Only Democracy Rights Can Promote Those Rights to Fix the Wrongs
Prior my interview date with Pornpit Puckmai-a former program coordinator of Empower Foundation Chiang Mai, I called her up to confirm our arrangement. She answered the phone sounding very motivated, and quickly mentioned, “I’m going to Lampoon Industrial Estate in Ban Klang District, Lampoon Province this afternoon. I wonder if you’re keen to join me, and my male colleague from Prachatham News Agency. We’re having small informal meeting with representatives from the Labor Union of Hoya Glass Disk (THAILAND) Ltd”. Puckmai then inquired if I have heard the news about a massive layoff of 2,000 factory workers of HOYA. Having been informed that from Puckmai, I accepted her invite with out hesitance.
When arrived at the meeting point, Pornpit Puckmai appeared in her red campaigning T-shirt in which it was not to my surprise at all. Her red campaigning T-shirt with black letter screen saying ‘THE POOR ARE NO OTHERS’ had successfully captured my full attention. A 41-year-old Pornpit Puckmai greeted me with her big open smile, coupling with her loud and clear voice, and her well-known friendliness had really doubled my interest in a discussion with her on social movements, and actions she has been recently up to.
While on the ride to Lampoon, Puckmai provided me additional briefing that this afternoon meeting was purposively to give moral support to members of the Hoya Labour Union, and to learn more from their representatives about the claimed injustice massive layoff of approximately 2,000 factory workers who majorly contribute to a manufacture of glass magnetic-memory disks by Hoya.
Pornpit Puckmai is largely recognized as a 2005 Human Rights Defender Awardee of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand in an occasion of the International Women's Day for her notably outstanding work in defending and promotion of the rights of female sex workers. Puckmai received heightened Thai media coverage since she disclosed to public that she is a sex worker who works for the sex workers in Thailand.
This meeting with the Labour Union of Hoya is dominantly reflected that Pornpit Puckmai always lends her greater support in protecting and promoting human rights of the poor and marginalized communities apart from her long main interest in working to promote the rights of sex workers in Thailand.
Although Puckmai has left her 15-year full-time position as a Program Coordinator at Empower Foundation Chiang Mai in late 2009. She still appears tirelessly active in the movement and activism for social justice in the upper north of Thailand, and nationally from her individual capacity.
When was asked why she has decided to end her career at the Empower Foundation Chiang Mai, she said that she had worked 15 years continuously with the same NGO since the very beginning of her profession. She continued her story that she had involved in a number of national, regional and international advocacy for the rights of sex workers in Thailand. Then, she has arrived to a conclusion that without continuous and intense democracy advocacy and campaign, the rights of sex workers will not be reality and accessible.
She continued, “Why has it turned out such a way? Obviously, obstacles stem from the existing injustice laws and legislations e.g. the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act of 1996, the 1966 Entertainment Places Act, and the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2008 which are still in effect and come into force. These laws directly yield adverse impacts on the rights of sex workers, threaten safety of sex workers, and place their lives in even higher risks. We’ve not been able to influence any positive change on those laws without influencing Thailand political landscape. It is a huge step for NGO, and social activists to take in tackling the constitution laws that guide these related laws. I’m sorry to say that we might take us another 100 years or more to make very tiny impact without gearing our attention, effort and action to revisit our constitutional laws”.
Nowadays, Pornpit Puckmai runs her own book shop called “9 Liners” which commenced on the 8th March 2009. The 9 Liners Shop initiative of Puckmak inspired by a research report about average reading statistics by the Thai which is only 8 liners per year per person. Therefore, she strongly hopes that she can directly help promote more readings among Thai community as a book rent operator.
At the 9 Liners Shop, Puckmai offers a wide variety of books together with small adjunct internet café where she as a single mother of a 9-year-old daughter can earn income for her small family, and still actively engage in social actions of her interest. Puckmai has reached out to youths, college and university students in democracy campaign from her own individual base.
Puckmai inserted, “When you belongs to an organization, you have to conform to restricted guidance policy of your entity. I have observed that most NGO, and not-for-profit organizations tend to take their hands off any political related movements and activities. I’m sure they do realize that the level of achievement in bringing justice into society, and to the underrepresented communities will be minimally recognized without influencing central politics. To give you better idea, the case of Article 112: Thai Lese Majeste Law Awareness Campaign clearly proves that they are censoring themselves, keeping quiet, and having their hands off the issue. This is disappointing me a lot! I’ve not seen any members of NGOs communities taking initiative publicly regarding the issue”.
Pornpit Puckmai has directly involved in the Article 112: Thai Lese Majeste Law Awareness Campaign. She explained that the campaign is for the issue of lese majeste to be highlighted and made into a public issue. It is hoped that eventually there will be a change in this law. To support her point, she walked me through the research findings presented in the column chart which describes an increasing number of those accused and prosecuted on charges of lese majeste, Article 112 of the Thai criminal code over the past 5 to 6 years.
Puckmai continued that there were 547 cases of lese majeste sent to trial on the Court of First Instance, the Appeals Court, and the Supreme Court levels from 2005 to 2009. This makes an average of 109 cases per year—during which 274 judgments were handed down for lese majeste. She stressed that the Article 112 and its use poses a serious threat to the rights to freedom of expression in the so called democratic society of Thailand. This is the reason why she decided to actively and publicly take part as “the 112 charter members” to show support to the campaign and make the Article 112 Lese Majeste public issue.
At her “9 Liners Shop”, Ms.Puckmai makes special section available for kids with books, movies, toys, and comfortable couch for kids so that they can also enjoy themselves while reading. She also periodically holds small discussion forums on various issues at her shops and makes money from selling coffee, tea and soft drinks.
While was interviewing her, Ms.Puckmai received a phone call from her colleague who runs the sexual health and HIV/AIDS program for men who have sex with men. She shared that her colleague wants to utilize the space at the 9 Liners Shop for a discussion forum in early February 2012 on ‘Religions and Sexualities’ to attract youngsters residing in her neighborhood. She also discussed with her peer about suggested list of speakers, and side activities to cater the needs and interests of youth communities.
Puckmai also mentioned, ‘Self-reliance is my direction now though it is getting more difficult as I’m doing this from my own budget. Generally, most funding agencies do not give grants to individual or those who are not formally associated with NGO entities. What I can contribute as an individual to democracy campaign, and social movements is to promote reading community, provide space here at my shop without charge for students, or smaller fee for NGOs who want to organize discussion forums and or meetings here, bring myself to other forums organize locally and nationally, hold social events and discussion forums here at the 9 Liners Shop so that I can be an active part of the dialogues, and voice out the issues of my concern”.
Puckmai’s eyes were sparkling bright when she shared her future plan in establishing a non-formal democracy school or training center for college and university students who are interested in social justice and social movements. Puckmai ended her talk sarcastically, and questioned me, “Who do you think will be willing to provide financial support to an individual to run such a program, and on the democracy issue? It’s all about money and power again”.