The Bhodi Court at Thammasat University is inextricably linked to the fight for democracy in Thailand. It has come to symbolize not only the university’s legacy of political freedom, but the struggle by Thai society as a whole in its contemporary struggle to win the democratic rights of a modern people. The democratic movements of 1973, 1976 and 1992 all had their genesis at the Bodhi Court.
The Bhodi Court is the birthplace of the October 1973 student movement which soon grew into mass demonstrations demanding democracy and a new constitution for Thailand.
At dawn on October 8, 1973, students assembled here to appeal to the government for the release of 13 people who had been arrested for their persistent calls for a national charter. Soon joined by members of the public, the number of people gathering swelled so quickly… from thousand to hundreds of thousands… that the assembly site had to be shifted to the university’s football field.
At noon on October 13, 1973 the demonstrators started out from Thammasat University and marched through the streets of Bangkok. It was on the following day that the government violently suppressed the demonstration which sealed the date of October 14, 1973 as a signal event in Thai political history.
The Bodhi Court was also the scene of an open-air stage performance on October 4, 1976 which lampooned the political culture of the day. Photos of the parody became front page news on the Dao Siam (‘Siam of Siam’) Newspaper and became fodder for military propaganda, denouncing the satire as “acts defamatory to the Royalty.”
In response to such negative propaganda, resistance to the student movement was formed by “folk-scouts” and several other groups belonging to the power elite, leading to violent attacks on the students at daybreak on October 6, 1976. In 1991, the Bodhi Court resumed its pivotal role in the fight for democracy following a military coup d’etat and the drafting of a constitution utterly catering to its power.
Students gathered at the Bodhi Court again to protest such an imperious national charter and resurrected the spirit of the Bodhi Court as a focal point for democracy in Thailand. After the general election in early 1992, opponents of the military-led government gathered here which eventually led up to the ‘Black May’ massacre, eventually expunging the Armed Forces from their dominant role in Thai politics.