Thursday, February 19, 2009


Unhappy new year
News From Tibet and diaspora
Waiting for HH
As I am usually what passes for a Tibetan-culture knowitall at most gatherings, foreign friends have been asking me: "So when is Losar?" (the Tibetan New Year celebration).

In 2009, Losar is supposed to be February 26. But this year, I don't know whether there will be any celebrations, or to what extent.

At least one sector of the Tibetan community feels Losar should not be observed with any festivity this year. This is partly due to the extreme state of distress in Tibet at the moment and partly to observe the 50th Anniversary of the Dalai Lama's escape from Tibet into India, and the Tibetan Uprising.

(If you would like to know more about the events of 1959, the Times of India has finally justified its existence by providing a handy online archive going back some 150 years with original news articles from the period.)

Of course, some don't agree; and I can definitely see the irony of asking a culture whose very survival is an achievement *not* to observe one of the major manifestations of said culture - even moreso when the Chinese government has tried to force ethnic Tibetans to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year instead.

No more questions!
Recently, the Chinese government made a big deal of "inviting foreign journalists to Tibet" (after expelling most of them last year) for a highly-orchestrated press trip to Lhasa. The trip included a visit to Drepung Monastery, which last year became a centre of Tibetan resistance.

I read two different accounts of the trip (some
excerpted below); the reporters from different news outlets appear to have spoken with many of the same people and gotten the same rehearsed responses. China defenders say things like, "You can't believe what you read; you should go there yourself." As if that were even possible for most people at the best of times, the Chinese government has now declared several Tibetan-majority areas off limits to visitors.

Those who do go - such as these various journalists - give very similar reports.
Every tourist account I have heard first or second-hand has reinforced these accounts (from one Indian tourist: "I was on a boat with a uniformed police officer; later I saw him in the monastery wearing monk's robes").

Tibet's religious life still bruised by riots (Reuters):
Inside, monks take patriotic education classes on Chinese law, alongside their Buddhist scripture studies, and were kept closeted away from visiting foreign journalists on a rare and tightly controlled government visit on Thursday.

In Tibet, it's just the facts, ma'am (MSNBC): In this account, one of the brave young monks who, last year, interrupted a similar government-arranged press trip, is now mysteriously transformed and recants:

-He said he no longer felt
the way he did last March, because he and the others realized they had been "misled by the wrong people" (he did not elaborate what he meant). Norgyal also maintained that he had been able to continue his religious studies although he did say the monks had been given "patriotic" study sessions, during which they learned about Chinese law and constitution.

At Drepung Monastery, Ngawang said his monks had also been studying the legal system. "We have legal knowledge sessions for all the monks," he said,
in order to ensure order in the monastery.
"We study the laws and the constitution so we understand the laws better and do not break them," he added. "The monks are also Chinese citizens."
A visit to TibetInfoNet gives an idea where some of the dwindling monastic population may have gone: "Nine monks sentenced; others committed suicide"

This week's Site for Sore Eyes

If you're one of the majority who will never physically get close to the sacred places mentioned above, you might want a virtual visit via -which looks extremely cool, well-arranged and informative, and is certain to become one of my preferred time-wasting devices. 

Related Reading: 
Tibetans in Exile 1959-1969 : A Report on Ten Years of Rehabilitation in India 
Tibetans in Exile: The Democratic Vision 


Winnowed said...

When trying to solve the Tibetan problem, it must be conceded that there isn't much resistance inside Tibet. The only people able to show some defiance seem to be the monks and even with them, brainwashing seems to be working.

Aadil said...

There are not many Tibetans in Tibet since most of them have moved to other countries and most of the Han Chinese have moved into Tibet. So naturally the the monks who are there have to keep quiet or they would be moved out from the monasteries. Having visited Tibet in 2007, I have seen what happens out there and what the situation there was like. Wonder why the US does not do what it has done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam out here!!! So is Obama going to toe the same line as Bush?!!!

Sirensongs said...

@Aadil: the tremendous difficulty of Obama's situation, given the current financial crisis, was demonstrated by H Clinton's verbal missteps yesterday. Yes, diplomats must always balance realpolitik with ideals; she did it very clumsily. And we're going to be hearing more of such doubletalk, IMHO.

@Winnowed: Sorry, I disagree - from what I have gathered following the news for several years (news such as makes it out of Tibet), there is a great deal of resistance - considering the circumstances of course - inside the country. The monk described in the article is, you will notice, one of the very few monnks allowed to speak to the visitors. That shows it wasn't easy to find such a candidate (ie, there are not many converts, willing or otherwise). Additionally, he is a young monk - probably he figured he could do more good biding time this way than going to jail forever. An elder monk may not have made that decision (and evidently many did not).

The fact that there is comparatively "not much resistance" (compared to what? South Africa under apartheid, or maybe colonial India?) shouldn't be construed to mean complicity within Tibetan population. Rather it demonstrates the ruthlessness of the govt's oppression.

True, there are Tibetans who have been bought off and co-opted. There will always be some of those in any such population.
even with the concentration camps the Nazis had Jews who were more compliant than others and ratted out other Jews (read MAUS for more insight into that....).