Today is Losar, the first day of the Tibetan Lunar Year 2139.
Many people describe Losar, somewhat inadequately, as the Tibetan equivalent of the western New Year. But Losar is much more than just a marker between two separate years; it is a day steeped in religious rituals and spiritual symbolism. Losar for Tibetans is like several holidays wrapped into one; it delights children and adults alike, reunites families and renews friendships, reminding us of who we are as a people, and as a nation.
This Losar, however, will be a quiet one. From Lhasa to Lithang, Golok to Dharamsala, and Ngaba to New York, there will be no fireworks, no merrymaking, no exchange of gifts. For this is no ordinary time. In the past year, 22 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in the most pure and powerful expression of defiance to Chinese rule. The self-immolations in Tibet have shocked the world and galvanized the Tibet movement. Just last week, Dhamchoe Sangpo and Nangdrol self-immolated. Their demands were clear: freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama.
In an expression of national grief, Tibetans everywhere are foregoing festivities today to salute those who have given their lives for freedom this past year. Though we are aware that grief alone does not bring about revolutionary change, there is something undeniably powerful about this collective mourning because it is an act that we Tibetans control, a phenomenon that the Chinese government cannot stop.
In many parts of Tibet, Chinese authorities have been paying Tibetan families to celebrate Losar. In a perverse attempt to create aÂ picture of normalcy, the authorities have been almost begging Tibetans to “have a good time” on Losar. Tibetans, by canceling the festivities and taking control over their own lives, are seizing power away from the state through this widespread act of civil disobedience.
Deciding how to mark Losar is perhaps the most poignant expression of the Tibetan people’s growing cultural and social sovereignty, the foundation upon which political freedom can be built. Our collective grief and spiritual reflection this Losar is an act of resilience, of defiance, and ultimately, of hope. As we pay tribute to those who have selflessly offered their lives to advance our cause, let us remember what they died for, and recommit ourselves to the goal of a free Tibet.
This Losar, we urge you to honor the Tibetan heroes of 2138 by taking a pledge of resistance for Tibet. Here are some examples of the pledges Tibetans and our supporters are making today:
To make your pledge, please visit: www.Lhakar.org/pledge. Here you can read more about how Tibetans are exercising control over their social and cultural lives and building a vibrant self-reliance, non-cooperation movement that is starting to shake the very foundations of China’s colonial rule in Tibet.
May the Tibetan Water Dragon Year 2139 bring us closer to a free and independent Tibet.
Bho Gyalo. Victory to Tibet.
P.S. Please make your pledge of resistance on Losar at:Â www.Lhakar.org
In my citizen journalism workshop, I often start by asking if anyone can think of powerful images which changed the world. More often than not participants mention the image of Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc.
In 1963, when the international community saw photos of Thich Quang Duc sitting cross-legged while engulfed in flames, global consciousness shifted to Vietnam. Today, his protest is widely credited as a catalyst to the fall of the Diá»‡m regime in Vietnam.
Similarly, when Tunisians saw the shaky footage ofÂ Mohamed Bouaziziâ€™s self-immolation this year in Tunisia, his countrymen took to the streets in what became the Tunisian Revolution and sparked the beginnings of the Arab Spring.
Our generationâ€™s powerful images may not come in high resolution but the pixelated cell phone photos, screenshots from internet chat applications, and shaky mobile video are no less historic and no less powerful.
It is our responsibility to view them, to glimpse at the brutal repression and desperate measures Tibetans inside Tibet are taking as their voices are silenced. However difficult it may be to gaze upon the images of the twelve monks and nuns who have self-immolated since 2009, it can’t compare to the unimaginable hardships that those individuals have endured to bring them to commit such shocking acts.
If we can do anything, we can share their stories. Please talk about them, write about them, blog about them, tweet about them, post their images on Facebook and Twitter. We cannot let the desperate sacrifices of Tibetans inside Tibet be forgotten.
The following is a collection of the known images of self-immolation which have been bravely smuggled out of Tibet.
For background information on these desperate acts please read Tendor’s Tibetans have reached breaking point, world must step in.
This powerful video recently received from Tibet shows a dramatic scene from early 2006 in Machu County in Amdo, eastern Tibet. Thousands of Tibetans, mostly nomads can be seen making religious offerings for the protection of wildlife, praying for the Dalai Lamaâ€™s long life, and jubilantly discarding animal pelts into a massive bonfire while screaming â€œLong live the Dalai Lamaâ€ and â€œVictory to Tibet!â€
The burning of animal fur, some of which had the monetary value equivalent to a car, was carried out in response to a statement by the Dalai Lama in which he said he felt “ashamed” when he saw Tibetans wearing the pelts of endangered animals such as tigers or leopards.
Within days of the Dalai Lamaâ€™s appeal, tens of thousands of Tibetans from across Tibet held massive gatherings where animal skin hats, shirts andÂ Chubas were thrown into large bonfires.
For background information on the 2006 fur burning campaign and analysis on how wearing exotic pelts is not part of traditional Tibetan culture, readÂ â€œBurning the animal skin, revolution sparked in Tibet.â€
Since 2006, Tibetans in Tibet have consistentlyÂ shunned the practice of wearing clothing decorated with furs. In many cases Tibetans are ordered to wear expensive furs during traditional festivals to provide tourists with an image of Tibetan culture that conforms to Chinese stereotypes. In a dramatic assertion of Tibetan identity, this state sponsored re-invention of Tibetan culture has been rejected by Tibetans.
Many Tibetans across Tibet are engaging in a self-reliance movement by taking concrete, sustainable actions as part of Tibetâ€™s Lhakar or â€œWhite Wednesdayâ€ movement.
For more on Tibetâ€™s Lhakar movement, go to:http://lhakar.org
Tsewang Norbuâ€™s last words were â€œwe Tibetan people want freedom.â€
For those of us in the Tibet movement, it may be months or years before we login to Facebook without seeing images of Tsewang Norbu. On August 15th, 2011, when 29-year-old monk Tsewang Norbu doused himself in petrol, then in an inconceivable act of sacrifice and courage, lit himself ablaze in protest, our hearts sank with sadness.
To understand what would bring a Buddhist monk to preform such an extreme act of bravery and desperation, we must look at the environment Tsewang Norbu lived in before his tragic self-immolation.
Tawu County sits in the hills of Kham, Eastern Tibet. It has been described as a beautiful mountainous valley where people have no greater devotion then that for the Dalai Lama. Tsewang Norbu knew a different Tawu.
In late 2008 I briefly visited Tawu. On one occasion a young monk came to me and asked where I had learned Tibetan. Upon hearing that I had learned in India, he clasped his hands and quietly whispered â€œDalai Lama, we Tibetans want him to return.â€
A relatively small County, the police presence in Tawu is overwhelming. There are five prison/detention centers in Tawu. In the months before Tsewang Norbu self-immolated, tanks patrolled the streets, police ordered locals to present their identification cards as they walked through the market, and trucks of Chinese soldiers road up and down Tawuâ€™s streets. For Tsewang Norbu, the situation was unbearable.
These photos taken in Tawu before August 15th show the Tawu which Tsewang Norbu knew.
Only a month before Tsewang Norbuâ€™s brave act, thousands of Tibetans in Tawu defied orders from Chinese officials and military personal to not celebrate the Dalai Lamaâ€™s birthday. Shown in these dramatic photos, nuns from a local nunnery led thousands of Tibetans up into the hills of Tawu past the view of the military. The Tibetans made sangsol offerings, threw tsampa in air, and sang songs to celebrate.
As they descended back into the city, they were confronted by Chinese police. It is not clear what happened next.
Unfortunately, Norbuâ€™s act did not come as a shock to us. Only Six-months earlier Tsewang Norbuâ€™s death, Phuntsok Jarutsang set himself on fire in protest. One year before Phuntsok, Tapey, another monk from Nagaba also immolated. The desperation felt by these monks and the conditions which produced their unbelievable acts must end.
Without any doubt, the acts of Tsewang Norbu, Phuntsok Jarutsang and Tapey will be committed to the pages of Tibetan history. I only hope their brave and inconceivable acts of protest will be the final ones before their chapter is closed and Tibet is free.
Late in the afternoon on July 10th, 2011, three students arrived at the main market of Kardze County. Â The students began distributing pamphlets and shouting slogans calling for â€œunity amongst Tibetans, the return of the Dalai Lama, and the independence of Tibet.â€ Almost immediately the Public Security Bureau officers arrived and began beating the students. The three students are Lobsang Phuntsok, Samphel and Lobsang Lhundup.
Again on July 29th, only in his mid 20s, Lobsang Ngodup staged a dramatic protest on the main road of Kardze County. He unveiled a portrait of the Dalai Lama and began chanting slogans. Eyewitnesses reported that he â€œcontinued to raise slogans for Tibetâ€™s independence even while Chinese security personnel beat him severely.â€
Similarly, in north eastern Tibet (Amdo), over 400 students from â€œGolog Senior Tibetan High Schoolâ€ demonstrated against destructive mining in the region. In late July, the students set out on a 60 kilometer march to the site of a copper mine in Dawu, Golog. The students later staged a sit-in at the county government offices. Police forced the students to disperse although no arrests were made.
News of the protest was reported by the Tibet Times and Voice of Tibet Radio. A photo of the protest was sent from Golog to sources in exile and later posted on Chinese social networking websites. Although promptly taken down, the photo attracted dozens of supportive comments.
One user who shared the photo commented:
â€œForward this article if you are inspired by the sacrifice of our brave Tibetan brothers who are rising across Tibet.â€
In 2010, a wave of student protests spread across Tibet and culminated with widespread protests for language freedom in late October. Students both in and outside Tibet are utilizing the power of nonviolent resistance and continue to be at the forefront of the Tibetan freedom struggle.
Last week photos of a brave protest in Ngagrong County in Kham from April 2010 were released by the Central Tibetan Administration.
Especially for those of us who have walked the streets of Tibet, the images of the 3 monks throwing handfuls of pamphlets in the air and waving homemade Tibetan national flags, are both inspiring and chilling.
Whatâ€™s probably most inspiring about the photos and video is the age of the young monks. All under 23, they risked everything to send a message to the Chinese government that Tibetans are not happy under Chinese rule, that Tibetans want the return of the Dalai Lama, and that Tibetâ€™s new generation will take action.
The fate of the four monks, Khu Tashi 22, Tsering Gyaltsen 19, Tsering Wangchuk 22, and Ringzin Dorjee is unknown. The prison where they are being held, their condition, and their harrowing story may never be heard. But their courage, sacrifice, and message was. To Khu, Tsering, Rinzin, and Tsering, we heard your brave cries.
Similarly last week in Kardze, Eastern Tibet, up to 20 monks and nuns staged protests. Like the 4 monks from Ngagrong, their brave sacrifice was heard.
All 17 monks and nuns from Kardze, like the monks from Ngagrong, are part of Tibetâ€™s new generation, a generation of brave, brilliant, and restless youth who feel the “temptation of freedom.”
On May 4th, Amnesty International honored His Holiness the Dalai Lama at its 50th anniversary event in Los Angeles. During the presentation, I had the opportunity to represent SFT and ask a question on stage.
As His Holiness exited with his entourage, he stopped to speak with a few of us. I held out a khata (traditional greeting scarf) and as I greeted him, he held my hands and said, “Don’t give up; you all must continue your work. Never lose hope, because change is definitely coming.”
He went on to say that in light of the increasing pace of change in China, it is important to work with the Chinese people â€“ writers, intellectuals, artists, the opinion-makers of society.
The previous day, I had spoken at a conference bringing together Chinese dissidents, Tibetan activists, Mongolians, Uyghurs, and Taiwanese to discuss opportunities and develop strategies for advancing our respective struggles for freedom, democracy, and human rights.
I explained to His Holiness that our global network was engaging in strategic Chinese outreach by connecting with key democracy advocates, writers, artists, students, lawyers and intellectuals. He assured me our efforts will make a difference and that change is imminent.
In that moment, I felt the immensity of the work ahead of us, but also had the distinct feeling that victory was inevitable.
With your help we can bring about freedom in Tibet. Please donate today to support SFT’s work.
As we build new and strategic alliances, we must continue to challenge China’s abuses in Tibet at every turn. I was reminded of this minutes after His Holiness left, when I joined Lobsang, the official videographer for the award ceremony.
Lobsang is from Ngaba, the county in Amdo, Tibet that is under attack by Chinese security forces. His 15-year-old cousin, Norbu, was shot dead by China’s armed police on March 16th, 2008 for taking part in a peaceful protest for Tibetan freedom.
Three years after the day Norbu was shot, Phuntsok Jarutsang, a 20-year-old monk, lit himself on fire in an act of protest against China’s repression, and troops have since laid siege on Kirti monastery.
Right now, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, are meeting with Chinese officials in Washington, DC. Urge the U.S. Administration to raise Tibet and human rights during this week’s U.S.-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue.
Together, we can ensure that one day soon, people like Lobsang â€“ and all Tibetans â€“ are united with their families and homeland.
Please support SFT today: http://sft.convio.net/site/Donation2?df_id=1345&1345.donation=form1
Thank you for all you do for Tibet,
Tenzin Dorjee (Tendor)
On March 16th, 2011 when Phuntsok Jarutsang, a 21 year-old Tibetan monk from Kirti Monastery, doused his robes in petrol and set himself ablaze, he sent a spark through the Tibetan world.
Following Phuntsokâ€™s death, over a thousand brave Tibetans in Ngaba (Ch: Aba County), took to the streets. Their protest was swiftly quelled by Chinese security forces. In the ensuing days, Chinese forces arrested dozens of Tibetans and laid siege to Kirti Monastery.
Tensions mounted on April 12th, fearing Chinese security forces plans to take away monks, Tibetans blocked the entrance of Kirti Monastery. Chinese soldiers tried to break through the Tibetansâ€™ blockade by beating and setting dogs on the crowd. The Tibetans stood their ground.
Nine days later, police in Ngaba again attacked unarmed Tibetans and arrested over 350 monks from Kirti Monastery. Around 200 lay Tibetans formed a human chain attempting to stop the monks from being taken away. Two elderly Tibetans were killed as police beat their way through the human chain.
How did China respond to the siege at Kirti? A Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson acknowledged Phuntsokâ€™s death but blamed it on â€œepilepsy treatment delays.â€ (China Daily) Nothing could be more insulting than to blame Phuntsokâ€™s brave and tragic act on epilepsy.
A spokesman for Chinaâ€™s foreign ministry denied that security forces were blockading the monastery and added that Beijingâ€™s policies in the Ngaba were â€œwell received by local peopleâ€ (BBC)
If this was so, then why did thousands of Tibetans pour into the streets after Phuntsokâ€™s death? Why did thousands of Tibetans attend Phuntsokâ€™s funeral to pay homage to Phuntsok? Photos and video received by Free Tibet campaign clearly show the blockade at Kirti and a massive police and military build up in Ngaba. Beijingâ€™s policies have clearly not been â€œwell received.â€
The spark ignited by Phuntsok reached far beyond the streets of Ngaba. Tibetans and supporters across the world have held protests, vigils, and lobbied in support of Tibetans in Ngaba. Every day for the past 3 weeks, Tibetans in New York have staged daily protests and on April 25th, the Tibetan Youth Congress in India launched an Indefinite Hunger Strike in New Delhi.
Tibetans in Ngaba have not only exposed the Chinese governmentâ€™s brutality, but also the blatant lies they have told to cover up their actions.