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Tibetans Emphasize Cultural Identity Though 'Lhakar'

'Lhakar' Keeps Exiled Tibetans Culturally Rooted
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Tibetan communities worldwide embrace a protest movement that emphasizes Tibetan culture and identity.

Tibetans Emphasize Cultural Identity Though 'Lhakar'
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Tibetan communities worldwide are taking part in a protest movement called “Lhakar.” The Tibetan word means “White Wednesday.” It is considered a traditional day for Tibetans to express devotion to their spiritual leader and pray for long life.

However, in recent years the spiritual observance of the day has grown into a worldwide movement. It places importance on the Tibetan culture and identity. And exile leaders warn that Chinese policies are threatening to destroy that identity and culture.

It’s Wednesday at a school in India. This is the day students at the Tibetan Village Children School in Dharamsala pray and participate in an important tradition.

Instead of their usual school clothing, girls come wearing an ethnic tunic – a long shirt. Boys wear a traditional shirt. This third generation of Tibetans growing up in exile is working to stay rooted to the homeland they have never seen.

Wearing the “chuba” connects 10-year-old Tsering Paldon to the homeland she knows only through stories.

“I feel when I wear this dress, I feel I am in Tibet.”

This is the spirit of “Lhakar,” a weekly ritual –-a ceremony –- that started inside Tibet following the mass protests in 2008. Now, many Tibetans worldwide have accepted the Wednesday tradition of dressing, eating or buying “Tibetan,” in what is considered a silent defiance of Chinese rule.

Jyotsna Sarah George of Students for a Free Tibet says “Lhakar” contains an educational part that strengthens Tibetan’s ethnic identity. She says it also can be a possibly powerful political force.

“This was like a decollectivization of protest, where it became about individual expression of your identity as a Tibetan, of your assertion as a Tibetan, that I am now taking charge of the way my culture is going to be viewed, and the way my culture is going to be a means of resistance to assimilation to the Chinese culture.”

Just as important, Lobsang Tseten of the International Tibet Network says the practice helps connect younger people with their fellow Tibetans living inside China, and those scattered across the world.

“For every freedom struggle to sustain you need the younger generations, you need to keep their roots, and I think this is one example that we saw how younger generations praying and celebrating Lhakar.”

In Dharamsala, the campaign appears to be working among students like Tsering Paldon and Tenzin Rabgyae.

“Yes, I want to visit Tibet.”

“Yes, I want to go.”

Thousands of Tibetans fled to India after Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950 and announced what China called Tibet's "peaceful liberation."

Although Chinese policies are remaking Tibetans’ historic homeland, diluting their culture, the Lhakar movement tries to keep the dream of a return alive among these children.

I’m Marsha James.

VOA reporter Anjana Pasricha reported this story. Marsha James wrote it for VOA Learning English. Jeri Watson was the editor.


Words in this Story

devotion n. a feeling of strong love or loyalty

observance- n. the practice of following a custom, rule, law, etc.

ritualn. a formal ceremony or series of acts that is always performed in the same way

defiancen. a refusal to obey something or someone

scatterv. to separate and go in different directions

dilute v. to lessen the strength of something