Last year Mr. Dhondup Tashi, the editor of Tibet Times interviewed Mrs. Dompo Kyi a mother of Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee who disappeared without trace. The interview was published in Tibet Times website on 8th June 2015 coinciding two years since his disappearance. The article left a deep emotional impression on Tibetan readers. Hence, this year to mark three years since his disappearance, Tibet Times translated the article into English.
8th June 2015 marks two years since the disappearance of Tibetan activist, peace marcher and writer Mr. Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee. His disappearance was discussed in social media and broadcast in news media; articles and poems were written about him and his photographs were shared and distributed on social media as part of the drive to show support and to find him.
In the midst of the uncertainty of Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee’s whereabouts, I approached his mother, Mrs. Dompo Kyi who lives on the hillside of McLeod Ganj, a woman living without hope in her incessant wait for her son. In my attempt to console her, we had a conversation about her son’s childhood and his two heroic peace marches to Tibet. She held onto her emotions while she answered all my questions, sometimes bowing her head down onto her chest while taking long breaths and sometimes covering her face to hide her tears.
A naughty boy in a Labrang Monastery:
Her son Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee was born in 1979 to the Lingtsang family, Amdo Labrang. Their family name “Lingtsang” is derived from a lowest division race of three Ling divisions (Upper, Middle and Lowest), from a dynasty of Ling Gesar in the Golog region.
From a very young age Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee was a monk at Labrang Tashi Kyil Monastery and by the age of seven or eight he longed to go to India. His attempted escapes to India necessitated his retrieval from places such as Shangko in Hortsang, Rabkong and Lian-zhou. When he was only 14 years old, his mother had to bring him back from Lhasa (the Capital city of Tibet). His repeated attempts led to a decision to send him to India.
Mrs. Dompo Kyi recollected her son Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee’s departure at the age of 16, saying, “In 1995, I brought my son to Lhasa. It was on Lhasa Taktse Bridge that I placed him inside a carrier truck and said good bye. In the vehicle there were around 40-50 people, including children who were not more than five or six years old, and they were all going to India. Looking at my son I told him that he must come back after meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama because his uncle was very old. He waved at me as the truck left and I could only see dust in the wind. I sat down by the road and cried. I clearly remember it was autumn because leaves were carried by the wind and a few landed on my head.” Then Mrs. Dompo Kyi stifles in her memories.
After meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama in India, Tseten Dorjee stayed in Drepung Gomang Monastery in South India. However, he unwillingly obeyed his parents and returned to Tibet, crossing the snowy mountains of the eastern border. Mrs. Dompo Kyi said, “From early age Tseten Dorjee was very obedient to his parents but also very obstinate, and when he has made a decision, nobody can change his mind. For example, he became vegetarian at a very young age and since his return from India he meditates every morning.”
Back in Tibet, Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee lived in Labrang Monasery, concentrating on his studies. However, at that time the Chinese authorities initiated a campaign called “being patriotic as well as loving religion”, which involved collecting signatures to support the Penchen Rinpoche Gyaltsen Norbu who had been chosen by the Chinese. Unwilling to show support for the Chinese Penchen Rinpoche, Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee felt he had no other option but once again flee to India. Mrs. Dompo Kyi narrated this incident by saying, “Fearing that signatures were to be collected the following day, Tseten Dorjee left a written note: “Due to the existence of the Penchen Rinpoche recognised by our precious leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama, there is no way I will support the one recognised by the Chinese Communist government. That’s why I have no alternative but run away to India.” He crossed the Nepal-Tibet border “Shar-khambu” with neither money nor belongings.
In India he studied at Sherab-Gatsel-ling (the Tibetan transit school) and after completing his schooling, he started work, serving in shops and restaurants in Dharamsala, Delhi and Shillong. This deeply disappointed his parents who urged him to return home. Thus in 2003, Tseten Dorjee crossed “Dam” on the Nepal/Tibet border. On his return his family prepared for him to settle down permanently in Tibet, and readied a plot to build a house for him. However, Chinese police and the secret services continuously harassed Tseten Dorjee making him very uneasy. It was a fearful situation as he was continually at risk of arrest. That’s why his family decided to send him to India again, but this time with his younger sister Ms. Lingtsa Lhamo Kyi, to study.
In December 2006, after getting a visa from the Chinese government, both Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee’s parents came to India to have an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to meet their children in India. At that time Tseten Dorjee was running a small restaurant in Mundgod Tibetan Settlement in South India. After meeting His Holiness his parents helped him run the restaurant which became successful.
However, Tseten Dorjee’s mother Dompo Kyi’s health condition was poor and they had to sell their restaurant and move to Dharamsala, North India. Mrs. Dompo Kyi recollects, “During that time a very terrifying event happened. It was after selling the restaurant and we were about to leave, when my son wanted to repay money which he had loaned from a monk at Drepung Monastery. The monk had told my son to repay the money only if the restaurant was successful, saying that otherwise it was fine to keep the money. Hence my son, seeing some success, wanted to return the loaned money. I and my spouse were against this idea and suggested he keep the money for now as we would need money to survive in Dharamsala. He answered that the monk had helped him when he was suffering so he must not forget the monk’s kindness. We totally disregarded his intention and impulsively tried to grab the money and insist that he repay at some time in the future. Tseten Dorjee response was to say that we are greedy and he told us to keep the entire amount of the money, but that he would not leave without repaying the loan to the monk. While he was saying this, he lifted a knife and cut his own hand splashing the entire room with his blood. That sight was horrifying and we felt we almost had killed our own son. That is why, since that day I have promised to keep away and not to care about money.” She shook her head regretfully.
She continued her story, saying, “We came to Dharamsala after Tseten Dorjee was discharged from hospital. It was during the 2008 Losar and we rented a small house below Yongling School where we settled. Soon after this my son brought home a monk, saying he had no place to stay and requested us to accommodate him. Then again a few days later he brought an elderly Mongolian man, saying he is going through a difficult time. In this way, we are six people living in a small room while Tseten Dorjee slept at his friend’s place.”
Meanwhile, in Tibet, Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee’s eighty year old grandfather became ill and his parents made an urgent journey back to Tibet. A few months later, Tseten Dorjee married an Israeli woman and moved to Israel with her, leaving his younger sister Ms. Lhamo Kyi, alone in India. This worried his parents so in October 2008 they came to India once again. However, in 2014 Tseten Dorjee’s father, Mr. TseGon, became unwell with a heart ailment and had to go back to Tibet alone.
Mr. Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee is not only a Tibetan activist but also an intelligent young man and a writer, proficient in both English and Tibetan. He has written many articles and essays for the Tibet Times as well as other websites and is known by his various pen names: “Mingyur Ghangtruk” (sturdy son of the snow); “Bod”(Tibet) and “Sha-drak-Ru” (flesh-blood-bone).He has also published four books in Tibetan: Falling into love with a genuine emotion; Love: the story of a person who went into mountain; Real feeling of a soul and Not a monk, don’t need sponsor.
The concern of a father leaving his family:
On 3rd march 2012 Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee returned to Dharamsala to initiate his peaceful struggle and to realise his five conditions. He had left his wife Yael Pferrer, his daughter Tharma Tso who was three years old at that time (she is now seven) and his son Khawe Lhasey who was only 6 months old (now four). He had vowed to complete a peace march from Dharamsala to Lhasa to bring attention to the cause.
Mrs. Dompo Kyi introduces the evolution of her son’s peaceful struggle: “My daughter Lhamo Kyi received an unexpected call from Yael Pferrer to inform us of her husband’s intention to launch a campaign for the Tibetan cause. She said she had tried every means to stop him and to convince him that such campaigns are not meant for responsible parents but he didn’t listen.”
She continued, “I remember receiving calls from Tseten Dorjee up to February 2012, and each time he spoke of Israeli patriots who had sacrificed their lives for their country. He said that those who were bailed from court were warmly welcomed by their compatriots and when he told me about these people he usually asked the question, ‘why aren’t there any Tibetans like this?’ One time, he said, he looked into his children eyes and asked them what should their father do for his county? His words really scared me and although I was not willing to listen I pretended to show interest and told him that one day Tibetans will be free and soon we will see a Free Tibet.”
“Then one early morning I received a call. It was my son Tseten Dorjee informing that he was about to reach our home. I was completely baffled but ran to the bus stop to receive him. When he came down from the vehicle, I noticed he was wearing a thin blanket and carrying a small backpack. That sight terrified me as it gave me the impression that my son was going to self-immolate. I was speechless but hugged him and kissed him and wept, holding his hand while I brought him home.”
“Right after we reached home, his father TseGon asked him what was his motive to come here? Tseten Dorjee replied, ‘This time I can neither give nor do I have any money. I am here empty handed and have only my body to dedicate to the Tibetan cause.’ Then he explained about his peaceful struggle. His father could say nothing but frowned and that is when TseGon developed his heart disease. That day, my son had only 300 rupees in his backpack.”
“I pleaded with my loving son not to speak such words and told him about the many job opportunities in Dharamsala that would enable him to serve Tibet and contribute to the Tibetan cause. I said if he works, I and my spouse would support him by selling bread on street to survive.”
“Then I remembered how I was constantly worried about my children when I sent them to India, and realised that if my son could leave his own wife and children then there was no way we could stop him. When Tseten Dorjee returned from Israel his son was only six months old and his daughter was only three years old. Therefore I thought it is better to think how we could support him. Later he told me he was already divorced and legally separated from his children and had told his children that even if he dies for his country, they will not be affected.”
“At that moment, I told my son that I will go on the peace march along with him. Then my daughter Lhamo Kyi also insisted that she go as well. He said it is not possible as he had pledged with his life and said he might die or be killed on the way, or maybe even worse, saying: “I might have to endure torture in prison and it is even possible that I might have to starve for days or months or years. You may come to regret your actions in the future because simply having a strong passion will not help. You must have complete awareness and also a strong devotion upon the cause.” However, I strongly insisted that if we die we will die together, and if we live we will live together, Lhamo Kyi was adamant as well. This argument continued for some-time, and eventually he agreed to take us along with him. His father was ill so he was unable to commit to this cause”.
On a path of an ultimate Truth:
On 10th March 2012, which was also the 53rdTibetan Uprising Day, Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee, together with his mother Dompo Kyi and younger sister Lhamo Kyi, officially commenced their peace march to Tibet. In sixty days they crossed six Indian states and covered 1,300 Kilometres. They reached Gorakhpur on the Nepal/India border on 13th May, where the Nepali Border army blocked them. From there Tseten Dorjee secretly left his mother and younger sister and continued the march alone.
His mother Dompo Kyi narrated the episode of her separation from her son, “We reached Gorakhpur border on 10th May, and the Indian border guards warmly welcomed us with their folded hands. When we crossed the border, at first the Nepalese soldiers were gazing at us in surprise, however after a while they ran after us and stopped us. We pleaded with them to let us pass, saying we want to go back to our country, Tibet, but they didn’t listen. The Indian guards asked the Nepalese soldiers to release us which led to a tussle between them.”
“No matter what we tried, they didn’t let us pass. We were exhausted and out of options so we sat down by the roadside and started our “peaceful silent protest”. My son and daughter held a paper on which was written, “let us pass to go to our country”. This drew many peoples’ attention, including the Indian press but the press were prevented from speaking to us by the Nepalese army. All the reporters and members of the public were in our favour and supported our actions.”
“It was around 10:30 in the morning and the weather was very hot. According to the news published about us that day, the temperature was recorded 47 degree Celsius. I can remember seeing sweat dropping from my son’s beard and from my daughter’s cheek. For a mother it was a really painful sight to watch and no mother would ever want to see their children suffer like this, but I bit my lips and choked back my tears. Then a female Nepali soldier came to us, carrying a big plastic container filled with water. But when my daughter raised her hand the soldier intentionally splashed the water onto the paper which my children were holding, mashing it. I reckon the Nepalese soldiers have no soul at all.”
“I gave ten rupees to an Indian priest on way to the Nepal/India Border. That priest came near us and drew a circle around us with his trident and loudly announced that nobody can harm us. Then a young child came and sat with us for half an hour then he asked, would they allow us pass if he could pay? People passing by placed water and food before us, however, it was useless as we were on a peaceful silent protest and fasting. Knowing this many beggars came and took everything from us, snatching from each other, they even took our belongings which we had left by the roadside.”
“Around six in the evening there was a windstorm, followed by a heavy downpour which flooded the street. The flood water came up to our waists but those Nepalese soldiers sitting comfortably in their shelter just watched us. On the other hand, Indian soldiers approached us few time, requesting us to call off the protest. The rain eventually stopped by about 10pm, but there was no electricity.”
“After dark, the Nepalese soldiers dragged us away to another place where we held on to each other and continued our silent protest. There was a big Nepali soldier who lifted my son and threw him into the mud several times. Every time my son was thrown, he got up like a new born calf struggling to stand on its feet, covered in mud and dirt. Even today, it is traumatising to think of that day’s horrible incidents.”
“When two Nepali female soldiers grabbed and dragged me, squeezing me, my son broke his silence and shouted many things out loud. It was only later that my daughter told me that he said, “Beat me instead of my mother and don’t make her suffer because every one of you have a beloved mother.” Right after hearing our cry, the Indian soldiers came to our rescue and took us to their office. By then, I couldn’t stand up but a young Indian female soldier put my hand on her forehead and shed tears. I think it was quite late at night.”
“An Indian officer took us to his private office and told my son that he supports the cause but that he must not let me suffer like this. He then gave us glasses of milk and encouraged us to drink. My son glanced at me for a moment and then asked me to have it, after breaking his silence by taking a sip from glass. After that the Indian officer told my son that our cause is great but it is hopeless to carry on our struggle from this border, so it would be better to take another route to continue the struggle.”
“The officer took us in his vehicle in search of a guest house, but none would take us in. We went to a Buddhist monastery nearby which was already closed. It was midnight by now and we had no other option so my son told the officer that he could go back and we would manage by the monastery door. The officer agreed and said there is no other way, and that he had no permission to keep us in his home, then the officer greeted Tseten Dorjee and left. That night our blankets were covered in dirt and our hair was full of sand. I kept my daughter in middle and all three of us held each other till dawn.”
“Next day, we couldn’t continue our march because I needed medical treatment, so we decided to stay back for a few days in a guest house. Afterwards, I suggested my son to continue the march without my daughter and in return my son requested that both my daughter and I should discontinue. He talked to us about the hardships we had faced up until then, and warned us there would be bigger adversities in the future. However, he insisted that I should continue. My son conceded to this, but decided to leave Lhamo Kyi behind. Mr. Mukru Tenpa, Chithue (Member of Parliament) and Mr. Gyatso from Delhi were with us and I thought they could take my daughter back with them.”
“After three days of my rest, when I had recovered my son said, “Ama, it is time for us to leave so today we will go to a good restaurant for a feast.”And in the evening he whispered in my ears saying, “Ama, you must sleep early tonight as we must leave early in the morning.” So I packed everyone’s belonging. That night I couldn’t sleep at all because I was thinking of possibilities that could happen on the way, for example what if my son and I should die? What if we were imprisoned for years? And if so what would my husband and daughter do? With these worries in my mind, the dawn soon came.”
“Next morning Mr. Mukru Tenpa came running to me, saying that Tseten Dorjee was gone. I was shocked and so upset that I could do nothing but clung to my hair and wept, I felt as if my soul had left my body. Mr. Mukru Tenpa and Gyatso were both in tears as they comforted me. Then I realised it was worthless to shed tears so I asked both of them not to worry about me and asked them to go and find my son. I handed them a bowl, utensil, clothes and for a good wish, I presented them both with Khatta (traditional white scarves) in hope of them reuniting with my son.”
“In the afternoon my son called a contact in Delhi, informing them that he just crossed the border and was only eight kilometres from Lumbini in Nepal (the birth place of Gautama Buddha). He then asked that his sister and I should be taken care of after returning us to Dharamsala. When my son left, he had nothing but a thin shirt on his back. He even left what little money he had in my bag, which I only found when I reached Dharamsala.” Ms. Dompo Kyi covered her face with hands and shed tears.
On 21st May when Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee was nearing one of the cities in Nepal, he was apprehended by Nepalese police and imprisoned. On 15th June, after being presented before a Nepalese court, he was sentenced to five and half years in prison where he held a peaceful silent protest. Later he was released from prison, breaking his silent protest on 14th February 2013 following a private audience with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. More recently, he started preparing for his next peace march to Tibet.
Mother’s hope drained in river of tears.
On 10th March 2013 at Tsuk-La-Khang (His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s monastery), coinciding with 54th uprising gathering and a year after his first peace march, Tseten Dorjee commenced his second peace march to Tibet. This time he crossed six states in 89 days and covered 2,148 Kilometres. On 8th June, he reached Tseguth Monastery in Kalimpong, West Bengal (State of India) where he left his belongings. Since then he has vanished without trace; no one has seen him.
Mrs. Dompo Kyi expressed her gratitude to everyone who has supported her family in this struggle and thanked everyone, “I want to thank everyone who supported my family during both peace marches, especially to the executive committee of the Amdo Association, and the NGOs and the Office of the Peoples’ Movement for the Middle Way. I will never forget and will be forever grateful to all the eleven associations and organisations that supported and helped us. I would also like to express my deep appreciation to every individual from Dharamsala, Delhi and Nepal for their support. I would also like to mention the many people who reproached us and expressed disapproval at our carrying Chinese flags (On his first peace march, he carried Tibetan and Nepalese flag along with Chinese. This was reproached by some pro Independence activists) though we are not angry with them, nor we are dejected. Even before we started this campaign my son prepared me for what might happen; he said we might have to endure Chinese torture and that Tibetans within our community might turn against us. My son was anticipating protests against him before commencing his second peace march and he knew that people might throw stones and sticks at him during the march. He warned us and told us to be prepared for any consequences, while at the same time asking us not to show any animosity and not to have a negative perspective on those who wished to hurt him because this could affect his peaceful goals and ruin everything we have worked on till now. He made us agree and asked for me and my husband’s promise. We are now trying our best to support his goals.”
Later, Ms. Dompo Kyi answered questions on her current living conditions and her hopes for the future, “I am currently working as a cook in one of the offices in Dharamsala, and although the wages are low I am not facing any specific problems. My first and biggest hope is to know if Tseten Dorjee is alive, or if he is dead then to find his body and to initiate campaigns about his work. I have fasted and done extended prostrations, however, alone I cannot cause any effective consequences. My second hope is to support my daughter-in-law and my grandchildren as it is very important for these children to realise they are true Tibetans. One time, when I saw my grandchildren with a computer, my grandson showed me a picture which he described as Tibet and its animals. My granddaughter showed me two figures in a vehicle which she described as her parents. I feel deeply sorry for these children. My third hope is to create awareness about my son’s five-point conditions that he wished to fulfil and to initiate campaigns to raise awareness about the peace march and Tibet’s struggle, and in addition to take care of his writings. Other than these I have nothing to speak of, except next year my daughter has to go to college and if I face any financial problem I plan to request support from my village in Tibet. Hence, I thank everyone who supported and made donations.”
“Previously when my son was with me, we didn’t collect that much in donations. On our first peace march, the donations we received on the way from Dharamsala to Delhi were left with Mr. Zopa and Mr. Tamdin with a request that they would initiate campaigns about the peaceful protest and make and distribute T-shirts printed with Tseten Dorjee’s five-point conditions. On the way, although we received donations from students in Varanasi and the Tibetan market, my son gave them back and asked them to utilize the money to organise campaigns for the Tibetan cause.”
Lingtsa Tseten Drojee Five-point conditions are:
1. With no conditions attached, China must allow His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to return to his home in Tibet.
2. With no conditions attached, His Holiness the Panchen Rinpoche, as recognised by His Holiness Dalai Lama, must be released along with every Tibetan political prisoner.
3. Tibetans must have right to teach and learn their own Tibetan language in Tibet.
4. Every Tibetan must have the freedom to wear their own traditional attire and be allowed to freely practice their own religion, culture and traditions.
5. Every Chinese soldier who has tortured and inflicted anguish upon Tibetans must be withdrawn from Tibet.
The last news of Tibetan activist and peace marcher Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee was on 6th June 2013 circulated on social media and news media. According to the reports, he said, “To date, without any mishaps, I have covered 2,148 Kilometres in 89 days, crossing six states and soon I will cross the 7th state to guide myself into the snowy region where I will be able to throw myself into my country Tibet. From the day my body steps inside Tibet and from that day onwards I expect at least one of three certain consequences: One I will vanish without any trace; two I will die of Chinese torture; three the Chinese court will sentence me to many years of imprisonment where I might spend whole life suffering under Chinese atrocities.”
“Till I die, I will fight for the Tibetan national struggle and to bring back His Holiness the Dalai Lama into Tibet. I am using all my power to fulfil the wills of those who sacrificed their lives and I will continue to do so in future. Even if I die unsuccessfully, I pray to be reborn as a true Tibetan patriotic so that I can continue my cause. My biggest hope is to see a peaceful and prosperous new nation, where Tibetans and Chinese coexist peacefully.”
His daughter Tamari (Tharma Tso) is now seven years old and his son Ereli (Khawe Lhasey) is four years old. They are living with their mother Yael Pferrer at Jerusalem, Israel…
Since his disappearance to date, nobody has any information on his whereabouts.