Four months after riots, Lhasa limps back to normal

July 13th, 2008 - 12:30 pm ICT by IANS  

By Pranay Sharma
Lhasa, July 13 (IANS) Four months after the March 14 riots for a “free Tibet” that left 18 people dead, 800 injured and destroyed property worth millions of dollars, life in this panoramic Tibetan capital is limping back to normal. But there is apprehension among the people that there can be fresh violence before the Beijing Olympics, slated to begin Aug 8. “Life in Lhasa is now normal and we even managed to hold the Olympic torch relay,” Baima Chilin, vice chairman of China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), claims. But he also admits the “separatist movement” is “the biggest hindrance” for progress in Tibet to move at a faster pace.

Nearly 950 people were arrested after the riots and the authorities claim that 362 more had “turned themselves in”. Already 30 people have been punished after an “open trial” and 116 more are awaiting trial. A number of people are also in the “wanted list”, though the exact figures are never mentioned by the Chinese authorities who organized this guided trip by a group of journalists from India.

Nor do they give details of what punishment had been given, especially to those who were said to have masterminded the March riots.

Many places in Lhasa still bear testimony to the violence that ripped through the city on March 14 when a mob, many of them monks from the local monasteries, resorted to stabbing, looting and arson in support of their demand for a “free Tibet”.

The buildings near the Jonkha monastery on Paequa street, that houses shops of Tibetans selling tankhas, gems and other Tibetan artefacts, were gutted by the rampaging mob. Though their main attack was against the Chinese of Han ethnic stock, the Tibetan shops were not spared either.

Many of the shops still remain burnt and damaged, even though authorities say that special financial packages were being given to the affected shopkeepers to help them rebuild their shops.

In a nearby, middle school, which was one of the five schools attacked during the riots, twisted corrugated tin sheets, charred remains of text books, chairs and tables and shards of glass lay all over as the school authorities showed visiting journalists evidence of the mob fury.

“We have stepped up security since and now we have personnel keeping a round-the-clock vigil,” says the principal of the school.

Sere is one of the five reputed monasteries in Lhasa. It also runs the Sere Je College which attracts Tibetans from different parts of the region to study Tibetan-Buddhism. Many of its monks had also taken part in the March riots. However, the authorities say that none of the 550 monks who are formally registered with the monastery were part of the violent protests.

“Some of the monks who came to study had taken part in the protests maybe because they had little knowledge about the law of the land. Maybe they had little knowledge of ’self-cultivation’,” Nendula Ceering, a senior monk of the monastery, told a visiting IANS correspondent.

He also made it clear that the monastery was not concerned about what happened to the monks who participated in the riots. “How the rioters should be treated is the government’s business. Our job is to concentrate on Buddhist teachings and studies,” he added.

Though the March 14 incident was one of the worst incidents violence that Lhasa has witnessed in more than 20 years - the last violent protests were between 1988-89 - neither the teachers nor the students at the Tibetan University in the city showed any willingness to talk about it.

A student studying economics said that the riots had figured in the students election held in May, but refused to give details of what was discussed and how majority of the students viewed the protests.

The TAR authorities go into details on how billions of yuans have been spent in the past years for the development of Lhasa and other areas of Tibet.

“It is the Dalai Lama and his supporters who were behind the riots and violence. We have evidence which we will soon make public,” Baima Chilin said. But he refused to answer questions on whether the March 14 protests showed the Chinese government’s policy on Tibet had remained inadequate.

(Pranay Sharma can be contacted at

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