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Tibetans In India Shave Heads To Focus Attention On Tibet


April 29 2008

Young Tibetan men and women have tonsured themselves in an eastern Indian town to protest what they call Chinese aggression in their homeland.

Pasang Doma, a Tibetan Buddhist woman who organized the April 21 program in Darjeeling, told UCA News such events will continue until a peaceful solution is reached on the Tibetan issue.

Darjeeling, a hill town in West Bengal state about 80 kilometers south of the India-China border, harbors some 10,000 Tibetan refugees. It lies 1,500 kilometers northeast of New Delhi.

Doma told UCA News several Tibetan groups in the town have been shaving their heads to seek "divine intervention to woo the Chinese to be human and give up the genocide, both cultural and human, in our holy land."

On April 21, between 500 and 600 Tibetans had themselves tonsured in an open place in Darjeeling. Doma explained that Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns normally shave their heads as a sign of austerity, humility and renunciation, but "we are performing this sacred hair-shaving ritual for peace in Tibet."

Later in the evening, about 2,000 others joined them for a candlelight procession through the town.

Doma said her people in Darjeeling are concerned about the situation in Tibet. Beginning March 10, hundreds of young Buddhist lama, or monks, and other Tibetans protested in Lhasa demanding independence for Tibet.

The Chinese authorities tried to quell the protests, triggering riots. Tibetan solidarity groups claim 150 or more Tibetans were gunned down in a Chinese crackdown, while China reported the rioters killed about 20 people.

Doma said she had not expected so many youths to volunteer to get tonsured as they are "very fond of their varied hairstyles," being influenced by television. Even the ritual shaving of heads is waning, she added.

In her view the large turnout for the tonsure protest thus showed "our people are deeply pained at the happenings in Tibet" and are committed to "a spiritual and nonviolent fight against China."

Jesuit Father Patrick Mani Pradhan, who is engaged in Church-run programs to empower women in the region, also saw the event as "exemplary." Darjeeling, he noted, is "very close to Tibet, so the local Tibetans have first-hand information about the sufferings of the Tibetans in Tibet."

Commending the youth for keeping calm and choosing the tonsure ritual as a means of protest, the priest expressed hope their message of nonviolence would reach the Chinese leaders in Tibet.

Lakpa Bhuti, a Tibetan girl who joined the protest, told UCA News on April 24 that she had "a very mysterious feeling" during the event. "Tears spilled out of my eyes," she said, even though she acknowledged the "token act of solidarity with our suffering sisters and brothers" as just a small gesture.

According to Bhuti, Tibetans in the region have also adopted another "novel strategy" to attract the world´s attention to the Tibetan problem. They prick their left thumb with a needle and collect the blood on a piece of cloth or paper. "The bloody thumb impressions on the cloths would be kept as mementos of our struggle. The ones on the papers will be sent to the U.N. (United Nations) to draw its notice to the bloody happenings in Tibet," she explained.

Mihir Sen, a Hindu at the candlelight procession, told UCA News the tonsure ritual touched him. He said he sensed a "deep spirituality and yearning of peace" through the event. Most participants, he noted, were aged 12-30. "They have been suffering so much. Yet they are not advocating violence. Instead they are embracing a path of protest of love, prayer and sacrifice," he added.