Restored Voice is entering into the last stretch of its field work phase. Today the final damp, chilly gasp of winter is passing through these hills. Rain and cold keep us prisoners around densely smoking scrap fires or in cozy cafes with fogged up windows. I watch the weather move around me in a way I never can in St. Louis. At this altitude, the clouds creep wetly through town and across neighboring hills and mountains, shrouding familiar sights in mysterious glamour. Somehow, a clear view of mountains in the sun humbles me, but when those same mountains turn misty, I feel excitement and restlessness. The sense of impending adventure arises. I’m unsure why this is and it has me wondering about past lives again. Spring should be starting up any day now, and as beautiful as the snow has been on the deodar pines and temples, I am indeed ready for a steady stream of warmth and sunshine.
Losar, the celebration of the Tibetan New Year, came and went relatively quietly this year. Lobsang Sangay, the Sikyong (sort of like a PM), asked his community in exile not to celebrate Losar with the traditional dances and music this year, in light of the ever-increasing number of self-immolations in Tibet. If you ask Tibetans around Dharamsala how they enjoyed their Losar, as I did many times, most of them will say, “Ah, it was okay. This year, not so big. We are sad.” Last year, and this year also, Chinese officials forced Tibetans to celebrate, and taped the farce to show how “happy” Tibetans are in the occupied region.
I think it’s time for an update on the situation in Tibet:
Tibetans have been clamoring for the freedom to express themselves – culturally, religiously, and of course freedom of speech and press – and we’ve seen tragedy strike again and again. 62 Tibetans have now self-immolated. 62. As I’ve expressed in my previous posts, I agree with the Central Tibetan Administration and H.H. the Dalai Lama on this – these individuals are desperate, and they are committing the ultimate sacrifice because they feel the world will not listen.
Remember, the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1949. Tibetans have done everything they could, first appealing to the UN, fighting back against the incoming PLA troops, and then peaceful protests, for decades. They simply have never had the resources that the PLA has always had at their disposal (to give you an indication: when China invaded Tibet, the entire plateau only had three radios. Also consider than when the PLA first marched into Lhasa, they arrived with over 20,000 troops – all of whom had horses and empty stomachs – the fragile agricultural balance and carefully maintained surplus that Tibetans had kept going for four centuries was depleted and destroyed in roughly a few months. Mao may have called himself a Communist, but the poor farmers and working class suffered first).
Today, people are suffering from poverty, imprisonment, police brutality, the destruction of their culture, and a general lack of freedom (take, for instance, the 19-yr-old monk arrested yesterday for having a cell phone).
As you may know, we saw 7 self-immolations in 7 days last week – the highest frequency yet. Supporters of the Tibetan people have demanded change in its wake. However, there is finally some good news. The world is listening.
I want to take a moment, since there are so many new people finding out about Restored Voice Project, to talk about this project’s scope and mission.
Restored Voice Project seeks to empower these women, who have been silenced by the Chinese authorities (and whose kindred and kin are still being silenced), by giving them a chance to finally share their perspectives. What’s happening in Tibet is happening to Tibetans, and yet the story we hear is moderated by the Han Chinese. It’s a Tibetan story told by non-Tibetans, in our mainstream media.
Often, in reading the nuns’ TNP bios, I encountered a familiar sentiment at the end of their abbreviated life story:
“The West needs to remember what is going on in Tibet…”
“I want to learn English so that I can tell the world about Tibet…”
“I am going to be a teacher, so that I can go back to Tibet and teach in my village, where there was no school… I will keep fighting peacefully for Tibet to be free….”
“I am going to learn English because the world cannot forget about what is happening in Tibet…”(*)
Now, decades since the Chinese invaded, we still haven’t heard from these women, and most of us don’t even know they exist. Why not?