The Story of a Nun at Dolma Ling: Ngawang

All stories and pictures have been purposefully mismatched to protect the identity of individuals and their families who may remain in Tibet.

I was born in 1971 in Toelung in the Tibetan province of U-Tsang. My parents, who were farmers are now dead — my mother died of a broken heart when I left Tibet.

I only went to school for a year, but I was happy as a child. I was yet unaware of the degradation and suffering of my people. Now I am deeply saddened by memories of Tibet. Here, in India, life seems so easy, yet the ease makes us forget our brothers and sisters who remain in Tibet in adversity.

When I was 18 years old, I became a nun. I was quite familiar with the lifestyle as there were nuns in our town, and I also had cousins who were nuns. Since I was a small child I have had a lot of faith. I have always wished to practice the Dharma, so becoming a nun was the natural choice for me.

I joined Chubsang nunnery. It lies immediately behind Sera monastery on the side of a mountain just outside of Lhasa. In the late 1980’s, 200 nuns lived at Chubsang — since then, 160 have been expelled and over 30 others have been arrested or forced to leave Tibet. We had a very low standard of living at the nunnery and little opportunity to study.

In September of 1989, I went with twenty-two nuns to a demonstration at Norbulingka, the former summer palace of the Dalai Lama. There were many Tibetans attending the opera there that day. We began our protest of circling the crowd and shouting “Free Tibet!”. The Chinese police soon arrived with electric cattle prods and arrested nine of us.

Three police took each one of us forcibly, holding us by the neck and arms. They took us to Gutsa prision where they lined us up and interrogated us. They slapped our faces and ears so hard that some of us permanently lost our hearing. Then they asked the same questions over and over, “Why did you shout? Who taught you to do this?” I answered truthfully, that I did not need to be taught to demonstrate, that I had come of my own free will in response to the great suffering I had personally witnessed in Tibet.

When I first entered the interrogation chamber, I was stripped naked and searched. I was then beaten with chairs and sticks, and shocked with electric cattle prods. I was left in my cell for nine days without food, and became violently ill as a result of the beatings. After two years of continual beatings, underfeeding, and forcible blood extraction, I was weakened to the point of death. I suppose the Chinese officials wanted to avoid the embarrassments of having me die in prison, so they released me to the Tibetan Medical Hospital. I shook constantly from exhaustion and nerve damage. I couldn’t even walk for the first two months in the hospital. I had gone to prison at the age of 18, and I was now 20. I had been a nun for only six months when I was arrested.

Two months after my release, I was able to escape to India. Now, I wish to return, to help free Tibet from the oppression of the Chinese government that threatens our religion and culture. I was not schooled, so I cannot be a teacher, but I can help through political activity. I pray that my actions may serve as an example to remind younger Tibetans of the power of a courageous heart in the face of abuse. We all need to be brave if we are to counter this terrible oppression.