By Afnan Waekama
“Military checkpoints are for protection. The soldiers are here to defend the country and keep the peace in the southern borderlands.”
Ever since I was little, the school taught all my friends and me the above quote.
This is the norm of the three southern provinces: Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwas. Also included are four districts of Songkhla Province: Chana, Thepa, Saba Yoi, and Na Thawi.
I am 22 years old, and I’ve been living under military rule for 16 years.
That’s how long the emergency decree in the south has been extended, for 16 years. I am a university student, a Muslim woman, and I live in Pattani Province.
Every morning when I go to school, the soldiers would stop me at military checkpoints. They believe that in doing so, they are keeping peace and order. Each time there’s a clash between the military and the insurgents, the checkpoints increase strict measures.
For as long as I can remember, there has always been fighting. Hundreds of people have lost their lives. Many are neither soldiers nor insurgents, but ordinary people who are caught in the crossfire.
From when I was in elementary school to now that I’m a university student, it seems every year there are more soldiers and more checkpoints. This is the norm of my life and the people’s lives in the southern provinces.
But I never feel safe.
How do you feel safe living under the rule of soldiers with guns and complete power over you? They say it’s for peace and order. Yet, there has never been peace and order.
Violence is still all around.
I’ve learned about human rights, the hard way.
The military checkpoints target students, mostly males—especially those who wear Muslim clothing or a religious school uniform.
The soldiers would stop and search them. They would take records of their IDs. They would repeat the same thing over and over again—every day.
Imagine if in Bangkok and elsewhere, every day you leave your home to go to school, you have to pass military checkpoints, soldiers search you, go through your private belongings, take records of your IDs. Every day.
This is life under military rule. But they never find anything. Insurgents are not high school and university students trying to get to class.
A professor once told me, the military checkpoints are not meant to keep peace and order. Instead, it’s a method of normalizing oppression, to submit the people under the authority, and condition them to bow to authority.
That’s why they target the young, especially the males. It is to instill fear, which they hope would lead to submission to authority.
But not all young male students are searched. The military checkpoints target mainly those who attend religious schools, believing these schools radicalize the students. Which, of course, means they target young Muslim men.
I cannot say who’s right or who’s wrong in this conflict.
But this I do know. No child should have to grow up under military rule. No one should be searched every day at the military checkpoints. Nobody should have to lose their lives violently.
However, because these things are happening, I know for sure that the central government in Bangkok either does not know how to solve problems or doesn’t want to solve problems.
Another professor also once told me, dictatorship is an enticing power. No one wants to give it up.