Nepal: Police disrupts Tibetan culture show

24 October 2011


Tibetans in Nepal are facing increased restrictions on cultural performances. Recently a programme by a Kathmandu-based group was broken up by the Nepalese police.

By Hanne Pedersen, writing from Kathmandu

On 29 September 2011, the Nepal Tibetan Lhamo Association (NTLA) was going to perform a programme of Himalayan culture to mark the group’s 35th anniversary. An audience consisting of people from the Tibetan community, school classes from a Tibetan school, and a few Western foreigners (including myself), had gathered in Rastriya Nach Ghar (The National Dance House) in the centre of Kathmandu. However, the show had barely started when a group of Nepalese police, following orders from the Central District Administrative Office (CDO), entered the hall and interrupted the programme, demanding it be stopped.

The performers ended their show halfway through a song, and requested that the audience should leave the hall, which we did. The show had been organized without any political symbols such as flags, photos or political speeches, but was nevertheless disrupted and curtailed.

Still, the performers tried to stay positive. “At least”, said one young performer, “we got time to show our audience three of our dance and song numbers.”

Community of exiled Tibetans
The group, which includes many children, specialises in lhamo, a musical genre often termed ‘Tibetan opera’. They had been practising for several months specifically for this show, which was to have presented traditional songs and dances alongside electric numbers on Western instruments.

Nepal is home to around 20,000 exiled Tibetans, who began arriving after 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet following a failed uprising against the Chinese occupation. Lately, the Nepalese government has increased restrictions on the political, religious and cultural rights of this exile community. This coincides with the strengthening of Nepal’s ‘mutual cooperation’ with China over the last few years.

China has supported Nepalese development, trade and security by giving, for instance, substantial military assistance to Nepal’s army. In response, the Nepalese government has been eager to reaffirm its support for the ‘one-China policy’, and to curb ‘anti-China’ activities inside the country. The police and administrative authorities have been monitoring and cracking down on the Tibetan community as well as Nepalese Buddhists supportive of the Tibetan cause.

Performance cancelled
Earlier this year the Nepalese authorities hindered social gatherings connected to the Dalai Lama’s birthday, a significant annual event for the Tibetan exiles. On the day of the birthday celebrations, the police barred people from entering the school building where the function was going to be held, and also detained four people for trying to attend the event. The next day the (previously-mentioned) NTLA cultural group were due to perform, a longstanding local tradition. This year, however, the group was told by the police that their programme would not be allowed, and they were therefore forced to cancel the show. This was the first time that the NTLA had ever been prevented from performing at this particular event.

Part of the background to this censorship by the Nepalese state, and one reason for the particularly vulnerable situation of Tibetans in Nepal, is that the country is not a signatory to the United Nations’ convention on refugees, nor does it have any domestic legislation protecting refugees’ rights or status.

Photo on top of page: The show – as long as it lasted – of Himalayan culture to mark the NTLA’s 35th anniversary. Photo by the author.

Photo below: After the police had stopped the show, a few in the audience came forward to speak to police, while the performers politely asked everyone to quietly leave the room. Photo: anonymous.




Click to read about music censorship in Nepal



The UN Refugee Agency – 2011:

‘2011 UNHCR country operations profile – Nepal’

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