For a man who has stood by Thailand, investing heavily in the nation for the better part of three decades, deportation seems like the short end of the stick. And it is. It can be argued that Satish Sehgal was in violation of the law.
It will be pointed out by this government that by being on stage, Sehgal has effectively forced their hand. They will attempt to shift the blame and avoid accusations because that is what cowards do. And let’s get this straight, this deportation is a real act of desperation and cowardice.
I should start by saying that, for the most part, I disagree with Sehgal’s politics. I disagree with subverting democracy. I disagree with him and others getting up on stages at Rajprasong, when only four years ago, he was criticising those stages. I am not a fan of Thaksin Shinawatra’s proxy administration, but I am not about to ask for the overthrow of a democratically elected government and its replacement with an appointed one. I have studied too much history and read too many books not to see that such action leads you down a dark path.
But I will defend Sehgal’s right to voice his opinions and even be on stage. While his actions were undoubtedly illegal, so were the actions of many others who got up on stages. This stretches from your everyday dog walker to luminaries such as Dr Somkiat Onwimol and Piyasvasti Amranand. Where are the arrest warrants for them?
Why are we singling out Sehgal?
The answer is, because it is easy and that is what bullies do. Bullies pick on the weakest people in the playground. They don’t go for the jocks, they don’t go for rugby team. By contrast, Sehgal is an easy target. He doesn’t look like us, he has a different shade of skin. He speaks Thai with a funny accent. He doesn’t have a Thai-sounding last name. He is not from here. But ask yourself this question: Is Thailand really one homogenous entity of colours, last names, accents and religions?
The fact that he has been singled out by the government is symptomatic of an underlying problem that has been at the root of this conflict: a failure to celebrate differences. Believe it or not, there is an underlying racial overtone to the various conflicts in Thailand. In some cases the differences are being deliberately accentuated by the greedy and powerful, in others they are the result of a historical lack of awareness and of education. But in order to maximise the differences to achieve an aim, there has to be a programme of dehumanisation. This is how racism, sexism, classism and all the other negative “isms” work. We say that “they” are different, not the same as us, and by extension that they should not have the same rights that we do.
The differences are twisted and pushed to meet our ends, so we get “uneducated red buffaloes”, or “bloodthirsty Muslim separatists”, or “primitive hilltribe people not worthy of citizenship”. This is neither new nor unique to Thailand. It is as old as prostitution, but without the side benefits that both parties get from that vice.
So, back to Sehgal. Why is he being singled out? Because it is easy and because it creates the illusion that the government tried to do something about the protests. But instead of deporting a long-time leader of the community, maybe the government should focus on the real roots of this and many other problems in Thai society. Maybe it’s high time to recognise that this country is not one homogenous entity that can be governed as such. Maybe it’s time we started celebrating and understanding our differences instead of trying to knock one another down because of them. Maybe it’s time the playground bully grew up.
Cod Satrusayang is a writer and a researcher based in Bangkok.