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A Response to the Open Letter to Tsering Kyi
By Email[Saturday, August 15, 2015 17:29]
By Lhundup Gyatso Zotsang  

Note: If Tsering Kyi’s background smells aristocratic and if she is one of those for whom White means Right, probably such a letter won’t be there to be seen around, nor would I have taken the time for a response amidst my tight schedule. Secondly, I am neither a friend of Tsering Kyi nor had I ever met her in person.

Dear Sangmo (Sangmota),  

Going through the hideous letter you wrote to Tsering Kyi was like riding a worn-out roller coaster. A moment to be surprised, a moment to laugh, to scream and a moment to be sad.
Right at the start of your article, the way you named Sherab Gatsel Lobling as Sorga School reflects what kind of perspective you hold on Tibet. Misnaming as 'Sorga School’ to such an important institution, a centre of home and learnings for those directly from Tibet, reveals not only discourtesy to the institution but also a misleading error that could bewilder anyone since a school by such a name exists nowhere both in and outside Tibet.  

Secondly, you have hypothetically stated “speaking about it (sexual assault, rape and domestic violence) outside the immediate family is frowned upon in Tibet society both inside and outside Tibet." and therefore, “there is no criminal action against the perpetrators…” Singling out Tibet off Asia here imparts the impression to any reader that patriarchy is more particular to Tibet than it is to any other Asian countries. Well, the 2003  survey conducted by Tibetan Women’s Association on gender equality was with 55.1% believing there is no gender discrimination within the community and 44.9% believing there is. Having said that, another survey shows only 29% on the existence of gender discrimination in Tibetan society. Another research paper (Griffiths, Carolyn 2009) on the issue of gender equality in Tibet states, "Most women I interviewed seemed to agree with the author Tsering Noreom Thonsur, “Tibetan women have not been subjected to inequalities and do not spend their energy struggling for equality within their society” (Thonsur 334). Five of the women I interviewed including a female Member of Parliament all agreed that there is no discrimination between men and women in the society.” Now, let’s have a closer look at what stands are taken by CTA (Central Tibetan Administration) on gender issue. The Article 9 and 12 provide the full protection and equality without discrimination on grounds of birth, sex, race, religion, language, lay or ordained status, social origin, and rich or poor. Article 37 had clearly mentioned “according to clause (a) of this Article, there shall be at least 2 elected women members from each region to represent that region's constituency" resulting in a total of six reserved seats for women to have more equal role in the decision making process (Charter, 1991 Version). So, in the institutional capacity, there is no ground to support all your complaints which have been defiling Tibetan image in the West. 

Holistically speaking, I believe women in Tibet, though a tiny community struggling relentlessly for their political freedom from China, are more at peace and living in harmony as compared to the day-to-day lives of women in the West. Care Centres for Old, for example, are rampant in the West. I don’t think I need to explain how the life in those Care Centres is like as you will experience all when you become old. On the contrary, there is no such an infernal place called Care Centre for Old in our history. You might then say 'what about the one at Dharamshala (North India)', but the people living in that are those who fled the Chinese invasion in 1950s and never been able to rejoin their families back in Tibet. Culturally, we are in the firm conviction that all sentient beings had been used to be our mother and vice versa somewhere in the past. I think holding such a virtue in perceiving others might be one of the sources where our sense of compassion is deeply rooted. Probably Tibetan culture is the only culture which has a tradition of considering all living beings as their own mother in both good and hard times. This clearly reflects the weightage of importance and respect we give to motherhood or women.   

Speaking with regard to domestic violence, you have mentioned, "sexual assault, rape and domestic violence are a hidden subject" and therefore, “there is no criminal action against the perpetrators…” Another line in the last paragraphs, “Our current Tibetan culture does not encourage the discussion of social problems such as rape…” Do you have any true-to-life testimony or legitimate account to substantiate this hideous statement? Any girl who got raped and didn’t obtain justice from Tibetan society? In this case, I think, a meticulous fact-finding research or scrutiny might be required because we can’t accuse Tibet and Tibetan society of the wrongs such as the case of HIV AIDS, for instance, since which has been occurring in Tibet as a result of Chinese propagandas and of the few molestations taking place between locals and exiled Tibetan girls. I know we are well aware of the fact that in a host country like India, there is nothing much an exiled community could do about. All we could carry out is what exactly this maxim said, “Once in Rome do as Romans do.” Having said that, I vividly remember how the rape case at Gopalpur School was widely criticized and condemned by many headed by our Sikyong Lobsang Sangay (www.phayul.com, Phuntsok Yangchen, 2014), and discussed across the institutions and justified according to the Indian law. Moreover, other negligent issues like beating school kids by teachers as means of disciplinary action had been banned institutionally. All schools, for instance, under the administration of TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) have been executing the rule into full effect since years back, even though H.H. Dalai Lama shares the perspective that a little bit beating might be required sometimes in order to produce a good kid. Against all these evidences, I didn’t get why our society appears that conservative in your perspective.  

A hidden subject? Well, we have gays, heterosexual partners, metrosexual people, effeminate guys, lesbians and even polygamous women in Tibetan society enjoying more than enough space of freedom. In terms of gay and lesbian, monasteries and nunneries would demonstrate this freedom best. Tenzin Ugyen or Mariko (his Japanese name), for instance, was recently interviewed by Tibetan Times (www.tibettimes.net, 08/07/2015) followed by Himalayan Happiness Initiative (www.himalayanhappinessinitiative.com). This effeminate guy is from Karze in Tibet, became a monk in his early years, came out of the monastery later pursuing his dreams and now a trans woman living at McLeod Ganji, the little Lhasa or the second capital of Tibet, without any obstacles from the society. He is the answer to what you said, “I have never heard of Tibetan man pray to come back in their next life as a girl." 
Thirdly, you have exaggerated what Tsering Kyi said, {"བོད་མི་རིགས་ཀྱི་རིག་གནས་དང་ཆོས་ལུགས་ཀྱིས་གྲུབ་པའི་བོད་མིའི་སེམས་ཁམས་ཀྱིས་བྱ་དངོས་ལ་ལྟ་བའི་རིན་ཐང་ལྟ་ཚུལ་དེ་རྩ་བ་ཉིད་ནས་རྒྱུས་ལོན་བྱས་མེད་པར། ནུབ་གླིང་གི་བཤད་སྤྱོད་རིགས་ལ་ལད་ཟློས་དང་འུར་སྒྲོག་བྱས་ཏེ་སོ་སོའི་སྒེར་དོན་སྒྲུབ་ཀྱི་ཡོད་པ་རེད་དྲན་གྱི་འདུག དེའི་རྐྱེན་གྱིས་ངས་བོད་པའི་བུད་མེད་ཀྱི་ཐོབ་ཐང་འཐབ་རྩོད་བྱེད་ཀྱི་མེད་ལ། འདྲ་མཉམ་ཟེར་བ་དེ་གལ་ཆེན་པོ་ཞིག་ལ་མཐོང་གི་ཡང་མེད།" (tibettimes.net, 12/07/2015)} by postulating the last line as “gender violence is simply non-existent in Tibetan society”. Where and when had Tsering Kyi made such a mention? This is not only mistranslation but also condescending to the personnel (Tsering Kyi) and demeaning the very essence of translations.  

Fourthly, the disturbing question which never cease meddling your mind while reading the book, A Hundred Thousand White Stones by Kunsang Dolma, is “Would Kunsang La be encouraged and empowered to reveal her story if her husband were a Tibetan man?” Wow! Even a five year old kid knows the fact that there are as many women writers and highly respected reincarnated women as men in Tibet. If anyone doubts, please turn the pages of our history. What is not seen doesn’t mean it’s not existing there. And, what utterly dumbfounded me most here is the overtone in your lines which gives the impression to a reader that patriarchy is only particular to Tibet. If Tibet is that patriarchal, you might have never been able to become what you are today. If so, how it has been possible for Tibet to have so many women leaders from ministers to the heads of organizations.  

Well, let’s have closer look to other countries for a better depiction. Soraya, a typical rural Iranian woman living in the village of Kuhpayeh, was falsely accused of adultery by her husband, Ghorban-Ali. An appointed Mulla, Sheik Hassan, corroborated the accusation. A week later, Soraya was stoned to death by the locals that included her father, her two eldest sons and her husband! She was 35 years old and gave birth to nine children in 14 years! (the stoning of Soraya, Freidoune Sahebjam, 1994). Afghanistan is even worse. Girls over the age of eight have been prohibited from attending schooling. Women are denied access to basic health care. A girl of seven was beaten ferociously for wearing white shoes. Burqa is a thick prison wall depriving women of the freedom to see sun, resulting in deficiency of vitamin C and D. (The Bookseller of Kabul, Åsne Seirestad, 2002.) Likewise, Shameen, a 13-year-old Somali girl was buried up to her neck and stoned by 50 men in front of 1,000 people at a stadium in Kismayo in 2008. Simply because she went to watch a football game. A young mother in Pakistan was stoned to death by her relatives. Her crime was the possession of a mobile phone. Again in Pakistan. an uncle burned his niece alive for putting lipstick on. She was nearly 12! (independent.co.uk, 07/08/2015). A Christian father, in Austria, named Josef Fritzl Jew imprisoned his daughter in a windowless cell for 24 years and sexually abused her on daily basis and fathered to 7 children. (http://www.regionews.at/region/Amstetten-369) 

The list of such brutal misogynic violence against women even in western countries, which you believe is heaven for women, never ends. But the concerned question is: does Tibetan culture, society and our history hold any account of such cannibalistic dehumanization against Tibetan girls? Can’t our girls go to nightclubs? Can’t they smoke and drink? Don’t they have the full freedom to choose their love? Let alone wearing lipsticks, possession of mobile phones, etc. etc. Paradoxically, there are some people who always want more when there is everything for them. A maxim thus goes, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” And we can’t blame on our society and people when there comes something which is beyond our reach.  

Fifthly, you have cited Jamyang Kyi’s stories to ratify your arguments. I am also a constant reader of her works with huge respect in my heart. Having said that, I can’t help but doubt some lines in her writings. A 2008 translated paper of her reads for instance, “If women talk too much or have their own views on a subject, they are treated as bad signs or omens.”(tibetwebdigest.com, 05/02/2008) And another line goes, “Tibetan women do not have the right to claim the ownership of a house.” I found such lines far less likely to be true. I was also born and brought up in Domey like Jamyang Kyi. Half of my life was spent in Tibet traveling in all provinces and worked there too. But, never have I ever heard of such things. On the other hand, I encountered many Khadomas (highly respected reincarnated women) giving extensive Buddhist teachings in many places. Let alone considering their talks as a bad omen. At the same time, I also encountered girls' gangs partying, smoking and challenging against other gangs in some cities of Tibet. Moreover, recently one of my sisters back in Tibet got divorced with her husband. The whole house, where they live, consisting of a living room, a restaurant, a small grocery shop and a big yard had become her legitimate property. Also the whole land at their nomadic camps which is currently on rent will be her property in four years. There are many evidences as such even in my hometown, so let alone the question whether or not Tibetan women have the right to claim the ownership of a house.  
Sixthly, you have misinterpreted our history by stating “Historically, the cultural status of Tibetan women is deemed lower than Tibetan men, at least in Amdo region of Tibet.” You know what, there are many places in Tibet including the whole region of Utsang, some of Domey and Dotoe, where women enjoy higher social status than men. In these regions, for instance, only women are traditionally allowed to perform Prokshanam in front of the temples or at the top of hills and to conduct offerings to Nagas in Buddhist monasteries on special occasions. Specially in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, women are more likely to be superior than men in making the major decision within and without the family. And the overtone in mentioning Amdo is ironically amusing since Amdo is where the last matriarchal society in the world was found. Mosuo, a valley providing home to approximately 40,000 inhabitants, was called the “Kingdom of Women” situated on the border of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. In Mosuo, women are in charge, making major decisions, controlling household’s finances, having the rightful ownership of lands, enjoying the full right to the children born to them and etc. Interestingly, female over there from the age of 13 could choose to take men as lovers, having as many or few as they please over their lifetime. Having said that, "men and women are very much equals, but the women are just a little more in charge” a man over there said in an interview. (theguardian.com, 19/12/2010). Unfortunately, Mosou was looted down during Chinese Cultural Revolution and its culture was assimilated to Chinese. Historically, this place lies in what has become today as Sichuan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. (Cynthia Barnes, 2006) If Amdo is that misogynic over women by tradition, the last matriarchal society or the Kingdom of Women would not have been there.   

Seventhly, I doubt if all the Tibetan proverbs you have cited are authentic and accurate, let alone the translation. For example, is this ༼བུ་མོ་ཞིག་ཡིན་དུས་ལག་པ་མཁས་དགོས། ལག་ལས་ཀ་མཁས་ན་ཁྱོ་ཀ་ཡག་པོ་རྙེད༽ a Tibetan proverb? A proper proverb should possess its eloquence characteristics with syntax structure and rhythm. But this doesn’t carry any of the elements which are supposed to be there to make it concise and oral. Whatever, this is okay. But, your translation of this maxim, “A girl should be efficient in the kitchen, so she can find a better husband”, is almost the opposite and way more negative than what it means in Tibetan! Where is this proverb saying ‘a girl should be efficient in the kitchen’? First of all, where is the word for ‘kitchen’ in this proverb? It’s simply saying, “the better skilled a girl is, a better husband would be found”. It’s mainly stressing on the importance of skills.  What’s wrong with this? I think EVERYMAN would endeavour to get a better wife and vice versa. The same thing, too, in this proverb,༼མ་བུ་མོ་འགྲོ་ས་གནས་ཡིན༽, which you have translated as, “A girl’s future lies in her husband’s home”, while it makes no mention of a husband both in words and meaning. After all, this is an incomplete proverb. You have cut off what you thought sounds worst from the actual one: ༼བན་དེ་འགྲོ་ས་སྒར་ཡུལ་ཡིན་ཟེར་ཀི ། ལོ་གསུམ་སོང་ན་དགོན་བདག་ཉན་ཀི ། བུ་མོ་འགྲོ་ས་གནས་ཡུལ་ཡིན་ཟེར་ཀི ། ལོ་གསུམ་སོང་ན་ཁྱིམ་བདག་ཉན་ཀི །༽ which reads as, “A monk would go to monastery and become its owner in three years. A girl would go to home and become its owner in three years.” (http://tibetan.qh.gov.cn). So, what is so misogynic in this? If I were to choose one of the destinations described in this proverb, I would go for the girl’s without a doubt. By the way, I didn’t get why you are so pessimistic about Tibet, no matter whatever.    

Eighthly, you have set America for an example to talk about equality and freedom for women. However, I don’t think everything in America is that equal, liberal and just for women. Well, the 2013 analysis report on ‘The State of Women in America’ reads, “women in the United States are paid only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. The pay gap is even larger for women of colour. On average, African American women make 64 cents for every dollar that white men make. Women comprise only 18.1% of Congress, (which is way more lower than that of our CTA’s more than 30% women in our public sectors), 15 States have no female elected leaders in the House of Representatives…” and so forth. (the state of women in America, Anna Chu and Charles Posner, 2013). Moreover, the number of suicides reported in 2013 was 41,149 and out of which 22.1% were women. And 1 in 6 out of 8000 women had been raped in America. (cdc data & statistics, 2013). Now the question is, do we have such a large number of problems occurring to women in Tibet?  

Ninthly, here my critique is against what you have stated in supporting Western culture as "to emulate how (White) feminism has benefited women of all cultures, however, would be a very good thing for the Tibetan woman.” It literally traumatizes my sense of conscience by just hearing that White Feminism has benefited women of all cultures! How come? The world we are living in today is the undeniable testimony of how "the west’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good.”(the white man’s burden, William Easterly, 2006) Even some of self-claimed White feminists have hypothetically written books about the status of women in other countries (third world) where they have never been. Under the name of saving the black-and-brown women from the black-and-brown men, a falsely universalizing methodology that serves the narrow self-interest of Western feminism, they simply imposed Western culture and ideologies on Third World countries. If White feminism had been that beneficiary, the whole of Africa (which has today split into three fractions such as French Colonies, English Colonies and Portuguese) and India are supposed to be the safest haven for women since they lived under the White for centuries. Unfortunately, the reality reflects the impossibility to achieve an egalitarian and non-colonizing cross-cultural solidarity between western and third world feminists unless there is a time for both North and South to be able to work within a paradigm of pure decolonization. (Chandra Mohanty, 2003) And, if Western Feminism is that fair, why Beyoncé missed the boat for white feminist icon in the year of 2013, despite her number of albums full of pro-woman anthems. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama is nowhere to be seen in Western feminist world, while Miley Cyrus and Lily Allen are top white feminist icons. (thecoloredfountain.net, 31/12/2013). Isn’t white feminism all about race and colour? 

Lastly but never the least, I would like to recite a quotation here for Tsering Kyi, “In the midst of every difficulty, there lies an opportunity.” 

The writer is a Tibetan born in Tibet, currently studying Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University, Sweden. He can be reached at dup4tibet@gmail.com

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.
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