The Abbreviated Life of a Tibetan Nun

Another very sombre and articulate article by the Christian Science Monitor correspondent Daniel Pepper on the refugees who managed to escape the shooting on Sep 30. at the Nangpa Pass. Of particular note is the friendship between Kelsang Namtso and Dolma Palkyi, the former slain by Chinese border patrols and the latter now a Tibetan refugee in India.

Kelsang Namtso had become a Buddhist nun just last year, at the tender age of 16. Her friend, Dolma Palkyi, 16, wanted to go to India, and meet the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, before taking her vows. Dolma says she managed to save nearly $1,400 for the arduous journey through the Himalayas. Half would go to the smugglers. In early September, the girls loaded their backpacks with yak butter, cheese, and barley, and finally set off. Seventeen days later, Kelsang lay dying in the snow after an attack, captured by Western tourists’ cameras, that is becoming an international incident and a stain on China’s human rights record.

These sorts of clandestine exodus — and the subsequent dangers that befall the escapees — have been going on ever since the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet in 1959 after the popular uprising in Lhasa. It’s an impressive feat of courage, of will, and of optimism that these Tibetans carry with them when they decide to navigate the brutal topography of the Himalayas, not to speak of the constant danger of Chinese gunmen constantly breathing down their backs, all in the hopes of being graced by His Holiness.

Some might wonder if it’s really worth it for the Tibetans to embark on such a foolhardy ordeal, and whether this faith in an exiled leader is worth risking your life over. To the Tibetans inside Tibet, it is. It is not just blind faith that carries them through their journey to India. It is the suffocating grip of China on their life, their culture and their religion that forces them to abandon their belongings in Tibet and to literally climb mountains of obstacles in order to breathe that refreshing air of freedom. This isn’t like one of our mere gung ho stabs at romantic adventurism. The Tibetans realize what is at stake and still persist on because the Dalai Lama to them represents their true identity. Because the monasteries in India and Nepal aren’t just the projected tourist spots that the Chinese want them to be (in Tibet), but rather actual academic institutes where they can explore all the different layers of their philosophy and faith. Because, ultimately, His Holiness represents their only real hope. And that simple hope, as in this case, is what led to a 16 years old nun’s untimely death.

We, SFT, have been constantly monitoring such daring attempts by Tibetans for quite a while now, and this is one of the only instances where a group of unaffiliated mountain climbers saw this whole tragic scene unfold before them. There are photo and video evidences everywhere so we can now ensure that the murder of Kelsang Namtso isn’t just another statistic. And while the official condemnations from the international community is reaffirming, we have to take that onus to ensure that the lives of her and another 23 year old man — reported to have died from “oxygen shortage” while in hospital — doesn’t get skewed and brushed aside by the Chinese government as just another “unfortunate altercation with border officials who were only acting in self-defence”.

The nun killed was typical of the many Tibetan refugees who make the journey: she was poor, young, and religiously motivated. At least half of those making the journey from Tibet are children, sent by parents who want their children to grow up with a strong Tibetan identity and who often cannot afford school fees at home. Among the group of Tibetans that just arrived in India, the youngest was a 7-year-old girl, Deki Pantso, who came without her parents.

Imagine that — being a 7 year old child terrified out of your wits as you scramble for your dear life on the deadly, icy slopes of the Himalayas. How it must have felt for her parents to trust the life of their child in the hands of strangers, knowing fully well the implications and dangers of such a decision? Will she be safe? Will she be well taken care of? How will she do in one of those many refugee schools in India? Will they ever see her again?

Tough decisions to make, and even tougher to carry them out. But that’s the reality of life for Tibetans in Tibet. It has been going on ever since the Chinese invaded Tibet and will continue to go on until they are liberated from this oppressive regime.

So, the next time you see a bunch of students protesting on the streets, don’t just honk at us. Park your car around the corner and stop by, even if it’s just for five minutes. Not only will you be giving us a boost, but you’ll actually feel a bit better as you unload your grocery out of your car and think about your actions for Tibet, however momentary that may be. And this doesn’t just apply to Tibet. It can be for any cause that you’ve always supported but can never “really make time for”. After all, activism will always trump apathy.

You can even help Tibet now by mailing your thoughts to Hu Jintao, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, and Mr. Jacques Rogge, IOC president. Let them know about your disapproval and feel that sense of contentment sweep from the tip of your fingers to your swelling chest as you click on the “send” button. Believe you me, Tibet needs you now more than ever.

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One response to “The Abbreviated Life of a Tibetan Nun

  1. Does anyone have any more information about Kelsang Namtso: where she came from in Tibet; what her parents do; why she became a nun? The story of her life needs to be told.

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