Tibet's 'Sound of Music' nun scripts a sequel

Last Updated: Tue, Sep 21, 2010 07:10 hrs

Kathmandu, Sep 21 (IANS) A brave and moving story of loyalty and unquenchable spirit that began in Tibet nearly two decades ago has now got a sequel with one of its 14 heroines succeeding in escaping to India after an aborted earlier bid.

Palden Choedron, a 37-year-old Tibetan nun, became famous as one of the 14 'Singing Nuns' who defied prison and torture to smuggle out tapes containing songs in praise of their country and its exiled leader, the Dalai Lama.

Imprisoned twice, she has finally been able to escape from Tibet and reach Dharamsala in northern India's Himachal Pradesh this month, New York-based International Campaign for Tibet said in a statement.

Choedron, who became a nun at 14, joined a peaceful protest against Chinese excesses in 1990, for which she was sent to the notorious Drapchi prison in Tibet for three years. Dozens of other nuns were also imprisoned following the imposition of martial law and a harsh crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, which continues even today.

In 1993, when Choedron's sentence was to end, she joined the 13 other nuns in what is known as the 'Sound of Music' saga of Tibet. The jailed nuns recorded songs in their prison cells, praising the Dalai Lama and Tibet to show that their spirit had not been broken.

After the tapes were smuggled out and gained wide publicity outside Tibet, the nuns were tortured severely, resulting in the death of one of them, Ngawang Lochoe, in prison.

Choedron's sentence was extended by five more years. Though released in 1998, she could not return to her nunnery for fear of reprisals.

Four months later, she tried to escape from Tibet to reach Dharamsala, the seat of the Dalai Lama. However, she was caught and again sent to prison for three more years.

In March 2006, the last of the singing nuns had finally been released from prison after campaigns by human rights organisations. However, they were forced to lead a life under constant observation and were unable to return to their old ways of life.

Two of the nuns were allowed to go into exile in the US after intense behind-the-scene diplomatic lobbying.

In May 2006, two more of the released nuns - Rigzin Choekyi, who served 12 years in prison, and Lhundrub Zangmo, who served nine years - arrived in Dharamsala after escaping from Tibet through Nepal.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)