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Published: December 1st 2005
...the title of a 35 minute documentary produced by International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) in 2004. Devotion and Defiance: Buddhism and the Struggle for Religious Freedom in Tibet
is a vivid declaration of religious control in occupied Tibet. Containing footage from inside monasteries as well as from the Lhasa demonstrations in the late 1980s, it reveals what limitations prevail in and out of the "T.A.R." even today.
For example, in 2001 the well-known and attended Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, in Serthar Co., Eastern Tibet (Chinese-claimed) was the target of the Communist Party's paranoia. Fearing the increasing interest by Tibetans, Chinese and overseas buddhists, the Party first ordered the downsizing of Larung Gar (a.k.a. Serthar) after approximately two decades of growth. From a small number of students, the institute grew to attract over 8,000 students, including around 1,000 Chinese. In a series of commands, the Communist Party ordered the institute to decrease its numbers. Their fear culminated in the expulsion of over 7,000 of these practitioners and the destruction of well over 1,000 dwellings (nearly 2,000 by some accounts).
[Incidentally, this act is contrary to the PRC's own constitution, which states everyone has the right to religious freedom. Just
exactly how the PRC defines religious freedom seems, thus, foggy. The demolitions and expulsions also contradict the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which basically states that everyone in a territory/state has the right to freedom of movement and to choose place of resisdence.
**Article 12 http://www.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm
The same article does also state: The above-mentioned rights shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others...
which the PRC govt might just be twisting to use as an excuse for such blatant defiance of the declaration.]
Larung Gar is but a recent example of the kinds controls experienced by Tibetans since at least 1959, following the flight into exile of the Dalai Lama but preceding the craze of mass destructions during the Cultural Revolution. During this period, all but a small number of Tibet's over 6,000 monasteries were reduced to piles of rubble in the name of progress and forward-thinking. [When I visited the famous monasteries of Lhasa, Drepung, Sera and Ganden, I observed weedy, overgrown ruins of formers residences amongst
the working monastery buildings. These would've been fully functional 55 years ago but now had the air of hundreds of years-old ruins.]
Learning about nuns, monks' and lay-Buddhists persecution and about China's continual effort to either beat Buddhism into the dust or, at least, to dictate what practices may and may not be observed, is thoroughly depressing.
Learning about any dramatic and shocking history is depressing, wherever and whenever it happened.
More depressing and amazing is that it is still happening, in the advanced age of 2005, by the advanced country of the People's Republic of China. Yes, this modernising country which proudly boasts its progressive reforms and actions in China and Tibet, which will host the world in the 2008 Olympics, this progressive country is still hosting repression against its own people and, of course, "its" stolen land, Tibet.
On November 23, 2005, just a week ago, following weeks of "patriotic education" within the monastery, the monks of Drepung refused to sign a form denouncing their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Five of those who were more vocal in refusing were expelled from the monastery and sent to different Police Security Bureaus (PSB).
Treatment of political prisoners (including and especially monks and nuns) is well-documented, revealing horrific torture methods. Even today, refugees fleeing Tibet reccount their torture experiences in prison.
Two days later, over 400 monks held peaceful sit-ins in the monastery courtyard, in protest of the five monks' arrest, as well as the Party's demand that they denounce the Dalai Lama and accept China as their country. The protest led, inevitably, to the arrival of PSB and army forces and the beating,arrest and detention of still more monks.
Drepung is a much-visited tourist highlight, being a gem of Buddhist culture and aesthetically pleasing (even with a number of buildings in ruins). Following the week's events, however, movement has been severely restricted, Party security forces controlling who enters and exits ths monastery.
In reaction and protest to the recent events at Drepung, as well as the death of a Drepung monk in October , residents and visitors in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala held a candlelight vigil last night, November 30.
The vigil was organized by the leaders of Gu Chu Sum, an organization which supports former and current political prisoners through education, vocational training, financial aid,
and lodging in McLeod Ganj.
Gathering at 5pm, the vigil circled the main streets of McLeod Ganj until sunset, after which they descened, lines of glowing candles, to the main temple complex. There, the leaders of Gu Chu Sum reiterated the circumstances in Lhasa and called for solidarity for those under oppression. Though it was spoken and sung in Tibetan, the prayers and songs, the mass of candle holders, and the stoicism of the crowd was incredibly moving.
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