Whether it was blatant disrespect or just a teenager being a teenager isn’t known, but a withering slap a middle-age woman delivered to the face of a 15-year-old who failed to stand for the national anthem at an Ayutthaya train station has focused the spotlight again on Thailand’s widening generational – and political – gap.
The street vendor – a complete stranger to the high-school girl – was excoriated on social media after, of course, much of the incident was captured on video. The 45-year-old, identified only as “Poo”, brought her fury down on the girl as she sat on the edge of the tracks.
In the clip, which has been shared hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter alone, the woman is shown haranguing the girl, a petite youngster who is seemingly in shock and is being shielded from further abuse by an alarmed school friend.
After being charged with physical assault late last week, Poo apologized and said she had grown enraged after seeing that the schoolgirl carried on sitting during the national anthem, which is played at 6 p.m. every day in public spaces such as train stations and parks around the country.
“I did it because I suddenly became angry,” the woman said. “I grew up learning that we have to stand for the anthem.”
In recent weeks, there have been several reported cases of people assaulting young Thais for failing to stand for the royal anthem in movie theatres where it is played before every screening.
Although the incidents may seem isolated, commentators say they are proof of a widening generational divide where many young Thais refuse to kowtow to a time-honored tradition that inextricably links patriotism to monarchism and acceptance of a rigid social hierarchy with the royals at the top.
“If you are Thai and don’t love the monarchy, you don’t love Thailand and you should not stay here,” a 41-year-old accountant who hails from a southern province but works in Bangkok told a reporter for Bangkok Herald partner UCA News reporter Sunday.
However, numerous young Thais have been challenging such views on social media.
Many of them have also been attending regular mass protests whose aims include sweeping political reforms, including new constitutional checks on the monarchy.
There are growing fears that millions of young Thais’ pro-democratic aspirations could soon be met with violence from rightist vigilantes or the authorities or both in an increasingly polarized atmosphere.
To forestall such an outcome, several commentators and opposition politicians have been urging Thais of all political leanings to keep their cool and refrain from violence.
“Both adults and young people have to be mature enough to live with different opinions,” said Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, a member of parliament for the progressive Move Forward Party. “We have to be able to coexist and stop inflicting (violence) on each other.”
A longer version of this story appeared on UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.