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kalachakra 2014Dharamshala — In anticipation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Kalachakra Initiation in Bodh Gaya, India, the Chinese authorities have apparently tightened controls on Tibetans, in some areas going from house to house to confiscate people’s passports.

Kalachakra is a major religious festival for Buddhists, attended by hundreds of thousands of devotees and tourists. Performed only every few years, His Holiness bestows the Kalachakra, or wheel of time, empowerment. This year, His Holiness the Dalai Lama will confer a the initiation from January 3rd through the 14th, 2017.

Many Tibetans have already arrived in Nepal and India for pilgrimage in order to attend the religious ceremony. They have allegedly already been ordered to return, and their families pressured by the Chinese authorities. A Tibetan who spoke to several monks on pilgrimage in India from Tibet said that they were “very scared and anxious” after their families had received a warning from the authorities.

In the last few weeks, it has been reported that government officials have confiscated passports in the Tibetan areas of Qinghai and Gansu, and according to some sources, also in Sichuan and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

The restrictions are similar to the sweeping measures imposed during and after the 2012 Kalachakra taught by the Dalai Lama in Bodh Gaya, when hundreds of Tibetans returning to Tibet were detained and imprisoned for political ‘re-education’, with some disappearing for many months without families knowing where they were.

It is already extremely difficult for Tibetans to obtain passports, with very few Tibetans in the TAR and other areas being issued passports and others having theirs recalled, but the new restrictions appear to be linked to preventing Tibetans from attending the upcoming Kalachakra ceremony in India. In Qinghai, according to the same sources, the government requires applicants for a Chinese passport to provide guarantees that they would not travel to India, where the Dalai Lama resides.

According to other sources, passports have been restricted for Tibetans in Qinghai since September, and in Tibetan areas of Gansu since the middle of October. Tibetans in Sichuan and the TAR are also facing difficulties, with one Tibetan describing families in Qinghai as feeling “trapped and in despair” because they feared being unable to travel to pilgrimage sites in India and the teachings in Bodh Gaya.

For older generation Tibetans, it is particularly distressing as many elder Tibetans have sought to see the Dalai Lama at least once in their lifetimes and teachings in exile represent an opportunity to do so.

A Tibetan in exile said,“Prefecture to county-level authorities in Qinghai and other areas are thoroughly checking the number of Tibetans who have a Chinese passport. Party cadres [often those based at village level] are confiscating passports of Tibetans who have them and warned those who are not at home and who have passports that they have to return by December 30, in order for new seals to be affixed. If not they are told that benefits such as ‘poverty alleviation’ funding and pensions will be cut. We can see clearly from the timing that this is targeted at preventing Tibetans from attending the Kalachakra, which begins on January 3 [2017].”

Consistent with these reports of tightening control on passports and movements of Tibetans, a group of 41 Tibetans who arrived in Nepal from eastern Tibet were detained the week of November 16th while on their way to India. The group of Tibetans, including nuns and monks, was on pilgrimage from Tibet to sacred Buddhist sites in Nepal and India, most likely including Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha is believed to have been enlightened.

The Chinese authorities are likely to have stepped up pressure on the Nepalese authorities to comply in targeting Tibetans in transit through Nepal, including those with legitimate Chinese passports.

In recent years the Chinese authorities have imposed sweeping new measures in order to prevent Tibetans traveling to teachings by the Dalai Lama outside Tibet, and to punish those who do. For the first time at a major Buddhist teaching by the Dalai Lama in 2014, the Kalachakra in Ladakh, there were more Chinese Buddhists present than Tibetans from inside Tibet.

The restrictions threaten the survival of Tibetan Buddhist teachings in Tibet by making it nearly impossible for monks and nuns who wish to travel outside the PRC to receive instruction from teachers who are in exile, and difficult for exiled teachers to get permission to travel within Tibet to give teachings.