News from home

LAST November, my wife and I went to India to visit our parents. We were, in particular, looking forward to seeing my mother, who had just returned from Tibet. She was there for four months, visiting her three sons and relatives, whom she had not seen since leaving Tibet in 1959 after the Chinese occupation. I was yearning for news from home. I had never had any detailed news about my three brothers and a host of other relatives, even though I had written many articles on the conditions in Tibet.

During my two-week stay with my mother, we talked a lot about our family members in Tibet and about her impressions and observations on conditions there.

My mother, who is 61, went to Tibet via Nepal. She had an arduous trip: harassments from customs officials, difficulty in getting transportation from the Tibetan border, the bumpy road, the dust that caked her ears and hair. Despite all these problems, she was happy to see her homeland and her relatives.

Only a few of our relatives have survived; many fell victims to the Chinese persecution, imprisonment, hard labor, and struggle sessions, Thamzings. When my mother talks about their ordeal, she often finds it difficult to finish an incident: Her eyes fill up with tears, tears of sadness roll down on her cheeks. At this point, I change the subject or crack a joke to bring back her smile.

When the Chinese took over Tibet in 1959, our family, an ordinary farm family, was labeled as a ``reactionary clique.'' Our house, livestock, and farmland were confiscated; all the valuable articles, such as family jewelry, furniture, and Buddhist scroll paintings, were looted. Much of this plunder reached antiques markets in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

The Chinese came to arrest my parents, who were already on their way to India. When they found they were already gone, the Chinese told the remaining family members, ``You know where they are. They were seen here a few nights ago. Go and find them. Bring them to us or suffer the consequences.''

As ordered, my relatives had to go to neighboring towns and villages supposedly looking for my parents. When they returned, they reported to the Chinese authorities that they could not find my parents. Enraged, the authorities ordered them to look for them somewhere else. Finally, after many futile missions, my relatives told the authorities: ``Please give us permission to go to India to look for them. We are sure that we will find them in India.''

Sure enough, the request was rejected. And sure enough, our family suffered the consequences. My two uncles were arrested and tortured; one died as a result of this torture -- like thousands of other Tibetans.

The younger members of our family were sent to hard labor. My grandmother and two older relatives were forced to live in a small, dark granary. At night they were not allowed to have light. Food was scarce and labor hard. Compulsory attendance at nightly ``political education'' meetings was physically and mentally too painful to bear. My grandmother died a few months after the Chinese takeover.

Today our family has our house back, but it is dangerously decayed and run down. My mother says it looks so strange and sad that in a huge house there are only four members of our family. The Chinese have not made any compensation for the plundering they did in 1959.

In general, life in Tibet is comparatively better nowadays. Tibetans relish their limited freedom after the intolerable life they led for 21 years. From 1959 to 1980, Peking made Tibet virtually a tight security prison, enslaving the whole nation. Even movements of the people's lips were watched to prevent their reciting prayers. ``Life was a living hell on earth,'' as many Tibetans put it.

Tibetans strongly object to the carefree use of the phrase ``liberalization policy.'' They say, ``Between 1959 and 1980, our life was tightened by all sorts of nuts and bolts. . . . What we have today in Tibet is a slight relaxation of the tightly controlled Peking policies.''

Resentment against Chinese rule remains strong. Tibetan nationalism and hope for independence is alive; the morale of the people is high; their faith in the Dalai Lama's leadership for a free and independent Tibet is undaunted and unshakable.

Tinley Nyandak, a free-lance writer, is the former editor of News-Tibet, a newsmagazine published by the Office of Tibet in New York City.

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