By Lobsang Wangyal
McLEOD GANJ, India, 25 April 2019
As he turns 30 today, supporters of the 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima set out on five protest marches to seek his release from Chinese captivity.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was abducted by the Chinese government in 1995 when he was six years old — days after he was recognised as the 11th Panchen Lama, the second-highest position in Tibetan Buddhism, by the Dalai Lama. His whereabouts have remained unknown since then.
The marches are organised by the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA), who have been campaigning his release ever since he was abducted. The march begun this morning in McLeod Ganj will end in Chandigarh after 14 days of walking, with 90 people participating. The oldest participant is an 83-year-old man.
“I am here to show my support for Panchen Lama and his release. I wish he is set free soon, and I have a wish to see Tibet before I die,” said octogenarian Sonam Tsering.
The long walk will cover about 600 kilometres, and the heat is already reaching 36 degrees in the plains of India. A group of women participants from Dalhousie say they are happy to participate. “We came here with conviction to support the 11th Panchen Lama, and to walk for his release,” said one of the women.
The other marches are taking place from Dehra Dun to Delhi, Gangtok to Salugara, Raipur to Nagpur, and Mysore to Bangalore, with varying numbers of days. It is reported that more than 200 people are taking part in the march from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim.
China has provided no information about Gedhun Choekyi Nyima except that he is “growing up healthily” and “does not want to be disturbed”, and that they need to protect him from being “kidnapped by the separatists.”
A different boy named Gyaltsen Norbu was chosen by the Chinese government as the 11th Panchen Lama, which has no recognition from the Tibetans. He is likely to be used in finding the next Dalai Lama when the current 14th, who is now 83 years old, passes away.