Restrictions limit Tibetans at key Saga Dawa festivities

Official notice barring familes of children at Jebum Gang Primary School from taking part in the Saga Dawa
Official notice barring familes of children at Jebum Gang Primary School from taking part in the Saga Dawa

31st May 2017

Authorities in Lhasa have imposed harsh controls on hotels, restaurants and a school in the city

Tibetans are being stopped from observing festivities during Saga Dawa, a key month-long religious event that takes place around May and June, after a series of restrictions were imposed on hotels and restaurants, as well as a school, in the capital Lhasa.

A Tibetan pilgrim staying at a hotel in the city reported that the hotel’s owner had told them it was a tough time and that they should be cautious since authorities had issued harsh restrictions on both hotels and restaurants. The pilgrim added: “I feel blessed and happy … seeing so many people [attending] the Jokhang Temple from very early in the morning … at the same time it feels like something might happen given the huge numbers of armed forces around.”

Official document severly limits festivities

An official document, stamped and dated by a school, has emerged which prohibits teachers, students and their families from participating in the festivities. The document was issued on 27 May by Jebum Gang Primary School, located in Lhasa.

The document (see photo) was addressed to families and stated:

Teachers, students and staff at the school are strictly instructed not to take part in the various religious activities during the holidays of 'Saga Dawa' and the 'Festival of Offerings'. To keep on supporting programmes at the school families are requested to keep their children away from religious activities and superstition and are also asked to make assurances not to take part in Saga Dawa-related activities.

The annual spiritual event, which began on 26 May, sees many people becoming vegetarian and is one of the most significant Buddhist festivals. The festival is called “Qiongren Jie” in Chinese (“Poor People’s Day”) and Tibetans are well-known for giving generously at this event.

Protests and incidents have occurred during Saga Dawa and in 2011 in the region of Kardze 26 Tibetans staged demonstrations where they called for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet while throwing leaflets into the air. In Lhasa in 2012 the city saw its first self-immolations during Saga Dawa when two Tibetans set themselves ablaze.

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