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When Tibetan refugees arrive in India, our struggles aren’t over. We still have to find a way to live, starting completely over, in an environment that is not always welcoming. Some locals resent us, and some established Tibetans look down on us. The stories of new arrivals are rarely heard because they are complicated and messy, it’s no simple Shangri-la easily pitched to Western sponsors. That’s why I deeply appreciate that the author of Dharamsala Days/Dharamsala Nights has produced a work highlighting newcomers experiences. It may be controversial for some people for shining a light on the messy complication, but the lives it documents are real, important pieces of Tibetan history.
I was really excited that someone sent me this video of the reception center in Nepal. I recognize several people in the video, including members of the group I crossed the mountains with. Looking back, it’s very sad so many people problems with their feet. Watching the video, I can see how poor and crowded we were, we were so hungry, people fought to get back in line for a second bowl of food. But we were so happy to get there, we were happy to be safe and have something to eat. Memories like that are unforgettable. I really appreciate that someone took this video so we can look back on our past.
A few weeks ago, after an interview posted here resulted in a brave Tibetan women reduced to tears over accusations that her story hurt the Dalai Lama, I thought it would be worth asking for a chance to meet His Holiness to find out what he really thinks. Although opinions from anyone else are only opinions, I would certainly stop my efforts to get people thinking and talking about abuse of Tibetan women if that was truly what the Dalai Lama desired. I didn’t expect much. I know that requesting the opportunity to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama in person is asking a lot, and understand he is busy with people much more important than I am, but I decided there was no harm in giving it a try. This is the message I sent:
I write to you with hesitation because I am only an ordinary refugee born in a poor family in a small village in Amdo. I do not wish to inconvenience His Holiness or waste his precious time, but I would like to ask certain questions no one else can answer.
Like many Tibetan women, I have endured physical, sexual and emotional violence from members of our community. I recently returned to India from my new home in America in part to reach out to Tibetan women who are facing circumstances now that I did in the past. My goal is to help these women in any way I am able, while my two young daughters attend Norling Creche where I hope they will master Tibetan language and have a rich experience with Tibetan culture. I believe that by working to reduce violence against Tibetan women I can help our community become healthier and promote a better future for Tibetan girls like my daughters.
However, I have been receiving criticism for addressing abuse of women openly and honestly, especially from monks and educated Tibetans. The critics say that my memoir, A Hundred Thousand White Stones, and my efforts to encourage discussion about the treatment of women are harmful to the community and embarrass His Holiness the Dalai Lama. So many people have repeated similar complaints that I have to wonder if they’re right, these critics are more educated than I am and may understand these things more clearly than I am able to.
If I am truly harming the community or embarrassing His Holiness in way I will stop what I am doing immediately. What I am asking is that I can hear if what I’m doing is right or wrong from His Holiness himself. He is the only one I can trust completely. Anybody can use his name to make their argument, but only he can explain his true views.
Thank you for your time,
An email version of this message went unanswered for a couple weeks, so I printed it and brought a copy in person to the office next to the temple in McLeod Ganj. I was incredibly nervous, I almost couldn’t do it. I’d never tried anything like that before, and I was worried my rough Amdo speech would come out instead of the honorific Lhasa form required for the situation. I thought they might laugh and think I’m stupid. However, they took my letter without much trouble or discussion at all. The next day I received an an encouraging email response from the Additional Secretary from the Dalai Lama’s office. The Secretary invited me to meet personally with one of the Dalai Lama’s personal secretaries to discuss my request and said, “Concerning the contents of your letter, I do not see any reason for you to stop your efforts in highlighting the rights of Tibetan women facing various types of violence within our community.”
Next week: Meeting the personal secretary
According to the study in this article, a significant percentage of men in several Asian countries (not specifically including Tibet) admitted to forcing women to have sex. In most Asian countries men are very respectful toward their own mother, but treat any other woman like a piece of meat. What’s the difference?