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<-Back to WTN Archives Obituary of 'Tsemonling' Dawa (TIN)
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Thursday, March 25, 2004

4. Obituary of 'Tsemonling' Dawa (TIN)

Tibet Information Network News Update
25 March 2004

On the 22nd of February 2004 the elderly former political prisoner Dawa, or
'Tsemonling' Dawa, passed away in Lhasa. Dawa personified a generation of
men and women in Lhasa who from the 1980s, and throughout the 1990s, eased
the lot of many political prisoners held in and around Lhasa in the Tibet
Autonomous Region (TAR) by distributing food to them. While most of this
work, along with most names, went unreported, the death of Dawa allows some
of this story to be told. Born in Tsemonling in Lhasa, Dawa was a monk at
Sera monastery in the so-called 'old society', who continued to be a monk
till the end of his life, unlike many other former monks who married after
having been forced to disrobe during the Cultural Revolution. Dawa died,
aged 67 in Lhasa, on the evening of 22 February 2004, the second day of the
Tibetan lunar year.

Dawa, like most people of the period experienced firsthand the upheavals
that took place after 1959 during the `Great Leap Forward' and the Cultural
Revolution. He was sent to do hard labour at Nyachen hydro-power station in
Lhasa and at the construction of a power plant in Payi, Kongpo, in the
1960s. Later, after his return to Lhasa, he was able to make a living
working as a stonecutter.

During the 1980s, with the introduction of policies that led to the opening
up of the TAR and before the mass demonstrations of the late 1980s, Dawa is
reported to have been politically active. He is said to have called for a
Free Tibet during the first visit to Tibet of a delegation sent from the
Tibetan exile administration in India in 1979. This resulted in Dawa being
questioned by the authorities but not detained for any significant length of
time. In the mid-eighties, he was arrested again and held for six months in
Gutsa detention centre.

On 05 March 1988, after reportedly unsuccessfully attempting to dissuade
Drepung monks from going to a demonstration because he feared for their
safety, Dawa went with a Tibetan flag to stage a solo demonstration in the
Barkhor, the spiritual and cultural heart of old Lhasa. He was arrested,
detained in Gutsa detention centre and then transferred to Trisam
re-education through labour centre, where he was due to serve a 3-year
administrative sentence. Having served two years, he was released on medical
parole because of intestinal problems, which were later operated on.

In June 1997, Dawa was once more arrested, possibly in relation to his
involvement in the collection and distribution of food for political
prisoners held in prisons and detention centres in and around Lhasa;
activities viewed with suspicion by the authorities and increasingly
impeded. However, it is also possible that he was arrested because the
authorities feared disruption during events marking the handover of Hong
Kong or during the birthday of the Dalai Lama.

He was released on June 2000 and stayed in his home in Lhasa. He reportedly
suffered a stroke in 2003. Friends his age remember him as a selfless man
whose actions didn't derive from any yearning for name or fame. One
remembers, "He helped people regardless of whether they were related to him
or not and he was known by other prisoners to give his own clothes to
prisoners who didn't have enough themselves and after his release he used to

take in other released prisoners who in turn cared for him".

A former political prisoner whom Dawa first befriended while in Gutsa
detention centre in Lhasa in 1990, recalls his companion:

"I was together with Gen Dawa-la in Gutsa in 1990 for a few months. That
time he was working in the prison cleaning the rooms and watering the
flowers. By the time I was transferred to Sangyib prison, Gen Dawa-la had
been released and then he started to come to our prison to deliver food. He
would come with boiled potatoes and fried meat, and sometimes sweetened rice
porridge with butter, and often `Batsa magu', a Tibetan speciality of boiled
lumps of dough served with melted butter and dried cheese. In the beginning,
he went around with huge pots filled with the food, which he carried in a
hired vehicle. Later the prison guards told him that he shouldn't come like
that, and from then on, he started to come with large bags full of food
divided into smaller plastic bags. Two or three prisoners would then take
larger amounts of plastic bags and distribute them amongst the other
political prisoners. Later, after I had received my administrative sentence
and was serving my term in the "education through labour" camp in Toelung,
he also came there to deliver food. It wasn't just us whom he came to bring
food to; he used to go to all the various prisons to visit the political

"Gen Dawa-la was someone who was always cheerful, full of jokes, always
laughing and relaxed. While in prison he didn't look like someone who was
imprisoned. This really helped us because we were very young when we were
imprisoned, and we were missing our homes. Seeing him and listening to his
cheerful conversations helped us to cheer ourselves up a little bit, because
looking at him we realised that we were in the same situation. He would
teasingly say things like that we were quite well off being in prison. "Here
we don't have to worry, we have sentries guarding us, no one can harm us. We
are given food early in the morning, and we don't have the worries and
pressures of society outside these walls." When I visited him at his home in
Ramoche after his release, he showed the same cheeriness. He told me that he
was busy preparing for another prison term, though, he said, "I am not sure
when they will be coming to call me". Otherwise, he was fairly busy outside
prison. Almost everyone in Lhasa knew him, and he was normally called on by
families who had a funeral to deal with. Gen Dawa-la knew exactly what
prayer services had to be organised, what things had to be arranged around
these offerings, what one had to give to the monks who are called for these
occasions etc. So Dawa la would be in charge and the people in Lhasa knew
that he was the best person to do this task.

"Gen Dawa la used to help political prisoners after their release to find
jobs and to find a place to stay. With his many contacts he would sometimes
manage to give someone shelter with someone he knew.

"With his death, former political prisoners lost a friend, someone who gave
us confidence, who helped many of us to find a place to live and a place to
work and also someone whom we could really trust. If there is one thing
important during the difficult period after your release, then it is someone
to whom you are able to open your heart to, someone you can fully trust."

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Governments statments UN Commision on Human Rights in Geneva
  2. China cracks down on TV station that showed Tibetan flag (RFA)
  3. A ten-day annual Tibetan opera festival starts in Dharamsala (ANI)
  4. Obituary of 'Tsemonling' Dawa (TIN)
  5. Tibetan Girl Becomes Australian under 10 Chess Champion (TN)

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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