High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on March 15, 2012 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and posted on her blog on April 7, 2012.
This post can be read as a continuation of Woeser’s post from earlier this year about elderly Tibetans who attended the Kalachakra teachings in India and then returned to Tibet.
Picture 1: January 1-10, 2012, in Bodhgaya in the holy land of Buddhism, India, His Holiness the Dalai Lama held the 32nd Kalachakra teachings. Over ten thousand devout Tibetans came from Tibet to participate. The picture was taken by the Tibetan photographer Tenzin Choejor.
Picture 2 was taken by Twitter friend @glxlzx during his attendance at the Kalachakra teachings. He is one of the pilgrims that came from Han Chinese areas. He wrote about the picture: Devout elderly Buddhists…, chanting prayers under the great pagoda, three old people, the youngest is already 70 years old.”
Picture 3 was secretly taken by a Twitter friend and shows one of the “study groups”, located in the west of Lhasa under Drepung Monastery in the teachers’ training centre of Chengguan District.
Update by Woeser: Just as RFA have reported, the “study groups” for those who had gone on the pilgrimage were terminated on April 3, they had stretched over a period of two months, a period of “brainwashing”. A young Tibetan who had been “educated” posted on Weibo: “the leader asked me to write about ‘what I gained from attending the study group’: I was beaten, verbally abused, subject to ‘military drill’, made to ‘sing red songs’, forced to cut firewood, made to jump into water, and forced to shout out ‘unity is happiness, splittism is disaster’. But I actually did learn something, I did receive some training and moral lessons!” Furthermore, I got to know that the second round of “study groups” has already started, which is directed at the remaining Tibetans who had gone to India but not returned promptly to participate in the “study groups”.
‘Brainwashed’ in Lhasa After Attending
Buddhist Teachings in India
When I think about the many “study groups” that exist now all across Lhasa, when I think about the “education”I received in these “groups” and about the Tibetans that still do today, when I think about the fact that they are being “educated” because at the beginning of the year they went to Bodhgaya, India to participate in the Kalachakra teachings hosted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, then I see the image of a few Tibetans in front of my eyes. All of them are elderly Tibetans I met in Lhasa, ordinary pensioners or citizens who wholeheartedly believe in Buddhism but suffer from political oppression.
One is a still not so old gentleman who quit his job and generous salary many years ago, only to realise his dream of going to see His Holiness. I have read his journal, in which he describes his feelings after pilgrimage to the Potala Palace: “there are more surveillance cameras than windows, more soldiers than Lamas, more mice than Boddhisattvas”. Today, he is still locked up in the “study group” and cannot go home.
Another one is a frail and sick Mola (grandmother) who originally didn’t believe that she would be able to even make it to Bodhgaya, she was worried that her body would not be able to bear the hardships of driving on remote and bumpy roads, through challenging environments. But her biggest wish was to go and listen respectfully to the Buddhist teachings given by His Holiness, even if she were to die during the process, it would have been the greatest relief. When the Kalachakra was over, she went back to Lhasa, glowing with health and vigour but was very quickly put into a “study group”, and subsequently very quickly taken to hospital. I heard that laying on the sickbed, the Mola said to her relatives: “in the ‘study group’, I pleaded that we old people were to die soon so we didn’t need to be brainwashed,” and as she said so, tears streamed down her face.
“Study groups” are a frightening product of dictatorship, similar to “brainwashing groups” or even “concentration camps”, precisely in line with the definition given by Wikipedia, “most people don’t have a clear definition of the different types of concentration camps, but all of them have one aspect in common: the human rights of people imprisoned in them are being neglected and people suffer great damage.” The local authorities started “study groups” for all those thousands of Tibetans who had gone on pilgrimage to India, officially to give them “education in legal matters”, “patriotic education” as well as to teach them about the country’s religious policies etc. But in actual fact, as a Han Chinese lawyer put it, “those are arrests without any legal foundation, it is completely uncontrolled and maverick behaviour.”
Tibetans all know that applying for a passport anywhere in the Tibetan region is extremely difficult, in 2008, as a result of the protests across the entire region, the local authorities even stopped issuing passports altogether. In the past two years, the government showed some leniency towards elderly people and agreed to issue passports to anyone above 60, which is why the majority of Tibetans from inside Tibet going to Bodhgaya to attend the Kalachakra teachings were the elderly. However, after going through the immense trouble of obtaining a passport, after going through extreme hardships to arrive in the holy land and finally receiving the blessings from the great teacher and passing a short but happy period of time, they didn’t expect that they would be “a score to settle” upon their return.
The “study groups” started at the beginning of February and there are at least seven or eight of them in Lhasa, situated in military camps, hotels or schools. Shigatse, Tsethang and other areas also have “study groups”. Police forces escort young people, middle-aged people and even some elderly above 80 years old, one by one, to the “study groups”. All these people have different backgrounds, including retired cadres, urban residents, peasants from the city’s outskirts as well as business people. The “study” sessions are divided into two sections, after the New Year according to the Tibetan calendar, all non-Party members who are above 65 are allowed to quit. But all those non-Party members who are below 65 have to continue their “studies”.
In actual fact, going to India and attending the Kalachakra represented a true way of studying for the many Tibetans that had gone, it was the voluntary engagement in Buddhist learning, an experience full of spiritual joy. But returning to Tibet people were put into a “study group”, officially to study, but it was done against their will and they were subjected to mental torture and political brainwashing. A few who had been allowed to leave the “study groups” because of old age and sickness were traumatised and said that they were made to watch the 1960 propaganda movie “Serf” and afterwards one by one report their feelings and experiences, which had to include expressing that “the past was miserable and the present happy” and that they “thank the Party”, only then could they “pass”. Those who are still “studying” are recently drilled in singing “red songs”, dancing “red dances”, all for the sake of March 28, the day that the Party has imposed upon Tibetan citizens as the “Serf Emancipation Day”, to reinforce the position of the Party.
March 15, 2012
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