Role of Tibetan Women in the Independence Struggle of Tibet
by Pema Dechen, 1995

It has been over four decades that the People's Republic of China is continuing its ruthless and repressive colonial rule in Tibet. The situation of today's Tibet is miserably pathetic and utterly devastating, be it social, cultural, politically or economically. Tibet and its people are undergoing through the most crucial and darkest period in her long history of over 2,000 years. However, during all these years, Tibetans have not remained passive. Tibetan women too have, and are playing a prominent role in the struggle for Tibet's independence ever since Communist China's forcible and illegal invasion and occupation of our country, once the peaceful homeland of the six million Tibetans.

I would like to present here a brief chronological account of the series of major events and activities or movements initiated by Tibetan women, many of who sacrificed their precious lives for the Tibetan nation.

Inside Tibet 1959

By March 1959, the situation in Tibet had become volatile. The Chinese invaders were turning bolder and more demanding. His Holiness the Dalai Lama's security was threatened and the atmosphere in Lhasa was immensely tensed. The capital city was getting over-crowded with Tibetans pouring in from the eastern and north-eastern part of Tibet where the Chinese had already taken control of.

It was in such critical situation that the Tibetan women rose to defend the sovereignty of their country. Women from all walks of life and from different parts of Tibet were spontaneously drawn together to form the first national association of Tibetan women. The movement as we learn was initiated by a group of courageous women including Pamo Kusang, Galingshar Choe la, Pekhang Penpa Dolma, Tahutsang Dolkar, Dehmo Chime, Tsonkhang Meme la, Resoor Yangchen, Tsonkhang Tsamla, Sonam Dechen and Ani Yonten. A historic meeting of Tibetan women was held in Lhasa where they resolved to demand the Chinese to quit Tibet; to let the Chinese know that Tibet belongs to the Tibetans; and, that they (the Chinese) had no right and authority, whatsoever, to interfere in the affairs of Tibet.

In one of the largest gathering, women gathered at Drebu Lingka, the ground just below the Potala Palace on March 12, 1959 at 10 A.M. for a non-violent uprising against the illegal Chinese invaders and submitted memorandums to the foreign missions and appealed for their support to safe Tibet. According to eye-witnesses, three different protest-processions were taken out by Tibetan women in the streets of Lhasa between the 12th and 18th of March. On 18th of March, at least five thousand women gathered at Drebu Lingka. The strength of the crowd has even been placed as high as 15,000 which may not be impossible since the population of Lhasa was swollen at the time and feelings were so strong that attendance was very high.

When the city of Lhasa was shelled, the Chinese authorities began house to house searches and arrested many of the participants of these women demonstrations. Dragged from their homes, those women were brutally tortured and subjected to merciless interrogation. After concocted trials they were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. It will never be known how many of our brave sisters lost their lives under the brutality of the Chinese prison personnel.

Pamo Kusang, the leader of the '59 demonstrations, was imprisoned and tortured. In 1970 she encouraged her companions in prison to defy the Chinese and together they carried out a demonstration shouting anti-Chinese slogans. She was seized by the guards and transferred to a specially notorious prison where she was subjected t repeated interrogation and torture. Other women involved in the demonstration were also interrogated in front of other prisoners. In order to force them into making confessions, the Chinese personnel fired shots into the air beside them but they bravely remained unmoved. Pamo Kusang repeatedly declared that only she alone was responsible for the demonstrations and that no one else should be held responsible.

As a consequences of their firm refusal to yield, Tibetan women were publicly executed at a place to the east of Sera Monastery. As they were led to the execution ground, the crowd could hardly recognize them for they had suffered beyond imagination from many years of imprisonment. Pamo Kusang herself was crippled and had lost her hearing in one ear as well as her hair which had probably been pulled out by the roots. They were lined up in front of a pit and shot by firing squad in the back. As they fell more bullets were pumped into their prostate bodies, dead or alive; they were buried where they fell.

Of the other women leaders, Ghalingshar Choe la, a nun from Mijungri Nunnery, Tsonkhang Meme la and Pekhang Penpa Dolma were detained and succumbed to prison atrocities. Dhemo Chime died in the 1970's after her release from prison. Resoor Yangchen spent 20 years in various prisons where she was subjected to repeated interrogations, torture and solitary confinement for her involvement in the uprising. Ani Yonten also suffered the same fate until her release in 1979. Of the others we know little except that they may have been among the thousands of Tibetans who "disappeared" to China where they underwent intense indoctrination or worked in labor camps.


In 1966, the cultural revolution was launched in China by the Communist leaders. In Tibet, it resulted in yet another wave of destruction of Buddhist shrines and monasteries. Among them the great monastic-University of Gaden was reduced to a pile of rubble. In 1969, when the Cultural Revolution was in progress, another demonstration by women was carried out under the leadership of a nun called Trinley Choedon of Nyemoru Nunnery in her native town of Nyemo. It seems that this movement succeeded in expelling the Chinese and the Tibetans working for the Chinese from Nyemo. It was reported that the movement spread to some 23 counties in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region.

This uprising was viciously crushed and she and sixty other women were subjected to severe flogging in various mass-accusation trials. Sometime later all sixty women and their leader were paraded around the Barkhor in central Lhasa after which they were publicly executed at Pavoe Park. Other women who were arrested at the same time in various nearby places were taken to Nyemo and Shigatse where they too, in contradiction of international law, were publicly executed.


Since 27 September 1987 when the first of the recent independence demonstration erupted in occupied Tibet, hundreds of Tibetan women, particularly nuns, have sacrificed their lives in the Tibetan struggle. The first demonstration led solely by Tibetan nuns was on 15th December 1987 when around 15 nuns from Gari nunnery staged a peaceful protest in central Lhasa. The latest demonstration in Lhasa was reportedly led by six nuns (Chupsang and Mijungri nunneries) and a lone monk on 3 February 1992. Of the 98 demonstrations in Tibet that have been documented by the Tibetan Government-in-exile between 27 September 1987 and September 1991, at least 34 have been led by nuns in Lhasa. The nuns from Shungseb, Chupsang, Mijungri, Gari and Tsamhung nunneries in and around Lhasa are among the most prominent Tibetan women who have taken out independence demonstrations in Lhasa.

To give one example of the extent to which Tibetan nuns have participated in Tibetan independence movement, between 19 December 1987 and June 1991, 47 nuns of Gari nunnery were arrested. This at the same time shows the extent of Chinese repression in religious institutions. However, today only 9 of them are detained. Gyaltsen Choetso (now in Dharamsala) of the nunnery was arrested in 1987, 1988 and 1989. During all these three detention she was - never given the right to a fair trial.

Mrs. Dekyi is the latest known case of arbitrary arrest of Tibetan women for political reason. The arrest took place in December 1991, according to one source. She was arrested from her private house on he Karma Kunsang road in south eastern Lhasa (near Kuri bridge). Though the circumstances of her arrest are not known, she was reportedly preparing to leave for pilgrimage to India with official travel documents. She is the wife of Pema Gyalpo who works in the "T.A.R." museum located below the Potala Palace.

During the last five years several Tibetan political prisoners have succumbed to torture and ill-treatment suffered during their detention. In August 1991, Mrs. Tsamla (39), became the first known case of a Tibetan woman dying under similar circumstances (see attached for further information).

Some of the most gruesome, inhuman and degrading forms of punishment meted on Tibetan political prisoners were subjected to Tibetan nuns. Sonam Dolkar, a Tibetan nun, was held for about ten months, from 30 July 1990 to about May 1991, in Si Chu prison section of the Sangyip prison in a windowless, bare cell which she believed was underground. She said that she never saw any other detainees, that food was insufficient and of poor quality and that she had to sleep on the concrete floor of her cell, even during the cold winter months.

She said that her health declined but that medical care was nonexistent, although the use of electricity to torture her stopped after a doctor examined her, about six months into her detention. She said she was never brought to trial nor given access to anyone outside the detention center. This was the testimony given by Sonam Dolkar to Amnesty International which was released in AI Index: ASA/17/62/91 of October 1991, after her escape to India. Today, Kunsang (26), a nun from Tsamkhung nunnery (central Lhasa) has reportedly lost all sanity and had become a human vegetable as a result of torture. When Namdrol Tenzin, a fried, visited Gutsa prison to see Kunsang, she stated to be unable to recognize fellow nuns from her nunnery and was not able to talk coherently. It was alleged that Kunsang suffered severe beating and torture when she continued to make defiant utterances about Tibetan independence during her interrogation. A recent report on Tibetan political prisoners said that one-third of he known Tibetan political prisoners in the "Tibert Autonomous Region" were women.

A latest report received by the Tibetan Government in Exile on 20 February 1992, from a reliable source in Lhasa quotes the following figures of known political prisoners in prison around Lhasa area:

Drapchi Prison

Block II, more than 87

Block III (Women's Section, more than 30

Sangyip Prison

Block IV (Tib: Tru Shipa; Ch: Si Chu)

Ch: Si Chu and Wu Zhi Dui Block, more than 70

Gutsa Prison

more than 200

Ms. Tashi Tsomo (23), is the only known Tibetan woman to have been executed during the last five years. She was charged with "corruption". The execution took place on 13 December 1991. (See attached Press Release by DIIR for details).


The struggle for Tibetan national independence is responsibly carried out in exile wherever Tibetans live. Acting mainly as spokesperson for our silenced brothers and sisters inside Tibet, these activities have taken the shape of demonstrations, press releases and conferences, international conventions and seminars, hunger strikes, peace marches, letter writing and signature campaigns, lobbying politicians and creating general awareness in the public about Tibet. All such efforts are directed towards calling the urgent attention of the United Nations and human rights organizations and the world community in general for supporting a free and peaceful Tibet. A sovereign Tibet will not only benefit Tibet but also contribute towards peace and security of Asia and the world.

The Tibetan women, who consider themselves as the proud successors of the brave martyrs of our struggle are in the pivot of this continued commitment in the cause to regain Tibet for the Tibetans. Tibetan women have formed a well organized network worldwide and are committed to an effective fight for an independent Tibet. The independence struggle of our nation provide us further opportunities to preserve and promote the rich cultural heritage, besides engaging ourselves in educational and social work towards the relief of our refugee community. The women raise their voices vehemently against the Chinese repressions on our people, forcing Tibetans into a minority in their own country and subjecting Tibetan women to forced "birth control policy"involving infanticide.

The Tibetan women are active participants in the reconstruction of the Tibetan society in exile and are working for a democratic Tibet. Women today work in various administrative offices, hospitals, institutes and other socio-economic and political arenas. Some Tibetan women have played pioneering roles in their professions, specially in he field of education. Tibetan women are a liberated lot and enjoy equal rights as men and in our society it is capability and efficiency which counts, enabling the womenfolk to blossom to one's optimum talent and aptitude. In our homes, the status of women can be described through this Tibetan proverb: "The father is the pillar of the house and the mother is the guardian of the courtyard."

All this proved a forceful element in women's commendable contribution towards the Tibetan struggle for independence ... and the efforts are continuing and will go on till we achieve our goal.


Today, China is still pursuing its one-point policy of obliterating the Tibetan identity from all fronts forced mass-sterilizations and abortions to restrict the growth of the sparse Tibetan population, transfer of massive waves of Chinese settler into Tibet so as to dissolve the Tibetan people in a sea of Chinese settlers. China divided Tibet into different territories, renamed them, annexed some of them to their neighboring Chinese provinces, and has renamed about half of independent Tibet as"Tibet Autonomous Region" of China.

Moreover, China is destroying Tibet's fragile ecosystem by massive deforestation and mining operations, and indiscriminate killing of wild animals. Besides, China has converted Tibet into a massive military camp with some one quarter of its nuclear missile arsenals stationed in it. And today, Tibet has the largest concentration of labor camps in the whole world - equaled, if at all, only those within China itself.

To the Tibetan women who have suffered the loss of their national identity, the murder of their men, and have themselves been abused, harassed, raped and humiliated, the struggle for Tibetan independence will go on till justice is done to them. In the name of liberation the Tibetans are enslaved to a country and an ideology which they view aline. With this in mind, and remembering the sacrifice which so many courageous women, those we know about and the thousands who cannot be identified, have made, we pledge ourselves to do everything in our part to achieve justice for Tibet. The Tibetan struggle is not merely that of an oppressed people crying for freedom, it is also a struggle for a better world, and for responsible conduct of national affairs insofar as they have international ramifications and implications.

The Tibetan struggle for independence is a just movement for a just cause. More importantly, we have followed the path of non-violence to regain our country. Therefore, I solicit your sincere support for this worthy fight and express my heartfelt gratitude to all those we have supported Tibet.

Thank you.

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