How the whole of Tibet was turned into a hellish prison

[Book excerpt] The agony of hungry ghosts reduced to eating human waste and human flesh; the continuation of such horrors into the present, are all a cause for terrible sadness.

 |   Long-form |   10-07-2017
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Thousands and thousands of people were driven into prisons like sheep, innocent people mown down like hay, rolled like paper, kneaded like hide, crammed into the dark recesses of dungeons; bound with steel wire when there were no handcuffs and leg irons left; their socks and belts confiscated; made to wear black hoods; subjected to wooden and iron clubs and mechanical and electrical punishment devices, a degree of torment possible only in the worst of hells. It was not a matter of just getting knocked about; with deliberate malice, they went for the genitals of those who father the next generation, the laymen, and for the vital organs of those who do not, the monks.

The henchmen of the lord of death made threats like spitting bile: "These guns of ours are made to kill you Tibetans. If you take a single step I will shoot you dead, and your corpse will be thrown on the rubbish heap" (the words of the Labrang monk Jigmé, as reported on the website of the Voice of America’s Tibetan language service).

Destroying people’s dignity by hanging them upside down from the ceiling and stamping on their foreheads is something one might expect to see only in a film about Fascist or Nazi atrocities. Never mind that "Chinese prisoners are allowed to learn literacy, but Tibetans are not... Tibetan prisoners are only allowed to speak to each other in Chinese, not in Tibetan... not allowed to speak their own language or to express their own identity" (from Jamyang Kyi’s A Sequence of Tortures), even to describe being deprived of sleep during days and nights on end of interrogation to break the will, and the physical beating, hitting and lashing, these three, could barely match even a small fraction of the torment.

tibet-lhasa_071017053851.jpgA ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the "Tibet Autonomous Region' is held at the square of the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Photo: Reuters (2015)

As we read in Te’urang’s Written in Blood, "The hardest thing to endure is not the physical torture but the invasion of one’s thoughts"; and in Jamyang Kyi’s A Sequence of Tortures, "One day during interrogation, the thought suddenly came to me that, rather than go through this, I would prefer to be shot dead with a single bullet. My family and relatives might be upset, but for me at least it would be over and done with", this is the kind of torment one would rather die than endure, and under this constant, unthinkable torture, many brave Tibetan souls with the limitless courage of the imperial spirit were broken and maimed, and came to the end of their lives.

The torture of deprivation of food and water, designed to turn them all into hungry ghosts, drove people to the edge of life and death, and for those not finished by hunger, the torment of thirst led "more than 60 among us to drink their own urine" (from Gartsé Jigmé’s The Courage of the Emperors, vol 1).

This inhumane brutality of torturing people through hunger and thirst is no different from the past. Not only did innumerable people die of hunger, for the living too:

with the flames of the suffering of hunger blazing bright, even things like Bacha [the cake residue of pressed oil seeds] and Pukma [the chaff of harvested grain] which used to be given to horses, donkeys and cattle became like nutritious food and hard to obtain. To maximise the amount of food and relieve hunger, those running communal kitchens used to quite openly pick not just edible grasses but inedible tree bark and leaves, grass roots and grains, and after processing them, mix them with a little food grain and make a kind of slop like pigswill, which they fed to people. Eventually, when even this became limited, there was not enough of it for people to eat to satisfaction. (70,000 Character Petition)

Thus when the torments of hunger passed beyond all limits, those in prison were said to have "grown a tail" (that is, become like herbivorous cattle, a term taken from Tsering Dondrup’s Raging Red Wind). Even worse things happened, for example:

During the 1958 famine, since he was a "hatted" reactionary, he was given the job of carrying out corpses. One day, one of his friends who was about to die of starvation asked him to bring back some human flesh when he went to dispose of the corpses. He tried once or twice, but could not find any flesh to bring back, because the dead were people who had also died of starvation, and their bodies were just skin and bone, with no flesh at all. One day, he found a body with a little flesh on it and brought some back. Next day, that person told him "That meat you brought yesterday, I cooked it up with a piece of willow bark and drank the soup, and last night I slept very well." (The Courage of the Emperors, vol. 1)

Or again: "The prisoners were driven by hunger to eat flesh taken from human corpses" (My Homeland and the Peaceful Liberation). So isn’t this just like revisiting the years when we were driven by starvation even beyond the refusal to eat the flesh of human corpses? Throughout the history of the Tibetan people, far from having to drink their own urine and eat human flesh, one cannot even find records of people starving to death. The incidence of such total horrors in recent history is the accomplishment of those who claim always to be "serving the people".

The punishment ground in hell

Up to now, famous, knowledgeable, capable, courageous, brave and farsighted Tibetans have been falsely accused by the dictators and punished with deprivation of freedom. For example, the 10th Panchen Lama expressed limitless praise and flattery for them, saying things like: "In the case of our own Tibet region, we are on the point of transforming from the old society to the new, from darkness to bright light, from suffering to happiness, from exploitation to equality, and from poverty to progress, and have started on a new and brilliant era in our history" (70,000 Character Petition), but even he was locked away for almost a decade.

Likewise, no end of able individuals were unfairly sentenced and imprisoned, and in this year’s peaceful revolution too, more than 200 people have been sentenced so far, as can be seen from unofficial reports published on the internet.20 Since this was simply for breaking laws passed by the dictators with the sole intention of preserving their hold on power, it is only the continuation of their practice of legal prosecution in violation of morality and principle. From time to time, autocratic régimes pass various legal edicts designed to consolidate their hold on power that violate universal values, and these edicts that they hold to be vital are precisely edicts from hell for those who favour freedom, equality and democracy.

tibets-ss_071017054427.jpgA few years ago, the five-year-old 11th Panchen Lama was put under house arrest. Photo: AP

While subjecting those detained in the course of the peaceful revolution to brutal discipline and terrifying intimidation, they were interrogated about which organisation they belonged to, what was their plan, who supported them, who were their collaborators; and when these investigations proved fruitless, innocent people were and continue to be charged under whichever provisions from the relevant edicts from hell, and prosecuted in secret. From start to finish, their crimes were given as nothing other than: "Seeking to split the country", "Seeking to overthrow state authority", "Leaking state secrets" and so on. They are ever sensitive to anything concerning "the state" and "state authority", regarding it as vital, and whoever they decide has jeopardised "the state" or "state authority" is punished with anything from several years in prison to execution.

This is supposed to be like the saying "If the head is tied down, the body will tremble" (with fear). The dictators always and in all respects conflate the particular interests of their faction with those of "the state" and "state authority", and constantly use these terms to enforce their power over the people.

For them, this year’s peaceful revolution was "not about nationality issues or religious issues or human rights issues, but about the issue of state authority". Anyone they charge with opposing a basic principle of their rule, such as "state authority", becomes what we would call a "political prisoner". The given charge of "endangering the state and state authority" really means that the accused is suspected of posing a threat to the power of the dictators.

In a totalitarian state, there are many examples of crimes that would never be considered as such in the rest of the world, like the political offences for which five-year-old children and 81-year-old seniors have been imprisoned. A few years ago, the five-year-old 11th Panchen Lama was put under house arrest, and during this year’s peaceful revolution, the 81-year-old printer of religious books, Peljor Norbu, was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Never mind robbing the youth, who have just begun to experience life’s joys and sorrows, of their liberty, where else would one see a judicial process so barbaric as to insist on prosecuting an 81-year-old, in violation of all moral, natural and humane norms, but under a totalitarian régime? The youngest political prisoner in the world is to be found in Tibet, and the oldest. It is because the Tibetan people are human cattle that they have to bear the burden of such imprisonment, and it is because Tibetan heads are made of stone that they must be labelled with false accusations.

The terrifying battlefield

Since the peaceful revolution broke out, central hubs and junctions have all been turned into firing ranges, guns and artillery put in place, an atmosphere to make your hair bristle. Towns and monasteries are patrolled by police and filled with informers; there is fear and terror, snipers lie concealed on rooftops and on street corners, spies lie in wait, enough to make your flesh crawl and your bones shiver.

Anyone going to town or visiting a monastery is searched, questioned and registered at gunpoint, enough to make you shake and tremble. Monks are mostly forced back to the villages, villagers mostly confined in their homes, telephone lines and internet, tea shops and eating houses are all watched and listened to, whether near or far, all have been reduced to paralysis and desperation. By day they prowl like jackals and wolves, by night they move stealthily like thieves, staging sudden raids on monasteries and households, searching them from top to bottom and bottom to top for photos of the Dalai Lama, for hidden weapons, and for cash and valuables while they are at it, throwing Lama photos on the floor and treading on them.

51hfdt6oyfl._sx330_b_071017054927.jpgThe Division of Heaven and Earth: On Tibet's Peaceful Revolution; Shokdung; Translated by Matthew Akester

They call Him a "beast with a human face", and a "wolf in monk’s robes". They show the signs of both intoxication and planetary affliction (for Red Army soldiers with heads but no brains, tanked up on the firewater of "Motherland" and "Great China", this is hardly surprising). When they see the implements of the Dharmapala in the protector chapels and get hold of them, they say it is evidence of hidden weapons. They show all the signs of idiocy and stupidity, even persisting with far-fetched allegations they know to be wrong. They take valuables and non-valuables too, even taking half-cooked Momos from the saucepan and eating them like a gang of bandits and thieves working together.

So it is that no Tibetan any longer has the right to take a hotel room in Chinese cities, and at airports they are greeted with the order to remove their hats and shoes. They are not given tickets and their money is not taken. Under the influence of deceptive propaganda, Tibetans are seen with a mixture of fear and loathing, and everyone is in a state of cautious suspicion. In short, Tibetans as a whole are seen as terrorists, and under such pressure, this includes even children too young to understand.

In fact, this is by no means the first time that Tibet was turned into a terrifying battlefield, for ever since coming under the rule of the dictatorship, the beatings, struggles, arrests, detentions, punishments and executions that accompanied each successive political campaign made people incapable of movement, speech or thought, and out of constant fear, everyone became like walking corpses. This is what happened fifty years ago, through the most inhumane means, as can be seen from the following accounts, like scenes from a film:

More than ten days later, the whole valley was covered with the corpses of men and horses killed in the fighting at Kyépur Nakdzup, and the orphaned children and elderly unable to move elsewhere, and there were many fearsome sights to be seen, the writhing of the wounded among the dead, the babes still sucking at the breasts of their dead mothers. (from Jamdo Rinsang’s My Homeland and the Peaceful Liberation)

Those labelled "rebels" being driven to hellish prisons were treated worse than animals, as related by Tibetans incapable of making such things up: "next day we were tied suspended from the high beams across the back of the truck, so our feet did not touch the ground, and taken like that as far as Chabcha"; and "We were taken through Trika. On the way to Trika, three people in our truck died. When the truck was moving fast, the corpses were thrown to the ground off the back of the truck" (from Jamdo Rinsang’s Listening to my Homeland).

Of the imprisoned, those driven to their deaths by abuse, beatings and starvation were innumerable, and the way they were tortured and terrorised can be seen from the following: "There were many prisoners whose limbs became paralysed, their legs folded at the hips and arms folded on their chests. They were told that they had to straighten their limbs, the soldiers tied ropes around their arms and legs to pull them apart, and many died from the pain" (from Jamdo Rinsang’s My Homeland and the Peaceful Liberation).

One old woman said: "Shot in the right thigh [considered a centre of vitality] am I, get up and go on I cannot, but though they carry me away on a stretcher, fight I did!" and that fight goes on until the "stench of the fallen" of Tséring Dondrup’s Raging Red Wind. "Aku Kalden-tsang wanted to take back the bones of his dead mother and asked for them. The Peoples [Liberation] Army soldiers told him 'If we put your mother’s bones in Aku Tsang’s mouth, will you want to eat them? What do you want to keep them for?', and beat him up."

They showed an utterly inhumane and appalling cruelty, difficult to hear about, much less witness, such that the sky itself can barely encompass. In prison:the Lamas were made to carry the corpses of dead prisoners, which they dumped in a ravine a little way off. The way they dumped those bodies was like the way they compress garbage in big cities today. Then that ravine became almost completely filled. They were stacked one on top of another. An average of four people

the Lamas were made to carry the corpses of dead prisoners, which they dumped in a ravine a little way off. The way they dumped those bodies was like the way they compress garbage in big cities today. Then that ravine became almost completely filled. They were stacked one on top of another. An average of four people were dying in each work team every day. There were 20 work teams. One day when the ravine was almost full, a kind of bulldozer came and dug some earth, and completely buried the piles of corpses. The cavity left by the digging was also a kind of ravine, and they dumped corpses in there too, but it filled up after two or three days. Then they dug another, on the near side. That filled up too. I know for sure that there were 15 or more of those ravines. There must have been at least 250 bodies in each of them.

Nothing could be worse than this, but take the question of weapons: the international community has managed to ban, on humanitarian grounds, the use of certain kinds of weapons in warfare by treaty agreements, such as the Dum-dum bullet and chemical weapons.

Yet the national army of the autocratic régime has used and tested such weapons in Tibet, which it turned into a terrifying battlefield, as we see from this: [speaking of bullets fired at civilians] during the so-called "uprising" [1958], "if you pressed on the wound left by those bullets, there was nothing more than a slight depression, as they tore clean through the body and came out the other side".

"One time, whether because of starvation, or because of a cloud of chemical vapour I am not sure, the senses and perceptions of men and cattle became dulled. Some said it was poison gas used in warfare."

If they even used internationally banned bullets and toxic weapons, who will deny that they turned, and continue to turn, Tibet into a terrifying battlefield?

From the above, we can see that there is no greater terrorist than the totalitarian régime.

What is terrorism other than forcing and suppressing people, deluding and stupefying them, inflicting pain, contempt and torment with cruel and merciless intent, all the while keeping them in fear of their lives?

Whatever is there in totalitarianism is also there in terrorism. In particular, the terrorism of sealing down the bodies of the common Tibetan people, sealing up the mouths of the eminent ones, and sealing off the minds of the unthinking population, and the methods of state terrorism are something they have been practising for the last half century, so who can deny that it is their basic character? If the despicable hypocrisy of handing out a brick of tea, a sack of flour and a few red Yuan [cash notes] to the poor as "Aid" for public display did not buy off the Tibetans’ incipient sense of warrior-like courage and rock-hard solidarity in the past, how will it do so now?

In brief, there are two reasons for my feeling sad: the first is that up to now the Tibetans have not developed universal conviction with respect to the universal values of freedom, equality, democracy and so on; and without the acculturated view, way of thinking, consciousness and practical application which are the roots, the foundation and the condition for such values, they will have only the view of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, not the view of living in this world; they will have only the thought of all sentient beings, not of one’s own people and lineage; they will have only the consciousness of the cosmic realm, not of one’s own land and territory; they will have only the practice of seeking refuge and prostrating themselves before the enlightened ones, not of achieving freedom and equality; they will have only the sense of royal authority, not the sense of rights and their value; they will have only inclination towards the divine and spirit worlds, and not for the human, secular realm. Having all of these haves has meant not having all the not-haves, and as these haves and not-haves came to exclude each other, so we had to suffer such consequences as these.

Second, the Karmic outcome of this was that the totalitarians turned Tibet into the lord of death’s slaughterhouse, a hellish prison, a punishment ground in hell and a terrifying battlefield following the principle of one-party rule, the way of suppressing the individual and civil society, the policy of restricting public expression and deluding the masses, the particularity of holding power by force, the extreme of eliminating distinct peoples and so forth, not just now but for over half a century.

What do I have left? Not even the right to live a simple life in freedom… Watching out for who they want to kill, who they want to arrest/Doing whatever they want with us, we who are without freedom... There is no way our lives will be spared… We who are without the slightest freedom or equality/That is how the Tibetans languishing in jail are called.

These are the words of the young poet Yung Lhundrup: "I consider myself a singer who puts the Tibetan peoples’ feelings into song", who passed away, leaving behind many "laments of inestimable value" like "Freedom, oh freedom that is sought/You are watching over us, come what may...", taken from his Tibetans Languishing in Jail.

The whole of Tibet turned into a prison, the brutality of massacres to eliminate whole populations; the torment of imprisonment survived by less than 10 per cent ("Of about 1,000 children and 600 elders, apart from a few children with parents and elders taken [by relatives], there were now 50 odd children left in the three work teams, and over ten elders. The rest had all died within half a year, or to be precise, within two or three months." From Naktsang Nulo’s Fortunes of a Naktsang Kid); the yoke of an unjust and immoral legal system; the agony of hungry ghosts reduced to eating human waste and human flesh; the continuation of such hellish horrors into the present, are all a cause for terrible sadness.

(Excerpted with permission from Speaking Tiger Books.)

Also read - Growing up Thamel: How Kathmandu lost a literary culture to a pale fire

Writer

Shokdung

Tagyal, who uses the pen name Shokdung, is the author of several books and until his arrest in 2010 was employed by a Chinese publishing house.

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