Last week I posted about the swastika as well as the swastika tattoo and its history amongst Buddhists. The video that I linked to was part of a three part series done by activist/journalist Heidiminx on Tibetan political prisoners and their tattoos.
In this second video of the series, Tibetan activist Pasang Dorjee speaks about his “Free Tibet” tattoo, which he did himself in a Chinese prison. Though the Chinese guards in his prison could not read the Tibetan script of his tattoo, Dorjee was later forced to covertly alter the lettering of the tattoo while in a different prison. Using a needle and ink made from a candle wick, he managed to change the tattoo from “Free Tibet” to read “Fighter for the Land of Snow”, as there were rumours circulating that Chinese prison officials were getting dangerously close to discovering that he had a “Free Tibet” tattoo.
The third video is of 21-year-old Tibetan refugee Pasang. He shows off his tattoos and explains how and why they were done. Both videos provide a fascinating, yet unsettling view into the lives of Tibetans who have managed to escape from Chinese occupied Tibet to India. They leave behind their families and friends and retain only these tattoos as reminders of who they are and where they come from. These tattoos can cost their bearers lengthy prison sentences, torture and even death. As Pasang Dorjee explains in the first of these two videos, getting tattooed while incarcerated in a Chinese prison is illegal and will lead to harsh repercussions.
These men have taken great risk and effort to ink their beliefs on to their skin. Although their tattoos are not done by professionals, they are important symbols of the resistance and determination which they have repeatedly risked their lives for. This is tattooing at its most basic – most likely the only form of scratching that I can approve of, and a bold declaration of the power of tattoo in the everyday lives of remarkable people facing brutal odds.