Pom Mahakan, a harmonious and well-run local community under siege in the heart of old Bangkok
Pom Mahakan, a community of approximately 300 people in the heart of old Bangkok, has been repeatedly threatened with forced eviction over a period of some 25 years in the name of a project of so-called “beautification” that violates the community’s human rights, especially as per art. 11 of ICESCR (to which Thailand is a signatory). The city authorities have shown no willingness even to consider the several highly constructive land-sharing projects that have been proposed; have defamed the community; and have offered only inadequate compensation.
Essentially under siege for all this time, the community nevertheless demonstrated such resilience that in 2004 the previous Governor of Bangkok, Apirak Kosayodhin, in conjunction with a major university (Silpakorn), did actually sign his approval of a land-sharing project that would have given the community responsibilities for maintaining the site as a historic collection of wooden houses adjacent to the original city wall. Thanks to the intransigence of city bureaucrats and others, this plan was annulled; and now the community is again threatened with immediate and total forced eviction, its vibrant social life and cultural activity obliterated in favor of a largely empty lawn and some formal monumental ornamentation.
Despite official claims to the contrary, there are legal ways to avoid such a catastrophic act of destruction. There are several reasons for seeking a legally acceptable way to avoid eviction: the enormity of the social problems that eviction and the dispersal of the community would generate; the neglect of the site that (on the evidence of the part already controlled by the Bangkok authorities) would probably continue and intensify were it to fall entirely under official jurisdiction; the danger that the site would then become a haven for drug dealers (owing to its location between the old city wall and a canal offering fast access and egress); and, in dramatic contrast to these past and anticipated failures, the tremendous resilience and capacity for self-management that the community has consistently displayed under extremely difficult conditions.
Indeed, the community is a very special human resource that the Thai authorities should be presenting to the world as an example of community self-organization and cultural activity, especially in light of its success at eliminating drug use among its members and at developing a wide range of cultural activities and at producing new knowledge about the historic site where it is located.
Eviction would result in irreparable cultural and social destruction. A harmonious and well-run local community would cease to exist, its members inadequately compensated for being uprooted and housed in conditions inimical to the maintenance of community life; and the fine examples of vernacular architecture at the site would either be destroyed or presented without the social and cultural context that gives them meaning.
Saving this community, by contrast, would be of lasting benefit, not only to its members, but to the entire Thai nation and to the world.