Testimony of Lobsang Tsultrim, Tibetan Refugee
My name is Lobsang Tsultrim. I am from Gyaltang province - Yunan in Chinese - in Tibet. July 16, 2007 was the date I arrived at the Tibetan Reception Center (TRC) in Kathmandu, Nepal. Upon our arrival at the TRC, we rejoiced as though we were home and we felt secure and at ease, meeting fellow Tibetans there. However, that feeling abruptly ended when we were interviewed by the Head of the TRC.
"Do you have a Chinese passport?” the Head asked. “We have no Chinese passport,” we replied. He laughed and yelled: “Tell me honestly. If you don't have a Chinese passport, which way did you take to come down to Nepal?” I responded that I really didn't have a passport and that we gave money to a guide to help us cross the border. He then asked which monastery we were going to, and I told him Sera Mey monastery. He further inquired which Khamtsen (monastic section) I would join and I told him Pomra Khamtsen.
He clearly disliked my answer and began speaking badly to me. I was confused about what had gone wrong. I figured out that he was angry because Pomra Khamtsen practices Dorje Shugden.
I then was escorted to Room no. 5, where I gave an interview again. The staff asked my name, my parents’ names and my fatherland, and I answered them. They also asked the monastery and monastic section (Khamtsen) of my choice. I said I would go to join Pomra Khamtsen at Sera Mey. I was then asked if I worship Dorje Shugden, and I replied that I do.
I was then told that I would have to sign a statement renouncing my faith and practice in Dorje Shugden if I wanted to go to Pomra Khamtsen at Sera Mey.
I appealed to him not to force me to sign.
The staff member conducting this phase of the interview said:
"You are a Chinese spy. You dislike the Dalai Lama. If you worship Shugden, you are against the Dalai Lama.”I denied those allegations, saying that the Dalai Lama is the spiritual master of Tibet and he is also my guru. Dorje Shugden is a Deity who is worshipped by our monastery and our province and our family.
I was pushed again regarding my reasons for refusing to sign the statement renouncing Dorje Shugden. And I repeated my earlier statement that the Deity Dorje Shugden is worshipped by our monastery and province, and that my family also has worshiped the Deity for several generations. I strenuously denied that my worship of Dorje Shugden meant I disliked the Dalai Lama. I begged him to have sympathy for me and not force me to give up my religious faith.
I was then told that I needed to think carefully about this matter, as there was no way I would be admitted to the monastery if I didn’t sign. He refused to give me a reference letter, which would have stated that my admission to Sera Mey was sanctioned by the Dalai Lama and the Kalon Tripa, head of the Tibetan cabinet.
Our purpose in risking escape from Tibet was to have an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to join the monastery where we could study Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. We had no purpose apart from that.
We stayed for two months in Kathmandu without getting a reference letter from the TRC.
We are grieving.
The delegates from Pomra Khamtsen, Dhokhang Khamtsen, Shugden devotees and the Nepali government provided us help. The ministry of Nepali Home Affairs sent a notice to the UNHCR and the TRC not to engage in discrimination. The UNHCR then asked the TRC not to provide any letter to newcomers from Tibet. We left Kathmandu on July 12, 2007.
Even after we left the TRC, we were harassed. Before boarding a bus to Delhi, the head of the TRC and his staff searched our bags -- stealing our new things and leaving only those items that were second-hand. The items they took were clothes and tins of meat we needed for our journey.
Their behavior shocked us. What could we do? Our eyes filled with tears.
Instead of Tibetans helping Tibetans, they repressed and robbed us. They maltreated and discriminated against us because we worship Dorje Shugden. We felt that Shugden devotees in India suffered more than us. We then left.
On July 14, 2007, we arrived at the TRC located at Budh Vihar in Delhi. We sojourned there for approximately 10 hours. We were then sent to Dharamsala by bus. On July 15, in the morning, we arrived at Dharamsala and went to the TRC there. As soon as we arrived at the center, a staff said:
"We all are Tibetans. We all should maintain harmony and unity. And we must obey the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”He said further things we didn't understand because of differences in our dialects. Then he showed us our beds, gave us each plates and spoons, and collected Rs.150 from each of us. We were served breakfast of rice noodles and egg. After breakfast, our names were collected. For three days no one was called for interview.
A staff member (whose height was 5.5 and whose age was around 25) wrote down my name and that of Tsering Norbu, who is 14 years old. He said we needed to go somewhere else. I asked him where we needed to go, but he said nothing. As we do not speak the Lhasa dialect, communication was difficult. We asked the staff person to call a monk we knew from Sera Mey. We gave him the number and asked him to call on his mobile, but he did not do this, saying that the number didn’t work. He then took us to a two-story building. There was one Indian, a nun and three other men including the person who brought us here. The Indian didn't ask any questions.
The interrogation went as follows:
Department: "Which Deity does your monastery worship?"They had a discussion among themselves and then told us to leave. We returned to the TRC. The next day, each of us was questioned by the TRC.
Lobsang: "Our monastery worships the Deity Dorje Shugden."
Department: "If so, do you worship the Dalai Lama?"
Lobsang: "We worship Dorje Shugden as a Deity and the Dalai Lama as a Guru. Not only that, I brought a photo of the Dalai Lama. "
Department: "It is said that the photo was not allowed."
Lobsang: "As we have faith and belief, we keep the photo in our pocket."
Department: "If you worship Shugden, you are against the Dalai Lama. If you worship Shugden, you can't worship the Dalai Lama. You must choose one or the other."
Lobsang: "From generation to generation we have worshipped both the Dalai Lama and Shugden. Therefore we cannot choose between them, as I mentioned earlier."
Interrogator: "What is your name, province and monastery?"A few days later, we were told not to stay in the TRC. We said we would leave the TRC if they gave us the reference letter, but that without a letter we had nowhere to go. A staff person threatened that if we didn’t leave the police would beat us and put us in prison. On September 20, the TRC stopped giving us meals and blankets; we were put in a empty room in the roof. We felt cold and hungry for the first time in our lives.
Lobsang: "My monastery is Gyaltang Songtsen Ling."
Interrogator: "How many monks are there in your monastery? Do they worship Shugden?"
Lobsang: "Our monastery has over eight hundred monks. They worship Shugden."
Interrogator: "Is the main statue of your monastery Lama Tsongkhapa or Guru Padmasambhawa?"
Lobsang: "The main statue is Tsongkhapa (the founder of the Gelug Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism)."
Interrogator: "Which monastic section of the monastery are you going to?"
Lobsang: "I am going to Pomra Khamtsen."
Interrogator: "If you are going to a monastery, you must sign that you never worship Shugden. You cannot go if you do not sign. This is in accordance with the Dalai Lama’s direction and the Kashag’s (Tibetan cabinet) order. We didn't formulate this policy. Therefore, you cannot have a reference letter. If you want to go to a school, there is no objection. But you cannot go to a monastery as long as you worship Dorje Shugden. So you must think well. I have no options for you."
The staff again told us that we couldn’t stay at the TRC and would have to leave soon. We again asked them to give us the letter; they replied that they would not provide it if we didn’t sign a statement renouncing Dorje Shugden. We responded by saying that if they didn’t have the authority to provide a letter, let us meet Kalon Tripa Samdhong Rinpoche.
Then Lobsang Norbu and I were brought to the office of the Tibetan Cabinet. We didn't meet the Kalon Tripa. However, there was a young man in the Cabinet Office. We gave him our petition and returned.
“You can't stay here more than three days”, the TRC staff told us, “and you had better discuss this.” We repeated that we would go if they provided us with a letter; otherwise, we had nowhere to go. The next day we approached the Cabinet Office. After waiting a few minutes, Kalon Tripa and five or six men came together. We got up to show our respect. Kalon asked us our names and what was the matter. We said, “Rinpoche, please give us a letter of reference so that we can join the monastery.”
Kalon Samdhong responded:
“If you don’t sign declaring that you will stop worshipping Shugden, there is no way to send you to the monastery. It is better for you go back to Tibet. You’ll have to get the money for the journey”.His response really hurt our hearts. He had no regard for us, as was evidenced by his words. Heartbroken, we returned to the TRC.
We continued to be threatened and harassed by the TRC staff, who told us they didn’t know when the police would be coming to arrest us and that we should leave as soon as possible.
On September 22, the police did come to the TRC and told us to leave Dharamshala as soon as possible or we would be imprisoned. The TRC and the police forced us to give two different signatures, declaring that: (1) we are leaving Dharamshala, and (2) we will go back to Tibet.
When I refused to sign, the police beat me with a stick. Lobsang Tseten got slapped.
They continued to interrogate us and told us again that we must sign the statement that we were returning to Tibet. The said our refusal to sign would result in our being booked into jail, and that those of us under the age of sixteen would be taken to a different facility.
The TRC staff informed us that the police gave us one week to leave or else we would be imprisoned. This was heartbreaking beyond belief. Our parents sent us to study Tibetan Buddhism and philosophy. To this end, we risked our lives to escape. We risked everything for this, but we journeyed to a free country only to have our own people persecute us—Tibetans, who always talk about peace, love and compassion for all living beings.
Again we were brought to the police station. We stayed there without food and drink for one day and were brought back to the TRC in the evening. The TRC staff said it was definite that the police would arrest us if we didn’t leave as soon as possible. We were young newcomers who were ignorant about this place and system, and had difficulty communicating. Given the situation and our experiences of the previous six months, it was clear we were trapped and that we should leave for the time being. Our hope was that we would have recourse with the Indian government to investigate our case and protect us.
We are deeply grateful to the Government of India for providing us asylum as Tibetan refugees. It is certain that the Tibetan Administration exiled in Dharamasala would not, even if they had the authority, give us refugee status.
(Background to these disturbing events can be found here.)