When I lived in Tibet, I had no idea what freedom was. I’d never heard of free speech, voting, personal liberty, or anything like that. It was only in India and later America that I saw and experienced what other parts of the world take for granted. Comparing their liberty to what I knew in my early life was eye-opening, the more I understood about freedom, the more I realized how little I’d had.
Chinese authorities deserve much of the blame, but I’ve also realized that there are freedoms we Tibetans denied each other. For example, I was amazed in America when I met women living alone. I used to think any woman had to get married or else endure constant harassment, but in America it was no problem. Women living alone laughed when I asked if they were worried about men coming to rape them, the idea hadn’t even occurred to them. Unfortunately, I don’t believe Tibetan women in either Tibet or India have that kind of freedom. Women who are very unhappy in their marriages often feel trapped because it’s hard for women to live independently if they leave.
Another example is how gay people can’t easily live in the open in Tibetan society. At first, after meeting gay and lesbian people in America, I honestly didn’t know that there was anyone like that in our community. I’d never heard of it at all except for a few rumors. Now I realize people are people everywhere, the only difference is some people in our society have to hide.
The argument that these other freedoms have to wait for political independence has it all backwards. Why should we wait for the freedoms we can take now? If we want to be taken seriously when we ask for freedom, let’s start in our own community.