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Tibetan vlogger’s death sparks domestic violence debate

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Social media personality Lhamo (L) with her alleged killer and ex-husband Tang (Photo- Nextshark)
Social media personality Lhamo (L) with her alleged killer and ex-husband Tang (Photo- Nextshark)

By Choekyi Lhamo

DHARAMSHALA, Oct. 6: A famous Tibetan vlogger Lhamo’s (Chinese: Lamu) brutal murder on Sept. 14 in Eastern Tibet’s Ngaba region in the so-called Sichuan province has sparked debate on domestic violence. The 30-year-old female social media personality, according to local police, has died after suffering 90% burn on Sept. 30, days after her ex-husband Tang doused her body in petrol and set her on fire.

Debate over the incident is trending on Chinese social media platforms like the Chinese Tik-Tok substitute Douyin and the Twitter-like platform Weibo. Lhamo had more than 85,000 followers on Douyin and regularly posted videos of her life foraging in the mountains, cooking, and lip-syncing to songs dressed in traditional Tibetan clothing. Lamu’s family sought financial help from the public on Sept. 17 and managed to raise 1 million yuan ($147,265) in a day. 

Tang who had a history of domestic violence reportedly attacked her while she was live-streaming. He has been detained on suspicion of intentional homicide. According to state media, Tang broke into her home while she was live-streaming.

Tibetans in exile also raised concerns over the death of the Tibetan woman. Tenzin Pelyoun, Co-founder of Drokmo, told Phayul about the importance of discussions on domestic violence in the Tibetan community, “Considering the nature of the gruesome act that led to Lhamo’s death, we have no information on acts of similar nature. But there are cases that are violent and have been taking place against women, and these are not only limited to physical violence but also psychological, emotional, economical, sexual, intimidation, isolation, and verbal abuse . . . Our exile’s comprehension on domestic violence is still regressive.”

Though the extent of violence committed in the domestic cases are largely underreported, Tsering Kyi, Project Officer at the Women Empowerment Desk (WED), CTA told Phayul that there is no denying that such abuse is prevalent in the community, “We have a Tibetan women helpline that helps women experiencing domestic violence in their homes. There are variations of violence in such cases; Lhamo’s case is an extreme example. Domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence have been reported to our office but it is also difficult for women to speak up against such violence. Some have even backed off after reporting a case as there is a lot of victim-blaming in our society.”

The social activists also raised concerns about the lack of awareness in the community which then further strengthens the mindset that allows such violence onto women. Pelyoun remarked, “I think we have to start by acknowledging that there is inequality in our community and most often it is mostly the women who face various kinds of violence at the hands of men.” She further advised the community to set up safe spaces with services such as counseling, financial resource, legal, and rehabilitation support in every settlement across India. 

The international reportage on the incident identified Lhamo as Chinese as some Tibetan netizens pointed out the damage of misreporting. Dechen Pemba, Founder of High Peaks Pure Earth, told Phayul, “It was disappointing to see the mainstream media coverage of this terrible incident as most headlines firstly sensationalized the horrific tragedy and also erased Lhamo’s Tibetan identity by calling her a “Chinese vlogger”. This isn’t a case of mistaken identity, it’s indicative of a tendency to generically label everyone who lives in China today as Chinese. However, what’s important here is that being Tibetan was at the heart of Lhamo’s live streams and videos. She was very proud of her Tibetan identity and traditions and it was a huge part of what made her popular online.”

3 Responses

  1. Where were the Tibetan women warriors and feminists when Tibetan women was raped in Delhi and else in India a couple of years ago? Bowing to guru? Clueless armchair warriors! Where was the zero tolerance policy? This case if not a matter of man against woman, this is simply wrong and condemned. Society should grow up, but pitting man against woman is nothing but few clueless feminists want some names in few seconds!

  2. Domestic violence is an unacceptable reality in our communities both inside and outside Tibet. Thank you, Choekyi Lhamo la, for writing this piece and calling out the horrific case of domestic violence in Ngaba that tragically took the life of the well-known Tibetan Vlogger, Lhamo. I could not bring myself to watch the video of the brutal murder of Lhamo by her ex-husband (Tibetan-Chinese) but read about the incident that led to her untimely death. While I was relieved to learn that the ex-husband is under investigation for intentional homicide, I worry that he will literally get away with murder as has happened in our communities where abusers often enjoy an unspoken immunity from being brought to justice for abusing their wife or children or, in some cases, both. There is so much denial of DV at all levels of our society. Rather than empower the victim-survivors to speak out against their abusers and seek support, our social denial of DV and GBV further exacerbates the problem; sending victims into a life of suffering in silence within the confines of their own homes. The long-term consequences of our communities’ refusal to address DV and GBV in our midst can have lasting psychological imprints on the lives of the victim-survivors and on the future generations raised in an abusive household. Violence against women and girls is a universal problem of epidemic proportions, but its human cost often remains invisible. Survivors often experience life-long emotional distress, mental health problems, poor reproductive health and are at higher risk of acquiring HIV. Women who have been physically or sexually assaulted tend to be intensive long-term users of health services. In the United States, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
    One-third of Indian women ages 15-49 have experienced sexual violence. This translates to millions of women in India who have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of husbands or other family members. The impact of violence may also extend to future generations: children who have witnessed abuse, or were victims themselves, often suffer lasting psychological damage. The first time I heard of a horrific incident of DV-GBV in our exile community was the “Tenzingang incident” in 2011, which led to my first article (https://www.tibet.ca/en/library/wtn/11875) on this subject challenging our community leaders in particular, to address DV and GBV through social programs, early education on breaking down gender stereotypes and holding abusers accountable for their actions instead of victim-blaming. Unfortunately, leaders have been slow to address DV and GBV head one. Fortunately, grassroots efforts by Tibetan women and allies have sprung up over the past 5-10 years shining a much-needed light on this reality with groups like ACHA-Himalayan Sisterhood, Drokmo, Machik, and programs like DV hotlines and TCHRD’s series of videos in 2018-19 that highlighted testimonials from Tibetan girls and women from all over India speaking out against DV! Given that one in every 3 women in the world experience abuse in some shape or form from their abusive male spouse/intimate partner, we are no exceptions. Tibetans have no statistics on DV nor GBV – not because the issue doesn’t apply to us but due to a lack of prioritizing this issue. This has to change. I am hopeful because of young Tibetan women like the author and the other women quoted in this article. Thank you!! My heart goes out to the family, friends and fans of Vblogger Lhamo! May her soul be reborn into a fiercely strong Tibetan woman again!

  3. To get out of the circle of Samsara, Hindu widows were often burned alive on the pyres when their husbands died. The world needs to learn that when 50% of the population are relegated as 2nd class citizens at best to be abused and used, the future of humanity looks pretty dim. That bias is even seen in highly acclaimed educational institutes preparing world leaders such as Harvard.

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