DHARAMSHALA: As the month-long Saka Dawa festival, one of the holiest festivals of Tibetan Buddhism began today, China has imposed a series of measures prohibiting Tibetan schoolchildren from participating in the festival.
A leaked document reveals Chinese authorities’ enforcement of heightened restrictions on Tibetan families from observing the holy month. Parents and particularly their children are barred from performing and engaging in Buddhist practices and religious proceedings this month that Tibetans deem the most auspicious period of a year.
According to an order issued by the Education Affairs Committee, the Municipal People’s Government, and Municipal Education Bureau of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Tibetan parents were ordered not to take their children to monasteries or allow them to take part in religious events during the festival.
As guardians of the children, Tibetan parents were also urged not to go to monasteries or attend the festivities. It further warned them that Chinese authorities would be keeping a close watch and those who violate the order would be dealt with.
Schools have also been notified to inform the education bureau about pupils who have been absent during the month to take part in the holy Buddhist festival.
The notification is similar to the one issued by China’s education bureau in the predominantly-Muslim Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the country’s northwest.
China has banned civil servants, students and teachers from observing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the region, and has prohibited them from fasting, a key practice of the festival.
Although Chinese authorities have stated the ban was driven by the notion to keep religion and education separate, and that religion cannot be used to hinder state education, many have criticized the move as suppression of religious freedom.
While some have expressed the move as an attempt by the Chinese government to distant school children of China’s ethnic minorities such as Tibetans and Uighurs from their culture and heritage, some attributed the move to China’s insecurity over what it labels ‘foreign religion’.
China is officially an atheist state. However, over the years, it has officially accepted five religions of which Taoism is the only indigenous one. Buddhism, though it originated in India, has also been accepted as a Chinese religion, having been integrated into Han culture through centuries.
However, Tibetan Buddhism with its distinct features and practices is considered a foreign religion along with Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism – and China associates them with foreign influence or ethnic separatism.