Nam's story

17th October 1997 at 01:00
Teaching for Tibet. Nam Dolma does not know if she will ever see her mother and father again. If she tries, she risks imprisonment. An English teacher at the Tibetan Children's Village in Choglamsar, Ladakh, Nam was only eight when she left her family in south-eastern Tibet and went with her uncle to India in search of an education.

"When I reached India I was very sad," recalls Nam, now 24. "I was alone and I couldn't cope with the two languages. Even my Tibetan was different from theirs, and when they asked me to hand them the broom I picked up the dustbin. "

She was illiterate, because she had never been sent to school and knew only five or six Tibetan letters. For 12 years she was not able to return home. Then, in 1994, she decided she had to try.

She knew that without a passport she risked being seized as a suspected Tibetan nationalist, but she bluffed her way over the border and hid in an oil truck. After a long and dangerous journey through the mountains, she reached her home village of Lingshar. It seemed much smaller than it had when she was a child, and she had to ask which of the men was her father. When he was pointed out to her, she was shocked by how much he had aged. "I did not know if it was him. He asked: 'You are Nam?' I hugged him. It was like a dream. But he cried for three days."

Nam's father was not the only thing that had changed. Tibetan families had been forced to put up posters of Chinese leaders such as Deng Xiaoping in their houses instead of the Dalai Lama. "When I asked why they are putting these pictures up, they said they had to. They were frightened of being punished. But my family has several rooms where they put up pictures of the Dalai Lama, and when the Chinese come round they hide them in a cupboard."

The Chinese had earlier destroyed other symbols of Tibetan culture, such as the domed prayer towers called "stupas" that contain sacred prayers, and proscribed the circulation of Tibetan scripts. "They had smashed a stupa at centre of my village," Nam says. "Many more stupas on the hill were flattened. There were some small ones left, but it was forbidden to decorate or maintain them. "

But Nam's most disturbing discovery concerned the treatment of women. "My sisters told me that the Chinese called in all the adult women, gave them two tablets and water and forced them to eat. If anyone refused the doctors got angry. They said, 'You have to eat them or later you will have a problem. ' But some friendly nurses warned them that they were dangerous and we came to know that they were sterilising the women.

"One of the women who ate them was pregnant. After a few days of severe pain she lost the baby."

According to the Tibetan Information Network, though there have been cases of forced sterilisation, many Tibetans use the word when they mean forced family planning or termination. UK experts are not aware of sterilisation tablets that can be taken orally.

However, the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing was told by the Tibetan Women's Association that families who break the Chinese restriction of two children per family are forced to pay unaffordable fines and have their pay cut or withheld for up to six months.

"Young women with one or no children are routinely sterilised. Vasectomies are forced on Tibetan men. No women under 22 are allowed to have children," the association said. It cited gruesome cases of women being forcibly sterilised or pregnant women without a birth permit being tied down while the foetus was killed.

Despite the pain of being separated, Nam's father is proud that she took the chance to study and he urged her to go back and serve Tibet in India. "He said, 'We are old and can't do anything. You are the people who must fight for the future of Tibet.' When the time came to part he cried, and his last words were, 'Pray to God that we'll meet again.' " That may never happen. Nam tried to return to Tibet the following year. But when she had reached the Nepalese border she received a letter from her brother telling her it was too dangerous. The border had been tightened up and her sister, a nun in Nepal, had been imprisoned when she had tried to go home.

If you wish to support Liverpool Hope's education work in Ladakh, contact Jean Clarkson, Liverpool Hope University College, Hope Park, Liverpool L16 9JD, tel: 0151 291 3018

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