Today marks the start of the 17th day of a hunger strike outside the United Nations building in midtown for three Tibetan monks who are protesting China’s repression of Tibet, and demanding that the UN recognize their homeland as an independent country and address Chinese human rights abuses.
Wrapped in blankets and scarves, sitting on a slab of concrete in Ralph Bunche Park at East 43nd Street and 1st Avenue, the Buddhist monks– Rinpoche Shingza, 32, Dorjee Gyalpo, 59, and Yeshi Tenzing, 39–have consumed nothing more than sips of water for 16 days, and are beginning to become more listless as the effect of the lack of food begins to take hold, supporters say. Meanwhile, New Yorkers swirl around them, oblivious, and the protest has been ignored in the mainstream media.
“They are getting weaker and weaker day by day, especially the older man,” says Tsewang Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, which represents 35,000 Tibetans in exile. “The fasting has effected their bodies a lot, in their speech and movement and loss of body weight.”
“As far as this fast in concerned, these men have volunteered and they have told us they want to go on as long as they have to,” Rigzin adds. “We want the secretary general to talk to the hunger strikers and listen to their appeals.”
“The ball is in the UN’s court. They have to answer this. I’m sure they don’t want to have people dying here in front of their building, because they will be held responsible for it.”
Starvation death has a lot of variables, but people have survived as many as 28 to 40 days without food. Mahatma Gandhi famously survived a 21 day hunger strike at age 74, according to Scientific American.
Shingza is believed, in the Tibetan faith to be the reincarnation of a centuries-past monk, and was recognized as such by the Dalai Lama himself in 1993. He fled Tibet in 1997 because of religious persecution and lived in exile in India before moving to the U.S.
Dorjee fled into exile after the Chinese invasion of Tibet and lived in India before moving to Minneapolis where he also works at a hospital. Tenzing was born and raised in India.
The hunger strike is the first for Tibetans outside the UN, but the intensity of anti-China protests has intensified. Over the past two years, 26 Tibetans have burned themselves to death in their homeland to protest Chinese policies, including 13 in 2012 and three in the past week. Those deaths included a mother with four kids, and two 19-year-old students. China called them “terrorists in disguise.”
“This is a big deal,” Rigzin says. “Our struggle has been nonviolent for many years. World leaders need to pay attention and give us concrete support, not just words of sympathy.”
China has banned religious expression, created a “reeducation campaign” in the region, imposed martial law, and harshly retaliated against monasteries. There have been reports of murder and torture. China has also diverted or dammed many of Tibet’s rivers and taken natural resources.
As for the NYPD’s handling of the protest, they confiscated tents, beds and mattresses from the hunger strikers early on.