Ngawang Sangdrol, of Garu Nunnery was detained in 1992 and imprisoned for participating in a non–violent demonstration against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Her prison term went from 3–years to a combined sentence of 23 years, for a several “crimes” within prison. Finally, she was released in 2002 for “good behaviour”.
Inside the infamous Drapchi prison in 1994, Ngawang Sangdrol and 13 other nuns clandestinely recorded songs and poems in tribute to their homeland and His Holliness the Dalai Lama. The recording spread out from the prison and reached the international community, who could hear the touching songs about prison life and the Tibetan women’s cry for freedom.
Here are the lyrics to the song “May No Others Suffer Like This”:
Song of sadness in our hearts
We sing this to our brothers
What we Tibetans feel in this darkness will pass
The food does
not sustain body or soul
Beatings impossible to forget
inflicted upon us
May no others suffer like this
In the heavenly realm,
the land of snows
Land of unending peace and blessings
Reign supreme throughout all eternity
Prior to this incident, Ngawang was imprisoned aged just 13, for joining fellow nuns in Garu Nunnery in shouting “Independence for Tibet” and “Long live the Dalai Lama” during a protest. She served nine months in Gutsa detention centre before she was released. Unfortunately, this freedom was not to last.
Ngawang, is today one of the highest profile Tibetan ex-political prisoners, praised for having the courage and strength to stand up to the Chinese authorities. The result of her defiance was solitary confinement and torture.
Ngawang suffered beatings with iron rods and rubber pipes, electric cattle prods on the tongue, grueling hard labor, and complete darkness in solitary confinement for 6 months. She still suffers headaches and kidney and stomach problems as a result.
She describes an example of the hard labor: “For instance, we had to use night soil on the garden… You have to take turns to go down to the latrine and pass up the waste. When the bucket is pulled, inevitably it splashes and spills everywhere and it will go into your mouth” (BBC). However in this interview she noted that, “the mental torture was worse”, including denouncing His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a ban on religious practice.
She was imprisoned for 21 years, the longest for any female political prisoner in Tibet and China at that time.
According to Ngawang at one press conference “good behaviour” was not the real reason for her release: “The reason for my release was international pressure… I am out of prison but there are other prisoners still suffering. I still don’t feel that I’m really free now. We Tibetans are like prisoners in our own country.”
Ngawang was forced to leave Tibet following her release, leaving her sisters and brother behind. However, shel is still fighting for Tibetan independence and continues to stand up and tell her stories today. She now lives in the US, working as a human rights analyst for the International Campaign for Tibet .