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Haunting memories of a former Tibetan prisoner

September 21, 2009

Haunting memories of a former Tibetan prisoner
(Source: IANS)
Published: Sun, 20 Sep 2009 at 12:02 IST

By Mayank Aggarwal

Dharamsala: More than two decades have passed since she was released from
prison by the Chinese authorities, but the painful memories of her jail stay
still haunt her. Eighty-year-old Ama Adhe, a Tibetan living in India, now
spends her day in prayer.

"I have seen independent Tibet and have witnessed the cruelty of the Chinese
forces during our struggle. In 1958, the Chinese forces arrested me along
with 300 other women for supporting the struggle and were taken to a jail in
China," said Adhe, who used to reside in eastern Tibet.

She was part of the Tibetan struggle that led to the 1959 Tibetan uprising
against the communist regime of China. As Chinese forces crushed the
uprising, the 14th Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetans left Tibet and
sought refuge in India and other parts of the world.

At present, the population of exiled Tibetans is over 140,000, of which
about 100,000 are based in India.

Adhe recalled her own story even as a fresh batch of 40 Tibetan refugees,
nine of them former political prisoners like her, has reached Dharamsala -
the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Himachal Pradesh.

"The conditions in jail were inhuman for anyone to live. We were given
either very little food or no food for days and 150 women died within
one-and-a-half-years. Many of us used to eat the soles of our shoes made of
leather," she said.

"After three years, only four of us remained alive. While we were being
shifted to a prison in Tibet, I saw a pile of bodies. I was horrified," she
said with tears rolling down her cheeks and trembling hands.

She was released in 1985 after spending 27 years in prison. Her husband had
died before she was imprisoned. Her son fell into a river and died while she
was being taken away by the Chinese forces. Her daughter was taken care of
by a friend.

Chinese forces released her on condition that she would not reveal anything
about her time in jail to anyone.

"My daughter asked me to stay with her. But I wanted to tell the world the
condition of Chinese rule in Tibet and highlight the inhuman treatment and
misery of Tibetan political prisoners," Adhe told a visiting IANS

She tried to come to India in 1986 and 1987 but failed. She finally reached
India in 1988. She met the supreme Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the
Dalai Lama, who asked her to tell the 'truth' to the world. After this she
wrote a book, "Voice That Remains", narrating her experience.

She now lives in McLeodganj in Dharamsala along with her second husband and
spends her time praying. Adhe is one among hundreds of ex-political
prisoners living in exile in India.

"We have around 500 ex-political prisoners registered with us who are living
in India. There are several others who are not registered with us," said
Ngawang Woeber of the Gu-Chu-Sum movement, which works for the welfare of
the political prisoners of Tibet.

"Thousands of Tibetans are still lodged in prison in Tibet and have been
given a punishment ranging from a few years of imprisonment to the death
sentence. There are several who have spent more than two decades of their
life inside prison," said Woeber, who himself has been a political prisoner.

"During the 2008 uprising, thousands of Tibetans were arrested, 30 percent
of whom were women. Youths were involved in large numbers in the revolt this
time around. Eighty percent of the protesters belonged to the 18-35 age
group," he added.

"Our people are suffering inside their own country. They don't even have
recent pictures of the Dalai Lama."

Over six million Tibetans are believed to be living in Tibet.
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