Murderous jealousy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 June, 2003, 12:00am

What do you do if your girlfriend is tired of your jealousy and wants to end the relationship? If the latest incident in Thailand involving a lovelorn teenager is anything to go by, you go out and shoot someone. That is what 18-year-old student Panumas Suttthinan did in Bangkok, killing his girlfriend's uncle and wounding her grandmother, before turning the gun on himself. His girlfriend escaped his wrath by hiding.

The shooting, on June 8, sparked a furore in which education authorities and media commentators called for ways to help young people sort out their emotional hang-ups without resorting to violence.

While the student's murderous shooting spree hit the headlines, he was just one of a rash of jealous boyfriends running amok. Virtually every week, possessive men resort to violence to prevent the 'loss' of a girlfriend or wife. Guns, knives, samurai swords and snake venom have all been used.

The most prominent cases include a soldier who blew himself and his girlfriend up, a student who shot dead his girlfriend after he mistook her brother for a new boyfriend and a man who beat his wife to death with a golf club.

Buddhist Thailand is not unique when it comes to murderous jealousy, given the 'honour killings' in some Muslim countries. But there are fears the violence is getting out of hand.

'Jealousy is not a new thing among teenagers, but in the past it was less of a problem than now, with all the violence,' said Suree Kamjanawong, a sociologist at Mahidol University. Family and religion used to be controlling factors, he said, but their influence has weakened, and weapons are now so easy to buy.

Thailand's gun culture may not be as obvious as in the Philippines or the United States, but many seemingly law-abiding students and other citizens own weapons.

The authorities and sociologists have been quick to blame the violence on television, films and video games for fuelling the increased aggression.

Rapepun Kamhom, vice-dean for student affairs at Thammasat University, blames parents who do not spend enough time with their children, and the copying of violent characters from the media and video games.

'We develop capitalism too much and forget to take care of the minds and emotions of our children,' she said.

'Love is a beautiful thing,' said Thawin Lamjing, who operates a hotline for troubled youngsters. 'But they don't know and understand it. Love for them is being an owner of their girlfriend or boyfriend.' One young woman, whose ex-husband continues to harass her, said: 'Men treat their girlfriends like possessions - like a motorcycle.' It is not love, it is ownership, she said.

As calls grow from concern groups and teachers to reduce violence in the media and to get back to a culture that respects family values and religion, there are also appeals to keep weapons out of young people's reach. 'We can't just blame the kids,' said Mr Thawin. 'Parents need to keep their guns in a safe place.'