Forty-four-year-old Tenzin Tsundue is an India-born Tibetan freedom fighter and writer working to free the country of his roots from Chinese occupation. He knows first-hand what being imprisoned in China is like, for he served three months when he went to Tibet to revolt, and became an imprisoned Tibetan writers in China.

“I was very tired of the ‘sloganeering’ in India for a free Tibet,” Tenzin explains. “I wanted to go to Tibet, live among nomads, and start a revolution for freedom inside Tibet.

I was first arrested and jailed in Ngari township prison for 11 days in March 1997, then shifted to Seitru Detention Camp in the outskirts of Lhasa city until May 1997. “

He says what kept him going while in prison was simply, hope.

“That there must be another day, a better day, a day that doesn’t have to start with two small buns and hot water,” he said. “That your worldview is not divided by prison window bars.”

Tenzin is the only Tibetan to travel to Tibet from India and return alive, despite the Chinese belief that he was a spy for the Indian government. When an angry Chinese guard in the prison interrogated him amidst threatening a red hot rod to his eyeballs, a Tibetan guard miraculously appeared in that moment and pulled the Chinese guard away and ordered him to leave.

“And that saved my life,” Tenzin professed. “Therefore, I am alive and standing in front of you. But many others are still there imprisoned in Tibet.”

Tenzin believed he had it very bad in that prison and that he was surely going to die there.

“But then I heard much worse stories from other prisoners inside,” he relayed. “When we went to flush our toilet buckets, which was the only time a day we had a chance to speak to each other, we would encourage each other in whispers to keep going and say ‘are you fine? Be courageous. Hold on, you have to have the spirit, don’t give up. You look good.’ We just tried to console each other.”

Poetry Night In the Woods

Tenzin was a key presenter at the recent Poetry Night in the Woods held on November 17, 2017, in Dharamkot, Dharamsala, India. Organized by Gu-Chu-Sum Movement Association of Tibet, the event was a part of a movement specifically intended to raise awareness about the organized torture by the Chinese regime against Tibetan writers.

“Poetry in the Woods is a small celebration of words and music, imagination, and expression,” Tenzin said. “It’s the coming together of our emotions, and to see what we can do when these feelings are sung around a bonfire in the pinewoods, high up there in the chill of the on-setting winter. Long before chai in paper cups are passed around and sticky dinner is served, the strangers are already friends and friends soul mates.”

This powerful evening invoked many emotions amongst the diverse crowd of both locals and westerners, including Tibetan poets, singers, and writers in exile – who presented in a varied range of languages including Tibetan, Hindi, Punjabi, Pahari, English, and Chinese. Feelings of incredible grief, beauty, intensity, inspiration – as well as profound empathy and love, pervaded this forest setting.

Courageous writers and poets who are still imprisoned in China were remembered and the attendees reflected their sentiments, of which the Chinese have been working to silence. The night also served as a symbol to emulate the sheer power of the written word.

To remember imprisoned Tibetan writers, and to signify their absence from convergences like this one, a vacant carpet was left out to represent the place they were thwarted from taking.

PEN International

The Day of the Imprisoned Writer (held on November 15) is an annual, international day aimed at recognizing and support writers who confront suppression of the basic Human Rights and the freedom of expression, and who take a stand as their basic right to share information.  It was initiated in 1981 by PEN International’s Writers in Prison.

Free Tibet

As for Tenzin, he believes Tibetans must be stronger than the challenges they are facing, in order to free Tibet.

“As long as young Tibetans find the conviction in our Tibetan culture, the culture that gives them the power, that cannot be lured away by the greed of money, nor silenced by the threat of violence, Tibet will always win,” Tenzin concludes.

Additional Material to Learn From

To learn more about Tenzin Tsundue click here.

To learn more about Gu-Chu-Sum Movement Association of Tibet and purchase a copy of Burning the Sun’s Braids (an anthology of poetry by imprisoned Tibetan Writers), click here.

To learn more about PEN International click here.