Valley Tibetans plan march from Amherst to Northampton to decry continued exile
AMHERST — It has been more than half a century since a failed Tibetan uprising, but local Tibetans still commemorate that day and hope for a time when they can return to Tibet without fear of persecution.
This Sunday, Tibetans and their supporters will walk from the Amherst Town Common to Northampton City Hall to raise awareness.
The march will begin with a gathering at the Amherst Town Common at 11 a.m., when leaders will speak. At noon, participants will begin the walk through Hadley along Route 9. They anticipate arriving in Northampton by 4 p.m., where there will be a candlelight vigil. The event is expected to end by 6:30 p.m.
Thupten Choeden, a Tibetan exile who serves as president of the Amherst Regional Tibetan Association, said it is discouraging that the fight for Tibetan freedom has gone on so long, “but in the long run, we are very hopeful our problem will be solved and his holiness the Dalai Lama and Tibetans will go back to Tibet.”
Most members of the Tibetan community in the Valley, estimated to number between 60 and 70 people, are expected to attend, according to Choeden. He said the community has marked the anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, which took place March 10, 1959, for many years.
In recent years the event has also paid tribute to Tibetans who have engaged in self-immolation. These protesters will be remembered in speeches and prayers at the start and end of the march.
The marchers are also seeking to raise awareness in order to push the United States and the UN to speak out against Tibetan persecution, said Choeden.
More than 100 Tibetans have protested Chinese rule in Tibet by setting themselves on fire since 2009, when the wave of self-immolation began. Over 80 of them have died.
Self-immolation was their last resort Choeden said, because under hardline Chinese policies “they are not free” because they do not have freedom of speech or freedom of religion.
Choeden, who has lived in Northampton since 1998, was born in Tibet but moved to India when he was 12. He has not returned to Tibet. Like all Tibetans in exile, he said, he is hoping to return some day.
The Amherst Regional Tibetan Association, which is newly formed, organized this year’s march. It includes members from Amherst, Northampton and the surrounding towns, according to Choeden. In the past, protests have been organized informally by the Tibetan community.