Loud voice, small ethnic group
Kalzang Drokar is the only representative of the smallest ethnic group in China during the annual political consultative sessions, but works hard to ensure her people’s voices are heeded.
The member of the China People’s Political Consultative Conference National Committee represents the Lhoba people, who have a population of about 3,000 in China, at the annual political consultative and legislative sessions in March.
“I have always fully cherished the role as a political adviser, and I have always pushed myself to make sure the voices of our people are heard,” said the head of the Damuluoba ethnic township in Metok county in the southeast of the Tibet autonomous region.
Drokar was recommended as a CPPCC member in 2012 and her political adviser role will last until March 2017.
“I had to speak up for my ethnic group, otherwise nobody else would,” she said.
Drokar, 40, said for the past four years, her proposals have largely focused on the protection of ecology in border areas and the passing on of the cultural heritage of ethnic groups.
Metok became China’s last county to be connected by highways in 2013, and its poor infrastructure previously helped preserve the ecological system, including primitive forests and wildlife.
“However, the number of tourists has increased sharply over the past two years, and we simply don’t have the capacity to take in a large number of visitors,” she said.
As a township official, Drokar said an important part of her job is to organize local residents to pick up trash thrown away by tourists.
“The garbage from outside is a major problem because we don’t have any waste treatment plants like in cities,” she said.
“If the environment is polluted here, the outcome will be much more severe than elsewhere. With poor medical care at township levels and unstable transport in the rainy season, catching a severe illness in a village would almost mean certain death.”
Transportation in the county remains a major challenge despite the opening of a new highway as flash floods or landslides during the rainy season can easily shut down roads.
“I don’t issue invitations to my friends or family members to visit my workplace during the rainy season. There are still unpredictable dangers at times,” she said.
A native of Gongbujiangda county, Drokar graduated from an agricultural college in Lhasa, the regional capital, in 1997, before being appointed as deputy head of a township in her hometown. She was appointed deputy head of the county bureau of justice in 2007.
She said it took her two months to make the decision to work in Metok county in 2012, where her husband was also working for the Metok county government.
“The natural environment was too harsh, and my family was trying to dissuade me from working there,” she said.
Drokar said her decision to become a political advisor came with its own regrets.
“Our group had a tradition of using rope skipping as a language to communicate and my aunt was the last woman who knew about it.
“She had asked me several times to either teach me the language or have me videotape it. But I was too busy. She broke her leg in 2014 and soon left us forever,” she said.
Drokar fears that may not be the only cultural heritage the Lhoba people are losing.
With no written language, the passing down or recording of the group’s culture is difficult, she said, even though having the clothes of the Lhoba people included on the list of National Intangible Cultural Heritage items makes her immensely proud.
“There is a lot still to be done. I hope I can do much more in the last year of my tenure,” she said.