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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Tears for Tibet: A First-Person Reflection


by bert

My wife and I have an old, dear friend from college who finds herself in the thick of the renewed resistance to the Chinese repression of Tibetans. She is married to a Tibetan exile and lives in Dharamsala, India. She wrote me this jaw-dropping message:


I currently live in a mixed Indian/Tibetan village in the valley below Dharamsala. Dharamsala is a small Indian town itself, and situated more than 1,000 feet higher up the mountain from Dharamsala is McCleodganj, the predominantly Tibetan community, where the Dalai Lama resides, and the actual community we hear about in the media named "Dharamsala".

Since the uprising in Tibet, and crackdown by gov't there, protests have been held nearly every day in McCleodganj. Tibetans here mourn for what is happening and prayer vigils are as common as the protests. The so called "tension" (misnomer extraordinaire) in their homeland touches everyone---some because their loved ones are missing, imprisoned, or dead---some b/c their families live in Tibet and they fear for their safety--all because the future not only of their homeland, but of their culture is at stake. My guess is that current events are retraumatizing for many people as well, triggering memories of their own escape, torture, imprisonment, or hardships.

The issue is not only about 140 people murdered in recent weeks (my guess, a huge undercount anyway, though it's the latest number I've read in the press...but does not include people "missing" or imprisoned) but that Tibetan people do not live with basic human rights.

We do not by and large hear in the media about what is actually happening in Tibet, and what has been happening for decades. One of the things that is striking living amongst Tibetans in the communities in exile in India is how oppression and violence under Chinese rule has touched every household. What is even more striking---and should alarm all of us---is when any person or people---becomes accustomed to such a life. Last week during a break from class our language teacher casually mentioned that her brother was just released from prison after 14 years---for protesting. (Can anyone imagine losing a decade or more of our life because we marched against the war in Iraq---or Persian Gulf War---or Vietnam?!...) The next breath she said, "Okay, forget it, let's go on..."

Another woman I was practicing conversation with happens to be a former nun. She was not allowed to practice Buddhism in nunneries in Tibet because she had participated in a protest at one point. She was tortured with an electric baton---a common response by the army/police there she said. Her story is typical. She cannot return to Tibet because China will not grant her a visa because of her activism in years past. (Keep in mind, the same sort of peaceful activism many of us regularly participate in.) Every year, Tibetans escape into exile through Nepal and India. More often than not their stories are harrowing...another teacher told me last week about seeing "so many" dead bodies along the way---of the people who didn't make it. Sometimes the survivors are children who enter the school system---where they can receive a Tibetan education, which they have not been able to while in Tibet. Sometimes the children arrive to reception centers with such frostbite that they end up having parts of their feet or hands amputated.

These are the sorts of stories you hear from people here. Along with their sorrow, longing to return to Tibet, and so often such sacrifice---not seeing their families in Tibet for years and years...sometimes, e.g. they never see their parents again before they die. I'm stressing this because here in India---or elsewhere---it's easy to hear/see and enjoy the "glamor" or mystique that seems to surround Tibet and Tibetan people, and forget, at least, temporarily what brought them here.

Amazingly, (impressively) still, the Dalai Lama pleads for non-violence in Tibet and India as well. At recent protests the speakers emphasized over and over again the need to remain non-violent---despite what may happen. (On that day, there had just been reports that protesters in Delhi had been beaten by Indian police and tensions, naturally, were running high for people.) The crowd was guided to not react if the police use force, and to not join in if other people who seem to be Tibetan are throwing stones, etc., because it is well known that the Chinese gov't has used spies in the past to spark conficts as well as to create divisiveness (e.g. between Buddhists and Muslims in Tibet).

On a more personal note---this whole thing has been disheartening--to put it lightly. What adds insult to injury though, is finding out that foreigners (including Tibetans living here with foreign passports) are forbidden to participate in the peace protests, with the threat of being deported and banned for life from receiving any sort of visa to return to India.

I hope that "Freedom Loving people" in America will take time to do what they can for Tibet and Tibetans. One thing that comes to mind is contacting senators and representatives and pressing them to advocate that Chinese leadership meet with Tibetan leadership, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The sooner the better.

Thank you for your interest. For up to date news on Tibetan issues, the site commonly used here is
www.phayul.com.

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