To China, Tibet is a sensitive “core issue” and they find it unacceptable that the Dalai Lama is treated as a VIP, or even akin to a head of state, by nations around the world, because they see it as a challenge to China’s national sovereignty and claims over Tibet. It is well known that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) controls religion in Tibet and therefore, Tibetan monasteries are closely watched, particularly for showing loyalty to the Dalai Lama. The CCP thus engages in a propaganda war against the Dalai Lama, to show in poor light and reduce his stature in the international community. Of late, the Chinese state machinery has initiated a campaign alleging that sexual abuse is rampant in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries across the world. Not only are monasteries in India being targeted, but the Gandan Monastery in Mongolia has also not been spared in this smear campaign. Clearly, the Chinese have an obsessive fear of the Dalai Lama and the loyalty shown by Tibetans the world over to His Holiness. For instance, the recent meeting between the US special coordinator for Tibetan issues Uzra Zeya and the Dalai Lama in New Delhi triggered an angry response from Beijing, which said “no external forces have the right to interfere” in the affairs of Tibet.
There is a clear link between the recent attention given to the Dalai Lama in the international media and Chinese efforts to besmirch his name. China does not let go of any opportunity to bad mouth the Dalai Lama. Recent reports indicate that a team of journalists from Der Standard, one of Austria’s leading newspapers, is presently working on a report involving sexual abuse in Buddhist establishments in Dharmashala and those in Karnataka in India. Der Standard has apparently received details of complaints made by a few female occupants on alleged sexual harassment. Based on the said complaints, a team of investigative journalists are working on a detailed investigative report. Given the current state of play, it is likely that Der Standard may also link the recent incident involving Dalai Lama and a young Indian boy to paint a negative picture of poor/negligible concern from the Tibetan leaders in exile on women and child rights. The incident referred to here is the kissing of a young boy by the Dalai Lama at a public event in Dharmshala in February 2023.
Strangely, the incident did not become public till April 2023. On 11 April 2023, the Twitter account of “Nepal Correspondence,” a platform for investigative journalists, pointed out that soon after the customized footage of the kissing event turned into an incident, Chinese trolls launched a campaign, accusing the Dalai Lama of pedophilia. The chronology of how the issue became an incident was revealed when a fake Twitter account in the name of ‘Yin Sun@NiSiv4’, a fake Youtube Account in the name of Robert Reed and a fake Facebook account in the name of ‘Deter Influencers from Child Abuse’ were opened in February 2023, 1 April and 9 April. The first post (dated 8 April) in the fake Twitter account was the upload of the video on His Holiness’s interaction with the Indian boy. Similarly, the first and the only post on the fake Facebook account was also that video and the only post uploaded on the fake Youtube channel was the same truncated video. Meanwhile the fake Facebook account of ‘Deter Influencers from Child Abuse’ posted a petition titled, “Save kids from Dalai Lama â€” let’s stop child abuse” in the renowned public forum of Change.org on 7 April. The ‘sensational’ news was then fed to some of the popular Indian news media, launching the video as ‘viral’ without any verification and fact-checking. A Tibetan exile, Lobsang Yeshi writing (13 April 2023) in the US online journal International Business Times denounced the campaign against the Dalai Lama as a CCP’s conspiracy, highlighting the activity of Chinese fake social media accounts and trolls. He stated that “within weeks of the public event […], also participated by sizable media contingent, a maliciously edited and tampered video on His Holiness’s interaction with the Indian boy was circulated across China and Tibet by the Chinese cyber army, the netizens and the CCP stooges”.
Meanwhile, in a related development, Germany’s state-run broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW) released on 1 July 2023, a documentary film in English language titled ‘Buddhism and abuse – The unspeakable truth’. It also uploaded a video on YouTube titled ‘Crimes Long Concealed by Silence’, which highlighted sexual and ethical scandals in Buddhist Monasteries in France, Belgium, Britain, and Spain. It also raised questions on the 14th Dalai Lama, as the spiritual leader, for not taking steps to address such issues. The same video was earlier released in January 2023, in French. Attempts to sensationalise the situation of Tibetan nuns in monasteries is not new. A 2019 survey titled Sexual Abuse Against Students, conducted in Tibetan schools by Drokmo, a Dharmashala -based NGO working on gender equality, found that 151 out of 401 (38%) respondents had faced sexual violence. 51% of the 151 respondents were female and 23% were male. Additionally, the issue of gender equality in the Tibetan community has often been discussed in the Tibetan Parliament in exile. The timing of the present campaign appears to be aimed at showing the Dalai Lama in a poor light by highlighting the alleged sexual abuse of nuns in Tibetan monasteries in India and elsewhere.
Of far greater strategic import are reports of child abuse at the Gandan Tegchinlen Monastery, Mongolia’s most important Buddhist monastery, which is also the seat of the Jetsundamba Khutuktu (JDK). Three young lamas (aged 10-14), who were residential scholars undertaking training for monkhood at Gandan Monastery, filed a police complaint on 21 June 2023, against four of their fellow lamas (also minors), alleging sexual abuse at the Datsang dormitory. Ulaanbaatar’s Bayangol District Police Department then investigated the four for ‘ganged-up bullying and forced sodomy’. Later, out of the three minor victims, two withdrew (27 June 2023) their complaint, claiming to have made earlier statements under pressure from one of original complainant’s mother. This incident garnered extensive media coverage in Mongolia, some local media, including eguur.mn, unuudur.mn and shuud.mn, under Chinese influence began to leverage the situation to their advantage by planting fictional scenarios and publicising the incident with sharp titles critical of the Gandan Monastery. Of these, eguur.mn was the most ‘pro-active’, carrying interviews of the lone complainant’s mother and publishing controversial statements by known Gandan critics.
Furthermore, S. Odontuya, Vice Chairwoman of the State Great Khural and Head of Women’s Federation of Democratic Party called (22 June 2023), for serious investigation into child abuse cases in the religious temples, and measures to stop such violence in future. Senior Monks of Gandan Monastery held a press conference (23 June 2023) wherein they underlined their stance of ‘zero tolerance for such acts’ and reaffirmed full cooperation with law enforcement and state agencies. They also outlined ‘safety measures and systematic checks & balances’ to provide a ‘safe and sound’ environment for religious trainees, especially for minors.
The Mongolia incident provided anti-Gandan critics (mainly the Chinese) an opportunity to malign Dalai Lama image. As China does not recognize the 10th JDK recognized by the Dalai Lama, it will, at the opportune time, work to undermine the image of 10th JDK. Notably, the Dalai Lama has visited Mongolia several times, identifying several religious nobles and incarnations. The importance of the Gandan Monastery to Mongolian Buddhism is attested to by the fact that the 9th JDK was enthroned in November 2011, as the head of Mongolian Buddhism by the Gandan Abbott, Khamba Nomun Khan. Immediately afterwards, the Dalai Lama visited Mongolia, to celebrate his enthronement. During his last visit in 2016, he is believed to have secretly performed the ceremony to identify the new JDK, which drew China’s anger. At that time, China imposed fees on commodity imports from Mongolia, charging additional transit costs on goods passing through a border crossing into China’s northern region. The 10th JDK, named Achiltai Attanmar, was anointed on 23 February 2023 in the presence of Gandan officials and monks. The eight-year-old boy was subsequently presented to the world on 8 March 2023, world in Dharamsala by the Dalai Lama. Notably, Gandan Monastery has acted as bridge in promoting India-Mongolia friendship through religious exchanges. There is, therefore, every reason for China to be upset with Mongolia and more importantly, the Dalai Lama. That is the reason why reports of sexual abuse in Tibetan monasteries are becoming more popular these days, thanks to the CCP!