I might not be the most active Tibetan within the Tibetan community of Toronto, but I do make an effort to come out on every March 10th to protest something that I believe in throughout my entire heart and soul. It is the one day of the year that I am the most patriotic. As I woke up on the morning of March 10th, I woke up with determination to make sure that the lives lost due to the Chinese occupation of Tibet were not in vain.
Since my early teenage years my father and I have tried our hardest to attend the Tibetan Uprising Day protests which take place every year on March 10th. From Parkdale Collegiate, Tibetans and supporters alike march on foot along Queen Street West towards Yonge, from Yonge to Bloor, and from Bloor towards the Chinese Consulate near St George subway station. We chant for a free Tibet and to remember the lives of those lost due to the Chinese occupation of Tibet since the 1950s.
55 years ago, on March 10th 1959, thousands of Tibetans gathered in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, and protested against the Chinese occupation of Tibet as well as protection of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama from the Chinese officials. The Dalai Lama had previously been invited to have tea at the Chinese army headquarters in Lhasa. Their only condition was for him to attend without an escort and that the event should be kept secret. The date was set for March 10th. Thinking that the Chinese government would kidnap the Dalai Lama, 30,000 brave Tibetans gathered outside of Norbulingka, the summer residence of the Dalai Lama, in order to protect him. He was unable to meet with Chinese officials that day.
On March 17th 1959, the Norbulingka palace was targeted by Chinese troops and two mortar shells landed nearby the walls. Finally, the Dalai Lama made the difficult decision to leave Tibet. As the sun went down and night fell, the Dalai Lama escaped with his party, dressed in the uniform of a soldier. Shortly after his escape to India, the Norbulingka was bombed and over 80,000 Tibetans were killed in hand-to-hand combat with Chinese troops.
Since then, over 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a direct result of China’s illegal occupation of Tibet. There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of assembly, no freedom of press and no freedom of religion within Tibet today. This causes great unease amongst Tibetan people as we are very much based culturally around our religious beliefs. The life of a Tibetan is surrounded by religion. Even before the sun rises Tibetans have a morning prayer ritual. Without religions Tibetans have little left to give them hope.
As I grew up I learned more and more about the country I have never been to but somehow belonged to. I recognized the landmarks and the language was spoken within the household, but I never understood completely why I was not allowed to live there today, which is why I decided to educate myself on the matter of Tibet and China. The more I learned, the more I became angry and upset that all of this happened, and is still happening today. Tibetans inside of Tibet are not allowed to raise the Tibetan flag. Tibetans are not allowed to own photographs of the Dalai Lama. Both of these offences can land you inside jail with an unknown release date. Tibetan is not taught in schools any more. Tibetan history, culture and dance are disappearing from school curriculums. Internet browsing and text messages are monitored by the Chinese. Tibetans of all ages cannot bear to live under these conditions any longer and are even resorting to setting themselves on fire in an effort to send a message to the world. By sacrificing their lives, they hope that they world will see the injustice that is occurring in Tibet. As of late, 128 Tibetans have self-immolated, asking for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and for Tibetans worldwide to one day unite within a free Tibet.
I constantly ask myself, is there something I can personally do about this issue? Is there something I, a 23 year old student in Canada, can do to help the Tibetans inside Tibet with their current situation? This is why I decided to become a journalist. I believe that the only thing I can do to help my beloved homeland reach freedom is to pass the message along, spread word about the horrendous living conditions and lack of human rights Tibetans are facing within Tibet. With my words perhaps I can shed some light on an issue that has always haunted my heart and mind. As much as it hurts me to hear people ask me, “But isn’t Tibet already part of China?” it pains me even more to know that they do not know about this important issue. They do not know of the pain and struggles my people have gone through for decades now. They do not know the silent battle they have been fighting within their souls.
I dream about the day that I see on the news that the Chinese government have withdrawn their troops from Tibet. I can see the crowds of political prisoners being released and reunited with their families. I yearn to see the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet broadcasted on CNN. My heart aches for the day that I can breath the air and walk on the soil of my ancestors. I can see it therefore it can happen.
I urge everyone to educate themselves on the cause and to help spread this story so that the beautiful culture and history of Tibet does not disappear from the world completely.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 19, 2014.