Trafficking in Thailand

Back to normal?

Posted in Uncategorized by constancedykhuizen on May 31, 2010

A great article from the Bangkok Post by Sanitsuda Ekachai exposes the return to “normalcy” in Bangkok after the protests for what it is: a dubious achievement. She quite rightly states that while it is nice to be free from violence in the Thai capital, perhaps Thais should try a bit harder to create a new normal by pursuing the Buddhist precepts of sila and standing up against the social inequality and notorious sex trade that defines normalcy in Bangkok.

“Normal. How sweet the word sounds, after two weeks of excruciating political tension which culminated in the torching of central Bangkok…

The elation was punctured when, at the traffic light, I spotted a little girl, not more than seven years old, looking tired and dejected, with jasmine garlands in her hand. Schools were already open that day. She should have been in class, learning how to spell. What was she doing on the street?

But isn’t the sight of garland children normal on Bangkok streets?

There are so many other things that we have come to view as part of our normal life in the capital. Rickety slums alongside luxury mansions. Beggars in front of shopping centres. Labourers toiling for a pittance. The daily extortion on the street when low-income policemen fleece low-income motorcyclists…

But what is normal cannot lead to disaster, can it? Why then the shocking explosion of fiery rage that shook Bangkok to the core?

Since our supposedly Buddhist society is desperately struggling to recover from the worst political violence in its modern history, let’s take a look at how Buddhism defines “normal”.

As Buddhists, we can recite by heart the five sila or precepts: no killing, no stealing, no sexual exploitation, no harmful speech, no intake of intoxicants. The Pali word “sila”, however, does not only mean precept, it also means the state of normality. This normalcy or balance breaks down when we kill, steal, exploit others, engage in hate speech, and/or take intoxicants. It is only when we observe the “sila” that we can maintain the state of normalcy, within and without. Look around. Can we honestly say our society is normal?

The recent bloody crackdown and senseless city arson aside, the crime rate in Thailand is one of the world’s highest. The country is an international hub of the sex trade, human trafficking and drugs. The education system and the mass media play a significant role in perpetuating oppressive values. What else has become “normal” in society? Strict social hierarchy? Angry and alienated youths who use violence to vent their frustrations? Landlessness and indebted farmers? Ethnic prejudices? Police corruption? Military supremacy? Rape and sexual harassment? Cleric patriarchy? The commercialisation of Buddhism? The destruction of the local villagers’ health and sources of livelihood for big business? Stark and persistent social inequity amid city affluence? Political centralisation that has no room for voices on the ground? Censorship?

The list is endless.

No, this is not a normal situation. This is a society without sila.

Sila is based on the principle of non-exploitation. It’s simple. Don’t harm others nor yourself. Do what is beneficial to others and to yourself. That is why Buddhism strongly advises against anger and hatred. The first target of destruction is we ourselves.

As individuals, we can sit and meditate all we want to instil inner calm, but we cannot hope to calm the anger of those on the receiving end of injustice if we do not understand the structural imbalance that hurts the weak and the poor and numbs us into hopelessness.

We need to tackle this inequality, this injustice. But how we do it must be in line with sila. If not, our supposedly normal lives will drift dangerously towards violence once again.”

I very much wish that Thais would take to the streets of Bangkok the way the redshirts did to protest the more urgent state of human rights abuses, sexual slavery and social inequality. While an equitable democracy is a slow process, the fact that police and government officials ignore the widespread sale of women and girls could and should be stopped NOW. An estimated 1 in 3 Northern Thai families has a daughter or other family member in the sex trade. Isn’t this worth protesting? Where are the people fighting for the rights of these women? Sadly, the “normal” thing to do in Thailand is to ignore that sex slavery exists at all.

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