By Dechen Tsering
On May 11, 2014, Times of India online news reported that: “A local court in Palampur sent a 30-year-old Tibetan man in three-day remand who was charged with molestation of two minor girls of Tibetan Children Village (TCV) School, Gopalpur” few miles from Dharamsala, India, the capital of Tibetan exile community.
The news of a Tibetan cook in a TCV school accused of raping two Tibetan minors on two separate occasions has disturbed members of a women’s group that I am part of – ACHA. ACHA declares zero tolerance for violence against girls and women and strongly condemns all forms of gender-based violence perpetrated against Tibetan girls and women.
The Gopalpur cases are among a growing number of reported
cases of gender-based violence in the Tibetan exile community over the past few years. In 2011 the “Tenzingang incident” (1) and in 2013 the “Mundgod incident” (2) shocked and outraged the global Tibetan community.
According to Phayul post on May 12, 2014
, in Gopalpur TCV, the first “incident of molestation of an eight-year-old girl by the accused [Pema Namgyal]… was brought to light by this [second] case,” suggesting that the school authorities failed to pursue justice in the first case. This raises some curious questions: Was the man suspected of rape in the first case thoroughly investigated? Given that the same man now stands accused of raping a second girl (13): Might we have prevented the second alleged rape by thoroughly investigating the first?
In addition to legal action, we need to address the lack of public awareness and recognition of sexual abuse and gender inequality in the Tibetan exile community. Perhaps our community can begin by asking some critical questions: What social factors in our communities are contributing to these acts of violence against women and girls? How can we raise greater community awareness around gender-based violence and take shared responsibility across all sectors of our communities for developing effective programs? What can we do to prevent these horrendous acts of violence in our Buddhist society? How can we create safe and violence-free communities for women, girls and youth? How can we address the ingrained stigma around gender-based violence – especially toward the survivors, who often suffer in silence fearing social isolation, shame and victim blaming?
The answers to these questions might be revealed once we begin to create spaces for community members at all levels of our society to inquire, discuss and find collective and creative solutions.
This recent incident and previous reported cases of violence remind us that sexual violence against girls and women exists in our [Tibetan] communities and that we must pay attention to its prevention and appropriate action. We need prevention programs to secure the safety of girls and women in our homes, schools, and communities. To its credit, in September 2011, the Tibetan Parliament-In-Exile (TPIE) passed a historic resolution
condemning “Violence against Women”. After renewed social media campaign and pressure from Tibetan activists and politicians, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) issued its first public condemnation on August 24, 2013
following the Mundgod incident.(3) These are clearly steps in the right direction and there is more work ahead.
The responsibility of preventing all forms of violence, particularly against girls and women in our communities, lies in each of us – women and men. Every Tibetan individual can contribute toward the solutions rather than relying solely on government and women in the community. Gender-based violence is still an un-addressed social issue impeding our overall growth and development as a non-violent Buddhist community.
Regarding the Gopalpur incident, it is encouraging to know that an investigation of the accused, Pema Namgyal (30) is currently underway. I commend the school nurse for believing in the minor (13) and seeking the necessary medical care for the victim.
It is my hope that justice is pursued with appropriate legal action in compliance with local law including appropriate rehabilitation for the perpetrator. For the survivors and their parents, I hope the local Tibetan community will offer the social, medical, financial and emotional support required to heal. “Violence against women is not only injustice, but is also an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace in the community in every country."
United Nations Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
1. A September 2011 investigative report, the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA) noted that on July 16, 2011
2. On August 23, 2013, Phayul reported that: “a five-year old Tibetan girl has allegedly been raped by two Tibetan men in Mungod Tibetan settlement on Tuesday [August 20, 2013].”
3. No public condemnation of the most recent incident was found on the CTA website at the time of writing this article.The writer is the Co-Founder of ACHA-Himalayan Sisterhood, a volunteer Tibetan women's group in the U.S. that fosters women empowering women to create safe, supportive and inclusive spaces for all. Dechen is a social justice advocate for the rights of women, human rights defenders, and minority communities. She lives in Berkeley, CA. The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.