News and Views on Tibet

In Conversation with Loten Namling

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Phayul: Last year, you began a coffin dragging march “Journey for Freedom- one man, one path, free Tibet”, Can you tell us something about it?

Loten Namling: My Campaign, actually my life has been a campaign. I was born in India as a refugee, grew up in India. So, from the age of five, my mother taught me Tibetan writing and reading and ever since as I grew up I learnt about the situation of Tibetan people through my mother. Now I live in Switzerland and I sing Tibetan traditional songs and now-a-days modern Tibetan songs over guitar. Last year, because of the really desperate situation in Tibet with so many self-immolation protests happening one after another, the media in the west were very afraid to tell the true situation in Tibet. There was a huge Chinese pressure and the media was in a way hesitant, firstly because there was no direct access to the situation in Tibet. Whatever the reason was, very less has been said even today about the self-immolations in Tibet.

So, when I walked from Bern to Geneva, it was around the 45th self-immolation in Tibet and I was reading everyday in the news. But nothing much was reported by the mainstream media. I was very sad and called the media people and said if you don’t want to talk about the situation in Tibet, I will go and talk about it. But I needed some provocative instrument to tell them about the situation in Tibet, so I made a coffin and dragged the coffin to draw the attention of the world especially to the self-immolation in Tibet and their wishes for the return of the Dalai Lama and freedom in Tibet.

Phayul: As the journey of coffin dragging march ended in Geneva, how do describe the responses you got Tibetans, foreigners and media?

Loten Namling: I walked for fifty days and great musicians from Switzerland more than fifteen bands came and helped me. On the fiftieth day, when I reached in front of the United Nations, so many musicians came and it was wonderful. But of course there were not so many Tibetans and the reason I think was because most of Tibetans live in Zurich and a day earlier they had celebrated His Holiness birthday. From Zurich to Geneva is two and a half hour therefore probably they couldn’t come.

And I think it was very well publicized in the newspapers especially in Euro TV and Euro News. It was also broadcast in eleven different languages and many major newspapers had also covered it.

Phayul: As a musician, what do you think how a musician can contribute towards the Tibetan struggle?

Loten Namling: It’s one of the best things you can do as a musician. Because as a musician you have people who come and listen to you. People love music and if you sing, whether good or bad, people listen to you. You can captivate their heart with your songs. Because people like you, they sympathize you and in that way you get connected and when you get connected, you can explain the situation far better than when somebody is a stranger.

Phayul: How are the Tibetan singers in Tibet different from those in exile?

Loten Namling: The big is difference is they don’t have freedom but even if they don’t have freedom, they sing amazingly patriotic and amazing songs which unfortunately many singers in the free world don’t do that. I don’t know the main reason why, but there is a saying that the more you push, there is always an equal or opposite reaction. Now many Tibetan singers and musicians are in prison. And even though there are so many writers, musicians and singers are in prison, there are still more and more coming. So, that shows the strength of the human beings of the Tibetans especially. But on the other hand, the problem is Tibet issue is more than 60 years old and its dragging. There seem to be no definite solution and I am quite sure that people here in the free world, I am sure they are very determined to do something. But the time kills the spirit. That is why it is very important for the Tibetans to observe Lhakar to remind ourselves because in the end all Tibetans are human being.

Few months ago, some young boy in Switzerland asked me “how do you do this after so many years?” I told him that I always think five minutes a day for Tibet. And even whether you do something or not, just think five minutes and with these five minutes at certain time of your life, you can do something because it’s very strong, you dig deep and think more and more of your country and you go deeper and deeper. So, roots become more firm.

Why do Tibetan musicians in Tibet sing songs with political message?

Loten Namling: Firstly, the Tibetan singers inside Tibet sing more patriotic songs because they are directly under the repression. I remember when I was a child, a very few people listened to Tibetan songs but now whether you sing commercial or spiritual or patriotic songs, many Tibetans all over the world listen to these songs and this is a big improvement. Because through singing, you not only become a patriotic, you can not only send the message but also when you sing Tibetan songs, you sing in Tibetan therefore the Tibetan language remains. So, that is also a way to keep our culture alive.

Phayul: Till now more than 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire, situation inside Tibet is getting worse and China is not ready for dialogue with Tibetans representatives, how hopeful are you of the Tibet issue getting resolved soon?

Loten Namling: I always say that as long as you don’t give up, you have never lost. So, I will never give up. Situation of today may be bad for us but in the history we have so many examples where empires had collapsed, so I am hopeful in the end. I know that the current situation is very bad. His Holiness is working so much but he needs help. We put everything on him and then we don’t do anything. Miracle doesn’t work; it’s been proved for the last sixty years.

I think that Tibetans should now unite. Unfortunately I come here, in one way we are so established but on the other hand I feel that there are unnecessary talks between what is middle path and what is independence, these are all nonsense. We don’t need that. Okay you can have your path and each one goes on their own path but we all meet somewhere in the end and that is freedom for our people. If we keep on quarreling with each other, China is getting what they want.

For example, I was a Tibetan Youth Congress member and I may not be a member now but I am still a Tibetan Youth Congress member at heart. And Tibetan Youth Congress is having tough time because they don’t know what to do because you are not allowed to say Free Tibet or independence for Tibet. The Tibetan community as a whole is in a very unfortunate situation and this shouldn’t happen. If we fight among ourselves, China gets what they want and if that is what you want, keep on fighting but if you really want freedom, you need to stop this. Whether you go this way or that way, we reach one point that is free Tibet.

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