Today, February 25, 2009, is the date on which Tibetan New Year -- Losar -- begins. Many Tibetan exiles around the world are observing Losar in a different manner this year. Some are forgoing traditional observances to instead protest human rights abuses by the Chinese government inside Tibet. There are reports that Chinese authorites are effectively making Losar celebrations inside Tibet compulsory, and reactions have led to violent clashes.
On Feb. 14, a 39-year-old Tibetan monk set off a furor when he walked through a public market in the Tibetan plateau's Lithang county carrying a photograph of the Dalai Lama and chanting, "No Losar." Hundreds of people reportedly joined the protests, which continued into the next two days, according to the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy. The group said that Chinese police detained 21 people, some of whom were badly beaten, and that the county has been locked down for the holiday.More news: Wary Tibetans set for muted New Year celebrations [Reuters article reposted on Phayul, a Tibetan news portal], and Students for a Free Tibet have daily updates from Hong Kong now via Skype. One of their episodes is embedded above. (thanks, Oxblood)
Reports say that as many as 20,000 additional soldiers and paramilitary troops have been deployed in Tibetan areas and that in Qinghai province, village leaders were threatened with arrest if they urged people not to celebrate the holiday.
Even among Tibetans, there is a vigorous debate about the campaign to boycott Losar. The holiday, which dates back to pre-Buddhist times, is the most beloved in the Tibetan calendar and involves elaborate rituals and meals. Families traditionally make a soup with special dumplings in which they hide various items -- chile pepper, wool, charcoal -- and family members read their fortune by which dumpling they pick.