The beauty of Lhakar lies in its embrace of simplicity. It focuses on the fundamental elements of freedom, the most mundane decisions a person makes in her daily life – when to go to the temple, what kind of music to listen to, what language to speak while giving your phone number to someone, which restaurant to eat in, which shop to buy groceries from – rather than the bigger decisions that carry a higher price tag.
Lhakar doesn’t expect freedom to come from a change in Chinese government policy nor from a change of heart in Beijing, but from our own daily thoughts, decisions and actions. Emphasizing small acts of resistance rather than public acts of protest, it urges Tibetans to take practical actions – actions that strengthen Tibetan identity, culture, society and economy through individual, grassroots efforts – in their homes, at their workplaces, on their computers, in the fields. In this sense, Lhakar is about what you do when no one is looking.
The first signs of Lhakar appeared sometime in late 2008 in the aftermath of the Tibet Spring, the nationwide March uprising against Chinese rule. As China escalated its repression on all collective actions or expressions, Tibetans began engaging in a de-collectivized form of activism, turning their homes into the last holdout of the resistance. Through practical and personal actions such as wearing traditional clothes, eating Tibetan food, reading prayers on Wednesdays, many Tibetans began to use their individual space to celebrate a political and religious identity that has been suppressed for decades.
Through individualization of activism, the goal of Lhakar is to increase space for – and lower the cost of – resistance in Tibet. Its strategy is to wield Tibetans’ own limited personal choices and cultural flexibilities as a tool to wedge open more social, political and economic space. Creating this new paradigm, Lhakar is changing the way Tibetans conceive activism.