‘Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.’ (1)
It seems that the Dalai Lama has not taken on board the large amount of criticism directed at him recently by the public for his sexist remarks.He avoided much of the fall out from his comment, made in a BBC interview recently, when he cancelled his tour of the United States, apparently due to very short lived health problems, managing to avoid any difficult questions from the media, while ‘resting.’ Instead of apologising, or explaining, the remarks the Dalai Lama has repeated them again on 10 November, ‘On the possibility of a woman being the next Dalai Lama, he said, it was very much possible. “I have said that many times earlier. She should be beautiful. The face also makes a difference, isn’t it?,” he said with a laughter, while replying to a query (from the student-audience) on the possibility of a woman Dalai Lama.’ (43)
On initial investigation there are many contradictions in how women’s rights and homosexuality are treated in the exile community: For example the Dalai Lama calls himself a ‘feminist,’ (2) but back in 2011 he stated that if the next Dalai Lama were a woman, she would need to be attractive or ‘nobody pay much attention.’ (3) Despite the fact that people have pointed out to the Dalai Lama, since this time, that such an attitude to women would be considered sexist, he went on to repeat the statement in his recent interview for the BBC. Repeating such a statement after being told this is sexist and assuring the BBC reporter that he was not joking; he repeats, it is ‘true,’ she would ‘need to be attractive or not much use;’ makes it clear that the Dalai Lama is arrogantly holding on to his outdated sexist views. The fact this is clearly not a joke on his part is clearly illustrated by this quote from a quote in his autobiography; ‘It’s also perhaps misleading to label this viewpoint a joke, since he makes the same argument earnestly in his autobiography, My Spiritual Journey. “Beauty is one of the eight qualities of a precious human body on the physical level,” he wrote. “It is obvious that if a female Dalai Lama is ugly to look at, she will attract fewer people. The aim of a female reincarnation is to transmit the Buddhist teachings to the public in a convincing way.” (38)
In the BBC interview he also repeats statements made previously that women are more compassionate than men; ‘At around the 4:50 mark in the video (below), when journalist Clive Myrie asks whether the Dalai Lama’s 15th reincarnation could be a woman, he responds with an enthusiastic “Yes!” explaining that females “biologically [have] more potential to show affection . . . and compassion.”‘ (33)
The Dalai Lama’s attitudes are in keeping with the traditional view of women in the Tibetan community; as explained in a book by Jamyang Kyi on the subject of the treatment of women, ‘Mixture of Snow and Rain, Joy and Sorrow of Women’; ‘where wives are treated no better than servants, who attend only to household chores. She questions why it is that while a monk enters a house, automatically a higher seat is offered but when a man enters a room even a nun has to give her seat for the man. She asks Tibetan women to question if they were just born to be “only housewives”. Jamyang Kyi’s concerns for the plight of Tibetan women and desire to fight injustice within a patriarchal Tibetan society lead her to write an expose of the trafficking of girls in Amdo (Qinghai Province) for the Tibetan language version of Qinghai Daily (30 November 2005). Her staunch feminist stance made her unpopular with conservative sections of Tibetan society. Jamgyang Kyi argues how can the Tibetans fight to justice when injustice is perpetrated in our own community in the name of tradition.’ (34) The Dalai Lama is considered to be a Spiritual Guide, travelling the world giving talks as an ‘expert’ in subjects such as compassion and human rights,, and yet he is clearly exhibiting an extremely patronising and sexist attitude to women. He should be enabling justice to prevail in the exile community for everyone, regardless of sex, but instead is reinforcing images of women as weaker and useful only if physically attractive to others. Nicole Rowe, spokeswoman for Progressive Women, a charity that seeks to empower women in their professional and personal lives, points out; “Perpetuating the antiquated idea that women are primarily useful as ornaments, as in the parlance ‘Women should be seen but not heard’, only adds fuel to the manifold discrimination women still face to this day. A woman’s appearance is not more important than her achievements. If a woman were to become Dalai Lama, we’re certain that her actions would be of much more weight than how she looked, and we hope the Dalai Lama will take the time to reflect on the impact of his words for women, particularly given the scale of his influence.” (35)
(23) With regard to homosexuality one newspaper reports, ‘The Dalai Lama supports same sex marriage,’ (4) when he has also been quoted as saying, ‘From a Buddhist point of view, men-to-men and women-to-women is generally considered sexual misconduct.’ (5) This article investigates how these contradictions have come about and whether or not the Dalai Lama and Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) exhibit this fascist characteristic.
The Dalai Lama’s Sexism and its impact on the Exile Community
The Dalai Lama is undoubtedly sexist, his comments about women clearly show that he does not see them as having the same wide range of qualities and strengths as men have. He is quoted as saying; ‘Women are by nature more compassionate because of their biology and ability to nurture and birth children. He therefore called on all women to lead and create a more compassionate world, citing the good works of nurses and mothers. Interestingly enough, there are feminist groups who would claim this kind of biological stance has led to discrimination against women in the workplace.’ (10) This emphasis on women’s strength being that of ‘carers’ rather than leaders comes across whenever he is asked about the possibility of there being a female Dalai Lama in future: ‘“If the circumstances are such that a female Dalai Lama is more useful, then automatically a female Dalai Lama will come,” he said in a press conference in Sydney, Australia June 2015, adding that the world is currently undergoing a “moral crisis” which will require more compassionate leaders. “In that respect, biologically, females have more potential,” the Dalai Lama said. “Females have more sensitivity about others’ well-being.” He reflected on his own family to make his point, noting that “in my own case, my father, very short temper. On a few occasions I also got some beatings. But my mother was so wonderfully compassionate.”(11) He goes so far as to suggest this view of women is based on scientific fact; “I think [it would be] good because you see, biologically, female[s] have more potential to develop affection or love to other. Some scientists, they tested two person, one male, one female looking at one sort of movie. Female [was] more sensitive: response is much stronger. So therefore…now we are 21st century…female have more potential so should take more active role regarding promotion of human compassion.” His statement caused the reporter interviewing him to comment on the obvious flaw in his argument, ‘Let’s leave aside for a moment the obvious problem with sweeping generalisations. Last time I looked, women didn’t have a monopoly on compassion.’ (12) Of course some women can be wonderfully compassionate but then again so can men, this allocation of particular qualities to women belongs to pre 1960s stereotyping of women.
This type of gender stereotyping becomes more significant when seen in the wider context of fascism; the Dalai Lama’s statements about women as carers are in keeping with the roles assigned to women in fascist states; ‘Head of the Italian government and Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini built Fascism up as a patriarchal venture that aimed to move Italy forward along traditional conservative lines, notably concerning gender identity and gender tags. In its attempts to repress women, Fascism pushed them to become providers and nurturers, and nothing more.’ (36)
In fact the Dalai Lama is so sexist that he does not feel a woman would be of any value as a Dalai Lama unless she was physically attractive: ‘And I also mentioned in case Dalai Lama’s incarnation one female comes then must be very attractive female. So the very reason, you see more influence to others, an ugly female then may not much effective,” added Dalai Lama.’ Interestingly the Dalai Lama suggests the “mischievous blonde woman” may be his choice for reincarnation, the implication being that the female would be attractive but not to be taken too seriously. (3) This is a view that is so clearly sexist that when the Dalai Lama repeats it, in an Australian television interview, ‘If female Dalai Lama comes must be very attractive, otherwise not much use,’ a shocked male interviewer twice tells him, ‘ You can’t say that Dalai Lama, your Holiness, you can’t say that.’ Apparently the Dalai Lama chose to ignore the interviewer’s sound advice as very recently he suggested again that if the next Dalai Lama is female, ‘ She should be “mischievous” and “her face must be very attractive [or] nobody [will] pay much attention.” (24)
The Dalai Lama’s view is the one that was held by most Tibetans of his generation, ‘In reviewing Tibetan women’s history in exile… it is clear that when the first generation of refugees escaping Chinese invasion were trying to meet the challenges of having been exiled and trying to rebuild (the) community in exile, female leadership was embodied in the mother-figure. Women from the elite families, such as the Dalai Lama’s mother and sisters, fulfilled the roles of mother figures whose caring-labor sustained the lives of children left orphaned from the journey following invasion and the harsh conditions associated with poverty and disease from which many Tibetans perished. While elite men went into the international arena to secure international support and aid for the crisis of invasion and refugees, the women stayed within the refugee’s camps to meet the challenges of refugees on the grounds.’ (9)
Women’s position in Exile Community
The contradiction in the way women are treated in the exile community is exemplified in the mixed messages coming from the Central Tibetan Administration. The CTA’s website reveals some very interesting contradictions on the subject of equal rights for women, for example in 2008 they set up a an 8 point policy for women’s empowerment, ‘to empower Tibetan women’s equal participation in the successful establishment of non-violent and democratic Tibetan community as envisioned by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.(13) They did this even though apparently they are unaware of any need for such a policy, ‘Although no gender discrimination of any kind have taken place in the history of Tibet.’ (13) This contradiction is identified by critics of the CTA, ‘At present, the CTA is hampered by a weak Women’s Empowerment Policy that doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of gender discrimination in our society. Our argument is that the present gender inequality in Tibetan society is a serious problem that Sikyong Lobsang Sangay’s Kashag has a real opportunity to address by implementing a credible Women’s Empowerment Policy that can be a lasting legacy.
The ‘Empowerment Policy’ talks about ‘the need to strengthen women’s role in the administrative and politics of the democratic Tibetan community’ but as of 2009, women made up only 3% of the decision-making bodies of the CTA. Roughly the same number of boys and girls graduate from the schools across our community and roughly the same number of men and women enter the CTA as civil servants, so from the posts of settlement officer on to the departmental secretary, why are the vast majority of these seats filled by men?’ (14)
On June 2nd, following the 2016 elections, the portfolio’s of the Kalons appointed to Sikyong Losang Sangay’s new Kashag were published on the CTA website. (47)
There was a clear imbalance in the structure of the Kashag as far as gender is concerned. One woman was appointed who was apparently well qualified for the position: ‘Ms Tenzin Dhardon Sharling was born in the year 1981. She is an alumnus of SOS TCV Bylakuppe and has a degree in MA Journalism from Chennai. She attained another MA degree from the United Kingdom and is currently pursuing her doctorate. From 2009, she served as a central executive member of Tibetan Women’s Association and from 2009; she was the chair of International Tibet Network. She was a member of the 15thTibetan Parliament-in-Exile and was also elected to the 16th Tibetan Parliament-in-exile. She is the youngest and the only woman in the new Kashag.’ However, only two days later it was announced that she had been withdrawn from the Kashag due to her age: ‘The withdrawal of her name from the 15th Kashag was necessitated as she falls short of the age limit required to be a Kalon as enshrined in Article 29(2) of the Charter for Tibetans in exile. The minimum age requirement for one to be appointed as Kalon is 35. Ms Tenzin Dhardon Sharling was born on 23 September 1981; therefore she is three months short of being 35.’ (48) A matter of three months seems to be extremely petty but it seems this was not the only problem in Ms Dhardon’s admission to the Kashag because on 26 September 2016 she was rejectd again. ‘Sikyong Lobsang Sangay proposed her name for the second time in the house on Saturday to appoint her as minister, but 27 members out of 45 voted against, giving a clear no to her appointment.’ (49) It seems people voted against her because she had gone ahead with being appointed to the Kashag previously, despite being 3 months too young: ‘If someone accuses you as someone who tramples on morality and ethics, because they feel you disregarded the Charter … and because of that, in the second proposal, you lost — how would you answer such an accusation?’ (50) Despite not being voted into the Kashag Ms Dhardon was subsequently offered the position of Information Secretary ‘ this position as consultant will be regularised as a part of the special appointees that Kashag is allowed to make — up to 18 staff for a five-year tenure.’ (50) It is a grim picture for women in the exile Tibetan community, that the only female to be given a senior political position in the Central Tibetan Administration, had to be brought in through the backdoor.
With this endemic sexism in the exile community it will not be a surprise that there were no female candidates standing for election in the 2016 elections for Sikyong: ‘However, one discouraging sign of space for improvement in political electoral is near absence of any convincing lady candidate who can occupy the Sikyong Seat as Prime Minister (or Sikyong) in the last five decades. Also only few Tibetan women have served in the cabinet as Ministers like Jetsun Pema, Rinchen Khando (both are associated with His Holiness), Takla Yangkyi. In this 14th Kashag (Cabinet) headed by Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay, there are two women viz; Gyari Dolma, a longtime Tibetan Parliamentarian and even two time deputy Speaker, TPiE and Dikki Chhoyang, Canada resident exile born lady. In the 2011 election Gyari Dolma, the most prominent and visible face of lady in Tibetan exile stood in the primaries but retreated in the main election. This time too she is unlikely to contest even though some people or organization might stand in support of her.’ (37) The reasons for Gyari Dolma not standing in the elections in 2016 may have a lot to do with the endemic sexism in the community as Jamyang Norbu suggests in his blog in 2010; ‘But moving on to the discussion on the candidates for the coming prime-ministerial elections, I absolutely want to say how tremendously impressed I am with Gyari Dolma la for stepping up and throwing her hat in our political ring. In any traditional society (even in a not so anti-feminine one as ours) it is always so much more difficult for a woman to take such a public initiative than a man. The fact that Dolma la just did it, without any sort of affirmative action entitlement, the support of the Tibetan Women’s Association or the endorsement of her powerful brother, Gyari Lodi Gyaltsen la, is particularly admirable and praiseworthy. She has a legal education and has in fact has worked pro bono on a number of occasions to help the Tibetan community in Delhi in the Indian courts. She has also been a long time member of the Tibetan parliament and because of her parliamentary experience and debating skills she has been elected deputy-speaker three times. That her colleagues appear to have consistently valued her talents and energy as a deputy-speaker but never took the logical next step and elevated her to the speaker’s chair, might indicate some residual sexism among the largely male membership of that body.’ (42)
Gyari Dolma speaks at TWA led Tibetan Women’s Uprising commemoration
It is also extremely signficant that in the Sikyong 2016 elections the rules for voters include: ‘As per rules, a voter can name one candidate for the post while for the MP, he/she can list up to 10 candidates (including two women) in preference from their constituency.’ (40) Why is there the caveat of ‘two women?’
The lack of female representation in the landscape of exile Tibetan politics is identified in the article ‘An absence of a female Sikyong candidate in 2016 election is apparent,’ on the ‘Tibetan Political Review’ website. (41) The writer states; ‘the prospects of having a female Sikyong seems to have been conveniently written-off from our vibrant Tibetan politics in exile.’ According to the article; ‘In the mid 1960’s, a positive step was taken to ensure representation of female deputies in the then Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies (CTPD), reserving one seat for a woman from each of the three traditional regions in Tibet. The seat reservation policy was implemented from the 2nd through 7th CTPD term. However, in 1974, the reservation for women in CTPD was eliminated; as a result, from 1982 to 1990, no female deputies were elected to the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile (TPiE). The present Charter of Tibetans in Exile reserves two seats for women from each of the three traditional regions, a total of six reserved spots are available for women in the TPiE. The 15th TPiE term has 8 female deputies representing three traditional regions of Tibet, which is still just above the reserve quota for women in the TPiE..Of the total 84 Kalons, only 9 Kalons or 11% of them were/are female Kalons; two of them are the incumbents in the present Kashag. Further analysis shows that only 6 female individuals or 7% were ever appointed as Kalons, as Kasur Jetsun Pema la and Kasur Rinchen Khando Choegyal la had served as Kalons for three terms and two terms respectively. The appointment of female Kalons began only in the mid 1990’s, during the 8th Kashag term. The female representation in the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile does not fare well either, nor in the Central Tibetan Administration bureaucratic circle in Dharamsala. Apparently, not a single female Secretary is currently heading the departments of Central Tibetan Administration.’
so it seems the ‘Empowerment Policy’ is clearly a case of the CTA, like the Dalai Lama, paying ‘lip service’ only to the issue of women’s rights, without adhering to truly democratic, equal rights for women. Interestingly the article on the CTA’s website outlining their ‘Empowerment Policy’ includes the fact the CTA is going to give priority to female candidates ‘for the posts of pre-primary teacher and assistant;’ it is signifcant that the CTA think it is more appropriate for a woman than a man to work with preschool children. This is in keeping with the Dalai Lama’s sexist view that women are naturally more nurturing and therefore their role is to be caregivers. The CTA go on to say, ”The new policy will lay special consideration on the health of mother and child in order to develop a future posterity with good morals and facilitate a steady growth on population.’ This last reference to women being useful as child bearers to grow the population has many of the overtones of previous fascist dictatorships; ‘Mussolini wanted a nation of warriors. Boys were expected to grow into fierce soldiers who would fight with glory for Italy while girls were expected to be good mothers who would provide Italy with a population that a great power was expected to have.’ (39)
As things stand in the exile community there are no equal rights for women and a lot needs to be done to bring about the changes in attitude to ensure this happens, ‘In Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, nuns were prevented from receiving the highest ordinations. At the same time, there are lineages in the Tibetan tradition of female high reincarnations. In short: female practitioners are kept from power; female figures enjoy reverence. Gross notes that Tara is the most popular deity in Tibet—male or female. Again, there’s a difference between the letter of Buddhist teachings, and how they’re carried out. Women can be symbols for worship, but they cannot be leaders with legitimate political and religious power.’ (38)
The Women’s Empowerment Policy has been ineffective as 7 years later there is still the need for panel discussions on the policy to ‘formulate a set of do-able recommendations / action plan to ensure the effective implementation of the policy in achieving the intended results.’ (15) The small amount of progress on the policy may be due to the fact that the senior male officials, who are most in need of education on these points, are absent from the discussion, the participants were all female.
The safety of Women in the exile community
As with all female refugees Tibetan women in exile are particularly vulnerable to abuse. The Tibetan Women’s Association prepared a shadow report in response to Nepal’s report to the 49th session of the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The report details abuses against Tibetan women living in Nepal. ‘According to the report by TWA, “women who become internally displaced persons or refugees in foreign countries are much more vulnerable to abuses, such as trafficking and sexual abuse. They are known to be victimized in many ways-verbally, sexually, physically and mentally within refugee camps.”’ The report goes on to give horrific examples of how Tibetan women have been abused by the authorities in Nepal who should be protecting them, ‘Women are often touched and spoken to inappropriately both at the protests and at the police station following arrest. The arrest itself routinely happens without a warrant. Other abuses concern “Refoulement,” the deportation of any refugee whose life or freedom could be in danger upon return to their country. Refoulement is prohibited by international law. However, there have been several cases reported in Nepal against Tibetans. The report cites one particularly grim case concerning the treatment of woman during deportation; a Tibetan woman traveling in a group of seven was raped 12 times by Nepali police officers. The group was told that they would all be deported if the woman did not agree. Later, the Nepali Ministry of Home Affairs denied the police involvement. Welfare officers and medical examiners at the Kathmandu reception centers say that the rape of Tibetan women by Nepali police is very common. Fearing deportation, social ostracizing or, for nuns, expulsion from their order, the women typically do not report the rape.’ (16)
It would be hoped that the same level of abuse would not happen in the exile community in India, the home of the Dalai Lama and the CTA. Unfortunately this is not the case and in fact the culture of covering up any scandals in the exile community, in order to protect the reputation of the Dalai Lama, has meant that women have not asked for, or been given, the help they have needed to bring their abusers to justice. The following article, from Huffington Post, gives a realistic insight into the problems facing Tibetans in the exile community: ‘This week it was reported that a five-year old Tibetan girl had been allegedly raped by two Tibetan adult males in the settlement of Mundgod, South India. As shocking as the alleged crime was the revelation that the Mundgod camp officer and settlement officer had encouraged the father of the child not to pursue criminal charges against the men. Why? Out of fear of shaming HH the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people. Sadly, I and others living in the Tibetan community in exile were not surprised to learn this. As Sangay Taythi, a male Tibetan activist living in the USA responded on Facebook: “Here’s a major problem in our Tibetan society: whenever a problem/crisis occurs in our communities, we tend to, well, “sweep everything under the carpet”, thinking it’ll do less harm than it already has. That’s the sort of mentality perpetuated, for the most part, by ultra-conservatives who severely lack in the understanding of what democracy is, how people are to behave in one, and how an open-society can be of more benefit to us….We must come to a realization that we inflict more harm to our future, bring more shame to His Holiness’ image when we let these beads-flashing, confused Buddhists of ultra-conservative background propagate such backward mentality in our communities!”’
The article, which interestingly is published by Huffington Post that normally shows strong bias towards the Dalai Lama, goes on to explain how the ‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil’ policy of the Dalai Lama and the CTA, in order to perpetuate the ‘Shangri-La myth,’ seriously compromises the safety of women in the exile community: ‘Fortunately, after a social media campaign and pressure from Tibetan activists and politicians, the Central Tibetan Administration in exile (CTA) quickly issued a statement calling for immediate legal action against the two alleged rapists. Although this is clearly a step in the right direction, sadly the lack of public awareness, recognition and justice in cases of sexual abuse and gender inequality in the Tibetan exile community remains. As another Tibetan stated on social media in response to the Mundgod rape: “There are many sexual assaults and harassment in Dharamsala itself…..There is not much safety here in Dharamsala too.” I faced a similar ‘cover-up’ reaction when I recently wrote about the growing number of alleged cases of physical and sexual abuse in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, the alleged rape of the teenage Kalu Rinpoche by Tibetan Buddhist monks in his monastery and the lack of a public response from the Tibetan exile government or monastic authorities to these cases. Before publication, both Tibetans and non-Tibetans, some of whom were supposedly well-educated and versed in liberal and democratic ideals, advised me not to publish it because it was ‘sensationalist’ and they felt it was bad for the image of Tibetans and detracted from the more important issue of Tibetan self-immolations, political goals and the occupation of Tibet. One American woman told me that although she agreed with the article she would not share it on social media because she didn’t want her family members using it as ammunition against Tibetan Buddhism. I have also yet to receive any reply to my request for a public statement on this grave issue from the office of HH the Dalai Lama or the CTA. Silence, denial, excuse or personal attack being the predominant response. The commonly-held view that Tibetans are brimming with love and compassion and are incapable of prejudice, abuse, discrimination and so on, stems primarily from the Tibetan Shangri-la myth. Much has been written about this myth and how it’s unrealistic and Orientalist notions of Tibet and Tibetans have been more harmful than good. As Tenzing Sonam says in “Tibet of the Mind:” Our sense of self-importance and moral superiority was also shaped by the growing fascination of the West with Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, and its expectation of what Tibetans were supposed to represent as a people. By this measure, we were an almost otherworldly race, spiritually evolved, naturally compassionate, peace-loving and with the good of all sentient beings always at heart. We began to take this idealised view of ourselves seriously, and remade our history in its image. The wars we had fought in the past with our neighbours, the factional infighting, the court intrigues and political assassinations, the system of cruel punishments sometimes meted out by the state, the banditry that was commonplace in many parts of the country, even the fact that many thousands of Tibetans had not so long ago taken up arms against the Chinese invasion – these were all airbrushed out in favour of a reinterpretation of Tibet as a mythical Buddhist land of peace and harmony, governed by compassion and inhabited by the morally upright and ethically pure. So we should not be too surprised that many Tibetans (and western Buddhists) respond to criticism and allegations of Tibetan abuse and misogyny with anger, incredulity, denial or counter-accusations. And before the post-colonialists start complaining, no-one is saying it is only Tibetan men who deny the extent of their role in patriarchy, sexism and misogyny. Men of all races and cultures suffer from this mental disease, including perhaps even the great Tibetan intellectuals such as Gedun Chophel and Jamyang Norbu themselves. As UK columnist, Laurie Penny recently wrote in ‘Of course all men don’t hate women. But all men must know they benefit from sexism’. Though one crucial difference is that hardly anyone in the US or Europe would seriously suggest that sexual abuse, paedophilia, homophobia, discrimination and misogyny do not exist at all or are extremely rare in their communities.’ (10)
Women who speak out against gender violence in the Tibetan community are made to feel that they are somehow harming the Free Tibet campaign, ‘Gender violence advocacy is deemed problematic or silenced because it engages wrongdoings within the community, not China. Because the issue does not deal directly with China, critics (who don’t deny the issue but accuse women advocates of harming the larger political movement for freedom) tell women advocates to put the issue of gender violence on “arrest.”’ (9) The CTA posts official looking statements about the progress of female equality in the exile community on their website for the sake of maintaining the image of being a democratic state, fully supporting the human rights of all minority groups, in order to take full advantage of the support given to them by Western countries who require such appearances of democracy to be upheld. In reality any progress made is brought about by the incredible efforts of the TWA alone, ‘the current move by TWA and other female leaders to embrace gender advocacy as a subjectivity desired for female leadership is being met with hostility from the public and silence from the apparatus.’ (ie The Dalai Lama and the CTA) (9) The article ‘Hysteria’ by Dawa Loktitsang, Tibetan-American activist, scholar, and anthropology PhD student at CU, analyses the response to gender violence in the exile community:
‘Complicated Desires: advocating against gender violence
Sometime around July in 2011, a story regarding violence against a Tibetan woman carried out by other Tibetans in Tenzigang, a rural town located in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, India began circulating on Facebook. According to TWA, “On July 18 this year TWA received some shocking news by email; a Tibetan woman had been beaten, stripped naked and taken to the market by fellow Tibetans in Tenzinghang, a Tibetan Settlement of 800 people across four camps, 160 km from Bomdilla in Arunachal Pradesh, [India].” The victim, according to the report, was attacked for having started a family with a married man, and the attackers had been the wife and her male and female family members. As the story began taking on a life of its own on the Internet, a transnational network of Tibetans began asking, “what happened?” out loud. Further, why did CTA remain silent on the issue? TWA responded quickly by dispatching several Tibetan women from Dharamsala to investigate the incident. By August, after having received TWA’s report on the Tenzigang case, CTA’s light handling of the situation sparked off a transnational network of Tibetans criticizing CTA on different social network spaces. Female members of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile (TPiE) responded in September to the growing criticism by drafting a resolution to, “condemn all violence against women [and] to ensure the effective enforcement of the host country’s laws and acts on dealing with any forms of violence against women, and to issue new guidelines to the settlement officers aimed at protecting women’s rights and submit it to Parliament, with a deadline of March 2012.” By May 2013, TWA followed by introducing a new workshop titled “Legal Empowerment of Tibetan Women” (LETW) in seventeen different Tibetan settlements in India. According to the report complied by TWA members, the purpose of the workshop was to collect information on gender violence in each settlements, followed by workshops that informed settlement women on their “legal rights” as defined by India. The following year TWA led the second LETW workshop, in which participants of women between ages 20-40 discussed TWA’s report, which revealed high levels of gender violence currently taking place in the Tibetan exile communities. In Ann Stoler’s “Affective States,” she argues, “that the ‘political rationalities’ [of the state]- that strategically reasoned, administrative common sense that informed policy and practice – [are] grounded in the management of […] affective states, in assessing appropriate sentiments and in fashioning techniques of affective control” (2004:5). While Stoler’s work looks specifically at the management of affects in Indonesia under the colonial Dutch, her emphasis on the management in “affect” as prescribed by the state, in this case desires, can be applied to the Tibetan state apparatus in how they manage certain desires as “appropriate” while deeming others not appropriate Gender violence, which covers sexual and domestic abuse, is not new to the Tibetans experience. However, the high level of public participation in discussing the subject that’s currently taking place in the transnational spaces online is new. I would argue that it was not TWA but the transnational network of Tibetans in diaspora, especially women, who were talking about it in the virtual space, that prompted TWA to act on the issue as swiftly as they did. Former TWA staff, such as Dhardon Sharling and Tenzin Palkyi, became leading figures in discussing gendered violence in public Tibetan spaces online. This public conversation was met with criticisms largely from Tibetan men. Men who have responded negatively to public conversation on gender violence have largely dismissed the issue by falsely concluding Tibetan society as having always been a gender equal society, or accusing women advocates of trying to emulate western concepts of modernity by taking on western feminist ideologies. At a workshop on women’s empowerment led by CTA’s women’s empowerment desk, Prime minister Lobsang Sangay gave a speech that encouraged empowerment and leadership of Tibetan women through “education [and] job opportunities,” however; nothing on domestic violence was mentioned. CTA’s general lack of actions targeting gender violence and TWA’s embrace of the campaign presents conflicts between two desires. Although TWA’s campaigns have aligned with CTA in the past, in which both organizations desired educated subjects that desired to become leaders through communal or political engagements, TWA’s current desire to enact leadership by politicizing gender violence, does not seems to align with CTA’s desires; reflected by their inaction on the issue. Although CTA has not condemned nor celebrated TWA’s new initiative to take on gender violence in the Tibetan community, its general lack of action on the issue reveals how the desire to end gender violence, as advocated by Tibetan women, is neither encouraged nor discouraged by CTA-deeming the issue a non-issue for the male dominated Tibetan apparatus. CTA’s inaction around the issue of gender violence suggests that it will encourage TWA projects as long as they are advocating empowerment for Tibetan women through education and professionalism, which CTA has marked “appropriate,” but will not support or give voice to efforts that have yet to be marked “appropriate.” Women advocates enacting leadership by desiring an end to gender violence diverges from CTA’s own desires for leaders, which include education, but not advocacy for ending gender violence. Unlike TWA’s previous engagements, which prioritized and matched CTA’s own desires; TWA’s recent shift to take on gender violence has complicated the “appropriateness” of the issue. CTA’s lack of advocacy on the subject trivializes the issue and can be interpreted to mean that they don’t consider the desire to advocate against gender violence an approved or encouraged desire. Following CTA’s lack of actions condemning gender violence, my Facebook newsfeed became flooded with Tibetans engaging in a firestorm of Facebook discussions/fights/rants initiated by posts that discussed gender violence and CTA’s role on the subject. There were people on all spectrums making arguments for or against the subject. More interesting discussions that I noticed taking place were by Tibetan men who were either CTA staff or were former staff members with positions ranging from administrators to civil servants. Their comments varied between denying the issue with the claim that that Tibetan society is gender equal, supporting this issue wholeheartedly, and supporting the issue with a twist. Some commenters acknowledged gender violence in the community but dismissed the issue as distracting from the larger issue of Chinese colonization by revealing the imperfections of the Tibetan collective that would ultimately, in their opinion, damage Tibet as a likable cause to the outside world. In other words, they view the public airing of gender violence in the community as harming the current success of the Tibetan cause. In McGranahan’s Arrested Histories , she explains historical arrest as, “the apprehension and detaining of particular pasts [and present] in anticipation of their eventual release. Pasts [or presents] that clash with official ways of explaining nation, community, and identity are arrested, in the multiple senses of being held back and delaying progress but also in the ironic sense of drawing attention to these pasts [and presents]” (2010;24). While McGranahan is specifically talking about the “arrest” of Chushi Gangdrug resistance army histories, women who desire the public airing of an issue that has haunted Tibetan women’s past and present are being told by a certain group of Tibetans to put their desires on “arrest” because these desires “clash with official ways of explaining nation, community, and identity” Advocacy against gender violence is deemed problematic because it engages wrongdoings within the community, not China. Because the issue does not deal directly with China, critics (who don’t deny the issue but accuse women advocates of harming the larger political movement for freedom) tell women advocates to put the issue of gender violence on “arrest,” at least until freedom is achieved. However, advocacy against gender violence, as a desire promoted by TWA and other women advocates, call attention to the present realities of the Tibetan women in exile. Such advocates like the CTA, are invested in producing leaders that desire the project of sustenance in exile, the politicizing of Tibet, and a future free Tibet; however, they also want to promote a desire for a Tibetan society, present and future, free of gender violence and discrimination. (44)
An article on the Tibetan Political Review website also analyses the exile government’s response to the ‘Tenzingang case’:’To summarize the TWA report, which used pseudonyms, a woman named Choenyi had apparently been having an affair with a man named Ngawang, with whom she had had a 4 year-old daughter that she was raising. Ngawang’s wife, Kunsang, was enraged to discover the affair and took six members of her extended family (three men and three women) to Choenyi’s house.
As described by TWA, Kunsang’s group stripped Choenyi naked, dragged her outside, and beat her over her entire body. One of the perpetrators tried to cut off Choenyi’s nose with a pair of scissors. The perpetrators also tried to permanently stain her face with black ink. Choenyi was bed-ridden for two weeks afterwards.’ In response to the attack the settlement officer ordered the following punishments:’The key perpetrator, Kunsang, was ordered to to pay Rs. 30,000 to a local monastery to appease local deities upset with the incident. Her husband, Ngawang, was ordered to contribute another Rs. 20,000. Kunsang’s brother, who also participated in the torture of Choenyi, was ordered to give the monastery Rs 5,000 and suspended from his post on the local Tibetan Assembly. And the victim of the violence? For her adultery, Choenyi was ordered to apologize and prostrate before an altar with His Holiness’s photograph. Ngawang’s adultery was not addressed, nor were the needs of Ngawang’s and Choenyi’s 4 year-old daughter, being raised by Choenyi.’ The editorial board of Tibetan Political Review felt the punishments were ineffective and unjust, as did others: ‘The Tenzingang decision also displayed a deeply problematic attitude toward the scourge of gender violence. Regardless of the adultery, nothing should excuse the torture of an individual. The best way to combat gender violence in this case would have been to turn the offenders over to Indian legal authorities. And if the TGiE had the power to order donations to a monastery, what about also demanding civil penalties to compensate the victim? Or to provide for the victim’s innocent 4-year-old daughter? In late 2011, Dechen Tsering, the former head of the Tibetan Association of Northern California, urged the Sikyong and his Home Minister “to issue a strong statement condemning the incident, to ensure that the perpetrators of the Tenzingang incident are barred from immigrating to Canada under the 1000 Tibetans Resettlement Project and to spearhead development of specific policies and programs toward the elimination of gender-based violence in our community. Only then,” she wrote, “can we achieve a compassionate manifestation of Phomo-Da-Nyam” Unfortunately, the TGiE’s Tenzingang decision instead sent the following messages:
- A woman who commits adultery must apologize, but not a man
- Gender violence is a problem because it upsets the deities, not because it hurts or demeans the victims
- Violence against women will not be punished except through forced donations to a monastery
- Children who are innocent victims of gender violence do not need to have their best interests considered
This message is not consistent with the promise of gender equality in our society.’ (45)
The article, ‘A policy solution to Gender Equality,’ describes the disenfranchisement of Tibetan women in the exile community: ‘Perhaps the incidence of violence against women is infrequent in our society, but we see the Tenzingang case as only a symptom of a larger disenfranchisement of Tibetan women. The violence against women isn’t always obvious, but slowly and steadily, case by case, it adds up to an almost systematic disenfranchisement….In Patlikuhl, there were several cases of male teachers having affairs with female students and one, in fact, a monk and the sternest discipline master Patlikuhl ever had, impregnated a girl and ran off with her. In Lower TCV, two young girls were sexually assaulted by men who were members of the tight-knit community. Both were very young, around ten or so. In all of these cases, the local Indian police were not involved. The men received no legal punishment—they were forbidden to enter the school again but they spent no time behind bars for their crimes.’ (46)
The role of the Tibetan Women’s Association
There have been enormous improvements in the treatment of women in the exile community since 1959, but these improvements have come about as a result of the efforts of the women themselves and pressure put on the exile community by the West. It took many years for the situation to improve for them; ‘For a long time, Tibetan women in exile faced discrimination within their small community in India. They could not pursue higher education, and were not allowed to work. These women were mostly confined to their homes and performed traditional roles. “The patriarchal nature of the Tibetan society allowed discriminatory attitudes and practices to continue against women for many years,” Nyima Lhama, General Secretary of the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA), told DW. The year 1959, however, was a turning point for Tibetan women worldwide, as many of them started to get involved in the resistance movement against Chinese rule in Tibet.’ (6) ‘On this day – known as Women’s Uprising Day – thousands of Tibetan women in Lhasa gathered together to protest against the illegal occupation of Tibet by Communist China. Protesting peacefully outside the Potala Palace, hundreds of these women suffered brutally at the hands of the Chinese troops. They were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and beaten without trial.’(7)
Tibetan women continue to suffer greatly under Chinese rule, for example; ‘nomads have been forcibly resettled into concrete camps without schools, clinics or bus services. Their livestock has been confiscated. “Life here is incredibly hard,” said a woman in one camp. “People are suffering from hunger and hardship. They have no jobs and they have no land. The only way they can fill their empty stomachs is by stealing. We live in terror. “We don’t even have basic human rights, not even freedom of speech. Everybody is so depressed. They look awful. Their faces have become pale. Their eyes are sunken. Everyone is afraid of speaking the truth.” (8) Perhaps one of the greatest sufferings for the Tibetan women is caused by the Chinese policy on birth control; ‘Tibetan women are also forcibly prevented from having children, despite supposedly being exempt from China’s strict birth-control laws…Measures include monitoring menstrual cycles, forced abortions and sterilisation if women cannot afford a fine for having a second child. One woman, a married farmer, described her agony at a forced sterilisation operation without anaesthetic in the video below….Some people were even physically damaged by the operation. They have limps and have to drag their hips.” Unconfirmed reports also suggest mobile sterilisation units are inserting a new type of contraceptive coil into village women that cannot be removed by them.’ (8)
In the face of such terrible human rights violations by the Chinese the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA) was founded. ‘It has been 31 years since the reestablishment of Tibetan Women’s Association in exile. Today TWA is an internationally recognized Women’s Association advocating the rights of women in Tibet and empowering women in exile.’ (7) It is this organisation that is responsible for the considerable progress in equal rights for women in the exile community. ‘During this time, TWA, as the only NGO led by and for Tibetan women, whose founding members included women who performed the leadership role of motherhood in caring for orphaned refugee children, shifted its initiative from welfare to include assertive leadership workshops that empowered Tibetan women to become leaders in the community. This shift took place following TWA’s successful campaign to politicize Tibet in Beijing at the UN Women’s Conference in 1995. The women who took part in this campaign were celebrated in the Tibetan diaspora as heroes’ and championed by the Tibetan apparatus as exemplary leaders. Throughout the mid 90s into the 2000s, TWA’s efforts in campaigning for the rights of women to take up leadership positions within the diaspora, with heavy emphasis on the right to female education and professional opportunity, has paid off. Although women are still under-represented in the governing body, there are currently more female representatives in the governing apparatus both as parliamentarians and cabinet leaders from diverse, not just elite, backgrounds, something not seen in the experiences of the previous generations. Although the Tibetan apparatus’ heavy emphasis on the need for all Tibetans to rise to the level of leadership through education remained genderless, beliefs in traditional gender roles kept large numbers of girls from accessing education, especially in poor rural Tibetan communities. TWA’s emphasis on women’s education through their leadership workshops and advocacy has challenged these traditional notions on gender and carved out opportunities for women to access education and leadership positions.’ (9)
The Dalai Lama’s views on Homosexuality
The Dalai Lama has expressed a number of views about homosexuality, that initially appear to contradict each other; on closer examination it is clear that he holds the view that homosexuality is sexual misconduct for a Buddhist practitioner. This article in Wikipedia gives a good overview of what the Dalai Lama has said on the subject over the years:
‘The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, follows the traditional Tibetan Buddhist assertion that inappropriate sexual behaviour includes lesbian and gay sex, and indeed any sex other than penis-vagina intercourse with one’s own monogamous partner, including oral sex, anal sex, and masturbation. In a 1994 interview, he stated: “If someone comes to me and asks whether homosexuality is okay or not, I will ask ‘What is your companion’s opinion?’ If you both agree, then I think I would say ‘if two males or two females voluntarily agree to have mutual satisfaction without further implication of harming others, then it is okay’.” However, in his 1996 book Beyond Dogma, he states, “A sexual act is deemed proper when the couples use the organs intended for sexual intercourse and nothing else… homosexuality, whether it is between men or between women, is not improper in itself. What is improper is the use of organs already defined as inappropriate for sexual contact.” In this discussion, it should be understood that the controversial topic is inappropriate sexual conduct for a Buddhist practitioner, as the Dalai Lama has repeatedly “voiced his support for the full recognition of human rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation. He explained in 1997: “It’s part of what we Buddhists call bad sexual conduct. Sexual organs were created for reproduction between the male element and the female element — and everything that deviates from that is not acceptable from a Buddhist point of view,” while penis-vagina non-procreative sex is not considered to be sexual misconduct.” The Dalai Lama admitted that there is a difference between the views of believers and unbelievers: “From a Buddhist point of view, men-to-men and women-to-women is generally considered sexual misconduct. From society’s point of view, mutually agreeable homosexual relations can be of mutual benefit, enjoyable and harmless.” He cited the Indian Buddhist texts of Vasubandhu, Asanga, and Ashvaghosha as his sources concerning what constitutes inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Four years earlier, he had been unsure if a mutually agreeable non-abusive same sex relationship would be acceptable within the general principles of Buddhism. However, he had difficulty imagining the mechanics of homosexual sex, saying that nature had arranged male and female organs “in such a manner that is very suitable… Same-sex organs cannot manage well.” The Dalai Lama has repeatedly said to LGBT groups that he can’t rewrite the texts. He thinks that this is the type of issue that would need to be discussed by a council of Buddhist elders from all Buddhist traditions. Only such a council could amend issues concerning Vinaya and ethics. The Dalai Lama also recommends the issue of the equality of women, particularly in monastic rituals and ceremonies, to be reconsidered and revised. In 1999, in an interview with Alice Thompson, he stated: “They want me to condone homosexuality. But I am a Buddhist and, for a Buddhist, a relationship between two men is wrong. Some sexual conduct in marriage is also wrong,” speaking regarding masturbation and oral sex. He also said that “If an individual has no faith, that is a different matter… If two men really love each other and are not religious, then that is OK by me.” ‘(18)
Gay rights activists were understandably concerned about such strong condemnation of homosexuality by someone considered by many to be a leading expert on Buddhism and human rights. ‘Steve Peskind, Buddhist AIDS Project coordinator expressed his concern publicly, “We will be talking to him about the impact of these statements on homophobic violence,” Peskind said. “What is proper sexual conduct for gay Buddhists, and who’s going to teach us?” He wrote an open letter to the Dalai Lama asking him to ‘publicly clarify his published contradictory statements on homosexuality.’ (19)
The media have been responsible for confusing this issue, taking quotes from the Dalai Lama out of context and promoting them as his ‘acceptance’ of homosexuality. It is difficult to tell whether this is due to the fact journalists have no real interest in the impact of the Dalai Lama’s stance on gay Buddhists, or if it is a deliberate effort to create a smoke screen of confusion that protects the Dalai Lama’s reputation as a defender of human rights for all. The most prominent example of this is a story that was headline news in the international media, in March 2014, the articles claimed that the Dalai Lama had ‘thrown his considerable moral weight behind gay marriage, condemning homophobia and saying sex was fine as long as it was consensual.’ (20) The articles were based on a television interview with Larry King and the Dalai Lama, in which he was asked his views on homosexuality and gay marriage. It is true that the Dalai Lama replied that different forms of sex are ‘Ok, fully agree,’ and somewhat more reluctantly agreed gay marriage was, ‘OK’; but what the media failed to emphasise was that his agreement applied to non-Buddhists only. “But then for a non-believer, that is up to them. So there are different forms of sex – so long (as it is) safe, OK, and (if both people) fully agree, OK,” the Dalai Lama said in English.’ (20)
The Dalai Lama appears to have other views on homosexuality that many would find shocking;
- That homosexuality does not exist in Tibet
- That homosexuality is unnatural
- That promoting homosexuality in society can lead to ‘extreme’, potentially violent, sexual practices
This is an extract from an interview that is posted on the official website of the Canada Tibet Committee:
“Dalai Lama: … and the other hole. These, you see, even with one’s own wife, of both sex is considered sexual misconduct. Then another category, no believer, no believer. I think, basically, the purpose of sex is reproduction. So in order to fulfill that purpose, man to man, women to women cannot fulfill– so a little bit…
Interpreter: … could be considered unnatural.
Dalai Lama: But at the same time, there are people, among men, among women, see. Again, I think we discussed before, the sexual desire is generally related to the body, the physical body. So then, under those circumstances if you stop, or try to stop, it may create more violent consequences. Then at least sexual misconduct…
Question: So even as a Tibetan Buddhist lay person, not a monk, it’s better to avoid these things?Dalai Lama: Better. [speaks to interpreter]
Interpreter: He says that amongst the Tibetans perhaps it is unheard of that sex.
Dalai Lama: But I don’t know. [laughs] I’ve heard… stories… practices. But one thing I feel that as a human, with this body…
Interpreter: The desire for sexual intercourse…
Dalai Lama: … the more the nature sort of comes, I think that it should be OK, it should be OK. But if we deliberately…
Interpreter: … deliberately try to enhance these sexual desires…
Dalai Lama: … then I don’t know. I think sometimes, some part of Western culture, or modern culture, deliberately promotes that sort of sex life, or sex feeling. Then it goes too much, then it goes extreme. So often people say “love and violence” or “love and hatred”…
Interpreter: … often you hear about love and hatred accompanying one another.
Dalai Lama: So I think a more gentle or a more natural sort of love is less extreme.” (21)
In reality the Dalai Lama has never changed his stance, he accepts the right of ‘non-believers,’ this means to him non-Buddhists, to practice homosexuality, but not Buddhists. He claims this is the view laid down in Tibetan Buddhist scriptures, but to date no evidence has been given for this, no quotes from the scriptures, or Buddhist script references.
Spin and the Bandwagon
The reason for the sometimes confusing and conflicting messages that are received from the Dalai Lama and the CTA is there appears to be a basic incongruence between what is said and what is actually done. ‘Spin’ is a particularly appropriate word, for when this form of political propaganda is used in a system claiming to be a democracy, but actually functioning as a theocratic dictatorship, the observer is left disorientated and confused. The basic idea of spin is to try and cover up an incongruence between two messages, it is a disingenuous and deceptive tactic which often could also be described a lying.
The Dalai Lama and CTA have a team of staff whose job it is to create the right impression to observers. In the case of the Dalai Lama and the CTA the public image they have chosen to portray is one of being a democracy. This is in order to make sure they continue to receive the equivalent of millions of dollars from the Western democratic countries that support them. (See Gilded Cage Corporate Power) In order to maintain this public image the Dalai Lama and CTA tightly control the media (Gilded Cage Controlling the Media), elections and any political opposition (Gilded Cage Fraudulent Elections), religious opposition (Gilded Cage Human Rights and Shugden Scapegoat), the labour force (Gilded Cage Suppression of Labour) and ensure that they are surrounded by ‘loyal’ supporters’ (Gilded Cage Corruption and Cronyism); all classic characteristics of a fascist system of governance. This system of control and cover up can fail when the Dalai Lama is interviewed in person, his answers often do not fit with the public image the CTA need him to present, in these cases they have to quickly cover up with ‘spin’ tactics. This can be clearly seen at work in the context of the Dalai Lama’s views on homosexuality, the spin team went into action shortly after the Dalai Lama stated that homosexuality is considered to be ‘sexual misconduct’ for Buddhists:
“His Holiness was greatly concerned by reports made available to him regarding violence and discrimination against gay and lesbian people. His Holiness opposes violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation. He urges respect, tolerance, compassion, and the full recognition of human rights for all,” said Office of Tibet spokesman Dawa Tsering in a statement issued within an hour of the meeting. The possibility of organized gay and lesbian protest, including a high-profile public information ad campaign conducted in the national media such as the New York Times – and conference site picketing – was defused after the flap was discussed during a cabinet session of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, and a meeting with Peskind and others was scheduled by the Office of Tibet. The meeting with lesbians and gays followed a January 1996 report by the Bay Area Reporter that detailed an open letter by Buddhist AIDS Project coordinator Steve Peskind, asking the world-revered spiritual leader of millions of Buddhists to publicly clarify his published contradictory statements on homosexuality. Peskind and Buddhist AIDS Project co-leader Jim Purfield were also hastily invited by Tibet House conference organizers to present a workshop on homophobia and violence with representatives of Community United Against Violence. The workshop drew an estimated 50 participants, many of them lesbian and gay. Several AIDS prevention and social service professionals who work with lesbian and gay youth also attended that workshop.’ (27)
One reporter describes the moment when the spin machine kicked in during his interview of the Dalai Lama. The reporter had already been asking some questions that had clearly irritated the Dalai Lama, ‘I don’t think the Dalai Lama likes me. He looks tetchy; he narrows his eyes in my direction, then looks at his watch.’ The interviewer asks him a sensitive question about karma, ‘the Dalai Lama has suggested that Tibetans are being punished for their “bad karma”. Can this be true, Your Holiness? “Yes. Of course. We are punished for feudalism. Every event is due to one’s karma.” So, are disabled children being punished for sins in a past life? “Oh yes. Of course.” Suddenly, one of his entourage – dormant until now – leaps up and speaks quickly to the Dalai Lama in Tibetan. He turns to me.“This is for Buddhists! Only for Buddhists! Last question now, please. We must hurry.” Now I glance at my watch. We are meant to have more time, but the entourage is vibrating strangely, whirling around the room, and talking in Tibetan. I stammer some incoherent question, the Dalai Lama answers in a few incoherent lines.’ (31) Clearly the entourage have a list of topics that the Dalai Lama is not supposed to answer.
A similar confusion can exist around the messages given out by the Dalai Lama and CTA with regard to equality for women. Stephanie Roemer recognised this, ‘The successful participation of the TWA at the 4th UN World Conference on Women in Beijing 1995 portrayed an important turning point for the organization. Tibetan women became known in the international women’s rights arena as during the conference they had several opportunities for interaction with other international delegates and were able to raise awareness of the present situation in their homeland (TWA 1996). In the beginning, the CTA was not enthusiastic about promoting the exile Tibetan struggle in the light of women’s rights as it feared discussions about gender inequality of the traditional Tibetan perception. It was assumed that this may harm the exile struggle instead of support it. Consequently, the CTA’s support of the TWA’s international experiences was limited. But with the success of the exile Tibetan women and the increased international awareness the TWA could mobilize, the CTA changed its standpoint and accepted this angle to promote the Tibetan cause. In this regard, the Tibetan involvement in the UN conference helped considerably to re-frame and expand the exile Tibetan struggle as a whole through the innovative introduction of the Tibetan women’s discourse (Pike 2001: 80)…. Since 1995 Tibetan feminism has been used as another angle from which to promote the exile Tibetan struggle, but ‘… the Tibet activities politicised women’s rights in the sense they linked women’s rights to a nationalist cause for sovereignty, rather than a social goal of gender equality’ (Pike 2001: 92). During the last decade, the CTA directed struggle has been literally “feminized”. In this regard, the TWA supports the political position of the CTA in the international sphere through the promotion of a “feminized” exile Tibetan struggle.’ (29)
The use of the women’s rights agenda and the desire to be ‘seen’ to be supporting the human rights of homosexuals, is part of the Dalai Lama and CTA’s strategy of ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ of different political agendas. They do this to benefit their position, whether the agenda is of real importance to them or not. By publicly supporting such causes they can falsely present as democratic, while actually governing using fascist principles. This strategy was revealed near the end of 2010 when WikiLeaks released a series of Washington’s diplomatic secrets related to the Dalai Lama, Tibet and India. ‘The most controversial revealed that the Dalai Lama told Timothy Roemer, the US ambassador to India, that the political agenda should be sidelined in favor of climate issues. Interestingly, this tactical change was revealed at a time when many in the exiled Tibetan community are becoming impatient with their god-king’s “middle way” approach and are eagerly awaiting the election of a new exiled leadership in March 2011. The Dalai Lama himself has pledged to give up his political role after the election. The Dalai Lama’s new tactic has become a hot subject among Tibetans in exile. Many hope this will attract more attention and bring more support not only from their compatriots inside Tibet, but also from foreign countries and environmental organizations.’ (30) The Dalai Lama and CTA’s rely on this attention and support from Western organisations to further their political power and maintain the huge financial income they receive from abroad.
Of course all of these causes are extremely important to Tibet and the exile community and should be supported by their leaders, however the truth is it is only lip service support that is given, there is no real action behind the words. For example on climate change a leading expert, Nikolas Kozloff, says of the Dalai Lama’s apparent concern over climate change in Tibet; ‘I believe the Tibetan spiritual leader should do more to tackle the issue of global warming. If the Dalai Lama is serious about safeguarding Himalayan glaciers, then getting the U.S. (the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter) to pressure China (the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter) is an exercise in futility… Message to Dalai Lama: maybe it is time to stop the unproductive, backroom parlor games with the U.S. and get out in front on the climate change issue. The nomads who inhabit the Tibetan plateau and indigenous peoples of Bolivia need a more public spokesperson who will take up their cause within influential corridors of power. (28) It seems Mr Kozloff’s view that the Dalai Lama and his representatives should be doing more is shared by Maura Moynihan, daughter of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who has been a longtime supporter and activist for the Tibet cause: ‘In January 2014, I testified before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee about the explosion of Chinese hydro dam construction on Tibet’s rivers, and the environmental catastrophe looming over the nations of South and Southeast Asia, which are nourished by Tibet’s waters. Afterward, members of Congress, scientists, and military officials, approached me in evident shock, to ask, “How come we never heard any of this before?” I was stunned: The International Campaign for Tibet failed to get the basic facts about China’s control of Tibet — the Water Tower of Asia, one of the greatest crises facing the 21st century — on the desks of Congress and the Pentagon.’
The Dalai Lama has not given meaningful answers to questions on homosexuality and Buddhism, the CTA are reluctant to act on equal rights for women. Really it is time that the Western organisations, that give financial aid directly to the Dalai Lama and the CTA, make the effort to fully investigate what is the reality behind their words. If these funders genuinely care about the plight of the Tibetan people, and they are going to be socially responsible, they need to make sure their money is used in a truly effective and democratic way, otherwise they will continue to support a theocratic dictatorship based on fascist principles.
The implications of ‘Rampant Sexism’
It appears that there is something quite disturbing happening in the exile community as a result of ‘mixed messages’ on sexuality. On the one hand the Dalai Lama and the CTA claim to have a constitution that ensures ‘Equality Before the Law: All Tibetan citizens shall be equal before the law and shall enjoy the rights and freedoms set forth in this Charter without discrimination on grounds of birth, sex, race, religion, language, lay or ordained status, social origin, rich or poor.’ (22) But research quickly shows that in practical terms this is not the case. The community is pulled between maintaining a strong Tibetan identity, based on the principles of theocratic dictatorship, and integrating into Western style democracy. This process of integration and progress is severely hampered by the fascist tendencies of the Dalai Lama and CTA’S form of governance, which appears to be based on mixed messages and suppression of opposition to its policies. (See the other Gilded Cage articles for more information)
Adele Wilde-Blavatsky in an article on the Phayul website explains how this conflict in messages about sexuality has had negative consequences for women in the exile community, this is, for her, illustrated by the Miss Himalaya beauty contest;
‘The criteria for entering Miss Himalaya (as with other most other national beauty pageants) are as follows:
– the woman must be ‘between 17 and 25 years of age’;
– ‘minimum 165 cm in height’;
– ‘Unmarried and not having given birth’.
Such criteria demonstrate precisely the problem with beauty pageants: they promote a very narrow, sexist conception of ‘beauty’. The notion that female beauty is related to a woman’s marital and pro-creative status is particularly offensive and outdated.’ (24) It appears the former Kalon Tripa, Samdhong Rinpoche, agrees with this view as he stated the competition, ‘was ‘un-Tibetan’ and ‘against Buddhist principles’ but that was back in 2012 and in 2015 the competition and its criteria remain the same.
Perhaps that is because the competition is run by Lobsang Wangyal, an Editor of ‘Tibet Sun,’ and frequent photographer of the Dalai Lama at official functions. One cannot imagine in the climate of ‘corruption and cronyism’ (See Gilded Cage Article ‘Corruption and Cronyism) that exists in the exile community, that Lobsang Wangyal is without significant influence in the community. Indeed when the current Kalon Tripa, Lobsang Sangay, was asked to comment on the competition he failed to give any reply at all. The writer of the article quite rightly refers to the ‘destructive’ nature of sexism, as links between sexism and violence against women are widely documented. (25) ‘Speaking to Tibetans here, it is clear how growing up in what they term a predominantly religious society, and the sexual hypocrisy and repression that can go along with that, all too easily leads to a reactionary, yet destructive, backlash where sexual ‘liberation’ becomes destructive and objectifying.’ The Huffington Post article clearly identifies the high levels of violence against women, the CTA do not deny this, they refer to the problem of violence against women several times on their website, but they are not actively seeking to remove the root of the problem. Their reluctance to act practically has been identified by their critics, ‘However, TWA’s recent campaign to advocate against gender violence and discrimination has not been met with the same enthusiasm (from the CTA) as their past projects.’ (9)
Steve Peskin was aware of the increased risk of violence against homosexuals following the Dalai Lama’s comments on ‘sexual misconduct,’ ‘”We will be talking to him about the impact of these statements on homophobic violence,” Peskind said.’ (5) If the Dalai Lama and CTA really want a safe environment for ALL members of the exile Tibetan community they need to consider more carefully the impact of the blatantly sexist and homophobic comments made by the Dalai Lama. They also need to be far more proactive in supporting the Tibetan Women’s Association in its struggle to move the community into true democracy with equal rights for all.