New Delhi: Twenty-seven years after his abduction, a group of 15 Tibetan activists in Karnataka embarked on a three-day bike rally from Sunday to Tuesday to raise awareness about the 11th Panchen Lama.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was 6 years old when he is believed to have been abducted by Chinese authorities on 17 May 1995, three days after the 14th Dalai Lama — who has been living in exile in India since fleeing Beijing-controlled Tibet in 1959 — identified him as the 11th Panchen Lama.
The Panchen Lama is considered the second most important spiritual leader in the Gelukpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama, and plays a central role in identifying the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation or successor.
“The Dalai Lama has said that, upon turning 90, he will decide whether he should be reincarnated. The reincarnation process is important because Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas traditionally identify each other’s reincarnations,” Tenzin Dolma, president of the McLeodganj-based Tibetan Women’s Association (Central), told ThePrint.
“So, if one is missing, questions arise about who will be the supreme religious authority.”
While refusing to reveal Nyima’s whereabouts since his abduction in 1995, Beijing has instead propped up a proxy Panchen Lama.
It was to protest these actions that the bike rally, between Karnataka’s Mundgod and Bengaluru, was organised by the Tibetan Youth Congress, a global non-profit that advocates for the independence of Tibet from China, and the Tibetan Women’s Association. This was followed by a “peace march” and sit-in protest at Bengaluru’s Freedom Park Tuesday.
“We had been wanting to hold this rally for a long time but due to the pandemic, we couldn’t. It’s important that such events are held to remind people of what China did 27 years ago,” said Jampa Norbu, president of the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress (Mundgod).
Tibetan diaspora in India
Chonen Dolma, regional president of the Mundgod unit of Tibetan Women’s Association, said they had “distributed 3,000 pamphlets so far with a picture of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima”. “We came to Bengaluru to bring attention to our cause,” Dolma added.
Pamphlets distributed during the bike rally carried the only existing picture of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, clicked when he was six years old. No pictures of Nyima — who would have turned 33 this year — have emerged since, prompting Tibetan activists to rely on forensic imaging to picture what the 11th Panchen Lama might look like now.
Apart from the bike rally to Bengaluru, hunger strikes were organised by as many as 30 regional units of the Tibetan Women’s Association to mark 27 years since the abduction of the 11th Panchen Lama.
Karnataka is home to several Tibetan settlements, mainly in towns like Mundgod and Bylakuppe, where Penpa Tsering, the current ‘sikyong’ or president of the Tibetan government-in-exile, was born and raised.
“There’s been a number of self-immolation incidents by Tibetans in response to China ramping up aggression against Tibet. This, too, needs attention,” Jampa Norbu, president of the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress (Mundgod), told ThePrint.
Since 2009, there have been as many as 160 cases of Tibetan youths and monks attempting self-immolation to protest Chinese aggression in Tibet, the most recent being Tibetan singer Tsewang Norbu (25), who died after setting himself on fire in February this year.
Asked what has led to the renewed protests against China by Tibetan activists, Tenzin Dolma of the Tibetan Women’s Association (Central) told ThePrint: “It is because we are increasingly frustrated and fear for the well-being of our brothers and sisters who are still stuck in Tibet.”
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)