A group of youngsters recently created a talking room on the social audio app Clubhouse under the name “#ClubhouseToxic” where they criticised Isan people.
Terms such as “uneducated”, “flat-nosed”, “poor rice growers for the rich”, “dog eaters”, “blacks”, were bandied about. They also spoke poorly about some prominent Isan people.
The comments went public, sparking anger among Isan and non-Isan people throughout Thailand.
Concern has even been raised at the highest levels with government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana saying Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was unhappy about the exchanges, because everyone ultimately is Thai.
The northeastern region has played an important role in the country, especially in farming. They should be admired and praised, the PM said.
The government will develop Isan and other regions to bring happiness and sustainable development to all Thais, he added.
Many well-known Isan people and celebrities likewise expressed how upset they were over the saga.
Petchtai Wongkamlao, better known as Mum Jokmok, an actor and comedian, asked what Isan people did to the people in the online group to warrant such abuse.
He said Thailand had four regions, each with its own culture and way of life. If what they do makes them happy then let it be, he said.
A 24-year-old medical science researcher who was born in Sakon Nakhon, and wanted to remain anonymous, said such discrimination is unacceptable.
He has experienced it himself and has often been asked if all Sakon Nakhon people eat dogs. Sometimes he has been mocked as a dog eater, even if he doesn’t eat dogs.
“We eat pork, beef, chicken or fish like anyone else,” he said.
He said Isan people have long been economically marginalised and the region lacks basic infrastructure.
“I was born in a poor family. When I was a kid, I went out with my friends to hunt for lizards, wild mushrooms, dung beetles or grasshoppers for my lunch. We had to eat everything for survival,” he said.
A 36-year-old company employee who was born in Nakhon Phanom said his immediate response to hearing about the Clubhouse conversation was that he wanted to curse the youths. Later, however, he felt sorry for them.
“What I heard was very immature, uneducated and I think they are no better than anyone else,” he said, adding that he has suffered discrimination for being from Isan but he was able to look beyond it.
He said that solving the problem of discrimination in Thailand is difficult because it’s a normal habit for some who like mocking others about their race and ethnicity. For example, he said some mimic the accents of people from Suphan Buri o from the country’s south.
He said education is key to solving the problem, adding that children should be raised with sympathy and understanding toward the differences of others.
A 41-year-old personal trainer from Surin, who declined to give his name, said authorities should take action against those in the Clubhouse forum. Their opinions would affect those who were sensitive or depressed, he said.
But he was also concerned for the youth in the forum as they may be attacked over what was said.
“Many Isan people on social media were saying they would get them. I think those kids are in trouble now and are in need of assistance,” he said.
However, he expressed some optimism saying the kids have helped raise public awareness about discrimination.
He said it was necessary to educate people to respect others and their rights.