Sunday, March 30, 2008

Monks amok

I fell off
Kathmandu, Nepal
For the second time in as many months, I write a blog with the title "I Fell Off." Sorry for my silence. I can only have the wind taken out of my sails so many times (on every level - professional, financial, the list goes on) without getting profoundly discouraged. But enough about me!

Pro-Tibet protests at either the Chinese Embassy, the UN Building, or both are nearly a daily occurrence here. I spent Friday riding around on the back of an Enfield Bullet bike with a prominent Nepali photojournalist, sniffing out the action. Not to name names, but most of the wire service stories you read were written by him.

Like a surprising number of Nepalis I have spoken to, my friend seems to think that in some way, the Tibetans deserve to get beaten up for staging peaceful protests. "We have an agreement with China, not to allow any anti-China activity in Nepal," he said. Whether or not such actions are anti-China is definitely a matter of interpretation - I would characterize them as pro-Tibet. When the protestors are chanting "Stop the killing in Tibet" it's hard to construe that as anti-China.

He went on to say, "They say they are carrying out peaceful protests. But they are not peaceful. They have banners, and they are chanting against China." Sure, that justifies getting beat up with bamboo canes and being tear-gassed. Banners and chants are not violent.

I showed him my photos of the monk being attacked 2 weeks ago in Boudha. I was surprised to learn he too had been there that day. "But," he said a bit sheepishly, "they chased away everyone with cameras."

Obviously, not everyone.

"I talked to some of the local people," he continued. (Local Nepali people, that is.) "They said, they don't like that the Tibetans put up a photo of the Dalai Lama in front of a statue of the Buddha. Dalai Lama is not greater than the Buddha. You know, they (Tibetans) are aggressive." Again, so that justifies beating them up with 2x2s? This conclusion seemed to follow very logically in his conversation.
"The people I interviewed, Nepali and Tibetan, felt that the attackers had been paid by the Chinese," I offered. He giggled. "Oh, I don't know about that." He hadn't even bothered to speak with any of the Tibetans regarding the localized violence.

His comments, and those of several other Nepalis who spoke frankly, reminded me how very inured the average Nepali has become to organized violence, how little sense of moral outrage there is and how regular beat-downs -- by either police, army, PLA or gangsters (of whatever stripe) -- have come to be expected.

Good luck with that democracy thing, guys. You don't have a clue! What do you think "democracy" means, anyway - that everybody gets a car?

Twilight of the gods
It's high tourist season, and foreign visitors continue to flood the Buddhist stupas, monasteries, thangka-painting concerns, guest houses with names like "Namo Buddha", and gift shoppes hawking Buddhist items such as prayer wheels and singing bowls. The entire mystique of Kathmandu and Nepal is based on two things only - proximity to Tibet and its "mysterious, spiritual" Buddhist culture, and the mountains (which of course are part and parcel of one another). The monks, caretakers of these living traditions, are being locked away for defending the very culture that is keeping Nepal commercially alive.

Nepal Tourism continually trumpets the nation as "the land of the Buddha." Monks and nuns, savaged and locked up in the "land of the Buddha." (In fact, saying that Gautama Buddha was "Nepali" is rather like saying Jesus was Israeli. But I digress.)
Meanwhile, the music shoppes continually play that sappy recording of the sacred Buddhist mantra, "Om Mani Padme Hung" (all visitors to Dharamsala and Kathmandu know the one....terrible, cheesy keyboards and all).
Maybe I can edit a video of the monks getting beaten using that as the soundtrack. I'm sure some tourists will buy it.....


Mridula said...

SS, I can sense your anger and frustration in the post. Democracy has a crazy way of functioning even in India.

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