For anyone spending time with the Tibetan community here in Boudhanath it is impossible to ignore the ‘Tibet Question’. Around the stupa storeowners sell t-shirts emblazoned with the Tibetan flag (which is banned in China) and the slogans ‘Save Tibet’ or ‘Free Tibet’. Although Tibetans regularly protest against the Olympic Games and Chinese rule in Tibet, freedom of speech here is not unconditional. The Nepal government has banned performances of Tibetan dance and opera and institutes, monasteries and schools have been warned against participating in protests or speaking out against the Chinese government, as this could result in the closing or removal of the organisations.
So with this in mind, I will just make a few observations regarding the Tibetan community’s efforts in the run up to, and during, the Olympics. The first thing to note is that the majority of protests, here in Kathmandu, go unreported, even in the Nepalese press. For the past week, protest, vigils or silent gatherings have been happening every day. The routine is the same, protestors arrive at the Chinese Embassy, in Kathmandu, protests are made, the police control the protestors, sometimes with beatings and nearly always with arrests, protestors (on average between 100 and 300 a day) are arrested, put in jail for the night, released, and then wait for the next day’s rendezvous point to be arranged.
The second thing to note is that the protestors come from every part of the Tibetan community. The protestors aren’t just nuns, monks and students, but young mothers, housewives and shopkeepers. Everyone wants to play a part in keeping Tibet in the World’s thoughts.
On August 8th major protests took place across Kathmandu with over 1,400 arrests being made. Tibetan shopkeepers closed their stores in protest against the Olympics, some for several days. This is not an empty gesture, with food and fuel shortages in Nepal affecting everyone; this is a major sacrifice and will have a big effect on the incomes of many Tibetan families, especially in Boudhanath.
On my last full day in Nepal - the 14th August - there was another major protest and again young and old gathered in their thousands to remind everyone of the Tibetan cause. Tibetan shops here is Boudhanath closed as people made their way to the Chinese Embassy.