages” students to wear the uniform, particularly during the exam season, “to teach them about the virtue of discipline”.

A Thammasat sociology lecturer points out that the demand for students to be uniformed is “an authoritarian society,” as the demand is “a way to confine people…”. She adds that the uniform “separates the ‘educated classes’ from ordinary people and unnecessarily divides society.”

Thammasat is sometimes regarded as a symbol of democracy in Thailand, having been by People’s Party leader Pridi Panomyong. Yet during the “early 1960s, the university was under the governance of General Thanom Kittikachorn who:

He transformed Thammasat University from an open university with over 35,000 students, to a more select institution accepting around 1,000 students. Student uniforms were introduced, with the university citing the need at the time to separate students from outsiders for “security reasons”.

Of course, the royalist Sarit Thanarat regime also sought to degrade Pridi’s legacy as it used the monarchy to legitimize its dictatorial rule.

In contrast, at the royalist Chulalongkorn University:

founded by the monarchy in 1899 to produce civil servants … uniforms were a symbol of the old establishment and also distinguished students as a distinct class in society….

So it is that royalists and rightists have “seen Aum’s uniform campaign as an attack on the establishment and on tradition.” And thus a uniform debate is now an accusation of lese majeste against a student who is seen to challenge the order and discipline that has always been the king’s mantra and a significant part of extremist and rightist rhetoric.

It is thus no surprise that the Thammasat rector has declared that “disciplinary action would be taken against Aum.”


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