Outcry Over Chula’s Removal of Student Martyr’s Memorial

A portrait and commemorative plaque of Somdet Wirunhaphon at the Faculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University. Photo: Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal / Facebook
A portrait and commemorative plaque of Somdet Wirunhaphon at the Faculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University. Photo: Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal / Facebook

BANGKOK — An online petition was launched to protest Chulalongkorn University’s decision to remove a plaque dedicated to one of its students who died during an anti-military uprising in 1973.

Student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal said Thursday he started the campaign after he noticed that the portrait and memorial plaque of Somdet Wirunhaphon was removed from the Faculty of Economics a few days ago.

“I disagree with the removal because he is the only Chulalongkorn student who sacrificed his life for democracy during the incident,” Netiwit said. “The portrait was there since the faculty was founded, but now the newly appointed dean decided to remove it.”

Somdet was a freshman at the faculty when he was shot dead by security forces during the Oct. 14, 1973, student protest that toppled the military dictatorship of Thanom Kittikachorn. At least 70 people are believed to have died in the unrest.

Netiwit said Somdet was recognized as a martyr by the students, and he always bowed to Somdet’s portrait every time he walked by.

Next to the portrait was a plaque saying that “May the members of the future generations remember him, and protect the constitution and democracy with their lives.”

Sittidaj Pongkijvorasin, the faculty’s dean, said on his Facebook that the portrait was taken down due to concerns of it becoming a “place of worship,” which he said was inappropriate.

He said he has no intention to forget the history and is working on a new way to remember Somdet.

But Netiwit, who is a senior student at the nearby Faculty of Political Science, said he has not seen anyone paying religious homage to the portrait as claimed by Sittidej.

“His claim doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Chulalongkorn University also houses two statues depicting kings Rama V and Rama VI, where students and faculty members often pray and make spiritual offerings. No attempt was made to remove the two figures.