Monday, August 24, 2009
What is going on in the three Muslim-dominated southernmost provinces? Five years on, and we still don’t have a clue who are the masterminds behind the ongoing violence in the deep South and what exactly it is that they want.
If only we knew…
We really believe that, don’t we?
We believe that if we know who the masterminds are, then we can accurately target the trouble makers and deal with them effectively. Little do we realise that it is our own out-to-destroy mentality that is fuelling the endless cycle of hatred and violence down there.
How are the ordinary folk struggling when their hometowns have become a war zone? Do we care at all about how they deal with the situation, or how the violence affects the women folk?
A woman’s life is never easy. Even in peace-time, women have to wage a silent war against gender oppression and prejudice, both in and outside the home. Now the southern women have a real war to struggle with, thanks to the clash between Muslim Malay and Buddhist Thai nationalism, between state violence and the natives’ fiery vengeance _ all in the men’s game.
But are women just passive victims? Haven’t they played any active part in restoring peace?
When seeking peaceful solutions to the restive South, the expert opinions are mostly always from men in one form of authority or another. Do we care about what women think? What they need? How they want their communities to be? And how they define themselves and their roles in peace-building?
Do the daily killings and bombings mean the situation there is totally hopeless?
These questions come to mind every time I read the news from the deep South, which evokes the image of a land on fire. Although my occasional fieldwork there makes me believe in the local villagers’ strength and resilience, I have to admit the daily violence has seriously shaken my hopes for peace.
That is why I feel most thankful to the book Fon Klang Fai: Palang Cheewit, Palang Jai – Hasib Siang Puying Chaidaen Tai (Rain Amidst Fire: Force of Life, Force of Humanity – Voices of 50 Women of the Deep South’ published by Social Agenda Working Group.
Five journalists, all female, braved the southern danger to talk to 50 women to tell the stories that need to be told. Theirs are not the usual stories of loss and pain, but stories of faith in humanity, selfless dedication _ and hope.
They are the stories of mothers, wives, and daughters in various professions, from farmer to physician, both Muslims and Buddhists, who defy the daily violence by putting their heart and soul in their different roles and responsibilities to help improve the lives of people around them.
A widow who swallows her grief to keep her children strong. A nurse who refuses to be transferred to a safer place because the poor villagers need help. A forestry official who stays put because peace is not possible if the environment breaks down. A housewife who is a full-time volunteer to help other poor women earn extra income…
Amid the violence, how do they deal with fear? Suwimol Piriyathanalai, an environmental activist who works with fisherfolk, echoes others’ devotion.
”When we feel there might be no tomorrow, we just have to do our very best today. All I think about is how to help people live better. And if I can see the result here and now, it is a life well worth living.”
These extraordinary, ordinary women represent the quiet dedication of many others who keep the South going amid the strife. Like the rain that helps contain the fire, their stamina and generosity will help nurture the parched, cracked land back to life again.
Thanks to their big hearts and bottomless dedication, we still can hope for peace in the deep South.