Originally published in Radio Free Asia click title to be taken directly to the article on RFA's website. I'm sharing here because Woeser's experience is an excellent example of just how deep the repression of Tibetan's in their own country has extended. To be turned away from the Holy city, the heart and capital of your country, must be painfully excruciating. Tibetans should be exempt from needing special permission to enter Lhasa. China has it all wrong.
An outspoken Tibetan poet describes the experience of entering the region’s capital city.
The Qinghai-Tibet train is packed with tourists from every part of China on their way to Tibet, singing several years’ worth of songs, including “On the Train to Lhasa.” A train attendant from Hubei asks me anxiously: “What is the security situation like in Lhasa?” “Very safe for you [Han Chinese],” I say, pointedly emphasizing the “you.” Some young people sitting nearby with real Beijing accents overhear this, and ask me about it. “There are army, police and plainclothes officers lining the streets,” I tell them.
The train attendant is pretty bright, and asks: “Do Tibetans feel very constricted?” Another young person chips in: “Does this have anything to do with those Tibetans who have self-immolated?”
So some people do know about the self-immolations by Tibetans, in spite of the Party’s deafening silence on the matter. Party organs at every level prevent people from talking openly about it.
I look at them, as if they were alien beings from another land: “These aren’t isolated incidents,” I say. “More than 50 Tibetans have self-immolated, from right across the Tibetan region, even some in exile.”
Someone follows up with a question: “Why do they want to set fire to themselves?” But others are already drawing away, turning their heads to look out at the scenery.
I am very conscious of the language barrier, even though we are all speaking Chinese. I reflect that self-immolation is hardly a rare tragedy these days, but that while another culture might understand why a person would self-immolate on their own behalf, they can’t see why someone would do that on behalf of a whole ethnic group. But I’d like to say a bit more about that, and tell them about the last words uttered by some of the Tibetans who have self-immolated.
Perhaps some people won’t want to listen any more. Going to Tibet on holiday is the dream of many Chinese people, and perhaps … they just want to get on and use the 10 days’ vacation they have carefully saved up, and just can’t wait to scrawl “So-and-so was here” at every tourist destination they go to. They are mostly concerned with seeing the scenery, and the “Tibetan tourist sites” picked out in advance by their tour company. They don’t care about the local people who have nothing to do with the tourist attractions, like Tibetans who set themselves on fire.
The Buddha’s enlightenment teaches us that all living things are equal. But in reality, there are a world of differences; particularly between different ethnic groups. When our train, packed full of so many living things, arrives at Lhasa station, the majority of non-Tibetan passengers breeze easily through, so very excited to be heading off to various parts of Lhasa, and looking quite perky; even those who are immediately hit by altitude sickness.
The dozen or so Tibetan passengers, on the other hand, are stopped by armed police and their identity cards checked with a device similar to those used to swipe credit cards. When I hand my card over, I am stopped with the words, “Woeser, stay behind!”
What can the Tibetans who were stopped do about it? We are all taken into the police station next to the railway station. I can’t help thinking of all those Tibetans from Lhasa who were sent to “study classes” for brainwashing after they traveled to India at the beginning of the year to attend an initiation presided over by the Dalai Lama. Were they feeling as nervous as I am now, when they were taken from their homes by police, or intercepted on their way home?
Two young Tibetans from the southern part of Qinghai province are to be sent back home the next day, because they didn’t have a “permit to enter Tibet.” The police dealing with Tibetans pay scant heed to their pleas, repeatedly telling them that a “permit to enter Tibet” must be issued by county level police departments or above. The really funny thing is, one of the young women, who did look a bit Chinese, tells the police that she is actually a fake Tibetan, which surprises them, and they ask her why. She says she changed her nationality from Han to Tibetan in order to take advantage of positive discrimination offered to ethnic minorities in the university admissions process. “This is now a huge pain for me,” she says, admitting that she deeply regrets it.
Those Tibetans who do hold a “permit to enter Tibet” have their ID cards photocopied, and are asked to fill out the address where they will be staying in Lhasa, the reason for their trip, and their identity, as well as signing their names and adding their fingerprints in blood-red ink. I have no “permit to enter Tibet,” but as a special person required to be outside Beijing for the duration of the 18th Party Congress, I also give them my fingerprints.
When I and the two young people from [Qinghai] are finally allowed to leave the police station and enter Lhasa, they say to each other, amid sobs: “Who’d have thought it would be so hard for Tibetans to get into Lhasa?”
Translated by Luisetta Mudie.
Tsering Woeser is a Tibetan activist, poet and blogger who lives in Beijing.
Copyright © 1998-2011 Radio Free Asia. All rights reserved.
As of this writing 55 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in what is referred to as a non-violent protest of Chinese occupation and all that accompanies their colonialist rule in Tibetan regions. All but 10 of these immolators have died, and all of them are currently heralded as heroes committing acts of non-violence.
The following sentiments will likely be unpopular and some of you will even be offended, but I am unwilling to continue to sit by and pretend that self-immolation is non-violent. It is my belief that these acts are in fact incredibly violent. Non-violence goes far beyond eliminating physical injury and must also encompass emotional and psychological wellbeing. Gandhi declared that even a negative thought about someone was an act of violence.
From my work as a former crisis interventionist for a police department I can attest to the emotional and psychological injuries inflicted upon those who are witness to horrific events. Surviving family members or the person who discovers the body of an individual who has committed suicide or has died in some violent manner are traumatized, especially if they witnessed the death. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common side effect from any event that is highly disturbing to an individual’s psyche and the level of disturbance is unpredictable and different for everyone. The effects can be devastating and disruptive to the life and overall well-being and health of the person traumatized by such events.
Self-immolations may not physically endanger others, but what of the emotional and psychological wounds inflicted upon those who witness the immolator engulfed in flames? What of those who have risked their own safety to care for the immolator who did not die immediately and bore witness to the unbearable pain of such injuries? What of the family members who are left behind, especially the young children whose parents died from their act of protest? And what of those of us who see the video’s, the pictures, read the reports and wait everyday with trepidation that another Tibetan will douse themselves in flammable liquid and become a human torch for freedom?
Living with a truly compassionate heart requires one to also understand the ramifications of ones actions in the world and how they will or will not adversely affect one’s direct or indirect sphere of influence. These acts are violent pure and simple because of the psychological and emotional harm inflicted on the witnesses and families and the community at large. It is equally violent and perverse to hope that these acts will garner support and attention for the Tibetan cause.
A scholar of Tibetan history I have spent years examining and analyzing the political history and geopolitical underpinnings of Tibet versus China and have come to understand very clearly what will and what won’t motivate a change in CCP attitudes and in the way western leaders respond to the Tibet situation. Self-immolations are not that motivator, western sympathizers may abound but the lack of action speaks volumes and has since before China even stepped foot in Tibet 62 years ago.
And as a long time supporter with many Tibetan friends I consider my family, I am heartbroken to see these misguided actions and support for its continuance. Instead of encouraging more pointless acts that have done nothing to change conditions for Tibetans in Tibet, it’s time to speak the truth and admit that self-immolation is violent; as violent as standing in the middle of street with a gun to one’s head only worse. It’s time to send a clear and strong message to Tibetans in Tibetan regions that immolations are not effective; in fact they have done more to harm Tibetan communities in those regions, than incite the desired move toward political liberation. The Tibetan diaspora need to let their brothers and sisters know that ending their lives in these violent acts won’t bring freedom or the Dalai Lama to Tibet. Stand in solidarity by encouraging them to live instead of die.
Through a collection of essays written by Tibetan scholars like Tsering Shakya and cultural anthropologists who have spent large portions of their working life dedicated to understanding Tibetan culture and history, we are given an intricate analysis of the situation in Tibet. What we won’t get from news sources, rumors, and biased viewpoints is actual analysis that starts at the foundation of the Tibetan culture. I think you’ll find a wealth of information here.
Here is the link to the front page of this particular forum on the Immolations:
Here is a link to Tsering Shakya’s essay which I found compelling and honest.
Journalists are sneaking by road blocks and security in Tibetan areas. The videos and pictures coupled with eyewitness and interview testimonial provide concrete information about the ongoing events in Tibet. What we see does not represent a people who live in freedom.
Today March 10, 2012 53 years after the failed uprising in Lhasa took the lives of so many people and saw the final dismantling of Tibetan society as it was known for thousands of years; I want to thank the brave journalists who have borne witness to the military crackdown in Tibet. Please continue investigating and reporting on Tibet.
|From Phayul……….Breaking News: Three Tibetans self-immolate in Serthar|
It’s been nearly a year since Phuntsog set himself on fire and essentially kicked off the stream of immolations that have continuously escalated attention to the situation in Tibet. Mainstream media is finally carrying the story with more vigor than in the past 10 months. Potentially this could create an avalanche of support for Tibet in ways we have not seen in the past.
If you are willing to vocalize your support, contact your local and national government representatives and ask them to take a stronger stance toward China.
Below are several links to reports that highlight attempts by journalists to investigate one of the biggest and most ignored stories of last year; one that shows no signs of abating this year. Let’s spread the word and make sure that Tibetan‘s receive the attention and assistance they deserve.
Join your local Tibetan community on March 10th to commemorate the 1959 uprising and please attend prayer vigils that are being held February 8th around the world. Contact your local Tibetan organization for details.
Tibet TV Online - Tibetan Version
Lobsang Sangay- English Version
As Chinese everywhere were celebrating the first couple of days of the Year of Dragon on
January 23rd and 24th, 2012. Chinese police fired indiscriminatelyon hundreds of Tibetans who had gathered peacefully to claim their basic rights in Drakgo, Serthar, Ngaba, Gyarong, and other neighboring Tibetan areas. Six Tibetans were reportedly killed and around sixty injured, some critically.
Because of gruesome acts such as these and the systematic repression of Tibetans, the resentment and anger amongst Tibetans against (the) Chinese government has only grown since the massive uprising of 2008. Ever since the invasion of Tibet, the Chinese government has claimed that it seeks to create a socialist paradise. However, basic human rights are being denied to Tibetans, the fragile environment is being destroyed, Tibetan language and culture is being assimilated, portraits of His Holiness the Dalai Lama are banned, and Tibetans are being economically marginalized.
Tibet is in virtual lockdown. Foreigners have been barred from travelling to Tibet now and the entire region is essentially under undeclared martial law. I urge the Chinese leadership to heed the cries of the Tibetan protestors and those who
have committed self-immolation. You will never address the genuine grievances of Tibetans and restore stability in Tibet through violence and killing. The only way to resolve the Tibet issue and bring about lasting peace is by respecting the rights of the Tibetan people and through dialogue.
As someone deeply committed to peaceful dialogue, the use of violence against Tibetans is unacceptable and
must be strongly condemned by all people in China and around the world. I call on the international community to show solidarity and to raise your voices in support of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people at this critical time. I request that the international community and the United Nations send a fact-finding delegation to Tibet and that the world media be given access to the region as well. The leaders in Beijing must know that killing its own family members is in clear violation of international and Chinese laws, and such actions will cast further doubts on China’s moral legitimacy and their standing in world affairs.
I want to tell my dear brothers and sisters inside Tibet that we hear your cries loud and clear. We urge you not to despair and refrain from extreme measures. We feel your pain and will not allow the sacrifices you have made go in vain. You all are in our heart and prayers each and every day. To my fellow Tibetans, I request you not to celebrate Losar (Tibetan New Year), which falls on February 22 this year. However, please observe the basic customary religious rituals such
as burning incense, going to temple and making traditional offerings. To demonstrate our solidarity with Tibetans in Tibet, I
urge Tibetans and our friends around the world, to participate in a worldwide vigil on Wednesday, February 8, 2012. Lets send a loud and clear message to the Chinese government that violence and killing of innocent Tibetans is unacceptable! I request everyone to conduct these vigils peacefully, in accordance with the laws of your country, and with dignity.
U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke speaks with Charlie Rose on his role with China, the increasing human rights infractions, economics and some future trends.
To listen click here: Charlie Rose/Gary Locke
Yesterday Wednesday January 18, 2012 marked a crucial and important demonstration of the power of the internet to mobilize, educate, and influence our world. If you visited sites like Wikipedia, Google, Reddit, and our own WordPress you quickly would have realized something was different. Even more you may have been educated about two pieces of legislature circulating the U.S. Congress and Senate. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) on the surface appear to be aimed at controlling piracy of music, film and other copyrighted works found in plenty on the internet. I’m all for putting an end to piracy, for artists, musicians, writers, film makers to be able to protect their original work from being freely distributed across the internet. However the wording of the bills is a tad more sinister and instead infringes on the neutrality of the net that we now have. In other words it amounts to censorship and corporate and government control of internet content. If you aren’t in on the details of these two bills click here for information.
Yesterday’s internet blackout, a flood of Tweets and other social network activity and messages sent to Senate and Congress representatives has caused the momentum of these two bills to come to a near grinding halt. And it is this that excites me because it shows us how powerful the internet is in advancing a cause, spreading the word, creating a viral or epidemic like movement that actually creates change and makes a difference. From Tahrir Square to a blacked out Wikipedia the internet is playing an essential role in our collective ability to rise up and demand change in systems that do not serve the vast majority. While it is absolutely imperative that we as global citizens remain vigilant and aware of infringements on our rights it is also important that we recognize opportunities to plant seeds of change.
As we move into a politically sensitive time (Losar and March 10) I urge each of you to think about ways to utilize the internet on a global scale to affect change in Tibet. How can a movement that demands intervention on behalf of Tibet become viral through the use of the internet? What is the message that will stir activism on a grand and global scale not just among Tibetans and a few supporters? How can the message be made relevant to a larger audience and create a sense of urgency like never before?
There are many Tibetan related organizations all advocating for Tibet and Tibetans. Were they to unite under the exact same messaging and create a campaign that is more compelling and inspiring than ever and clearly states what is at stake beyond human rights, then a movement that is currently stalled could find new footing and new life. Disseminating the message consistently, actively, and without the confusion of middle way versus freedom or independence is imperative.
This is how we get governments to take action and change their continued passive stance on Tibet and China. As I keep saying the power of the people is more powerful than any government in existence today or ever. There are more of us than there are of them and when we really see that dynamic then we see where the ultimate power lies and we can unite fearlessly and create a world that is just for all beings.
In the wake of last year’s immolations, I had hoped that the New Year would bring a different story out of Tibet, but alas not. The immolations continue and today (yesterday in Tibet) a 16th Tibetan is reported to have set himself on fire in Aba, Sichuan Prefecture. This makes four people setting themselves on fire in the past week. The Associated Press distributed the most recent story noting that unrest followed the immolations and Tibetans in the area rose up in spontaneous protest only to be met with the usual military force. Woeser is quoted on her blog saying, “A young Tibetan person self-immolated … the local area has erupted in public protests and marches, and they have been met with military police fire and suppression. There are Tibetan casualties.” Phayul has posted a more detailed account of the situation in Ngaba (Aba), an area that has seen 11 immolations since March of last year.
My heart goes out to Tibetans across the globe, especially to those in the Ngaba area who must at this point be traumatized beyond simple comprehension. There is nothing I can say that will alleviate the emotional turmoil of my husband and our friends who are constantly worried about their families in Tibet. Those whose hearts break a little more with each immolation, with each death, with each report of turmoil in Tibet. I have no words to comfort and am instead filled with frustration, sadness and anger. Especially I am angry at governments who shake their fingers at China, condemn their repressive policies and ask them to behave themselves, but continue unabated trade relations. Why should China change anything when it seems the world is at their feet? When the Rupert Murdoch’s of the world eagerly and greedily reap the rewards of business dealings with China, promoting foreign investment in a country run by heartless thugs who lie, cheat, murder and behave with arrogant pomposity as they strut upon the world’s stage.
Nothing will change in China until we the people unite to overthrow corrupt people and their corporations holding sway on China’s economic growth. Not until we the people demand that governments across the globe place economic sanctions on China demanding that they adopt democracy, adhere to human rights expectations and until they are expelled from their position on the U.N. Human Rights Council. China has no right what-so-ever to be on the Human Rights Council, they have not in any way earned a place at that table. In my estimation their presence weakens and undermines the U.N. as an entity formed for the good of humanity; instead, China’s membership represents an insult to humanity.
I don’t believe that Tibetans will stop killing themselves. I want them to but I don’t think they will. This is the most attention that Tibet has received in years and maybe they see a certain kind of success in making the gravity of their situation known to the world by sacrificing their precious lives. I can’t help but wonder how many deaths will serve as the tipping point. How many will have to set themselves ablaze before meaningful intervention into the Tibetan situation occurs?
Rest in Peace. Bhod Gyalo!
In case you’re interested in learning more about the geopolitics of China, its potential for military power, and continued economic gain, here is a great video with one of my favorite geopolitical brainiacs, George Friedman. I appreciate his knowledge on matters of geopolitics and find it really helpful in understanding China’s politics, its place in the world and the role Tibet has to play in the overall strategy.
This is particularly important for those who believe that China will fall apart and thus Tibet will be free.
Almost every time I hear a speech given by a representative of the Tibetan Youth Congress or read a news article as I did today (Tibet Post) quoting a TYC member I get riled. From today’s November 15, 2011, Tibet Post an article quoted Dhundrop Lhadhar, the Vice President of the TYC as saying….
It has been 61 years since the aborted uprising of 1959, which lead the Dalai Lama and his faithful people to flee Tibet and arrive in Dharamshala, which has since served as their place of refuge.
Saying that it’s been 61 years since the 1959 uprising is..well mathematically impossible. If you want the world to take you seriously then build ethos, also known as credibility. First of all get your dates straight. Know what you’re talking about, get your facts straight, know your history and for the sake of all Tibetans do some in-depth research on what it takes to build a viable campaign for freedom. Start with geopolitics as a framework for your understanding and then move on to study Gandhi, and ML King and as a further suggestion check out Gene Sharp’s volumes on the politics of non-violent action, he’s a bit of a genius in this realm.
Secondly, related to the dates please, please get this right. I’ve heard Tibetan’s saying during impassioned speeches, 52 years of occupation, 61 years, and all in this year of 2011. The occupation began the minute PLA soldiers stepped foot on Tibetan soil on October 7, 1950, so don’t under any circumstances let them off the hook for one minute. It was their intent then and in the months leading up that day to occupy Tibet for their very own. So the occupation began 61 years ago. And it wasn’t long after the Chinese made their way to Lhasa which was long before 1959. For some reason many Tibetans seem to think that Lhasa was free of Chinese troupes prior to 1959 which is not the case. Additionally the signing of the 17-Point agreement on May 23, 1951 signaled for China the success of their Peaceful Liberation of Tibet. Tsering Shakya’s book The Dragon in the Land of Snows, is chock full of dates and in-depth information on the events leading up to and after the initial invasion and serves as an excellent resource for this information, and it’s published in Tibetan.
The Tibet Post article also has this quote from Lhadhar saying in reference to the immolations, “These extreme actions indicate a renewed grassroots pledge calling for all Tibetans to stand united to collectively end Beijing’s draconian rule”……..”a painful cry from across the mountains to accelerate efforts to restore Tibet’s independence”.
While this sentiment is aimed at pulling Tibetans together it misses the fact that there is indeed a very visible contradiction within the Tibetan diaspora. This contradiction stems from HHDL’s Middle Way plan which in November of 2008 was upheld by the Tibetan community in a vote that reflected their split in ideology. The problem is that the community is itself divided on these two paths of Autonomy under China or all out Independence. How can a community stand united in anything when there is this strong divide? This is not a small matter and in fact can make or break a movement. Yes people can disagree and that’s normal, but this divide is akin to having a split personality. There is no way to gain traction for a Free Tibet when the leaders or representatives of the exiled people of Tibet are holding to the Middle Way. These are the people who are the recognized voice of Tibetans across the globe. They are speaking for Tibetans and unfortunately seem not to be truly representative of the overall population.
When Lobsang Sangay meets with members of U.S. Senate or any other political leaders and he is advocating for dialogues with China, but outside on the streets groups of Tibetans are yelling Free Tibet and holding signs saying China Lies, this looks ridiculous! There is not a shred of credibility from the viewpoint of any world leader. And it is exactly why China can legitimately say that the Dalai Lama lies and is a splittist. They hear him saying one thing, but see his people saying and doing the polar opposite.
I have said several times on this blog that Tibetans need to regroup, restrategize their forward movement and come together in a cohesive voice. The international community will not back a split personality. No way. You can march in the streets till your feet fall off and that is all very noble and important, and there has to be more to the strategy. Most of the time Tibetans are preaching to the choir, meaning they are protesting with and to each other, my question is how are you involving non-Tibetans in your immediate community?
How are you partnering with the communities you live in to gain increased support? What is your message and how is it being delivered? A true grassroots movement starts with people not government and in most cases it aims to change government. Start with changing the platform of the CTA on Tibet’s status. If the majority of Tibetans want freedom and independence then the CTA should be in alignment with that desire regardless of what His Holiness thinks. The Dalai Lama handed over the reins of political office to ‘the people’, so take the reins and change the accepted position from Autonomy to Independence. Shake things up. Then you can move forward united. Just make sure you get the dates and facts right.
Recently Lobsang Sangay paid a visit to D.C., likely with the hope of generating support from the U.S. in dealing with the most current issues in Tibet. Garnering an informal meeting with senators was no big deal, but the folks that mattered, from the State Department and the White House were unwilling to see him. This is no surprise as the policy of every administration is that the U.S. recognizes Tibet as part of China and thus meeting with anyone representing the ‘exiled’ government is a big no no. Meetings with the Dalai Lama are barely allowable and conducted on the basis that he is a Spiritual leader not a political leader.
The strategy of the exiled Tibetan leadership has for the past 6 decades relied on relationships with world leaders and urging them to intervene on behalf of Tibetans. This reliance is as faulty now as it was in the late 40’s when the Tibetan government was busily soliciting help from India, Great Britain and America. They didn’t get the help they needed then and they won’t get it now. That is the unfortunate nature of geopolitics, foreign policy and economics. America will elicit the usual warning without consequences that China should respect human rights in Tibet and negotiate with the Dalai Lama. They will go to great lengths to investigate and report rule of law and human rights infractions, but will do nothing to back up these warnings with sanctions, changes in trade policy or anything more forceful. It’s not because China is so powerful as many people have been fooled into thinking, there is enough evidence to show that there are significant holes in China’s system to be of concern. The issue has more to do with who in the west is doing business in China and their potential to earn billions of dollars is motivation to influence government leaders to stay out of China’s way. Human rights be damned economics are more important! It’s not that governments don’t know what’s going on, they very much do. It’s just a very difficult and delicate diplomacy issue that could have negative ramifications on a large-scale well into the future. This is of course a horrendous attitude that foreign policy makers negotiate with on a daily basis.
If history has taught anything it would be that this strategy comes at a very high cost with every potential to eventually disrupt our own cozy safe lives. As Martin Niemöller pointed out with his famous oft quoted ode to the importance of speaking out for the persecuted; eventually the silent will end up as the persecuted. I’m not suggesting that China will come knockin on our door or try to invade Europe, the truth is they lack the military power to do so at this point. However, the question I bring up is, why would anyone in good conscience want to do business with a regime that routinely violates the human rights mandates set forth by the U.N Commission? Never mind the U.N. what about values, and conscience, what about morals and human life? What kinds of people ignore these atrocities in order to make a billion or two?
Kalon Tripa Dr. Lobsang Sangay, shouldn’t bother with Capitol Hill sell outs and in effect is barking up the wrong tree in terms of creating movement and change. Instead he could appeal directly to the people of America and Europe and wherever he can reach. Many citizens across the globe continue to remain uniformed of the continuing egregious acts against humanity that are committed routinely in China. Tibetan information networks are not considered a reliable enough sources for news outlets and so what little news does leak into mainstream media is meted out by the Communist Party and is stripped of all contexts and often seeks to implicate the Tibetans as problematic.
A grassroots effort to educate the masses would therefore have potential to create the pressure on governments needed to then compel China to make drastic changes to their policies. Tibetans in general have a tendency to hide in the shadows and are far too polite in pushing for their needs to be addressed. Additionally there has been historically far too much reliance on His Holiness to “fix” the problem. We have seen that over the past several decades, though he has gained a tremendous following and respect as a world renowned spiritual leader, his attempts at garnering true support leading to changes have been ineffective. Freedom from persecution for Tibetans is now up to the Tibetan people themselves. Their voices must unite and find traction in an effort to rile up more supporters than they currently have. Supporters who then can demand justice and action from world leaders and government’s on their behalf.
|Another nun burns herself to death in Tibet|
In what appears to be a strong protest against China‘s authoritarian occupation of Tibetan regions a bomb went off around 4 a.m. on the 26th. The location was a government building in Chamdo. the outer walls of the building were painted red with slogans calling for independence, leaflets saying the same were found scattered around the building. No injuries were reported, but security forces shut down the area and anyone entering or leaving the area are questioned.
News is coming slowly on this one or so it seems do I imagine to security that is unbelievably tight right now in the Chamdo area. Radio Free Asia gives a little more context in this story, but hopefully more will come our way over the next few days.
It was with a very heavy heart yesterday that I read of the 10th self-immolation in Tibet. Dawa Tsering a 31-year-old monk from Kardze Monastery like the nine Tibetans before him attempted to sacrifice his life in protest of China’s illegal occupation of Tibet. Calling for a return of the Dalai Lama and freedom to Tibet he suffered an agonizing pain I can’t even begin to imagine.
The names of the previous nine Tibetans who self-immolated are:
Tenzin Wangmo – Deceased
Norbu Damdrul – well-being and whereabouts unknown
Choephel and Kayang – both deceased
Kalsang Wangchuk – well-being and whereabouts unknown
Lobsang Kelsang – reported in hospital
Lobsang Kunchok – reported in hospital
Tsewang Norbu – deceased
Phuntsog – deceased
My thoughts and prayers are with these 10 brave souls, their families, friends and all those who witnessed these people burning themselves and the aftermath of such a site. My thoughts are also with those who have been falsely blamed and imprisoned for the immolations, the monks from Kirti who are still missing, those who have been killed, hurt or traumatized during the past several months and all the people in Ngaba who are living under the tyranny of the Chinese Communist Party. I fear there will be a weekly and indefinite continuation of immolations.
Another petition started by a member of the Tibetan Parliament in the US. can be signed via this link – White House – anyone from anywhere in the world can sign the petition. You will need to create an account with your name and email etc… If you care about the escalating situation in Tibet please, please take 5 or 10 minutes from your day and sign the petition (s) and spread the word via Twitter, Facebook, email contacts etc.
Latest news: A Tibetan nun from Ngaba set herself ablaze and died Monday in the first female self-immolation case in recent memory among Tibetans protesting Chinese rule, sources said Monday. (RFA)
I hope Mr. Tsundue doesn’t mind me posting his Essay. With a straight
forward, simple telling of stories he explains the state of a refugee.
It’s a powerful and moving piece.
Thu Je Chay Tenzin….
MY KIND OF EXILE
‘I am more of an Indian.
Except for my chinky Tibetan face’
Ask me where I’m from and I won’t have an answer. I feel I
never really belonged anywhere, never really had a home. I was born in
Manali, but my parents live in Karnataka. Finishing my schooling in
two different schools in Himachal Pradesh, my further studies took me
to Madras, Ladakh and Mumbai. My sisters are in Varanasi but my
brothers are in Dharamsala. My Registration Certificate (my permit to
stay in India) states that I’m a foreigner residing in India and my citizenship
is Tibetan. But Tibet as a nation does not feature anywhere on
the world political map. I like to speak in Tibetan, but prefer to write in
English, I like to sing in Hindi but my tune and accent are all wrong.
Every once in a while, someone walks up and demands to know where I
come from… My defiant answer “Tibetan” raises more than just their
eyebrows… I’m bombarded with questions and statements and doubts
and sympathy. But none of them can ever empathise with the plain
simple fact that I have nowhere to call home and in the world at large
all I’ll ever be is a ‘political refugee’.
When we were children in a Tibetan school in Himachal
Pradesh, our teachers used to regale us with tales of Tibetans suffering in
Tibet. We were often told that we were refugees and that we all bore a
big ‘R’ on our foreheads. It didn’t make much sense to us, we only wished
the teacher would hurry up and finish his talk and not keep us standing
in the hot sun, with our oiled hair. For a very long time I sincerely
believed that we were a special kind of people with an ‘R’ on our foreheads.
We did look different from the local Indian families who lived
around our school campus; the butcher family who killed twenty-one
sheep and goats every morning (when the goats bleated with half-cut
throat from behind the slaughterhouse, we used to throw stones at the tin
roof). There were five other families who lived nearby; they owned apple
orchards and seemed to eat only apples in different forms! In school we
never saw many people other than ourselves and a few Injis (westerners),
who visited from time to time. Perhaps the first thing I learned at school
was that we were refugees and we didn’t belong to this country.
When she spoke about her book in a magazine, she said that her exile
grew with her and that seems to be happening with me too. From the
whole gamut of recent Hindi films, I was eagerly waiting for one particular
film, Refugee, produced and directed by JP Dutta. There is a
scene in the movie that so eloquently puts forth our plight – a father
had brought his family from across the border into the neighbouring
country and is living far from comfortably but is a survivor. Events
follow one after another and there comes a scene where the authorities
hold him captive and question his identity. He breaks down: “Wahan
hamara jena mushkil ho gaya tha, isiliye hum yahan aye, ab yahan bhi…
Kya Refugee hona gunah hain?” (It had become difficult for us to live
there. So we had to come here. Now here too… Is it a crime to be
refugee?) The army officer is dumbfounded.
A few months ago a group of Tibetans in New York, mostly
youngsters, found themselves in a difficult situation. A Tibetan youth
had died and nobody in the group knew the cremation rites. All of them
stared at each other. Suddenly they found themselves too far away from
‘…and meanwhile through the years
our unburied dead eat with us
followed behind through bedroom doors.’
Tibetan refugees, like other immigrants from Asia to the West,
work hard to earn a living in that highly mechanised and competitive
environment. An old man was thus very happy when he got a job that
would pay him enough so he wouldn’t be a burden on his family’s scarce
resources. He was put in charge of pressing a button whenever there was
a beep. He found it amusing doing that trivial thing throughout the day.
He sat there all day with a rosary in his hand, softly murmuring his
prayers. Of course, he pressed the button religiously whenever there was
the beep (forgive him, oh lord, for he knew not what he was doing). A
few days later, out of curiosity, he asked his co-worker what the button
was for. He was told that every time he pressed the button, he cut the
neck of a chicken. He immediately left the job.
In October 2000 the world was tuned in to the Sydney Olympics.
In the hostel, on D-day we were all glued to the TV set eager for the
opening ceremony to begin. Halfway into the event I realised that I
couldn’t see clearly anymore and my face felt wet. I was crying. No, it
wasn’t the fact that I dearly wished I was in Sydney, or the splendour of
the atmosphere, or the spirit of the games. I tried hard to explain to
those around me. But they couldn’t understand, couldn’t even begin to
understand… how could they? They belong to a nation. They have never
had to conceive of its loss, they have never had to cry for their country.
They belonged and had a space of their own, not only on the world map
but also in the Olympic Games. Their countrymen could march proudly,
confident of their nationality, in their national dress and with their
national flag flying high. I was so happy for them.
‘Night comes down, but your stars are missing’
Neruda spoke for me when I was silent, drowned in tears. Quietly
watching the rest of the show I was heavy and breathless. They talked
about borderlessness and building brotherhood through the spirit of
sports. From the comfort of home they talked about coming together
for one humanity and defying borders. What can I, a refugee, talk about
except the wish to go back home?
Home for me is real. It is there, but I am very far from it. It is
the home my grandparents and parents left behind in Tibet. It is the
valley in which my Popo-la and Momo-la had their farm and lots of
yaks, where my parents played when they were children. My parents now
live in a refugee camp in Karnataka. They are given a house and land to
till. They grow maize, their annual yield. I visit them once every couple
of years for a short vacation. During my stay, I often ask them about
our home in Tibet. They tell me of that fateful day, when they were
playing in the lush green pastures of the Changthang, while grazing their
yaks and sheep, how they had to pack up and flee the village. Everyone
was leaving the village and there was hushed talk that the Chinese were
killing everybody on their way in. Monasteries were being bombed, robbery
rampant, everything was in chaos. Smoke could be seen from distant
villages and there were screams in the mountains. When they actually
left their village they had to trek through the Himalayas and then to
India, and they were only children. It was exciting but it was fearful too.
In India, they worked as mountain road construction labourers
in Masumari, Bir, Kullu, and Manali. The world’s highest stretch of
metalled road, running hundreds of kilometers from Manali to Ladakh,
was built by the Tibetans. My parents tell me that hundreds of Tibetans
who came across into India died in those first few months. They could
not bear the heat of summer, and the monsoon caught them in poor
health. But the camp lived on and had many shifts along the road.
Somewhere along that journey, at a roadside, I was born in a makeshift
tent. “Who had time to record a child’s birth when everyone was tired
and hungry?” my mother says when I ask for my birthday. It was only
when I was admitted into a school that I was given a date of birth. At
three different offices three different records were made, now I have
three dates of birth. I have never celebrated my birthday.
The monsoon is welcome to our farm, but not to our house.
The forty-year-old tiled roof drips, and in the house we get to work
planting vessels and buckets, spoons and glasses, collecting the bounty of
the rain gods, while Pa-la climbs onto the roof trying to fill the gaps
and replace the broken tiles. Pa-la never thinks about revamping the
whole roof using some good asbestos sheets. He says, “Soon we will go
back to Tibet. There we have our own home.” Our cowshed has seen some
repairs; the thatch is re-laid annually and old worm-infested wooden
poles and frames are replaced.
When the Tibetans first settled in Karnataka, they decided to
grow only papayas and some vegetables. They said that, with the blessings
of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it wouldn’t take more than ten years to
return to Tibet. But now even the guava trees are old and withered. The
mango seeds they dumped in the back yard are bearing fruits. Coconut
trees are brushing shoulders with our exile house. Old folks bask in the
sun drinking chang or butter tea, chatting about the good old days in
Tibet with their prayer wheels in their hands, while the youngsters are
scattered all over the world, studying, working. This waiting seems to be
‘money plants crept in through the window,
our house seems to have grown roots,
the fences have grown into a jungle,
now how can I tell my children
where we came from?’
I recently met a friend of mine, Dawa, in Dharamsala. He had
escaped to India a couple of years ago after being freed from a Chinese
prison. He spoke to me about his prison experiences. His brother, a
monk, was arrested for putting up ‘Free Tibet’ posters and, when tortured
in prison, it was he who spilled the beans on Dawa. Dawa was
imprisoned without trial for four hundred and twenty two days. He was
then only twenty-six. Dawa had been working under Chinese bureaucracy
for quite some time. He was taken to Beijing from Tibet for
formal education early in life and still he laughs at China’s feeble efforts
to indoctrinate their ideas and beliefs of Communism and its way
of life on Tibetans. Thankfully, in his case the Chinese efforts didn’t
Two years ago, a close school-friend received a letter that put
him in the most difficult situation of his life. The letter, from his uncle,
said that his parents, who were in Tibet, had got permission for a pilgrimage
to Nepal for two months. Tashi, after collecting his brother
from Dharamsala, went to Nepal to meet their parents whom they had
not seen since their escape to India twenty years ago. Before leaving,
Tashi wrote to me, ‘Tsundue, I don’t know whether I should rejoice that
I am finally going to meet my parents or cry because I can’t remember
how my parents looked… I was only a child when I was sent to India
with my uncle, and it’s twenty years now.’ Recently, he received another
letter from his uncle in Nepal. It said that his mother had passed away
in Tibet a month ago.
I saw the Germans shed tears of joy when broken families from
the East and the West finally met and hugged each other over the broken
wall. The Koreans are brimming with tears of joy as the border that
divided their country into North and South is finally melting. I fear the
broken families of Tibet will never rejoin. My grandparents’ brothers
and sisters were left behind in Tibet. My Popo-la passed away a few years
ago; will my Momo-la ever get to see her brothers and sisters again? Will
we be together there so that she can show me our home and our farm?
Note – This essay won the Outlook-Picador Non-Fiction Competition 2001. The
judges said they picked it for “the touching simplicity with which the writer explains
the tragedy of being a Tibetan in this world, and, in a way, the pain of all refugees
across the world.”
· First published in Outlook magazine