Sunday, May 08, 2005

the brothers

{sun. may 8: joy to all the moms, sons/daughters of moms, mothers/fathers of moms, husbands of moms, friends of moms, future moms, foster moms, those who wish they were moms, etc.}

One of the reasons I opted to spend so much time in Dharamsala, rather than continuing on to the Himalayan Garhwal, was because i really enjoy the opportunities travel provides for enrichment (both self and others). In order for those opportunities to happen, human contact usually needs to develop beyond acquaintance to friendship, and that takes time. You can't really get to know and understand others when you're whistle-stopping through locations, no matter how beautiful or sacred. (This is especially true when language and culture are so foreign.) So I decided to stay for eight days here and put down some "traveler's roots."

I've been fortunate to get to know several people here; some are fellow travelers, the others are "locals." Of the latter group is a Tibetan who goes by the name of Singhi. We genuinely enjoy each other's company, I've eaten at his home, we trust each other, we have become friends. We enjoy talking of our lives, and constantly ask each other questions. One day over tea he told me his story, and then, when i told him i had worked in publishing back in the states, he asked if I could let others know.

I think every Tibetan here has a story similar to Singhi's to tell, if not about themselves then about their mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, etc. All the Tibetans I've met, in Darjeeling, Nepal and here in Dharamsala are refugees from their homeland.

It took a couple of days to get the following written and we couldn't have done it without the Tibetan-English dictionary we constantly referred to. Begun on Thursday, Singhi and I finished it over dinner last night. We had help from both his brother and another friend who lives in their crowded apartment. We consulted a Tibetan map to trace places and routes. We examined PRC prison release papers, Tibetan refugee identification papers and their special "refugee" Indian passports. The process provided an opportunity for Singhi and his brother Chime Lobsang to relive the past, and we shared some very solemn moments . . . yet at other times found ourselves laughing at our sillinesses. They were excited to be doing this. As might be expected, there were also some tears.

Singhi has approved the following in the form you'll read it. He is extremely proud to be making a written public statement that others will read, and it is his wish that whoever reads his words share them with friends and family. This could have been much longer than it is. We've tried to keep the words his as much as possible.


My name is Ngawang Singhi, I am 28 years old and live in Dharamsala, India. I was born in Tibet. My brother’s name is Chime Lobsang, he is 27 years old. Although we come from different parents, we have known each other since we were small children, and consider ourselves to be brothers. My mother died during my childbirth.

I was born in Dagyab, and when I was 10 years old I entered the Buddhist monastery in Chamdo. My brother Chime Lobsang also joined the same monastery when he was 10.

In 1994, my brother, myself and three other monks wrote a letter that we displayed on the walls of the Chamdo monastery. In the letter we said that we wanted the Chinese to leave Tibet, and that we wished upon His Holiness the Dalai Lama a long life.

In reaction, the Chinese police hunted through the monastery searching for those who wrote the letter. When no one spoke, they could not find those who were responsible.

In 1995 we were moved to another monastery, the Magon Monastery in Dagyab. A high lama who had been in Germany, Lobden Sherap, recruited monks to come to this new monastery, in hopes that the monastery could be built up.

In 1996 there was great pressure between the Chinese Government and the Tibetan people. This was related to the Chinese kidnapping and "detaining for his safety" of the new Panchen Lama, who had been formally announced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. The Chinese then replaced this real Panchen Lama with another of their choosing, one who would be loyal to the Chinese efforts in Tibet. This created great tension and the Chinese police announced that there could be no photographs of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or the real Panchen Lama in anyone’s possession, with a penalty of 20 years in prison for offenders. {note: the tension still exists, the proper Panchen Lama, second most sacred figure in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama, has not been heard from since his disappearance (as a six year-old) in 1995, the Tibetan people, knowing the Chinese government intends to use their replacement as the voice of Tibetan Buddhism when the Dalai Lama eventually passes on, remain furious -- mw.}

In the monastery we had a committee, and we talked of uprising, but did not. Instead, four people wrote a letter saying that we did not think it was proper to obey the Chinese order and that we urged everyone to speak up for Tibet's freedom. We were monks, we had decided to spend our lives with our Buddhist beliefs and then teaching them to others. How could the Chinese say that what was born in our hearts, and our ancestor's hearts, was criminal? The letters were stuck to the walls of the monastery in the middle of the night for all to read.

The Chinese were very angry, and the chief Chinese police came to our monastery and each monk was ordered to complete a form, writing his name, his father’s name, his place of birth and other information. The Chinese police then compared the writing on these forms with the writing on the letters, and with the help of spies in the monastery, they identified and accused five monks of writing the letters. My brother and I were among them.

On October 6, 1996, we were put into the Dagyab prison by the Chinese police. We were tortured and beaten and were shocked with electrical wires. Then we were sent to the large prison in Chamdo where we were kept in solitary confinement for four months, handcuffed and legcuffed. We were repeatedly beaten with clubs, but when we taken to the office and asked by the Chinese police who wrote the letters and who supported us, and who gave us money, each of us said it was only "I" who did it and that I received no help.

The Chinese continued to beat us, with thick sticks and poles and stones, sometimes until we became unconsciousness. Then they would throw buckets of cold water on us to awaken us so that they could beat us some more. They were full of brutal punishment. Still, our response was "it was me, nobody else." This continued for four months.

After four months we were allowed to be removed from solitary jail and were taken outside to pick up large rocks and stones from the prison farm. It was at this time that my brother and I were each sentenced to three years in Chinese prison.

As prisoners, we were assigned the task of cleaning the Chinese police toilets. It was filthy work designed to make us feel broken, and as dirty as we became we were not allowed to wash ourselves. The food we were given to eat was also dirty, and even though it was very cold, we were never given any meat to eat. Most of the time we were given boiled cabbage, the cabbage was the ones that were not good enough to be sold in market. There were bugs (cockroaches) crawling in our food. We all grew sick. And this treatment was not just for us, all prisoners, even the old ones, were treated in the same manner.

As political prisoners, my brother and I were held in cells in which we were each alone. I became very ill, I had pains in my body and could not control my urine and it was very difficult for me to walk. There was urine and feces all over the floor in my cell, there was no toilet provided.

On January 15, 1998, seven prisoners, including my brother and I, were sent to a new prison. The food was better but the work was harder. We did heavy labor, cut wood, sifted sand and soil and planted trees. Everyday we began work at 7:00am and worked until 9:00pm. After work we were forced to watch Chinese political broadcasts on television and then at 10:00pm the police would blow a whistle and the prison lights were turned out. We were told by the Chinese that Buddhism was "not peace" and we were not allowed to pray in any manner. We were not allowed to talk or whisper, there were Chinese police hiding behind the doors to try to catch us if we did.

I continued to be very ill, there was much wrong inside of me. My brother and other prisoners would always ask the police to check on me, to put me in the hospital. They were beaten when they asked, but they did not stop asking. One day I did get to the hospital. At the hospital I was told I could be treated with medicine if I payed 3,000 yen in advance of any treatments. I did not have any money.

The Chinese police allowed my brother, accompanied by a police, to go out of the prison and beg for money for my medicine. He did get the money from the Tibetan community.

I was given oxygen and medicine, and was still not allowed to speak to anyone as there was always a guard at my bed. For the first week I was unconscious. After one and one-half months I began to feel a little better, and I was sent back to my prison cell. I then had to work everyday even though I was barely healthy enough to be put out of the hospital.

On October 7, 1999 my brother and I were released from prison. As political prisoners, the Chinese police ordered us to ask permission if we wanted to go anyplace away from town, and permission would only be granted to visit family members. We were also ordered never to go to any monastery, and never to speak to any groups. Police in our area were alerted to watch us at all times.

So even though we were not in prison, our big problem was that we could not go anywhere. We decided that we needed to leave Tibet, our home country, to escape from the Chinese.

We received permission to visit a hospital for my bad health in Lhasa and we went there. We then began our escape. We paid 1,000 yen for papers that allowed us to travel on a bus from Lhasa to Shigatse. In Shigatse we secretly boarded a truck along with 27 other people who were also seeking escape, and went to Saga. From Saga, the 29 of us walked into the Himalaya. Our group had monks, old people and children. It was December and very, very cold in the mountains. It was windy and there was much snow. We had very little to keep us warm and some us had ice on our eyes. Some of our group lost toes to frostbite, but my brother and I were fortunate and did not. After 25 days of walking, on January 6, 2000, we reached Nepal.

After seven days in Nepal, we were put on a bus and sent to Dharamsala in India. We were received here, and everyone wanted to know about those we were in prison with. It seemed everyone knew people in Chinese prisons in Tibet.

In Dharamsala, we spent four months in the Tibetan Refugee Center. We met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who greets all new refugees from Tibet, and were sent to school to learn English and other skills. My brother was sick and left school. I was also still sick but stayed in school for four years. There is a policy among Tibetans here that if one is not in school, one needs to be working.

Today, my brother is a chef in a restaurant here. I am working by teaching foreigners visitors to Dharamsala about Tibetan cooking. I am still sick, my situation with my body is not so good. But it is better this year than it was last year. We both take medicine to try to combat the sickness we still reserve from Chinese prison.

We cannot contact anyone in Tibet because it would cause them great trouble with the Chinese government. We are very sad not to be able to speak to our families in Tibet.

It makes us angry to see how the Chinese try to make the tourist places in Tibet look good. People cannot see what is really happening in Tibet without seeing it through the eyes the Chinese have put in place.

We are not afraid of the Chinese because we will never go back to Tibet as long as it is ruled by the Chinese.

Please, whoever reads this, please try to seek out the truth and pay attention to the situation in Tibet and what is happening to the Tibetan people. Please do not listen to what the Chinese government says because it is not true.

And please understand as you read this, there are many Tibetans being tortured and punished in Chinese prisons for no reason other than because they love their home and religion. And also please remember that there are tonight Tibetans walking through the snow in the high mountains to India and Nepal trying to be free.

-- Ngawang Singhi, Dharamsala, India. May 8, 2005

{note: singhi is in the process of getting an email address . . . i will add it to his letter when he gets it, if in the meantime you'd like to contact him, pls. send email to me at, put "singhi" in the subject field, i will print it out and mail it to him. -- mw}