Mark Clemente
April 28, 2007

A Review of A Hell on Earth
By Ven. Bagdro from Ganden Monastery

Abstract:

This book portrays the experiences of a Tibetan monk who endured great pain for his political beliefs and desire for Tibetan independence. It is a book that shares the life experiences of Ven. Bagro and the realities of Chinese Communists’ inhumane repression of the Tibetan people. It is a book based on one’s personal conviction and struggle for both collective freedoms for his people and individual human rights.

This book portrays the consequences and harsh realities of a Tibetan monk who sought for an idea of freedom and justice. The book reflects the experiences Bagdro endured both under the Chinese occupation of Tibet and while imprisoned for his political beliefs. Bagdro shares with us a period in Tibetan history where one’s freedoms and basic human rights were no longer considered, but rather rejected with false truths and ultimately violent means. This book is testament not only to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, but also expresses the torturous nature, which Bagdro experienced for nearly three years of his life due to his political beliefs and love for Tibet.

Bagdro was born in 1968 in a small village consisting of 265 people called, Gyepa, which is near the Ganden monastery and close to Lhasa (10). Bagdro had two brothers and one sister; with his family he lived a simple life. In November of 1985, Bagdro decided to become a monk in the hope of leading a religious life, but also saw it as a means of bettering himself. By March of 1986, he had become officially accepted as a monk and thus began his religious life and soon after would experience a reality filled with hatred and constant oppression of his people.

Bagdro enjoyed reading and learning about life. His greatest inspiration of course came from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Bagdro would constantly read the Dalai Lama’s autobiography, My Land and My People as a way to understand the greatness of Tibet and realize how that purity which is Tibet had been tainted with Chinese influence. Through such readings, Bagdro’s awareness of political and social issues became more apparent to him. His decision to inflict change and to live a life based on moral values and high principles would cause him to fight for Tibetan independence. This decision however, would later result in much pain and heartache for himself, his friends, and his family. But nonetheless, Bagdro understood the consequences of his actions and realized his words were true and that Tibetans deserved to hear the truth and the opportunity to experience true freedom.

His efforts for independence began during the 1988 Tibetan Monlam (Great Prayer) festival which was held in March in Lhasa (13). This festival organized by the Chinese Communist party was an effort to show the Tibetans that there was religious freedom and that their presence in Tibet was not to be feared, but instead embraced. But essentially, because the Chinese did not care for religious or political autonomy in Tibet, this event was merely an effort to somewhat appease the locals and the monks throughout Lhasa. March 5th, 1988 marked the beginning of a horrific experience that Badgro and those like him would never forget. During the great festival, monks from Sera and Drepung monasteries joined together to voice their opinions and hatred towards the Chinese presence in Tibet; among those monks was Bagdro. Monks throughout Lhasa demonstrated and chanted protest slogans such as, “Tibet is independent nation! Free Tibet! Chinese must go back to China! and Long live Dalai Lama!"(16) As was expected, but perhaps never thought truly possible, chaos erupted due to these demonstrations against the Chinese. There were mass arrest of monks and even cases of monks being killed during the protest. Being arrested was just the beginning for Bagdro, as he would have to experience something far worse than simply be placed in prison.

In the midst of the chaotic state during the protest, Bagdro was shot in the foot and deeply injured. As it turned out, there had been a Chinese police officer who had been killed during the festival protests and Bagdro along with other monks were arrested for the killing. April 19th, 1988 Bagdro underwent his first interrogation session under the supervision of the Chinese officials (21). They bombarded him with questions regarding anti-communist organizations, pro-independence groups both within and outside of Tibet, and of the course the motives behind the presumed murder of the Chinese police officer. But of course, Bagdro had no affiliations or contact with such organizations or groups. His presence or purpose in the protest was to voice his beliefs for a free Tibet and express to the people that the Chinese influence was not in the best interest of the Tibetan people. Each time Bagdro would deny the killing or involvement in the policeman’s death. The Chinese interrogators would beat him constantly and make him experience torture. Bagdro accounts state, “When I denied this killing they left me to stand bare foot outside on the ice for 35 minutes, when I was pulled off the skin of my feet had frozen to the ground and they were bleeding.” (22) This account gives an example of one of many torturous tactics used on Bagdro in order to attain a confession to a crime that he did not commit and that the Chinese had no evidence to support such a claim.

During these interrogation sessions, each time the torture became worst and worst for Bagdro and his fellow Tibetan prisoners. The intense beatings, the use of electric batons, the handcuffs, and of course the lack of substantial food and water were among the many strategies used against the Tibetan political prisoners. After one month of this brutal torture and constant harassment by the Chinese, Bagdro decided to confess that he had hit the policeman with an iron bar (28). This confession though false, perhaps saved Bagdro’s life. He had been so demoralized from the torture; one would think the Chinese would have allowed some form of physical or medical treatment. Instead, Bagdro for six more months was left in solitary confinement until the day his court appearance was set for sentencing. The trail took place nine months after he had been taken to Gutsa prison on the 14th of January 1989 (30). Accompanied by six other Tibetan political prisoners, Bagdro and the others decided to represent themselves and hoped the Chinese judicial system was fair and just. The reality was on the contrary; their trial was anything but fair or just. Bagdro along with his fellow Tibetans were never given substantial opportunity to present to the court that their confessions had been attained through methods of torture. Every time Bagdro or others would attempt to bring up this point, they were immediately silenced. Other than the confessions, the Chinese had no sufficient evidence proving Bagdro’s involvement in the policeman’s death, but the confession obtained through the torture was enough to be sentenced to 3 years in prison.

By the time Bagdro was released from prison, he went to Lhasa, but his life had changed. He was no longer considered a monk at least to the Chinese because he had been convicted for killing a policeman. His life in Tibet was somewhat lost, so he decided to escape to India and start over. By July 10th 1991, Bagdro gathered enough money to make his way to India where he would hope to join other exiled Tibetans and perhaps continue his religious and political endeavors without fear of Chinese persecution. Bagdro made it to India where after some time was able to have an audience with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Able to discuss his experiences and gain perspective from the great leader, Badgro decided to continue his quest for Tibetan freedom which he had started on that day in March back in 1988. Gaining international attention and local support, Bagdro was able to make appearances at a number of schools and universities preaching for a free Tibet and make an effort to aid the many Tibetans still imprisoned for their political and social beliefs.

Bagdro is currently living in Dharamsala India, where he is working continuously for the freedom of Tibet. He works on his own, as well as with the Gu-Chu-Sum Movement of Tibet, an organization of 120 ex-political prisoners (48). Through this book, Bagdro hoped to bring to light not only the situation in Tibet, but also the harsh realities those like him had to endure. This book lets the world know about the Chinese Communists’ inhumane repression of the Tibetan people and demonstrates that the cause for Tibetan freedom is something not without consequence or sacrifice.