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Three monks strike for their home

BY REBECCA ABELLERA | MARCH 19, 2012 6:30 AM

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While most of us were enjoying a fruity cocktail on the warm sand of some postcard-worthy beach, three brave men were ending nearly a month without food.

These men quietly sit outside the U.N. building in New York City, fighting for the rights of Tibet.

Today will be Day 26 of this hunger strike — yet, while we should be fighting with them, barely any of us know about the protest.

The tension in Tibet has risen rapidly in the past couple years, and the struggle for Tibetans to gain sovereignty has elevated. There have been 23 self-immolations since 2009 — most of these protests constituted of monks and teens taking desperate measures to raise awareness of the horrific events going on inside their country.

The hunger strike outside the U.N. building is lead by the Tibetan Youth Congress, which has published its five-point appeals for the United Nations.

Among the demands is an U.N. fact-finding delegation sent to assess the critical situation in Tibet. The group calls upon the United Nations to stop Chinese martial law in Tibet and put international pressure on China to allow international press to investigate and report on Tibet.

The congress also wants the United Nations to pressure China to release all political prisoners, including Gendun Choekyi Nyima and Tulku Tenzin Delek, and to stop China's so called "patriotic re-education" campaign in Tibet.

Tsewang Rizgin, the president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, said these men are willing to breathe their last breath outside the U.N. building for the goals to be accomplished.

When I found out about the horrific events going on in Tibet, I felt two emotions: guilt and sorrow. I felt guilty for being so ignorant to world events — I felt sorrowful for the suffering people of Tibet, and the Tibetans in the United States fighting so bravely for their country.

On the busy city block, I contemptuously stared down all the passersby, turning down the fliers being handed out and looking annoyed. I was disappointed with myself for having been one of these people.

I followed my older sister to New York, who was there to deliver a letter from her friend Nima Lendey to his 59-year-old uncle, Dorjee Gyalpo, who is participating in the protest. As my sister silently handed the envelope to Gyalpo, he turned to look at me could see the grief and fatigue in his eyes, and I felt as if he could sense the guilt in mine, so I slowly broke eye contact and turned to walk away.

I walked away.

Haunted by the image of the three men, I decided to go back. Undeterred by my ignorance or guilt, the men were still there.

Rizgin's calm tone lent to his obvious familiarity with the horrific nature of the events he had seen unfold in Tibet. When he accepted the position as president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, it took him from his family in the United States to India for four and a half years.

"I have a normal life, you know, and it's not fair, just going about my own personal business [without knowing of the crisis], it's not fair [to the people of Tibet]," Rizgin said.

I had never though of my relatively leisurely life as something not fair, but it's true — I got lucky.

Another feeling common among Tibetans in America is the loss of country and displacement from their people.

"I was born, unfortunately, in exile. I have never seen my country, but I long for my country," Rizgin said. "I have promised myself that I was born a refugee, but I will not die a refugee."

So what does China have to say about all of this? The Chinese claim that the self-immolations are acts of terrorism and the repression the Tibetans protest is nonexistent.

Laura Abellera, the president of Students for a Free Tibet at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, deals with the American youth and the Free Tibet cause every day.

"I don't think the American people understand the gravity of the current situation, just because it is a nonviolent protest doesn't mean that the cause they are fighting for isn't extremely dire," she said.
Rizgin urges "the American people to stand up for the Tibetan people with concrete support, not just words of sympathy" by signing a petition online or calling their representatives.

The amount of power we have as citizens is astounding, and we have the capability to change this situation. We should be on the frontlines fighting for the rights of these oppressed people with these men.


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