Translator’s Note: Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, also known as “Da Torpedo,” was a former political activist who died due to metastatic breast cancer on 7 May 2020. She was arrested in late 2008 and charged with three violations of Article 112 for allegedly defaming the king during two political speeches she made to the-then nascent red shirt movement. She pled innocent and fought the case. In December 2009, she was sentenced to eighteen years in prison; the sentence was reduced on appeal to fifteen years. She received a pardon and was released from prison in August 2016. Three years after her release, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her health quickly declined. The article translated below (see original here: “บันทึกความทรงจำถึง ‘ดา ตอร์ปิโด’ ก่อนเดินทางไกล”) is a personal reflection by “The Grey Cat,” a young student and human rights documentation worker who got to know, and was moved, by Daranee following her release. “The Grey Cat” has written a record of her memory of Daranee, and calls on her readers to remember Daranee and her struggle as well.
The Grey Cat
When we talk about political fighters, one person I think of is Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, or “Da Torpedo.” She is a former Article 112 defendant. I knew Older Sister Da for a period, but only once she was already gravely ill. Her first sentence, during our first meeting, is one I remember well. Older Sister Da said, “I believe that one day, our democratic side will win.” She always remained hopeful and believed that one day, the struggles she and others fought for so long would not be for nothing.
Older Sister Da was rough. But after chatting with her for a bit, I found that she was very kind and had a way with words. Further, even as her body was in decline, she tried to make it seem as though nothing was wrong with her and she was still strong. A friend took Older Sister Da to the doctor, and then shared the news that the doctor was unable to treat Older Sister Da further with chemotherapy. Her body could not take any more. The friend said that Older Sister Da looked hopeless and very gloomy. All she could say was that now everything was going to end and she would not be around much longer. She wouldn’t let anyone come visit her after that and so we could only chat with her and ask about her condition on LINE.
Drawing of Da by “Sri-Pret”
On 6 May, while I was at home, we (I and other friends) received a message that Older Sister Da’s condition was quickly declining. I quickly took care of a few things and went to Siriraj Hospital. Upon arrival in front of the emergency room, I met up with a group of older friends who had cared for Older Sister Da since she became ill. She was resting and so we could not go into visit her.
A period of time passed. Once Older Sister Da woke up, I went in to visit her. I held my hands up in a wai and asked how she was doing. She responded, but was fairly weak. She always tried to chat with everyone who came to visit her. She tried to make sure that everyone knew she was still alert. Before I left, she unexpectedly exclaimed in her sleep that the budget had to be cut by 62 million. I was standing up then and was confused. So we woke her up and she told us that that there was 60 million. The older friend who looked after her told her it had been a dream. We continued to stand and giggled at her dream. Older Sister Da woke up and spoke for a bit and then fell back into sleep. We excused ourselves to leave, because we were afraid we would not make it home before the curfew.
The next afternoon, I went with other friends to take turns sitting with Older Sister Da at the hospital. She slept all day because her body was weak. When she woke, we would try to engage her in conversation. She knew what we were saying and she tried to answer. But the only expression she could make were indistinct sounds that came from her throat. She was unable to open her eyes. I felt very uneasy because I watched the rapid decline in her condition. Not even one day had passed in which she went from being able to speak and respond normally to laying with her eyes closed and unable to respond.
We sat and watched over Older Sister Da for a bit. A doctor came to take her to clean and dress a wound that had opened and was oozing on her chest. The doctor came out of the treatment room to summon us to help change the gauze. I stood in the corner and saw the blood coming out of the wound. I am very afraid of blood, and so all I could do was close my eyes and let my friend help. I watched Older Sister Da for a reaction as the doctor dressed the wound. It must have hurt, but her only reaction was to contort her face a bit and make indistinct sounds. As before, she did not open her eyes. When the wound was cleaned and dressed, the doctor took her back to her original spot.
Older Sister Da had not eaten anything that day. When she woke, we fed her and then she went back to sleep. She seemed very weak. We watched over her the whole day and then our professor came to relieve us at 7 pm. We then went home and our professor gave us periodic updates. But all of the updates were of her worsening condition, until she had to be moved into the Intensive Care Unit. Her condition had become very grave.
Late, at around 12:50 am, our professor sent us a message telling us that Older Sister Da had died. Once the news reached me and my friends, we were shocked and didn’t know what to do. Our professor told us to rest, because there would be many things to take care of in the morning.
We went to go help collect Older Sister Da’s belongings at the nursing home in the morning. When we arrived, the nurse who cared for her took us up to her room. The nurse told us that even when Older Sister Da’s condition declined and was very grave, she would not go see the doctor and told everyone that she was strong. Ultimately, she had to be tricked into going to the hospital. Then, once she was there, she stubbornly asked to go back to the nursing home.
The nurse also told us that Older Sister Da did not eat healthily at all. But once she knew that her condition was quickly going downhill, she began to buy healthy food to eat because she wanted to get better. Another reason why she did not express the pain she felt and did not want to go to the hospital was because the treatment caused her pain. Drawing blood and the various steps of her treatment caused pain. She had little desire to go to the hospital.
Older Sister Da always made me feel like she was a strong and vigorous person. No matter the gravity, she dared to fight with all the problems she encountered in her life. She dared to struggle politically to demand democracy, rights and freedom, and she was imprisoned for 8 years for it. She dared to struggle to live inside the prison until the day of her release and her return to daily life in society. Then she dared to struggle with the harsh disease that arose unanticipated in her life.
Older Sister Da always showed me her strength and didn’t really express weakness. She thought that everything would pass if we fought and were not discouraged by obstacles.
After this, memories will be all that I have of Older Sister Da. Yet the story of the struggle of this female fighter is one I will remember always. And I want Older Sister Da’s struggle, which lasted until her final second, to be held in the memory of every person who loves and cherishes democracy.
Note: “The Grey Cat” is the pen name of a sociology student who is conducting research about defendants in political cases and is an intern at Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.