Mysterious Murders Shock Tibetan Community
(by Emma Levine | Outlook | February 19, 1997)

Three Tibetan monks stabbed brutally to death; a trail of bloody footprints; a history of repeated death threats; Chinese spies; hired assassins and a community that seems to have closed ranks....

All the ingredients of a bizarre whodunit, yet there was nothing unreal about the discovery made by a young monk studying at the Buddhist Institute of Dialectics in the village of McLeod Ganj. On the night of February 4 at 8 pm, just four days before Losar, the Tibetan New Year, when he took tea for his director and two students, working together on translating manuscripts at the director's residence, the young monk found them stabbed brutally: 70-year-old Lopsang Gyatso, the director, on his bed; Nagawang Lodoe and Lobsang Nagawang, both in their 20s, on the floor.

While some suspect the Shugdhen group, others blame the Chinese and still others treat it as a crime for money. Barely alive when they were found, one died on his way to the Delek Hospital. Lodoe was refused treatment there, and was sent to Chandigarh, dying shortly before arrival in the ambulance. "That made the tragedy worse," says one of his fellow students. "If he'd been treated locally they could have saved his life."

The following day, as the news filtered through town, Tibetan shops, offices and restaurants closed as a mark of respect. That afternoon the police followed a trail of bloody footprints outside a ground-floor room in the building next door and rounded its six Tibetan inmates for questioning. The suspects claimed they had only had a fight among themselves after a bout of drinking. Fingers point towards the Shugdhen group, a faction of Tibetan Buddhists who worship Dorje Shugdhen, the deity of wealth and fame. The Tibetan community is divided over its worship the Dalai Lama reportedly advised people against worshipping the deity in his teachings last year.

Gyatso too was a well-known opponent of Dorje Shugdhen and had reportedly received many death-threats from the Shugdhen group, who have a large following in London and a smaller one in Delhi. Superintendent RK Singh, who is leading the inquiry, is convinced that this group is behind the murders. But there are also murmurs within and outside the community that the Chinese may have a hand in the crime. "It is quite possible that the Chinese or a Tibetan paid to spy for the Chinese hired an assassin to kill the director who was a much respected and influential figure in our community. They will do anything to cause problems here," says Lobsang Tenphell, an assistant to the secretary of the Dalai Lama's office. "It is also possible that the men who are currently being questioned could have been paid by the Shugdhen group. After all, they were men with little money who could have been tempted. Who knows?"

Others think it has nothing to do with religion or politics. "Itís all about money. After all, this happened a few days after the director returned from a trip to Hong Kong," says Rajiv, a travel agent who lives next to the Institute of Dialectics. "Why isn't anyone talking? Local residents say they saw and heard nothing," wonders an American writer who has studied the Tibetan culture.

"This is like Italy people are afraid to talk." The reticence is surprising since the room where the murders took place is on the middle floor of a three-storey building, visible from surrounding houses, the Namgyal Temple (the Dalai Lama's temple) and the Institute of Dialectics. Says Singh:

"It's difficult to believe there are no witnesses. We're trying for more cooperation from the Tibetans' own security organisation. We need their help and want them to be more open, but they are a closed community, suspicious of Indians." No clues were recovered from the location itself. A large sack containing a bloodstained bedsheet, a small cushion caked with blood and some clothes are not being treated as vital evidence by the police. Says Singh: "We took what we thought was relevant from the room for forensic testing to our lab in Shimla. We'll have the results shortly."

Hundreds gathered outside the Namgya Temple at the time of cremation of the dead monks. Mourners lined the streets waiting for the convoy of vehicles carrying the bodies from Dharamshala. Clutching incense sticks, some followed the vehicles for about 2 km to the cremation ground.

Darkness enveloped McLeod Ganj that evening, the silence broken only by explosions of firecrackers in celebration of Losar. Meant to drive away evil spirits, the children lighting them seemed oblivious of other dark spirits lurking in the community.

Friends of Tibet (INDIA)
Friends of Tibet (INDIA), PO Box 16674, Bombay 400050