Widowed and blinded in one eye by vengeful rebels, Tungrudee Jaiin was left to raise four children alone in insurgency-ravaged southern Thailand, where women carry a heavy burden of a seemingly endless war.
A scar knotting her brow marks where she lost an eye to a bullet fired by suspected militants who had already gunned down her husband in a punishment killing.
It left Tungrudee among the ranks of widows in a decade-long conflict, which has seen 5,900 people killed in Thailand’s Muslim-majority southernmost provinces.
The majority of the victims of this complex, vicious and highly localised war have been civilians who are squeezed between Thai security forces and ruthless insurgents seeking greater autonomy from Thailand, which annexed the deep south more than a century ago.
Around 400 of the dead are women, while authorities say there are 2,700 registered war widows after their men were killed by rebels or security forces across Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani — the flashpoints of the insurgency.
Countless other wives, sisters and daughters have been thrust into the role of family breadwinners after the man of the house was jailed, fled to avoid arrest or joined the rebel movement.In a soft voice remarkably free of rancour, Tungrudee — who converted to Islam to marry her husband — recalled the chilling events that befell her family five years ago when the rebels killed him for being a government informer.
“Two weeks later they came back and they shot me and left me to die,” the 39-year-old said, pointing to her eye, abdomen and legs where the bullets struck. “Then they set fire to our home.”
Her eldest son was badly burnt in the fire.
Destitute, Tungrudee and her children — now aged between four and 15 — found refuge in the army-protected “widows’ village” of Rotan Batu, which has expanded in parallel with the conflict to house some 140 women and 300 children.