Testimony of Ngawang Sangdrol before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus Briefing on The Role of Women in the Tibetan Struggle for Freedom, Washington, D.C.. October 31, 2003
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this discussion on The Role of Women in the Tibetan Struggle for Freedom. I am honored to be able to share my thoughts with Members and staff of the United States Congress.
The Tibetan struggle is the struggle for our nation and for the right of the Tibetan people to preserve and promote our identity, religion and culture. Following Communist Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet, our people have valiantly tried to resist the destruction of country, our religion and our cultural heritage. Tibetan women have played a significant role in this struggle in the past and continue to do so even today.
If we look at modern Tibetan history, individual Tibetan women like Ama Adhe (a lay woman) and Ani Pachen and Ani Kunsang (nuns) have taken the lead in the struggle against the Chinese Communist onslaught in their respective areas. They have worked shoulder to shoulder with male Tibetans in this endeavor.
Today, Tibetan women, both inside Tibet and in exile, have been playing an important role in the struggle for the restoration of the rights of the Tibetan people. The Tibetan Women’s Association based in Dharamsala, the headquarters of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, is the continuation of the Tibetan women’s movement launched in 1959 in Tibet.
In recent times the majority of Tibetan women who have participated in the Tibetan political struggle inside Tibet have been nuns. This is not only because the nuns, by virtue of having become detached from family life after being ordained, are able to take a more active role, but also because the Chinese authorities have been attempting to destroy that aspect of Tibetan life which is dearest to the nuns as well as to all Tibetans, our faith.
I myself participated in demonstrations against the Chinese authorities from the young age of 11 precisely because I wanted to protest against the Chinese attempt to deny the Tibetan people our basic rights, including religious freedom. I was also incensed by the way the Chinese authorities were denigrating our spiritual and political leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and no Tibetan can accept such action. Following my detention I was given various sentences altogether extending to 12 years in the dreaded Drapchi Prison in Lhasa.
I had joined hands with several of my fellow nuns who, too, suffered detention and torture in prison. Quite a few of them have passed away as a result of the situation that they have to face under imprisonment. Those who were fortunate to escape death in prison have more or less become living corpse, even though they are supposed to have been released from prison today.
I have been fortunate in that the international community, including the United States Congress and Administration consistently raised my case with the Chinese leadership. By the grace of my leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leadership, as well as the active support of American leaders I am today enjoying my period in freedom. While I value my freedom I am continuously reminded of the plight of my fellow Tibetans, particularly those in prison. I would, therefore, like to take this opportunity to urge upon the United States Government to do whatever possible so that the innocent Tibetans who have been detained and tortured for solely exercising their political rights can gain their freedom.
In the meanwhile, I am trying to do whatever I can to highlight their situation. Upon coming to the United States I have been told of the rules and regulations contained in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China guaranteeing several rights to people living in China, including the prisoners. It has been a surprise to me to learn that even within the restrictive system that is in place in China today, I should have been provided with rights, including the right to judicial service as well as a free trial. Not only did I and my fellow prisoners not get such rights, we were not even informed that we had such rights. Therefore, I have begun the process of trying to understand Chinese laws so that I can become a better spokesman for the Tibetan political prisoners.
In conclusion, I thank the United States Congress for the positive role that it has been playing in highlighting the Tibetan issue and for supporting His Holiness the Dalai Lama in finding a just solution to the Tibetan issue. I urge your continuous support until the Tibetan people regain our freedom and live in our own land with dignity and respect.