Wednesday, October 19, 2005

'We Do Not Forget the 6 October'

The 1996 Commemoration of the October 1976 Massacre in Bangkok
Presented at the workshop on 'Imagining the Past, Remembering the Future'
Cebu, the Philippines, March 8-10, 2001
Thongchai Winichakul
University of Wisconsin-Madison

On the morning of 6 October 1996, a symbolic cremation was held at the soccer field inside Thammasat University in Bangkok for over forty people who were killed in the massacre at the same place twenty years earlier. After the massacre, a little over half of that number were identified and claimed by their families, presumably for proper cremations. Nobody knew the whereabouts of the rest since the day they died. The cremation was only symbolic because no corpse was actually cremated. Each of them was represented in a simple, undecorated sheet of paper with his or her name written on it. All of them were put in an urn – the kind that was normally reserved for people of high status -- that was elevated on top of a big platform on one curve of the soccer field. Some pictures of the identified ones were put on that platform for people to pay respect. But most had no picture, except the ones of what happened to them in the massacre. Yet, all were honored as individuals who had faces, bodies, names, and families like everybody else in the world, but whose lives ended abruptly on the Wednesday morning of the 6 October 1976.

The symbolic cremation was performed according to the Buddhist tradition. In addition, spiritual leaders of other faiths also provided services. Many respected civic leaders delivered speeches. Then a modified Buddhist ritual was “re-invented”. About fifty Buddhist monks and nuns presented at the event led a quiet walk anti-clockwise three times around the soccer field. Everybody at the cremation participated, led by those who carried wreaths and flowers in dedication to the fallen heroes and heroines. In the middle of the field, a small platform was a set up for a huge gong. The sound of the gong, the very low pitch and its echo, was the only noise accompanied the walk. It was a Dhamma walk, a form of meditation and merit-making, during which participants were instructed to consider the truth of life and death. After the walk, everybody paid the final respect to all “bodies” in the urn. We put paper flowers for the death underneath the urn, as we normally do in a normal cremation at a Buddhist temple. We prayed for them one last time. At that moment, the reality struck very hard on me. Most of them never got cremated properly after their death, let alone any other forms of respect for humanity. It took twenty years to have them cremated properly in public, from the place where their lives were unjustly cut short. In a Buddhist country where compassion and kindness are said to be abundant, twenty years was such a cruelly...long time.

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