China trying to undermine Tibet’s identity, want to make world aware about it: Tibetan girl who was jailed for protesting

PTI, Apr 28, 2024, 6:03 PM IST

Namkyi (credit: PTI)

By Manash Pratim Bhuyan

Dharamsala: On October 21, 2015, a 15-year-old Tibetan girl along with her sister was picked up by Chinese authorities in the Tibetan county of Ngaba and were put behind bars for three years for publicly displaying portraits of the Dalai Lama and demanding a “free” Tibet.

In June last year, the girl, Namkyi, arrived in India weeks after entering Nepal following a 10-day arduous journey on foot with a “firm” resolve to make people across the world aware about ‘Chinese repression’ in Tibet, according to her account.

Namkyi, now 24, says she is currently studying at ‘Sherab Gatsel Ling’, an educational institution run by the Tibetan government-in-exile in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala.

“What the Chinese government is showing to the entire world about Tibet is in total contrast to the real situation. The Tibetan people are living under increasing fear and repression,” she told a small group of journalists.

“China has been trying to undermine Tibet’s identity,” she alleges.

Tibetan activists have been accusing China of denying religious freedom and trying to stamp out Tibet’s cultural heritage and identity. Beijing has been rejecting the charges.

“I want to tell the world what is happening in Tibet. I want to be the voice of the Tibetan people to let the world know about their pain and anguish, about the Chinese repression,” Namkyi said.

The girl, born to a typical nomadic family in Charo village, also recalled her and her sister Tenzin Dolma’s detention following their demonstration at a key locality in Ngaba, “calling for ‘Free Tibet’ and seeking the swift return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.”

“Not more than 10 minutes into our march, four or five police officers came from behind and snatched the portraits from our hands,” she said about the October 21, 2015 protest.

“We did not let go of the portraits and resisted the police action. Finally, the police dragged us down the road and told us to be silent. But we shouted our slogans continuously,” she said.

“They handcuffed our hands, put us into the police van and took us away to the detention centre of Ngaba County. Then they took us to another detention centre in Barkam city.”

Namkyi claimed she and her sister were subjected to severe torture.

“We were interrogated in a small room where a heater was switched on with excessive heat. Different interrogators asked various questions such as who incited us to hold the protest; where did we get the portraits of the Dalai Lama and whether we had any acquaintances from outside, etc,” she said.

“Despite mental and physical torture, we only responded that both of us freely decided to hold the protest, and no one incited us, and also that our family members knew nothing about it,” she said.

Namkyi said the trial started nearly a year after the arrest.

“That day , we both saw each other for the first time since our arrest,” she recalled, adding the court sent them to prison.

“After three months in prison, I worked in a labour camp where copper wires were produced, and my sister made cigarette boxes at first, and then we were shifted to a wrist-watch manufacturing camp,” she said.

“Later, we learned that our family had sent food and clothes for us, but we never got anything from the prison authorities.”

“On 21 October 2018, we were released from prison after completing the prison term,” she said.

Namkyi alleged that the Chinese authorities “troubled” her family members and relatives because she and her sister took part in the protest.

“On May 13, 2023, I started my journey of escape with my aunt Tsering Kyi without telling anyone,” she said, adding they first crossed over to Nepal through a border point and then came to Dharamshala on June 28.

In India for close to 10 months, she feared for the safety of her family members back home.

“I am worried that my family may be targeted,” she said.

Namkyi said her main aim now is to “let the world know the real situation in Tibet”.

“People are living in pathetic conditions in Tibet. I want to be their voice to the world. I want to visit various countries and tell them what is going on in Tibet,” she added.

Tibetan activists said people from their community have been facing intense surveillance, and possessing pictures of the Dalai Lama or mentioning him in public is not allowed.

Namkyi said she had the opportunity to seek the blessings of the Dalai Lama last year and he had underlined the need to work towards protecting the identity and cultural heritage of Tibet.

Political head of Tibet’s government-in-exile Penpa Tsering said people in Tibet are living in fear and they face intense surveillance in their daily lives.

“People are living in fear because they could get blacklisted anytime. Once they get blacklisted, they land up in a lot of problems,” he said.

After a failed anti-Chinese uprising in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet and came to India where he set up the government-in-exile.

Tibet’s government-in-exile based in Dharamshala represents over one lakh Tibetans living in around 30 countries.

The Chinese government officials and the Dalai Lama or his representatives have not met for formal negotiations since 2010.

Beijing has been maintaining that it freed “serfs and slaves” from a brutal theocracy in Tibet, bringing the region on the path of prosperity and modernisation.

China has in the past accused the Dalai Lama of indulging in “separatist” activities and trying to split Tibet and considers him as a divisive figure.

However, the Tibetan spiritual leader has insisted that he is not seeking independence but “genuine autonomy for all Tibetans living in the three traditional provinces of Tibet” under the “Middle-Way approach”.

Relations between the two sides strained further due to protests against China in Tibetan areas in 2008.

The US and several democratic countries have been consistently supporting the Tibetan cause, notwithstanding China’s strong objection.

In 2020, the US came out with legislation reaffirming the absolute right of the Tibetan people to choose a successor to the Dalai Lama and the preservation of Tibet’s environment.

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