Ngawang Sangdrol

Ngawang Sangdrol: A former prisoner

Ngawang SangdrolNgawang 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
and friends
What we Tibetans feel in this darkness will pass
The food does
not sustain body or soul
Beatings impossible to forget
This suffering
inflicted upon us
May no others suffer like this
In the heavenly realm,
the land of snows
Land of unending peace and blessings
May Avaloketisvara
Tenzin Gyatso
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 .

The Drapchi 14 speak out


Two former Tibetan nuns and political prisoners, Gyaltsen Drolkar and Namdrol Llamo, completed a series of talks held across the UK about their prison ordeal for Tibet’s freedom and independence.

The duo were members of the ‘Drapchi 14’, singing nuns who were arrested and punished further in 1993 for expressing their support for Tibetan independence through song after secretly smuggling in a tape recorder into Drapchi Prison.

Drolkar and Llamo, each spent 11 and 12 years respectively, imprisoned for peaceful protests in Lhasa. After their arrests both were held in the Gutsa Dentation Centre for months and subject to interrogations through torture before being transferred to the infamous Drapchi Prison.

Following their speech, both made direct and passionate appeals to the people to Tibet and fellow supporters for freedom, they said: “What you have done in the past, you and Tibet supporters everywhere, has already borne good results in Tibet…I am certain that if you continue the way you have done, we will be able to achieve our aims.”
Of the ‘Drapchi 14’, one passed away in custody following years of abuse, seven remain in Tibet and six are now living in exile, both Drolkar and Llamo currently reside in Belgium.

Their efforts and struggle was not without a success as their message for freedom found its way out of prison and into the world, their songs made in a CD titled ‘Seeing Nothing but the Sky’, here is an example of their work titled ‘Song of Sadness’:

We’ve sung a song of sadness
We’ve sung it from Drapchi prison
Like the happy and joyful snow mountains
We’ve sung this song for the sake of freedom
Previously, a spiritual realm of dharma
Now, is changed to a barbaric prison ground.
Even at the cost of our lives, we Tibetans,
Will never lose our courage.
O, what a sad fate we Tibetans have!
To be tortured mercilessly by barbarians
We don’t have freedom
Under the yoke of these barbarians

A transcript of the full speech can be found here.