Thousands of defiant Tibetans celebrated the Dalai Lama’s birthday on 6 July, despite the Chinese government banning any celebrations for the Dalai Lama and banning the gathering of crowds a few days ago. The celebrations took place on a sacred mountain in Tawu County in Kandze Autonomous Prefecture in eastern Tibet, an area heavily populated by nomads.
In 2010, an estimated 5,000 Tibetans gathered on the famous Machen Pomra Mountain and marked the Dalai Lama’s birthday. This year the locals planned even larger celebrations with food and dancing.
According to a local person who took part in the celebration today, hundreds of nuns from local nunneries climbed to the top of the mountain - considered the holiest place on the mountain where the local deity Pomra resides - at around 6am to start prayers and incense burning. They found that a group of about 30 security personnel (believed to be a mixture of armed police and soldiers) were already there in apparent anticipation of celebrations. The security personnel stopped the nuns making incense offerings. The nuns reacted by shouting for the return of the Dalai Lama. The nuns then left the mountain and walked towards the local stupa.
Meanwhile thousands of people started to arrive at the mountain by car, motorcycle and on foot. Many were already planning to come, while many other locals were contacted by the nuns by mobile phone and urged to go to the mountain to celebrate.
An eyewitness who walked up the mountain to celebrate reported that by later in the morning hundreds of soldiers with automatic rifles surrounded the top of the mountain where people were gathering. They even pointed their guns at the people but they did not stop the celebrations. Most people prayed, danced and burnt incense, while others displayed the banned photograph of the Dalai Lama and called for his return to Tibet.
The celebrations lasted till about 4pm when the crowd dispersed voluntarily.
Lobsang Jinpa, a local from Tawu who recently arrived in India from Tibet said: “The fact that soldiers with guns are on our sacred mountains trying to stop us celebrating the birthday of our spiritual leader the Dalai Lama shows that there is no religious freedom in Tibet. While the local government wanted to stop celebrations I think they were scared of clashes with so many locals and also scared about the international community’s reaction as the Dalai Lama is in the US now. I am proud of the people of Tawu for their devotion and their bravery in standing up to the guns."
In the past few years Tawu has witnessed two instances of security forces firing on and injuring Tibetans:
On 5 April 2008, 11 Tibetans were shot at and injured by security forces during a protest against China’s rule.
On 26 May 2009, 6 Tibetans were reportedly shot at and wounded by security forces in Tawu during a huge protest where Tibetans protested the forceful relocation of "tens of thousands" of Tibetans to make way for a major hydroelectric dam in the area.