Recruitment Day - Thailand Military Draft Lottery

A Monk & a Ladyboy wait for the Draft.

Lottery Day

Lottery day....

Just before the Buddhist year ends in Thailand and the new one begins, a lottery that no one wants to win is organized across the country.

For ten days in April, thousands of Thai boys face the possibility that one of their worst nightmares comes true – they can be drafted into the army and possibly sent to the deep south of the country where security forces fight a bloody conflict.

The draft itself is a typical Thai event – crowded, colorful, noisy. and crazy. 

Hundreds of boys, including some transgenders showed up followed by great number of friends or relatives who will support their luck. It is a long event – it lasts the whole day – and they do need support.

An entertaining Thai army captain grabbed the microphone early in the morning and did not leave it for a minute until the last of the boys knew his destiny. Loud instructions were combined with jokes and dramatic pauses just before the decision is told.

The lottery works like this. Each man must pull a ticket from a plastic bucket held aloft by an officer. If the ticket is black, he is free to go. But a red one assigns him to the army or navy.

Families and friends crowded the windows and doorways. The air in the hall thickened. As each man nervously stepped forward, the crowd cried “Black! Black!” and cheered when a black ticket was plucked from the bucket. The army claims to be one of Thailand’s unifying institutions. Watching the draft, you realize how true that claim is. The army does bring Thais together, because absolutely nobody—red shirt or yellow shirt, Buddhist or Muslim, straight or gay—wants to join it.

So, you can imagine the drama of the moment and disappointment/happiness after the ticked is pulled out. Hundreds of people is cheering and screaming “dam, dam!” (black in Thai language) as the young man pulls his ticked. The officer has to be even more loud to read it.

Before the lottery all the boys & ladyboys are put through a basic medical examination. Everyone is carrying some sort of medical files, often with x-ray images of an old injury under their tattooed skins hoping that would be enough to avoid the draft.

Thai transgenders are not allowed to change their gender on their national identification cards and for an unlucky few, their barely noticeable physical changes means they are sometimes conscripted for military service and often subject to abuse.

On this Saturday, all the transgenders went home happy – no one ended up drafted for the army. But hundreds of boys were not so lucky and will spend a long time serving the powerful Thai military. Others are already buying different weapons – plastic water guns ready to celebrate the Water festival and Thai New Year. Anybody caught trying to escape conscription faces three years in prison, followed by a stint in the army.

Those unlucky enough to chose red today might soon find themselves in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces, where a war against Malay-Muslim insurgents has claimed some 4,000 lives since 2004. 

Beheadings, bombings, drive-by shootings, assassinations, extra-judicial killings and vicious assaults have left more than 6300 people dead and at least 11,500 injured since 2004 in south-east Asia's longest-running war in Thailand's four southernmost provinces.

Armed and organised ethnic Malays – almost all of whom are Muslims – are pitted against the predominantly Buddhist Thai state in a cycle of violence that is rarely reported outside of Thailand. 

Monks, teachers, schools, government officials – people seen as symbols of the Thai state – have been targets of insurgents operating in secret cells while Thai security forces, which operate with impunity, are accused by human rights groups of abuses including arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings that cause more reprisals.

Militants plant indiscriminate bombs in public places, often changing tactics to keep security forces off-guard. Hundreds of civilians – Buddhists and Muslims – have been killed or wounded while simply going about their daily activities.

And fears are growing that insurgents, who have shunned attempts to align themselves with Islamist terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, are looking to expand their sphere of influence and could be ripe for recruitment by transnational militant groups such as Islamic State.

No-one claims responsibility for attacks or articulates the insurgents' aims and the identities of its leaders remain largely unknown, even to many of those in clandestine village and town cells.

Ethnic Malay militants have not accepted Thailand's assimilation policies dating back to the country's conquest of the sultanate of Patani in the early 20th century. Their immediate aim appears to make the region known as the "Deep South" ungovernable.

Analysts say that while Malay-Muslim nationalism and identity lies at the heart of the insurgents' cause, their struggle is often couched in religious language and practices.

The government does not allow Malay to be used as a main language of instruction and does not commonly allow it for official purposes.

The area is also home to a large population of ethnic Chinese Buddhists, whose comparative wealth makes them stand out sharply from Muslim farmers and fishermen. The Chinese are often targets of attacks.

Ref; The Sydney Morning Herald.

 

A young man celebrates after pulling the black ticket from a plastic bucket during the Army Lottery.
Buddhist Monks are guarded by Thai soldiers on their morning rounds collecting alms in Pattani.

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