Neti­wit’s mon­u­ment ges­ture fires up in­ter­net

Bangkok Post - - OPIN­ION -

ac­tivist Neti­wit Chotiphat­paisal has stirred up con­tro­versy af­ter he and an­other first-year Chu­la­longkorn stu­dent walked out of a cer­e­mony to pay re­spects to the mon­u­ment of the univer­sity’s founder, King Rama V.

The event, part of an ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­mony for first-year stu­dents, in­cludes hav­ing stu­dents sit­ting down on the ground and pros­trat­ing them­selves. Mr Neti­wit, who has en­rolled in the univer­sity’s Fac­ulty of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence, said he dis­agreed with the pros­tra­tion rit­ual, which King Rama V him­self had abol­ished.

“My class­mates and I were per­plexed as to why it per­sists when King Rama V him­self abol­ished it,’’ Mr Neti­wit wrote on his Face­book on July 15 af­ter his de­ci­sion to walk out kicked up a storm of con­tro­versy.

While some peo­ple in­clud­ing univer­sity lec­tur­ers and Chu­la­longkorn alumni said his ac­tion would help kin­dle de­bate on the cul­tural as­pects of this rit­ual, many peo­ple have con­demned his act as in­sult­ing and show­ing in­grat­i­tude to the for­mer king.

Renowned roy­al­ist MR Ch­ulcherm Ya­gala was among those who slammed Mr Neti­wit’s ac­tion, urg­ing Chula stu­dents and alumni to fight off the “can­cer” in Chu­la­longkorn Univer­sity’s com­mu­nity.

Mr Neti­wit, how­ever, said he could not un­der­stand why the univer­sity would carry on with a rit­ual that the king had specif­i­cally or­dered be scrapped in front of his own mon­u­ment.

“There is noth­ing wrong with tra­di­tions,” Mr Neti­wit wrote. “How­ever, fol­low­ing them with­out [in­tel­lec­tual] prin­ci­ples would be tan­ta­mount to do­ing things blindly,” he said.

Af­ter dis­cussing with his friend what King Rama V had pro­claimed, he de­cided he wanted to ful­fill the King’s wish. He and his friend re­cited a pledge of al­liance to the univer­sity, then stood up and stepped to the front of the gath­er­ing to bow to the mon­u­ments of King Rama V and King Rama VI, be­fore walk­ing away from the cer­e­mony.

Mr Neti­wit said he wrote the Face­book mes­sage be­cause he wanted peo­ple to un­der­stand his ac­tions, to avoid un­war­ranted ac­cu­sa­tions.

He claimed it’s not just him and his friend who dis­agreed with the idea of stu­dents pros­trat­ing in front of the mon­u­ments of the past kings. He said many stu­dents be­lieved the cer­e­mony did not sit well with the her­itage of both King Rama V and King Rama VI who were cred­ited with mod­ernising the coun­try dur­ing their reigns.

“No-one wanted to ex­press their idea so we showed them through our own ac­tion,” Mr Neti­wit said.

He in­sisted he walked out not to cause a stir but to pro­voke de­bate.

‘’Chula should talk about this is­sue as it seeks to pre­serve good tra­di­tions that are suit­able for new gen­er­a­tions and mod­ern so­ci­ety, as the univer­sity cel­e­brates its 100th an­niver­sary as a pil­lar of the king­dom,’’ Mr Neti­wit said.

He signed off his post with a mes­sage: ‘’With deep re­spect from two Chu­la­longkorn Univer­sity stu­dents.’’

Mr Neti­wit’s ac­tion has sparked a storm of de­bate both on his Face­book page and in larger so­ci­ety.

Many peo­ple said the univer­sity did not force stu­dents to par­tic­i­pate in the cer­e­mony. They said if Mr Neti­wit did not agree with the event, he should not have taken part in the first place.

Sev­eral peo­ple in­clud­ing some lec­tur­ers said the rit­ual is an ex­pres­sion of peo­ple’s faith. They ar­gued Mr Neti­wit should not have in­sulted other peo­ple by snub­bing it. Some also told Mr Neti­wit to quit if he dis­agrees with the univer­sity’s tra­di­tion.

Some peo­ple said they un­der­stood the mes­sage that Mr Neti­wit was send­ing, but urged the stu­dent to tone down his crit­i­cism of what he sees as back­ward tra­di­tions. Oth­ers, how­ever, sug­gested the young man is look­ing for trou­ble.

Writer and ed­i­tor Vichak Panich said he ad­mired Mr Neti­wit’s courage in ex­press­ing his dis­agree­ment with the univer­sity’s pledge­mak­ing tra­di­tion in a cre­ative way.

‘’The sight of him stand­ing in front of his peers, giv­ing a bow to the mon­u­ments and the gath­er­ing as well, could pro­voke an aware­ness that is very cru­cial,’’ Vichak said.

He also ex­pressed his dis­agree­ment with peo­ple who sug­gested in on­line posts that Mr Neti­wit de­served to be pun­ished by be­ing thrown from a cer­tain height — a pun­ish­ment meted out to some stu­dents in the past, in­clud­ing the late scholar and fel­low Chula stu­dent Jit Phu­misak.

Vichak said the yone bok pun­ish­ment should be a mat­ter of shame for Chula.

ML Ch­ulcherm said King Rama V’s an­nounce­ment aban­don­ing the tra­di­tion of crawl­ing and pros­trat­ing was only ap­pli­ca­ble to peo­ple who were present in his au­di­ence.

He said the case of Chula stu­dents pay­ing re­spect to his mon­u­ment is a dif­fer­ent story and only those with a ‘’dirty mind’’ would con­sider it in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

The roy­al­ist wrote in re­sponse to crit­i­cism from Thai stud­ies scholar Su­lak Si­varaksa who said MC Ch­ulcherm has no right to bully or­di­nary ci­ti­zens.

Mr Su­lak also said the roy­al­ist should heed the or­der by King Rama V can­celling the tra­di­tion of crawl­ing and pros­trat­ing.

‘’The stu­dent was fol­low­ing the king’s di­rec­tive. Was the Mom Chao not aware of it? Why was he say­ing in­sen­si­ble things?’’ Mr Su­lak said on Face­book.

Thai­land’s Tachaya ‘’Keng’’ Pra­tumwan was awarded 14 gold medals and five tro­phy awards at the 20th an­nual World Cham­pi­onships of Per­form­ing Arts (WCOPA) held at Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia. FB/PAGORN SINGER

POOM­LARD SOM­CHAI

New Chula stu­dents take part in an ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­mony which in­cludes them giv­ing a pledge in front of the mon­u­ments of King Rama V and King Rama VI at the univer­sity’s cam­pus on Phaya Thai Road.

THA­NARAK KHUNTON

Chu­la­longkorn Univer­sity first-year stu­dent Neti­wit Chotiphat­phaisal has stirred con­tro­versy af­ter walk­ing out of a pledge-mak­ing cer­e­mony in front of the mon­u­ments of King Rama V and King Rama VI to show his dis­agree­ment with the tra­di­tion of hav­ing stu­dents pros­trat­ing them­selves.

YOUTUBE: SAM THE VE­GAN, CHI­ANG MAI PO­LICE (CM108)

A group of cy­clists has drawn the ire of so­cial me­dia users af­ter a video clip of their rid­ing against traf­fic up Doi Suthep was cir­cu­lated on­line.

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