June 21, 2005

Quiet room, dark night

The women speak softly, really droning, their voices barely carrying to us in the audience. (Though we don't need to hear them, because the young man sitting beside them translates their Tibetan into English). As each speaks, her two companions sit with their heads down, their heads hanging ever-lower as the evening goes on and they get to the particularly horrific experiences. Slender, pale, wraith-like women in gowns, in a pleasant old stone building on a leafy Bombay lane, softly recounting details of lives that just happen to include torture and terror.

In 1994 and 1995, as late-teenaged trainee nuns in a Lhasa nunnery, they took part in (separate) demonstrations in Lhasa. Shouting "Free Tibet" and slogans about human rights in public was provocation enough; 15 minutes, and the Chinese policemen swarmed in to arrest them and take them to "reform centres". (What countries run "reform centres" and what does it say about those countries that they run them?)

What Nyima tells us about what happened at her reform centre stands out in the droning like a scream. She and her fellow candidates for reform were ordered to take off their clothes. In parallel, the cops took off their belts and used them to beat the women. They burned the women with cigarette butts. They threw boiling water at the women's chests.

In this quiet little room, a gasp.

Later, they were tried. The proceedings in Chinese, unintelligible to them. They did understand the result, though: for the crime of "separatism", they were given 5- and 6-year sentences.

They were also given uniforms and a small book from which they had to "learn" to reform their minds and denounce the Dalai Lama; every 7 days, they had to take an exam based on this book. They were steadily ordered to admit they had "done wrong", which they did not do. Naturally, this refusal brought punishment: they had to stand on ice for several hours at a stretch.

In 1998, some important Chinese officials visited the prison. The prison authorities wanted the prisoners to sing songs of praise to the Communist party, as well as the Chinese national anthem, during the visit. Several women, including these three, refused. They even held a demonstration in protest, when "Free Tibet" was heard again. The prison authorities were not pleased. They arrested Nyima Drolkar and six other women. "The Communist Party is very kind", an interrogator told Nyima, "so why are you protesting?"

Then he hit her with his metal baton and broke some of her teeth. Her mouth full of blood, she fell to the floor. He grabbed her hair and banged it on the floor. She became unconscious and stayed that way for 7 days. When she came round, the six others were dead.

In this quiet little room, Damchoe Drolma and Nyima, the other two nuns, have their heads hanging really low.

For their parts in the prison demonstration, all three nuns spent many months in solitary confinement. Nyima had the longest term: 20 months in a cell without seeing one person, one shaft of light.

In this quiet little room, I try to comprehend 20 months without seeing the light. And a very kind Communist Party of China.


R. said...

To think that this country is a trading partner that everyone is after, its crazy!

Anonymous said...

Torture, it is such a horrible thing, and yet it happens, not only in China, but almost everywhere in this world.

Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

On an not entirely unrelated note, does anyone remember old Chinese propoganda books about Tibet before China? I remember reading them when I was in high school in Kolkata, at some stall in the "boi-mela". Is there some way of getting those anymore?

Also, speaking for the two places that I know anything about, India and US, I am not sure there's much to separate us from this sort of official behaviour. I remember reading "Hanyaman" by Jaya Mitra about women in a Kolkata jail. And of course loads on what's going on in Guantanamo Bay now. How is it any different?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Anonymous, I can't imagine why you refer to "the land of the fascist Hindus", but to each his own, I guess.

In any case, while it is true that Tibetans live in peace and dignity here, what a pity that you can find what happened to those nuns happening nearly every day in nearly every police station in India. To kids, women, men, old men ... here's one case I got familiar with. Yes, as Suvendra asks, how are we any different?

Mediochre, one of the lacunae in my life is that I haven't read 1084 ki ma. Will make amends soon. Thanks for reminding me.

Suvendra, I don't remember the Chinese propaganda books, but I remember "Soviet Land", I think it was called, about the joys of life in that paradise called USSR. They sent it to you free, beautifully produced, fine pix, happy kids, and even as a teenager we had the sense that this was one big sham. Were the Chinese books like that?

Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

No, actually the chinese propaganda was better. Because it was focussed on the problems of the Tibetan society before the Chinese. And it had a kernel of truth. Clearly Tibet before China was a feudal society with wealth in the hands of the clergy. The peasants must have had a miserable life as the propaganda suggested. Of course the Chinese books didn't mention that this had nothing to do with the monks and all to do with unfertile land and inclement weather. And, like all smart propaganda, it didn't compare specific items before and after. Presumably the crops didn't gush out of the ground after the chinese arrived. It just pointed out bad things before, and good things after the invasion. Hmmm.. I wonder if I can write a parser to identify propaganda from just this criterion.

Sunil said...

To just understand the extent of Chinese propaganda.....just try to take up the topic of Tibet with any Chinese student you meet. I tried to do that a couple of times with my old room mate (he was Chinese) and his friends......

Usually, the reply went something like "Tibet was always a part of China. And Tibetians are dirty, stupid people anyway!.

Try asking something like "So....while China claims it is homogenouse, and every one speak Chinese. Why don't Tibetians understand Chinese, and why is their culture so different?"

and you get some reply like "That's just the west twisting history". Twisting history indeed...

Dilip D'Souza said...

Sunil, it would be interesting to compare Chinese views on Tibet, which you mention, to Indian views on Sikkim, and how we annexed it.

Sriram, if you think I blamed "patriotism" for what happened to Gilani, I'm amazed. What happened to him was the result of a venal government gone crazy. The mention of patriotism was because of what he himself called a "ghastly display of patriotism", the beatings and abuse he got from jail, from a bunch of rapists and murderers. POssibly some statists and leftist dimwits in there too, who knows.

Anonymous said...


Yes, another response!



Phoenix_In said...

the experiences are tarumatic and tragic, to say the least. and it would be fashionable to spare a tear of solace.

but, pray, how is this different from the "judgements" we regularly mete out much closer to home ?

Anonymous said...

Do these 'tarumatic' experiences have anything to do with Saruman from the lord of the rings??
I guess not.

Kafka perhaps.

Anonymous said...


With well-defined and clear sentences like "The religion of statism will tolerate anything except opposition to the state itself" how can you imply that Sriram is "esoteric, impractical and verbose"?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Sriram, one final time. First, I never claimed Gilani's was an isolated case. The kind of thing that happened to him happens all the time, regardless of the party in power. (as you said). I'm unable to understand where you see me "spinning" his case any other way.

Second, the word "patriotism" did not pop into my mind, but into Gilani's, and not so much because of the beating. When he was accused by rapists and murderers of being unpatriotic, while they beat him, this struck him as a "ghastly display of patriotism". That phrase, I picked up on.

What here makes you amazed and puzzled? How are Gilani's thoughts about being tortured irrelevant to a discussion about his torture?

Gilani committed no "ultimate sin of apostasy", he did nothing wrong at all! He was utterly innocent. That is the travesty (well, one of them).

As I said, one final time.

Anurag said...

What I fail to understand is how could a person torture another living thing? If I were to hit another being, wouldn't the whimpering and grimacing move my core at all? Is this the superior brain we human beings brag about?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous may have a point there on the fact that Tibetans have found a better life here. Not only them even Chakmas and others who were persecuted and hounded out of their homelands have been treated better here. Yes one must admit life is brutish in the prisons and even we have our share of abuses of basic individual rights. But our system is better and if there had been some political will the justice system could have been made better. While Indian societies tolderate and respect diversity, Chinese societies do not. One just has to travel to Hong Kong to get a taste of this. Just a short visit gives you a glimpse of the racism prevalent there. And these are educated twenty first century citizens and not uneducated backward caste conscious Indians. Ultimately China has a monoculture that one wonders would survive at all.

Anonymous said...


Check the list of people who supported a pro-Gilani petition couple years ago - even as the facts on that case were just coming in and you won't be suprised to see one journo scratching back of another with "He was utterly innocent" verdicts passed in kangroo courts.

Anonymous said...

My grandmother, who's studied psychology, told me about it. It's scary.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Nikhil, let's start with this: I would far, far, prefer to live in India than in China. Having said that, "our system is better" and "we tolerate and respect diversity" is just a little too complacent. I know people who don't think very highly of our "system", such as it is. There is evolving_everyday's revealing comment about Nasik. There are my experiences meeting Kashmir Pandits in Delhi and Jammu, where to my astonishment I found intense hostility towards them.

E_e, I've visited Bylakuppe too, spent a couple of nights there. There are ways in which those TIbetans have contributed to the local economy -- the shopkeepers would not survive without the Tibetans. I do wish the Tibetans didn't stand out as much as they do, but it's wrong to assume they do not contribute.

Thanks for the revealing note about what happened in Nasik.

Anonymous said...

REgards my earlier comments, I reiterate the system is not perfect and there are abuses here and there,but when we look at the big picture, it is better than China. Just to give an example, China has resorted to demographic warfare in both Tibet and Xinjiang reducing the original inhabitants to minorities. So far the Indian state has not done that in J&K and the North-East.
Regards the Nasik case, the case must be highlighted. Why does the media sit silent over these things?
The Kashmiri pandit bit is news to me as I have not visited the refugee camps. Again has this been highlighted by the media? Maybe you could write a column on this.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Nikhil, some people in the media write often about such issues as Nasik. I try to, but apart from that shameless plug, there are Kalpana Sharma, Dionne Bunsha, Annie Zaidi, Sankarshan Thakur, etc.

The trouble about comparing ourselves to China in such respects is, that sets the bar comfortably low. Yes, we haven't resorted to demographic warfare in J&K and the NE. But have you spoken to people in those areas? The resentment of India is something fierce. What's the use ot telling ourselves, we're better than China?

As for the Pandits, try these that I wrote (and have pointed to on this blog earlier): this one for India Together and this one for Tehelka.

Anonymous said...

Where's the ABC special?

Anonymous said...

Suvendra Nath Dutta said:
And of course loads on what's going on in Guantanamo Bay now. How is it any different?

Well, for starters, all 500 +/- in Gitmo were violent men, not peaceful women, captured in the act of trying to kill people, not demonstrating peacefully. Also, if you read the narrative, the humane Chinese killed six out of seven, where the barbaric Americans killed none of some 500 or so. I would explain the rest to you, but I don't think your tiny brain could handle it. Calling you a halfwit would be exaggerating your intelligence by at least a couple of orders of magnitude.

Govar said...

Came in thro blog mela... and Im damn glad I did that. We see, we hear, we know... but with all sorts of freedom of expression curtailed in China, will thse things come out? Like the gang rape of Pakistan woman that caught the attention of the whole world?

Anonymous said...

well its not that it happens in china only...it happens everywhere..in US..in biggest secular democracy INDIA...i dont think communist party should be specifically hit for this..