The Chinese police came for him in the wee hours of a cold February morning in 1992 while he was traveling from Lhasa to Thengri. “They didn’t say anything. Just that they knew who I was and what I was doing,” says Jam, who was 24 then. He had formed an organization with five other friends called Dokham Shunu Shithup, with the aim of protesting against Chinese atrocities on Tibet. “We were young then, and very vocal about what we wanted to do. We were much more educated than the average Tibetan. We knew the Chinese police were keeping a close watch on us for all this,” he says. The organization was barely six months old.
Today at 43, Jam is the vice president of Gu Chu Sum, a Dharamshala-based organization that supports former political prisoners like him who escape to India from Tibet. In order to rehabilitate them, they are taught English, given lessons in using computers and other vocational skills.
He was one of the prisoners who joined the organization when he managed an escape in 1998. But the memories of the time spent at the Terlengkha Detention Centre and Pinang prison in Amdo, Tibet are still like a fresh wound. Calmly seated throughout the interview, Jam gets up and begins pacing around the room, gesturing with his hands as he describes the time spent in prison.
“It was shaped like the inside of a coffin. There was one narrow grilled opening high on the wall. But it wasn’t for us. It was designed that way so that the guards could look in,” says Jam, who was put into prison without trial as the Chinese government rejected his lawyer. Before he knew it, he was a “threat to the unity of the motherland” and was sentenced to 18 years.
Beatings in prison were an everyday affair. Electric batons would routinely be employed to check people not standing in a line for the two meals the prisoners got everyday, not saluting a guard, or not being able to recite the list of prison rules. “I find their form of torture foolish and medieval. It’s probably like Guantanamo Bay,” says Jam, who was locked up in a cell with four other Chinese convicts.