04/06/2019, 14.13
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Young men pray at Bangkok temple to avoid military service

Every year, about 100,000 young men are drafted in April. If the number of volunteers is low, the other soldiers are picked by a lottery. The Ya Nak shrine is a popular pilgrimage destination for those trying their luck.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Many young Thai men flock are flocking to a famous Buddhist shrine in Bangkok this week to offer prayers, in the hope of avoiding the military draft.

In Thailand, every 21-year-old male is potentially required to serve in the Forces. The process begins in April and involves enlisting about 100,000 recruits, for up to two years. Whilst some volunteer, most are selected via a lottery system whereby young men pick coloured cards out of a box: red for the draft and the coveted black for exemption.

For those who fear military service, the Ya Nak (Grandma Nak) shrine, located in Bangkok’s Wat Mahabut temple, has become a popular pilgrimage destination.

Represented by a golden statue that depicts a woman with long black hair, sitting cross-legged with a child, Ya Nak is surrounded by gifts of flowers, toy cars and traditional Thai clothes.

Legend has it that whilst her husband was doing his military service, she died alone during childbirth.

Among those who turn to the sacred image are transsexuals not yet operated, such as Pasakorn Raksri.

Hailing from Kanchanaburi province, he endured the five-hour journey to Bangkok. "One of my concerns is my sexual appearance as it is not exactly what the army is looking for," Pasakorn said.

Others pray to Ya Nak because they have financial commitments as the sole breadwinner. "I am the only one who works in the family," said Thawatchai Saisawang, the father of a young girl.

Finally, there are those who were able to avoid the draft and return to Wat Mahabut temple out of gratitude. Utain Kamrit, a 22-year-old worker, is one of them.

Last year, during the lottery he prayed to Ya Nak. As it turned out, there was only one black card left in a box full of red cards. "I was thinking about her, asking her to help me," he said.

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