Photo : Flickr / AK Rockefeller
Photo : Flickr / AK Rockefeller

Loosening the gordian knot

The Chinese attempt at censorship at the Dhaka Art Summit has helped Tibetan agency.
Photo : Flickr / AK Rockefeller
Photo : Flickr / AK Rockefeller

The Chinese Embassy in Dhaka might have bit off more than it could chew with its attempt at censoring the Dhaka Art Summit 2016. Their request – to remove art works related to the Tibetan self-immolation protests created by Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin – backfired when the organisers chose to cover them up but leave them on the wall. The display of five art works covered by white sheets of paper, made a far more powerful statement about human-rights violations, and about the Chinese suppressing critical commentary on Tibet, than the works themselves could have done.

This is yet another instance of China's censorship extending beyond its boundaries, relying on the strength of its economic relationship to see its wishes carried out. Some eighty or more Tibetans in China self-immolated in 2012; the numbers are difficult to report with accuracy due to the clamp down on the free flow of information from the region. Instead of attempting to contextualise, through any work of their own, how an individual can be led to such an extreme act of sacrifice and protest, Sonam, of Tibetan origin, and Sarin, an Indian filmmaker, chose instead to display the letters themselves as the most honest representation of these immolations. These were the letters of Tsultrim Gyatso, Nyingkar Tashi, Nangdrol, Sonam Topgyal and Rikyo.

Though the covered images demonstrated China's clout, the outcome was clearly not one the Ambassador intended, with widespread reports on the incident, ironically, drawing attention to the increasingly neglected issue of Tibet and its independence. All the letters are now available in full on the public domain, no matter who they may offend. This is one of them:

I, Tsultrim Gyatso, the warrior of the snows, set myself on fire for the welfare of all Tibetans. The golden teardrops. Alas, tears. Heartbreak. Brothers, do you hear? Do you see? Do you hear? To whom shall I tell about the suffering of six million Tibetans? Precious human body engulfed in flames. I set myself on fire for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet, to free Panchen Rinpoche from prison, and for the welfare of six million Tibetans. May all sentient beings residing in the three realms be free from the three poisons and attain Buddhahood. May the lama and the Three Jewels hold dear those who are downtrodden and without refuge. Brothers and sisters of the Land of Snow, for the sake of Tibet's unity, do not fall under the deceitful ways of the foxes.

~ With inputs from Himal

~Sarah Khatry is an intern at Himal Southasian. She is a Physics and English student at Dartmouth College (and dabbler in analog power electronics). She is an editor of 40 Towns, a longform student magazine covering New Hampshire and Vermont.

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