Guest report by Vijay Kranti
New Delhi, Milano, Taipei & Dharamshala, Aug. 4: Experts in an international webinar on ‘Tibetan Women and Human Rights Under China’s Colonial Rule’ were critical of China and its communist party for using forced abortion and coercive sterilization of Tibetan women as a normal practice of enforcing family planning and population control on the people of Tibet. They were equivocal on politicization of the institution of marriage through state sponsored pushing of marriages between male Han settlers and local Tibetan woman as yet another tool of ‘cultural genocide’ which is in progress in Tibet unabated. The experts were also appreciative of the courage of conviction, demonstrated by Tibetan women, especially those living inside occupied Tibet, in their ongoing struggle for the freedom of Tibet from colonial Chinese rule.
The webinar was organized late 30th evening jointly by the Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement (CHASE) of New Delhi and Tibetan Youth Congress from Dharamshala. The main expert speakers were Mr. Marco Respinti, Director-in-Charge of magazine ‘Bitter Winter’ from Milano Italy; Professor Mei-Lin Pan, Chairperson at the department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University at Hsinchu in Taiwan; and Ms. Tenzin Passang, Program Director of ‘Students for a Free Tibet’ from Dharamshala. Mr. Vijay Kranti, Chairman of CHASE and Co-host moderated the discussion. Prof. Aayushi Ketkar of Jawahal Lal University, New Delhi conducted the question-answer session and Mr. Sonam Tsering, Gneral Secretary of TYC and Co-host delivered the vote of thanks.
In her presentation about the situation of Tibetan women under the Chinese colonial rule, Tenzin Passang, a young Tibetan woman activist, gave chronological details of how Tibetan women have played active role in Tibet’s fight for freedom since occupation of Tibet in 1951 and hence invited Chinese ire. She said that besides long imprisonment in Chinese jails, Tibetan women have to face severe physical violence, torture and other aggressions like rape by jail officials. Outside the jail too, the Chinese administrators in Tibet use different methods for enforcing population control. “China’s family planning policy in Tibet is too intrusive, unsound and violent, especially since 1992. There have been cases in which they would blackmail and coerce a woman to go for abortion or sterilization by putting her husband in jail on some flimsy grounds. The women are forced to go through severe economic sanctions for bearing a child ‘out of plan’ and official sanction. The fines could amount to a family’s full year income. In the case a child is born ‘out of plan,’ all crucial facilities like medical care and education of child are withdrawn. This causes severe financial, social and psychological stress on Tibetan women”, said Passang.
Referring to many testimonies of Tibetan women who could manage to escape from Tibet in the past, Passang said that it is common for Chinese officials and medical experts to use deceptive methods against Tibetan women to enforce their family planning plans.” It is not uncommon to hear complaints of women who had visited a Chinese medical centre for an unrelated medical problem but they were given medicines to induce abortion. In many cases this has led to the death of the woman,” she said.
“In a society where there is already a large proportion of monks and nuns who don’t contribute towards population growth, forcing Tibetan women to ‘one-child’ norm has seriously affected the Tibetan society. China’s policy of settling large number of Han men into Tibet and the policy of giving special economic and other incentives for marriages between Tibetan women and Han men has only made it worse. All this amounts to converting marriage into a political tool and a means for diluting Tibetan nationality and culture. ” she said.
In her concluding remarks Passang said that all these actions of China in Tibet amount to cultural genocide and go against the UN Genocide Convention which the Chinese government has also signed. “But despite all this injustice, violence and suppression at the hands of colonial masters of Tibet the Tibetan women have not lost hope for freedom and they will continue their struggle against Chinese colonial rule over their country,” she declared.
Recalling mass killings of Tibetans by the communist army of China Mr. Marco Respinti said, “When a government such as the Chinese Communist regime targets a human group recognizable for its cultural, linguistic, religious, and ethnic identity, such as the Tibetans, to completely assimilate it, cancel its distinctiveness, Sinicize its beliefs, customs, and language, and twist its religion, this is a case of religious and ethnic cleansing and a genocide. It’s a genocide even if there are no piles of corpses to be seen at the corners of the streets. In fact, if that drive is not stopped, in time there will be no Tibetans and they will disappear as a race.” he warned.
Respinti underlined the enforcement of Chinese governments’ family-planning campaigns through ‘one-child’ policy from 1979 to 2015; ‘two-child’ policy as implemented in 2015 and then the ‘three-child’ policy of 2021 on the Han population. But throughout these periods the Chinese Communist Party’s policy in the occupied ‘Autonomous’ regions of Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner-Mongolia remained targets of the aggressive state policy of family-planning, accomplished through methods like forced sterilization and abortion.
Professor Mei-Lin Pan, Chairperson at the department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University at Hsinchu in Taiwan, who has been studying the situation of Tibetan refugee women in India, Nepal and Taiwan, shared her fifteen years long interaction with them. Having the advantage of speaking in Chinese language with recent escapees from Tibet she shared her observation that irrespective of one’s social, educational or professional status the Tibetan women are subjected to same type of suppression and discrimination at the hands of their Chinese colonial masters. “In Tibet the entire burden of China’s family planning campaign is focused on Tibet women. Forced abortion and sterilization of Tibetan woman are used as accepted means of population control and not much attention is given to the Tibetan men. As a result this coercion becomes one of the main reasons for Tibetan women to escape from Tibet and go to India,” she said.
She presented two examples of Tibetan women, one a poor housewife and another a highly qualified medical surgeon who decided to run away from China controlled Tibet and risked their lives by escaping to India. In both cases the Chinese administrators wanted the women to abort their babies whereas both of them decided to take the risk as fled to exile. Admiring the courage and determination of Tibetan women, those living inside Tibet as well the ones living in exile, Prof Pan said that the women of Tibet are playing very important role both at the family front as well as in the national struggle.
In his vote of thanks Mr. Sonam Tsering, the General Secretary of TYC and also the co-host of the webinar, underlined the magnificent, continuous and courageous contribution of the Tibetan women to the national freedom struggle against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. He referred to the role played by the women of Lhasa in 1959 during the first national uprising against China. “In later years too, the Tibetan women inside Tibet have demonstrated courage of conviction on sensitive when their husbands and other male family members were sent to jail by the communist occupiers of Tibet.”
The author is a senior Indian journalist, photographer and a keen Tibet watcher for over four decades. During the first decade of 2000’s he visited Tibet many times on his self assigned learning and photo-expeditions. He is the Chairman of Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement, New Delhi. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org