According to our friend Himanshu Thakkar, founder and coordinator of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), at least two people have been killed by police in the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
Thakkar writes, “As of 4:00 pm on Monday, 2nd May 2016 two people were killed and many injured while protesting against the arrest of Lama Lobsang Gyatso in Tawang today. There are unconfirmed reports that four people, including a Buddhist Lama, have been killed.”
“What a shocking turn of events in Tawang district in Arunachal Pradesh, following machinations by the pro-hydro lobby and mismanagement by the police….”
The victims were protesting for the release of Lama Lobsang Gyatso, one of the most vocal opponents of hydropower projects in the Tawang region and secretary of Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF), an organization of the Monpa community in the Mon-Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh.
Lama Lobsang Gyatso seems to have been arrested on trumped-up charges relating to a dispute with the Abbot of Tawang Monastery. His supporters were protesting for his release when the shooting happened.
Under Lobsang Gyatso’s leadership, SMRF has been advocating socio-culturally and ecologically sensitive development in the Mon-Tawang region. The group has protested against ecologically destructive hydropower projects, demanded accountability in the execution of government schemes and development projects, and exposed corruption.
And their work has been bearing fruit: On April 7th, the National Green Tribunal suspended the environmental clearance of the 780 MW Nyamjang Chhu hydropower project in response to an appeal the group filed. The Tribunal asked for a fresh impact assessment studies, a public hearing for local people, and an appraisal by the Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley & Hydroelectric projects and the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
A major issue was the dam’s impact on the wintering habitat of the black-necked crane, a vulnerable bird that’s sacred to the Buddhist Monpa community, who consider it an embodiment of the 6th Dalai Lama, who was from Tawang and wrote about the bird in his poetry.
Lobsang Gyatso and SMRF have been supporting villagers in recording their objections against other destructive hydropower projects in Tawang too, including Tawang II HEP.
However Lobsang Gyatso’s success seems to have made him a target for the local police authorities.
On Tuesday, April 26th, he was arrested for allegedly leading a group of people from Gongkhar village. SMRF is opposed to the reconstruction of the spillway of the small 6 MW Mukto Shakangchu hydropower project in Gonghkar; they say that work quality has been compromised. Gyatso was arrested for disruption of peace, but he was soon released on bail.
Just two days later, however, Lobsang Gyatso was arrested again. This time, he was arrested for alleged critical comments against Guru Rinpoche, the Abbot of Tawang Monastery. The two reportedly disagreed about whether lamas should be involved in hydropower protests. Guru Rinpoche, however, has stated through both through a radio interview and a signed statement on May 1st that he sought to find a peaceful solution to the dispute.
But it seems that local political leaders sensed an opportunity to go after Gyatso. Local media reports in Arunachal alluded to the fact that the issue has heated up, and local leaders have used this opportunity to corner Gyatso after the Tribunal’s recent ruling against the Nyamjang Chhu HEP, as well as SMRF’s strong position on destructive hydropower projects. A police complaint was filed against Gyatso.
After the complaint was filed, Lobsang Gyatso received a death threat from one of the local leaders, Lobsang Youten. Gyatso filed his own police complaint against Youten for the death threat and asked for police protection. Youten was arrested and immediately granted bail. But Lobsang Gyatso was arrested and denied bail.
Since the arrest of Lobsang Gyatso on Thursday, lay people and lamas have been calling for his release. His opponents have also held meetings and rallies.
This morning (Monday, May 2nd), more lay people and lamas came out in large numbers to support Lobsang Gyatso and press for his release. Lobsang Gyatso was taken for his bail hearing and returned without getting it. He was brought back and secretly taken in from the back door of the police station bypassing the protestors in the front. When people moved toward the police station to protest they were fired upon. Apparently no tear gas or rubber bullets were used. One of the deceased received a bullet in his forehead.
After the shooting, Lobsang Gyatso was given bail. But the manner in which the police have dealt with the protestors is shocking, to say the least.
We will share more updates as we have them. But for now, please contact the authorities in Delhi and Arunachal Pradesh to protest these despicable murders:
Mr. Kalikho Pul, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh
Mr. Moji Riba, Special Secretary, Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh
Phone: 91 – 8415807708
Officer in Charge, Tawang Police Station
Phone: 91 – 9436254289