When implements of torture were displayed in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Tsultrim Dolma did not hesitate to handle them, even though the devices brought back horrifying memories. They were used on her, in 1988, by the Chinese. Dolma had passed out from the pain.
In 1988, Dolma was a 20-year-old Buddhist nun living in Lhasa, Tibet. She and six others from her nunnery dared to join a peaceful protest against the Chinese who rule their country. They were arrested and tortured daily for three months, Dolma said.Now, Chinese-made torture tools are on tour across the United States as the International Campaign for Tibet attempts to prove to Americans they are subsidizing torture when they buy products manufactured by the Chinese military.
A former Amnesty International representative, Francesca van Holthoon, conducts the tour. She has interviewed many Tibetan refugees now living in India, and has also traveled to Tibet to talk to Tibetans recently released from prison. In Salt Lake City at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, Dolma joined Holthoon to give a firsthand account.
Contorting her arms behind her back, Dolma demonstrated how a pair of thumb cuffs could restrain a prisoner and cause great pain - especially when they are left on for hours, or even days. Next, Dolma held up several varieties of electric batons. One had a flashlight attached, for night raids. Another had two different shock buttons: One for a shock that stuns and one for a shock that hurls a human body across the room and causes unconsciousness. These instruments and others were smuggled out of Tibet in 1992, said Holthoon.
Speaking through an interpreter, Dolma calmly told of being imprisoned, shocked, beaten and starved. But when she got to the part of her story where she was raped by Chinese soldiers, Dolma fell silent. She looked at the floor. Her interpreter, who has translated for Dolma before, finished the story. Then Dolma began to cry.
What happened was not her fault, explained the interpreter, Sonam Lhamo Singeri. Still, Dolma was defiled. "She couldn't remain as a nun. Now she is in lay people's clothes." Dolma now lives in Salt Lake City.
Dolma's tears, said Singeri, "are some sort of plea to you." She wasn't crying for herself, said Singeri, but for millions of Tibetans still under Chinese rule. "Our only ultimate happiness is to free Tibet."
In mid-May, Dolma traveled from Utah to Washington to lobby for trade restrictions against the Chinese government. Last week, President Clinton declined to impose those restrictions.
But among Tibetans now living in the United States there is a move afoot to get Americans to stop buying products made in factories owned by the Chinese military. The International Campaign for Tibet encouraged the implements-of-torture demonstrations to be held in front of stores that carry certain rifles, alarm clocks or furniture manufactured in China. Such a demonstration was not planned in Utah because Holthoon could only spend one day here.
When they torture Tibetans, the Chinese are acting out of ignorance, explained Singeri. Because Tibetans believe in karma, they believe the Chinese will eventually gain enlightenment. Meanwhile, what the Tibetans are suffering, they believe, will help all people in the world to eventually be freed from torture and suffering.