Tattoos of Tibetan Ex-Political Prisoners: Choegyal
Choegyal is 32 years old; he came to India in 2004. He has two small tattoos on his hand, a ‘yundon’ and the letters ‘KO’. He had these done in prison as a symbol of friendship among his cellmates. He had the ‘yundon’, or swastika design done because Tibetans consider this as a religious symbol as well as a symbol of Tibetan kings.
Choegyal says there were quite a lot people with tattoos in prison, but generally speaking most of them were non-political prisoners. The ‘Bod’ (Tibet) tattoo was quite popular among them. Some prisoners had ‘Free Tibet’ tattoos; he said it was definitely a huge problem for them in the prison.
Choegyal notes, “I had a cell mate who managed to get in some ink, and another cell mate, a monk, (I don’t want to name him as he is still in Tibet). So they both persuaded me to have this done saying that in the future wherever we go, we can have this as a remembrance. So five of us, all were cellmates, had it done to remember those times we spent in the prison.”
Choegyal tells his story about his arrest:
“On May 17, 1996 I was arrested, I was released two years later in May 1998. I was arrested was because of my involvement with political activities (that what they accused me of). While I was in Gaden Monastery, the Chinese officials came to launch their “patriotic education campaign.” Their main aim was to forbid us from displaying photos of the Dalai Lama in the monastery and in our rooms.
We could not accept this, so there was a stand off between the officials, police men and the monks that lasted for one and half days.
There was a minor scuffle between us on the first day, around 5 pm the officials withdrew from the monastery, but three hours later they came back with reinforcement, truckloads of fully armed police. It was said that there were around 10,000 of them, they surrounded the monastery and literally sealed it off.
The scuffle intensified between the monks and armed forces. Monks started throwing stones at the armed forces that were standing in line along the slope of a mountain pass called ‘Norbu Ri’, opposite to the main prayer hall. The armed forces were carrying shields that protect them from the stones and they shot three warning shots into the air.
One of the main officials shouted in the loud speaker, warning us to stop or face the consequences. But nobody listened; the monks were very upset. After the warning shots, about 30 monks continued throwing stones at them. So, the police started shooting at the crowd of the monks. The crowd was dispersed, and a monk called Dorjee was shot in the leg and it broke his leg. And another two monks were arrested and taken away that night during the raid.
There was no way at all for us to run as the monastery was completely sealed off by the armed forces. The village below the monastery was also packed full of army reinforcement trucks.
Around 8 a.m. the next morning, a meeting was called among the houses of the monastery. The officials from the campaign team were divided into 3 or 4 members and went from houses to house to “talk” with the monks. The police, who are permanently stationed near the monastery, accompanied them. They brought video footage that they shot during the two-day standoff, as evidence and started rounding up monks who they thought were most “active”.
They demanded all the monks to come out of their rooms and told us to stand in the middle of the yard. Then they started calling the names of the monks. My name was called as well. “L.C., religious name: G.R., who is this person?” — that was how they called my name. So I replied that’s me and they told me to stand out of the group. Then they told me that I had to go with them because of my “active” involvement in what they called the “incident”. They then handcuffed me and called another friend of mine called S.D. and J.T. — my brother was also arrested with us. All together around 70 monks were arrested that day, 20 monks were sentenced to jail terms, and the rest of them were gradually released after months of detention. So that was how and why I served two years jail term.”