security forces stand in line in front of the scroll art at Drepung monastery, August 6, 2013
DHARAMSALA AUGUST 8, 2013 – Photographs circulating among Tibetans on the social media show a strong presence of Chinese paramilitary forces at the unveiling ceremony of a large religious scroll art (tib : thangka) at one of the largest monasteries in Tibet on Tuesday.
Images show troops standing in front of the Buddha Shakyamuni’s thangka and around the crowds of Tibetans gathered for the ceremony, marking the start of the annual Shoton ('Yogurt') festival from August 6.
The images give a glimpse of the strength of the military presence in Lhasa today, the Washington based International Campaign for Tibet said in a release Wednesday. The monastery looks like airport security check area with scanners installed at both the sides and monks passing one by one through the scanner.
Some of the troops among the crowds could be viewed on images in the Chinese state media, but most of these official pictures showed only the crowds and the thangka.
Scanning equipment was also used at Kumbum monastery in early July for the visit of the Chinese-picked Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, during his visit to the monastery in Qinghai. “Monks were required to pass through scanners manned by police, indicating a level of uncertainty among the authorities about the possible response to the young man,” the release added.
The ICT further said that the numbers of Tibetans present at Drepung monastery this week, depicted in the images, show Tibetans' determination to express their religious identity even in the face of an intimidating security presence.
Police man the security gates at Kumbum monastery, Qinghai, during the visit of the Chinese-imposed Panchen Lama on July 2, 2013.
The Shoton festival was named after the Buddhist tradition of giving yoghurt to monks after the summer retreat. Traditionally, the festival involves folk operas and other cultural performances, but Tibetan sources say the focus is now more on using the Shoton festival as a propaganda exercise by China.
In the late 1980s and early '90s, some Tibetans used the occasion of the Shoton festival to express their dissent against the Chinese regime and loyalty to the Dalai Lama. In 1993, four monks carrying Tibetan flags and shouting 'Long live the Dalai Lama' became the third group in five years to hold a peaceful protest at the Shoton festival. In 1990, 12 Tibetan nuns from Mechungri and Garu nunneries served long sentences in Drapchi prison (located in Lhasa) for taking part in a peaceful protest at the Norbulingka during the Shoton festival.