Nuttaa “Bow” Mahattana is a democracy activist, mother, marketing consultant and a university lecturer in communications.
She has marched against dictatorships. She has faced gender discrimiation. She has been a victim of online harassment. She even had a sex tape released by people who tried to discredit her political activism.
But with knowledge as her weapon, she said she would never stop fighting for this country.
Why after decades and decades, we’re still struggling to achieve democracy?
Our cultural values contradict the values of democracy. The patronage culture. Submission to social hierarchy. Patriarchy. Seniority. These are our history. These are the things that are nurtured in our education system.
What would it take for Thailand to achieve democracy?
People need to be aware of democratic values. Without awareness, we won’t be concerned when our basic human rights are violated. For example, right now with the COVID-19 outbreak, the emergency decree limits many basic rights.
If people are not aware of our own rights and of government power, if we are passive and submissive, then the government can do whatever it wants, without any consequences.
I know this isn’t a very exciting answer. Some people may expect me to say we need a big protest to have democracy. But in order for us to get there, we first need a real understanding of democracy and human rights.
Without that, it won’t be possible.
Do we need blood-spilling in the streets in order to achieve changes?
There is really no perfect formula. No one has ever said which way would work best.
I’ve read studies that say a bloody protest or a bloody path to democracy will only achieve temporary democracy. Afterwards, society would go back into the same cycle. Because there’s no fundamental values to build on.
I think it’s no longer possible to have the kind of protest the red shirts did. It’s a different generation now.
By nature, we Thais are docile and peaceful. And now that we have social media, people can just vent on it. When I organized กลุ่มคนอยากเลือกตั้ง (We Vote Movement), people were too afraid to join [a movement that called for elections during General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s military rule].
They still remembered the images from the red-shirt protests.
I don’t think anyone below 40 years old would want to do that. Our society is much more diverse now. Social media has created individualism and that becomes an obstacle for gathering people together.
What challenges do you face as an outspoken Thai woman?
I face many more haters compared to male activists. Before all of this, I’ve never thought of men as having superior status. I have never felt unequal. You may call me ignorant in this sense.
But now that this is what I am [an outspoken female activist], I’m like ah… I see what they mean now [stereotypes and gender inequality].
What problems do you face, as a woman?
Online bullying is definitely one of them. Someone released a video of me before. [In 2018, a sex video of hers and a politician was released online.]
Resorting to this technique, I think they were trying very hard to destroy me. It didn’t work. But they still keep trying. I’m used to it now.
They may try to weaken me, discredit me and scar me. But they can’t stop me.
The government isn’t stupid. They have a different strategy to discredit different activists.
What advice do you have for the younger generation wanting to become political activists?
I doubt if anyone has a goal to become a political activist. It’s not even a real job. But if you want changes. If you want to take risks. The first thing you must know is the law.
Again, this is not an exciting answer. But it’s a very important foundation that you need to have. You shouldn’t speak without knowing what the law says and knowing the consequences.
Knowledge is your weapon. The fact that I am still here today is because I use knowledge as a weapon. When people try to destroy me, I use the law to confront them.
Knowing the law also means you know the edge of how far you can push.
Sounds dangerous. Why do you keep doing it?
Because things need to change. The country is ill and it can’t carry on like this.
The tougher they are on me, the more resolved I am. The more nonsense they make of this country, the more I need to fight back.