The recent news of China’s drive of detaining around 3,500 Tibetan monks and nuns from the Yachen Gar Buddhist Centre, currently situated in Palyul County, Kardze Prefecture in Sichuan Province, unveils another dimension to China’s ongoing persecution of minority groups like Tibetans and Uighurs. Looking back at the history of China’s oppression of Tibetans, a similar pattern of inflicting abuse and torture upon the Tibetans has been pervasive since China’s occupation of Tibet. The state’s effort to ‘sinicize’ Tibetan religion and culture: indoctrination programmes, in which the detained monks and nuns are forced to be patriotic towards China in internment camps; where any hint of dissent or resistance would lead the people in question to undergo severe torture and abuse.
Taking stock of China’s human rights abuses of the Tibetan people inside Tibet, we can see a high number of detainees have been overwhelmingly monks and nuns. And one of the most striking features of such repression is gender-based violence perpetrated against Tibetan nuns. China’s heavy crackdown on dissent and resistance are not unknown, however, amidst such oppressive milieu, what are specific kinds of violence that are exclusive to Tibetan nuns? How their overlapping identities of gender, ethnicity and religious beliefs render them doubly marginalised?
Subverting Buddhism through arbitrary detentions of Tibetan monks and nuns.
Yachen Gar monastery, like Larung Gar, a non-political sphere, is a hub of monastic education, academic learning and meditation training since it was founded in 1985 by Achuk Rinpoche. The institute is one of the places that is dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan Buddhist culture after the Cultural Revolution as envisioned by its founder. It has been home to an estimated 10,000 nuns and monks belonging to different parts of Tibet. It is one of the largest congregations of nuns in the world. Hence, it has also been called the “city of nuns”.  After the eviction of Tibetans and subsequent demolition of Larung Gar, the number of residents at Yachen Gar seem to have risen.
However, Yachen Gar has been a topic of contention for the Chinese authorities due to expansion of Tibetan Buddhist influence that is attracting people from various parts of the world. Jiang Zemin led-Communist Party administration in 2001 has partly carried out the demolition of many dwelling places of nuns and monks. In 2017, the Chinese authorities razed “over a hundred dwellings of the nuns” after their forced eviction from the Centre. During which the site was banned to foreign visitors for two years. And now with the Xi Jinping’s administration, the state has reasserted its policy to incorporate ‘religions’ into Chinese ‘socialist’ characteristics as evident from the speech Xi made in April 2016 at the National Religious Conference, in which he emphasised on actively guiding “the adaptation of religions to socialist society, an important task is supporting China’s religions’ persistence in the direction of sinicization.” But in reality, Xi Jinping’s policy is insidiously minimising Tibetan Buddhism within the framework of monolithic Chinese state discourse. A plot to reduce the influence of Tibetan Buddhism and strengthen and uphold its own monopoly of nationalistic fervour. Evidently, it is proving to be a massive disadvantage to Tibetan monks and nuns who are already in the periphery of Chinese state apparatus. And Tibetans nuns and monks at Yachen Gar, who can be naturally seen as the guardians of Tibetan Buddhism, pose a threat to the state’s policy to ‘sinicizing religions’.
A series of evictions in May 2019 has seen 3,500 people being forcibly expelled and now, as of July 16, the number has increased to 7,100, with the expulsion of more 3,600 monks and nuns from the Yachen Buddhist Centre. The detainees are held in detention centres for two to three months. The detained nuns are made to disrobe and wear military uniforms, and nuns who are originally from Jomda County are being made to routinely sing patriotic ‘Red Song” praising Chinese Communist Party. These nuns are also encouraged to watch “propaganda war films”: movies that glorified Chinese victories over Japan. When some of the nuns had “broken down” and “wept”, they were severely beaten for “alleged show of disloyalty.”
In similar detention centres nuns are subjected to sexual violence. A testimony by a monk who spent four months in the detention centre situated in Sog County, Nagchu Prefecture, Tibetan Autonomous Region, confirms such reports of sexual violence. In a report published in the official website of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, citing a Tibetan monk, the nuns were forced to pay from their “own pocket” for their military uniforms. He also talks about monks and nuns being put into prison without any “due process”; when they have not broken any “legal provision” to deserve such detention. One of the horrifying evidence of China’s Human rights abuses in the testimony is the gender-based violence that nuns are subjected to in the detention centres. In which the monk recounts bearing witness to Chinese officers sexually assaulting nuns by “fondling breasts” of the fainted nuns; who would faint during military trainings in prison camps. There have been many cases of Tibetan Buddhist nuns being sexually assaulted, as told by the same monk, Chinese party cadres “groping nuns’ bodies” and “lying in the nuns’ bedroom pressing unconscious nuns underneath.” These nuns, who are deprived of their right to pursue their monastic education, are also being subjected to physical and sexual violence. The fact that the violence of sexual abuse occurs, it is unlikely that nuns of Yachen Gar will be exempted from similar gender-based violence by the Chinese authorities, who at present are the targets of Xi’s repressive political measures. It also becomes extremely difficult for these nuns to seek legal recourse when the law enforcement itself is complicit in perpetrating state-sanctioned violence and gender violence against them. Where the state itself is the symbol of unbridled power emboldened by unmalleable and discriminatory policies that silences the voices of Tibetans nuns.
In the context of settler colonialism, the narrative of the colonisers’ subjugation of the colonised people is commonly surrounded around “liberation of the barbarics” and “heralding modernity” to the backwards”. This rhetoric is often used in justifying mass murder and injustices carried out to the colonised people by the colonisers. The sexual abuse of the Tibetan Buddhist nuns by the Chinese officers can be seen as the Chinese Communist Party’s (atheist state) attempt to subvert Buddhism by going against the set principles of its philosophy in order to retain Han hegemony in all spheres of Tibetan life. From (many recorded cases of) forcing nuns and monks to get married, carrying faeces over Thangka on their back to raping nuns with cattle prods in prisons, to sexually assaulting them in detention centres. The female nuns’ bodies have often become a tool to advance the state’s political ambitions.
Chinese tactics of rounding up of Tibetans monks and nuns in China-occupied Tibet strikes a parallel ring to mass detention of another “minority group” i.e., Uighur Muslims in China-occupied East Turkestan (ch:Xinjiang). Like the violence meted out to the Tibetan women the Uighur women too have been subjected to harsh policy with the launch of “Project Beauty” which encourages ban on their veils “in an effort to look modern.” The refusal of which persistently follows arbitrary detention, and extreme measures to “re-educate” them on “socialist” values in what the Chinese call “re-education” camps.
Kimberle Crenshaw came up with the theory of intersectionality to discuss the multiple and intersecting forms of oppression faced by black women in the US. It looks at how black women are vulnerable to multiple and overlapping forms of oppression due to their gender and racial identities. Likewise, in the context of Tibetan women under Chinese colonization, their ethnic and gender identities, i.e., being Tibetan and women, are also vulnerable to multiple forms of oppression that can overlap sometimes. Tibetans, particularly (in this case) nuns can be doubly marginalised because of the intersecting inequalities meted out to their bodies, religious belief and ethnicity. Their ethnicity and gender, in an increasingly Han-centric environment restricts their social mobility as they are usually under heightened state-surveillance that restricts them to travel beyond their home county. The monks and nuns are not allowed to go back to their monasteries and made to report to their local authorities situated in their respective hometowns. 
One wonders about the fate of monks and nuns of Yachen Gar after their eviction. Once they are forced to disrobe and not allowed to continue their monastic pursuits, how can they fulfil their aspirations of pursuing a life they want? Since most of these monks and nuns will not have a layman’s skills to sustain themselves, how will they navigate through life for livelihood? For basic human dignity? For freedom? How will they recover from the physical and mental violence and agony they have endured in camps without any healthcare system?
 “Thousands of Monks, and Nuns Evicted from Sichuan’s Yarchen Gar”, www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/EVICTED-06112019163506.html.
Tashi Choedon is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute, doing research on gender issues and diaspora studies. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.