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Dalai Lama and a man's passion for Tibet

March 19, 2009

FIFTY YEARS ago today the Dalai Lama, dressed as a layman, slipped
out of the Summer Palace in Lhasa, Tibet, escaping the gaze of
Chinese soldiers. In a nearby house, Luting Namgyal was born. But
instead of celebrating his birth, his parents wondered if their son
would survive the violence wrought by Red Army of China.
By Lobsang Sangay
The Boston Globe
March 17, 2009

Today, a resident of Medford, he's counting the days until he meets
the Dalai Lama, who arrives in Boston May 2.

Namgyal regards himself as an unfortunate soul born on the day his
nation's much-loved leader fled to India along with 80,000 other
Tibetans. Since 1950, when the Chinese army first invaded, Tibetans
have been forced to live under an oppressive regime during which tens
of thousands of Tibetans have died and thousands more imprisoned.

Every year as his birthday arrives, Namgyal is reminded of the
struggle of his once-independent nation. And every March 17 recharges
his passion to fight for Tibet's freedom.

In his youth, Namgyal studied at a Chinese university and then worked
in a government of what is now called the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
He and his wife were paid well and led upper middle-class lives in
Lhasa. Quietly, though, Namgyal worked in the underground struggle
for Tibet's freedom. He gathered information on political prisoners
and human rights violations, and smuggled it to the outside world.
Under tremendous risk, he also showed videos, smuggled into Tibet,
about exiles' political activities.

He and his friends posted political posters on public walls and
placed political leaflets under stones at Buddhist shrines for
Tibetans to read and distribute under the Chinese authority's radar.

Life came crashing down in January 1990 when the Chinese police
arrested Namgyal and jailed him for 10 days. Seeing his doors
closing, he, his wife, and their 4-year-old daughter fled through the
Himalayan Mountains in severe winter on the same route the Dalai Lama
took in 1959. Despite nearly freezing to death, as karma would have
it, the family reached Dharamsala, India, Tibet's government-in-exile
base, on March 17. Despite Namgyal's escape, he fell into a severe
depression, was bed-ridden for weeks with illness and nearly died.
When he recovered, he worked for the Tibetan Government in Exile.

Through the US Refugee Resettlement Project, Namgyal immigrated to
Boston in the early 1990s. Eighteen years later, his hometown Lhasa
started the spring 2008 nationwide uprising. Today, armed Chinese
forces patrol city streets with automatic guns, and sharp shooters
occupy rooftops. Tibetan pilgrims who trek to Lhasa are prohibited
from staying more than three days. Monks are barred from leaving
their monasteries for more than few hours, which bars them from
performing funeral rituals. In desperation, some Tibetans drive to
countryside monasteries and smuggle monks, dressed in street clothes,
into the city to quietly oversee Buddhist rituals. Those who cannot
afford, have Tibetan youths illegally educated in exile schools, and
returned, and know rudimentary prayer, oversee the funeral rituals.
If caught, the monks and the families face harsh treatment.

During this undeclared martial law period in Tibet, Namgyal rarely
calls his family. When he does, they hang up for fear of
eavesdropping by Chinese authorities.

Since last spring, there have been sporadic protests in Tibet marking
the 50th anniversary of the occupation by China, including a
self-immolation by a monk in Kirti Monastery in Amdo, and few hundred
farmers surrounding the police station in Lithang, Kham. All the
protests have universal slogan: Return His Holiness to Tibet and
leave Tibetans alone. With resentments building, Tibet could fall
into a deep abyss that could severely harm both sides.

Despite sufferings incurred by his family and countrymen, Namgyal
still believes that nonviolence, and reconciliation through dialogue,
is the best path to resolution. He awaits the Dalai Lamas address at
Gillette Stadium on May 2 and prays that soon, the Dalai Lama will
return to free Tibet. And he hopes his birthday will no longer mark
the tragic date of the Dalai Lama's departure, but instead, a
long-delayed occasion to rejoice.

Lobsang Sangay is a senior fellow at the East Asian Legal Studies
Program at Harvard Law School and coordinator for the Dalai Lama's
upcoming visit to Boston (www.bostontibet.org).

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