Throughout this trip I’ve spoken to my mother numerous times. Each conversation ended the same way. ”You are coming home?” she’d ask. She’d been asking since before I left. Up until three days prior to boarding a flight home, my answer was always, “Yes. Of course. It would be foolish of me not to.” With five months of intense travel behind me and gainful employment lined up, I was more than ready to come home. That is, until I wasn’t. It was in McLeod Ganj, Himachel Pradesh (India) that the decision was made.
September found me meditating again, this time in a center outside of Dharamshala, where the Tibetan Government in Exile is located. The growing population of Tibetans refugees and melancholy undercurrents found here evoked feelings akin to that which I experienced in Cambodia. The main difference being that Cambodians, for the last thirty years, have been recovering from their genocidal disaster. Tibetans are still living theirs.
Prior to the 1949 invasion by the Chinese, Tibet was a peaceful nation. It had its own government, currency, postal system, language and legal systems. The country functioned as a fully autonomous nation. The only thing Tibet didn’t have was a military force strong enough to fight China or the desire to do so. In 1959, after ten years of Chinese infiltration, the Dalai Lama, followed by over 100,000 Tibetans, fled to India and into exile. It has been over fifty years and still, it is here they reside.
Since the time of the Chinese occupation, a reported six thousand Buddhist monasteries have been destroyed in Tibet. Six thousand of centers of faith, devotion, spiritual practice and lifeblood. Tibetans found with a photograph of the Dalai Lama have been tortured and imprisoned. Monks and nuns are “re-educated” for weeks at a time with repeated lessons in denouncing the Dalai Lama. Torture is not just a word; innocent people are beaten, monks and nuns, raped, debased and shocked with electricity.
The Tibetan flag and national anthem are banned. Imprisonment for acts deemed as ‘splittist’ or ‘subversive’ include distribution of leaflets and sending ‘incriminating’ information abroad. At present there are countless political prisoners being held and thousands unaccounted for, including the (at time of abduction) 6-year old Panchen Lama. Chinese soldiers continue to occupy the country with the population under constant surveillance and each passing year ensuring Tibetans will maintain their status as a decreasing minority in their own land.
It may not seem like a big deal — supporting a small country on the other side of the planet. But this gorgeous little nation was peaceful and defenseless until a big badass bully exerted its mighty power and took it over, raping its resources, its people and heritage. Imprisonment, torture and execution are pushing Tibetan culture over the systematic edge of a genocidal death sentence and have been for over six decades — while world leaders, instead of standing firm on ethical grounds, attempt to leverage morality with political bastion.
Peace is not a concept. It is not an idealistic notion preached by the educated, pious or powerful and it’s not about what is in a country’s immediate economic interest or consumer needs. Peace is the living embodiment of moral, ethical and collective standards that will lead to a healthy and prosperous future for all the world’s inhabitants, if only we would wake up.
In the time spent outside of Dharamsala it is impossible not to care. Graphic stories of repeated torture involving beatings, rape, electrocution and imprisonment at the hands of the Chinese cease to be mere stories when the unfathomable is a first-hand narrative. These humble personifications of courage and perseverance have risked their lives for freedom and relive the excruciating life-altering events of their past with one wish. They are entrusting their words to the few so that those of us living in sovereign nations will speak loudly enough for their message to be heard.
There is only one Truth and it is only through the path of peace that it may be found. It is why I must stay and it is also why I am joining the hundreds of thousands of voices entreating for the freedom of Tibet.
Live. Learn. Most importantly: Lend your voice.
~ by Christine Fowle