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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thugs wearing orange togas

Thugs wearing orange togas

Dear Editor,

It was a few months ago. I was leaving Cambodia for good and wanted to visit the

Angkor temples one last time. On that Sunday, just past 6 am, I had enjoyed a grand

sunrise and my eyes were still dazzled by the magnificence of the temples bathing

in a red glow when I was returning back to my hotel.

Passing in front of a pagoda, - I learned later it was Wat Thmey - I saw villagers

gathered in an animated discussion. In a few seconds I found out what caused the

mob.

Inside the pagoda, monks armed with wooden sticks were beating up a man. He was trying

to dodge the blows and managed to escape, leaving a torn T-shirt in the claws of

his assailants.

The young disciples of Buddha, in orange robes, their heads shaven, were pummeling

a person and it is a sight I will never forget. Some were bare breasted, others were

holding the lower part of their robe with one hand while using the other for punching.

My moto-dup asked around and he was told the beaten-up boy was from the neigbourhood

and came to the pagoda to ask the monks to lower the volume of the music, which indeed

was blaring through huge loudspeakers.

It seems the argument heated up to the extent it degenerated into a fight. But in

a few minutes it was over, and the boy was out of danger thanks to the intervention

of other neighbours.

I heard and saw monks swearing, spitting, saying words my moto-dup translated to

me and which I never thought a religious person could ever say.

Confused by the scene, which took place just a few kilometers from Angkor, I decided

to find out more about this story and to report it to the press.

The inhabitants from the neighborhood which my moto-dup interrogated asserted it

happened very often at this pagoda. Some affirmed the monks were left on their own

and that the Achar who took care of the pagoda had a "black heart"; some

people even suspect he is a converted Khmer Rouge.

According to numerous testimonies gathered from the surrounding inhabitants, the

monks play cards or volley-ball all day long, offend young girls passing by the pagoda,

and very frequently organise dance parties, sometimes attended by prostitutes, lasting

well into the night.

I never thought this could be possible if I hadn't seen the incredible scene in front

of my own eyes. I vividly recall the scuffle with the orange-togas jumping on their

prey, armed with batons, and filled with killers' hate.

How is it possible that men supposed to devote their life to peace and hope are fighting

like hoodlums in a country branded by war?

Reading the newspaper some time later I got to know that a girl was raped and assassinated

in another pagoda in Siem Reap, probably by monks of which several had scratches

on their back. It was not the same pagoda as Wat Thmey but it very well could have

happened there also.

Shall we wait to see some more of those dramas before anything is done about it?

Is it normal that monks are allowed to organize techno-dance parties that often?

Is it the role of a pagoda to become a hot night spot when the government recently

closed down all such places? Because after all, in the absence of solid references

due to the many years of war and civil unrest, only the monks could be an example

to surrounding inhabitants.

The show given by those caretakers of wisdom gone completely aloof can only have

disastrous consequences on the near future of a whole community.

And what to say of the image given by those monks to the tourists? If the monks themselves

convey hatred, selfishness, violence and completely ignore Buddha's teaching, what

will become of the generation living nearby or even within that pagoda? What will

be the thoughts of those children who, just like myself, were marked forever by the

hallucinating sight of those fighting thugs.

I am puzzled by these questions, and I wish authorities from the country where I

spent an unforgettable time could give me some answers.

But my memory will be marked forever with the sight of these cantankerous togas ripping

to pieces their prey like a pack of wolves. An unforgettable sight, just like the

magnificence mixed with feelings of wisdom inspired by Angkor towering against the

sky like the banner of this small kingdom and proudly displaying its motto: Nation,

Religion, King.

- Cedric Martin, Former expat, Paris, France

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