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Dispatches from the Tibetan Front: On the March

Unidentified protester with Tibetan flag. Photos by Xavier Moucq.
Unidentified protester with Tibetan flag. Photos by Xavier Moucq.

Asked about what he thinks will happen when he peacefully tries crosses the border from India into Tibet, Losang Tsering said, “I think they (the Chinese soldiers) will shoot. I am not scared. I am ready to die for my country.” Losang joined the March to Tibet, a group of Tibetans who plan to walk from Dharamsala, India to the capitol of New Dehli and onto the Tibetan border over six months. The march consists mostly of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns, making Losang and his two friends from a neighboring village some of the few lay people participating. He’s the son of subsistence farmers in Karnataka in the south of India. His family fully supported his decision to join the march to the homeland he has never seen.

The mission statement of the march demands an end to the occupation of Tibet, a return of the Dalai Lama to his place as leader of the people, a release of all political prisoners, and a cancellation of the Beijing Olympics. Organized by five NGOs, the March to Tibet began on March 10th, the 49th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight during the brutally crushed uprising of 1959. Thousands gathered in the Tsuklak Khang Temple in Mcleod Ganj to see off the 100 core marchers who plan to walk across the Tibetan border in a Ghandian nonviolent protest. Old people lined the edge of the crowd with tears in their eyes as passing monks came to bow their head for a blessing.

Mewang Ngymal: at 67, the oldest man on the march who spent five years in a chinese labor camp after he returned to tibet at 17 to see his parents again.
Mewang Ngymal: at 67, the oldest man on the march who spent five years in a chinese labor camp after he returned to tibet at 17 to see his parents again.

Trouble arose the first night when the local Himachal Pradesh police, acting on orders from the Central Government, served the march leadership with a cease and desist order that forbid them from leaving the district. In front of the police, all of the core marchers signed documents stating their intention to continue the march until they reached the Tibetan border.

The marchers walked two more days and camped near the forbidden Kangra district border. Leki Dendup, a 21-year-old monk from a small village in Bhutan now studying at Gendenjantse Monastery in Karnataka, discussed his feelings the night before the confrontation with the police. Speaking slowly, he explained, “We are ready. We have been talking about this for three days. We have no fear. They can beat us, they can kill us but we will continue until we reach our home. We are ready.”

Clashes during the protest.
Clashes during the protest.

The next morning at sunrise, the march reached the Dehra bridge at the Kangra border to find 100 Himachal Pradesh police lined up across the road with five police vans. The marchers approached the police and quietly sat down in single file. It took eight policemen to force the energetic Tenzin Tsundue, a prominent Tibetan activist, into his own police car, which then sped away. The police then began the slow process of putting the remaining 99 marchers into the police vans. Karsang Gchoegyan, one of the only monks released as of this writing, described his feelings, saying, “I was sad because we are struggling for our freedom and culture and the police did not realize this. I felt pity for them not knowing what they are doing.”

The monks and nuns formed human chains to passively resist the police efforts to stop their march home as they sang prayers for a free Tibet. After the police separated a marcher, they carried the limp unresisting body into the police van. Maryala Cross, a 21-year-old from Poland who came to India to support the march, said that “it was terrible to see the monks dragged onto buses one by one and then they started pulling the Tibetan girls next to me and I just had to hold onto her. Next thing I knew, I was being dragged onto the bus too.”

Once in the police vans, the monks, many with tears in their eyes, waved Tibetan flags and picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama as their supporters outside held their hands until the vans pulled away. Jim Petersen, a man from Livingston, Montana who came to Dharamsala for teachings by the Dalai Lama, was one of the eight foreigners carried away in the vans. “The marchers continued to bravely sing their song as they stared straight ahead with tears in most eyes,” Petersen said. Once at the nearby Jawalaji Police station, the monks separated into three cells. No one knew the location of Tenzin Tsundue. Supporters stayed outside the front door of the prison all day singing Marley, Bob Dylan and other protest songs.

At sunset, the police led the marchers into waiting police vans through a large crowd of supporters and bystanders. Taken to the Senior Division Magistrate in Dehra, the participants refused to sign documents saying they would not be involved in any protests for six months. They received two weeks’ house arrest in Yatri Niwas, 52 kilometers south of Dharamsala.

Within two days, 44 new core marchers defied the government’s ban and restarted the march from the site of their comrade’s arrest in Dehra. Tashi Gyatso, a monk who grew up in Amdo in the eastern part of Tibet, said, “I am proud to be on this march. I am willing to sacrifice everything for the cause. I will work for a free Tibet in this life so I can see it in the next one.”


Lex Pelger


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2008

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