A school with many “cannots”

A school with many “cannots”

By Karze ba (See the original article in Tibetan)

In 1995 the then vice director of the education department, Ling-la, came to our school. He pointed at the eight auspicious symbols painted above the door. “These are religious designs”, he said, scolding the principal and other teachers. “They belong on monastery walls and have no place in a Socialist school.” Because of that, he got into an argument with one of our Tibetan language teachers. Without getting to explain his case, the leader even gave him a good slap out of frustration.

That was the first “cannot”.

From the beginning, our school had one wholesome tradition, the annual celebration of Ganden Ngamchö, the death anniversary of Jé Tsongkapa (1357-1419), the “crown ornament of the wise in the land of snow”. On that occasion, all the teachers and students wore traditional Tibetan clothes, spoke Tibetan chastely, offered butter lamps, prepared the soup of five ingredients, recited the ‘Miktséma’ prayer in praise of Jé Tsongkapa and held quizzes on his life and deeds. However, in recent years some county leaders and their lackeys declared that nothing of a religious nature could be part of the general school programme, and last year we could not even cook the soup.

That was the second “cannot”.

The land of snows is highly indebted to Tonmi Sambhota, the creator of the Tibetan alphabet, whose intelligence gave us a system of writing of which we are justly proud before the whole world. Any Tibetan language school and student of Tibetan language must be mindful of his contribution, and we didn’t think there could be any prohibition on this. But in 2006 the then head of the education department, Yang-la, purposely came to the school and went to each classroom ordering pictures of Tonmi Sambhota to be taken down. No matter what explanations and reasons we gave, he would not listen and declared, like dropping a thunderbolt from the sky, that this was a political obligation and had to be obeyed.

That was the third “cannot”.

Coinciding with the 2005 winter break, ten of our school’s teachers spontaneously announced that they would be holding a month of extra tuition in Tibetan for those who wished to attend. It was also announced on local television. Over 300 participants came on the first day, and we enthusiastically started the programme. Unbelievably, on the morning of the third day, Tse-la, the then vice head of the county, called us to the government office and criticised us teachers in the strongest terms for holding an extracurricular course without informing him. Many of my fellow teachers were obliged to respond that it was not that they did not know how to hang around in tea houses and bars, and they had done this only out of concern for the sorry state of their native area and the underprivileged Tibetan students. The county leader told that from now on there would be no extra courses and that the state did not provide for such things.

That was the fourth “cannot”.

In 2006, three lower middle school classes and one high school class graduated. More than 300 primary students were intending to join the lower middle classes and take Tibetan, and most of those intended to do so at our school. But unbelievably, our superiors ordered that our school could not take on a single new student at lower middle level. So many families went to the county government and sought out the officials to plead their case, but they were told that there was little space for Tibetan language instruction at middle school level, that the department lacked resources (class rooms), and so forth, so that the hopes of hundreds of families did not come to fruition. They talked about coming and pitching tents at the school, collecting money for a legal challenge to the authorities and so on, but in the end, with a mixture of force and persuasion, the students joined the Nationalities Middle School.

That was the fifth “cannot”.

There are many more: it is not allowed to recite the ‘Kang Loma’ prayer to Manjusri, or to recite the Tara prayer, or to make students do prostrations when they are punished. Our school was established by the government, the teachers’ salaries are paid by the government, and the students’ textbooks are all those produced by the government. Graduating students go on to study at the higher education institutes established by the government. But the conduct of the higher officials causes such unease among teachers and students, and seems to me like hailstones crushing the tender shoots of harmony between the nationalities.