Purple Hazing

I used to be under the naïve assumption that when I relocated to Thailand from the USA that I had left behind a culture of cruelty, violence, and juvenile pranks. No more racist rednecks and narrow-minded Republicans to put up with; only blissful Buddhists and spicy rice dishes. But recent reports of widespread university hazing here in Thailand have dispelled my illusion of Buddhist peace, love and understanding.

The suicide of a male student who had recently enrolled at a university (the new school term started here this month) was attributed to depression after the teenager was forced to participate in “excessive” Freshman initiation activities during his first week on campus. In the wake of that tragedy, numerous other cases of hazing gone awry have surfaced around Thailand. One young man recounted his unwilling role in a “penis tug-of-war” and having his pubic hair burned. His injuries, and those suffered by others in the same “game,” required hospital attention. Additional students claim they were forced to drink large quantities of alcohol, smoke cigarettes, use drugs, eat dog meat (that's right; not dog food but the real thing!), simulate masturbation (and oral sex), and even have sex with prostitutes. Almost sounds like the shenanigans that the Bush administration allowed at the Abu Ghraib prison, doesn’t it?

These incidents prompted the Thai government’s Commission on Higher Education to issue a ban on all university initiation ceremonies for the remainder of the current semester. Most schools have grudgingly accepted the order, but some have balked at obeying the directive. The rector of Maha Sarakham University, Abul Wiriyavejakul, said that people were overreacting and “turning a trivial problem into a big issue.” He further declared: “If you stop the kids from singing and dancing, what would they enter university for?”

Yes, idiots like that guy are in charge of schools in Thailand! Like-minded morons claim that hazing is a harmless tradition that helps freshman adapt to university life. The hazing ritual, they insist, “has merits.” But critics maintain that the intimidation, brutality and degradation that many young students are forced to endure goes well beyond the bounds of acceptability. In a country, where “No Problem” is almost a mantra, the hazing issue is clearly a problem that needs to be rectified.

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