KATHMANDU—Tibetans in exile and under Chinese rule plan to boycott upcoming New Year celebrations in a gesture aimed at honoring Tibetans who died during protests in 2008, Tibetan sources say.
Tensions in the Tibetan region are expected to be high this year because of the one-year anniversary of the violent crackdown in March against anti-China demonstrations and because of the fiftieth anniversary of a failed rebellion against Chinese rule.
Losar, or Tibetan New Year, falls on Feb. 26 this year and is the biggest holiday on the Tibetan calendar, lasting three to 15 days. Tibetans traditionally visit family and friends, clean their homes, enjoy special meals, and visit monasteries for performances and prayers.
“All the villages and monasteries in Ngaba [in Chinese, Aba] county in Sichuan have decided not to celebrate traditional Tibetan New Year,” a monk named Tsering at Kirti monastery in Dharamsala, India, said, citing local contacts.
“They are observing a year of mourning in memory of those who were killed, tortured, and jailed during the protests in Tibet,” Tsering said.
China’s Sichuan province and other Tibetan-populated areas of China saw repeated protests following demonstrations in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, which led to violent riots on March 14.
Tibet’s government in exile said more than 200 Tibetans were killed in the subsequent region-wide crackdown. China has meanwhile reported police as having killed just one “insurgent” and blames Tibetan “rioters” for the deaths of 21 people.
Other festivals canceled
Local Tibetans have already set aside other traditional observances such as fall picnic festivals and the yearly whitewashing of houses, Tsering said.
“This year, the families in Ngaba county skipped this annual ritual and mourned for those Tibetans who lost their lives,” he said.
A Tibetan man who asked not to be named said Tibetans in his area of Sichuan province will also forgo Losar festivities.
“Here, in Kardze [in Chinese, Ganzi], we are also planning not to celebrate Tibetan Losar,” the man said.
“However, the Chinese authorities are planning a meeting of the heads of all counties in this area to force Tibetans to observe the 50th anniversary of ‘democratic reforms’ in Tibet,” he said, referring to China’s 1959 military takeover of the Himalayan region.
These observances would include an “elaborate celebration” of the Tibetan New Year, he said.
An official in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), asking not to be named, confirmed the plans, saying that a meeting of prefecture and county leaders had recently been held in Lhasa to “ensure that all people mark the occasion with festivities.”
“However, the local Tibetans are not willing,” he said.
During last year’s fall festivities, county authorities had ordered Tibetans to participate in traditional horse races, but only a few Tibetans came forward, he said.
“Those who did not participate were fined, but no one is paying fines,” he said.
Exiles follow suit
Meanwhile, Tibetans in exile also plan a muted observance of Losar this year.
“We are urging all Tibetans in the exile community to mark a subdued celebration of Tibetan Losar this year,” Pema Tsewang, a Tibetan Youth Congress leader in Bylakuppe, India, said.
“We must show our solidarity with those Tibetans who were killed and jailed and disappeared following the widespread protests in all three regions of Tibet.”
“We are doing only religious ceremonies,” Tibetan prime minister in exile Samdong Rinpoche added in an Express India article on Jan. 6.
“We are not doing much pomp [in order to] mark our solidarity with the people suffering inside Tibet.”
Original reporting in Tibetan by Lobsang Choephel and Norbu Damdul. Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Translations by Karma Dorjee. Written for the Web in English by Richard Finney. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.