Tibetans living both in Tibetan-populated regions of China and in exile are planning to observe the Tibetan New Year, Losar, in a low-key way on Wednesday in memory of protesters who have lost their lives challenging Chinese rule, sources say.
Meanwhile, members of the Tibetan exile parliament based in Dharamsala, India, have announced they will mark the annual holiday with a hunger strike while monks in the Tibet Autonomous Region have refused to comply with a government directive to hoist the Chinese flags on monasteries to commemorate Losar.
Tibetan areas in western China’s Sichuan and Qinghai provinces were rocked this year by a series of self-immolations, mainly by Buddhist monks and nuns, protesting rule by Beijing and calling for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
“Tomorrow is Tibetan New Year, but we are not going to celebrate,” said a Tibetan resident of Dzamthang county in Sichuan’s Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Today and tomorrow, we will pray for the Tibetans who have lost their lives,” he said.
Ngaba has been the area most frequently hit by self-immolations this year. As recently as Sunday, an 18-year-old monk named Nangdrol set himself ablaze in Dzamthang, bringing to 23 the number of Tibetans known to have burned themselves in protest since February 2009.
Speaking to RFA by phone, the man said that telephone service connecting Ngaba with the outside world is often cut, and that the Internet has been completely closed, as Chinese authorities try to block the flow of information to and from the protest-hit region.
As Losar approaches, Chinese authorities have been organizing festive activities such as performances of music and dance, and have been ordering Tibetans to attend, said Jampal Monlam, deputy director of the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
“They are urging Tibetans to celebrate the holiday in high spirits,” Jampal Monlam said, adding that Tibetans are instead boycotting the festivities and refusing to celebrate.
Kalsang Gyaltsen, a member of Tibet’s exile parliament, noted that “Chinese authorities have made the New Year celebration a political issue, giving cash rewards to those who celebrate, while punishing those who don’t by cutting off the financial subsidies they should regularly receive.”
Meanwhile, Gyaltsen said, the Tibetan government-in-exile, also based in Dharamsala, will mark Losar with protests and mourning “for our dead brethren.”
“The Dalai Lama will attend the mourning ritual on New Year’s Day,” he said. “On that same day, all members of parliament will hold a one-day hunger strike to express condolences for the dead.”
'China's red flag'
In the Tibet Autonomous Region, Chinese authorities have ordered the monks of Lhoding monastery in the Ngamring district of Shigatse to fly the Chinese flag on New Year’s Day, Tibet’s government in exile, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), said in a statement released on Tuesday.
“But the monks of Lhoding monastery said that the monastery is a place for the study of Buddhism and not for the promotion of political education, and said that they would never agree to fly the Chinese flag,” the statement said.
“The monks were then immediately detained and were forced to fly China’s red flag from the monastery’s roof,” the CTA said.
Speaking to RFA, Tibetan residents of India and Nepal also said they would avoid celebrations of Losar this year.
“This year’s New Year should not be celebrated as usual, because so many Tibetans have sacrificed their lives for Tibet,” an elderly man living in Kathmandu said.
“We, who enjoy freedom in exile, should pray for them and avoid celebrations and fireworks.”
“I have only prepared religious offerings to the gods, and have bought just a few provisions,” a Tibetan woman living in Nepal said, adding, “I have made no other preparations.”
“On the second day of Losar, I will open my shop as usual,” she said.
“The demand for Losar cookies and biscuits has fallen to 25 percent of what it was a year ago,” said a shopkeeper in Dharamsala. “I have prepared less than five percent of the total I prepared last year. There is no demand.”
A resident of Dharamsala named Gonpo added simply, “When I think of conditions inside Tibet, I am not in the mood to celebrate Losar.”
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service and by Thubten Sangye and Tenzin Wangyal for the Tibetan service. Translations by Ping Chen, Karma Dorjee, and Benpa Topgyal. Written in English by Ping Chen and Richard Finney.