Thursday, May 29, 2008

Indian views on Tibet: Lhasa, in translation

by Barkha Dutt
Wednesday, 28 May 2008, 10:37 a.m.

Nineteen years ago, when I was still at school, there used to be a photograph plastered across my bedroom wall, where it shared sizeable space with other emblems of teenage angst. At the time it was perhaps the world's single-most recognisable image: a slightly built young man about to be crushed under the might of a giant tank, refusing to move, staring the might of an entire Nation State in the eye.

The 'Tank Man' - as the unknown rebel came to be known globally - was an icon for my generation. The fact that no one knew who he was only multiplied his magnificent courage in our minds. Whether or not you knew your Mao from your Deng, Tiananmen Square became a universal theme song for rebellion, inspiring elegies and ballads from Leonard Cohen and Joan Baez, among others.

But like much else in life, it didn't take long for the romanticised idealism of youth to be jolted into cynical adulthood.

The protests of 1989 failed to evolve into a coherent ideology for change, the rebel leadership combusted from self-destruction and economic reforms catapulted China into political stardom. It was clear that the anger in the aftermath of the massacre at Tiananmen Square had been sounder than fury.

Even the Google boys, who inspired us into believing that a great idea could change the world, succumbed to the mundane compulsions of the market. In mainland China, if you're 'googling' the internet for details of the Tiananmen killings or 'independence' for Taiwan or Tibet, you won't find anything but a list of rules and regulations.

Google agreed to censor itself and became a complicit partner in the erasure of history. An episode of the Simpsons (owned ironically by the Murdoch media empire that caved into every major media restriction demanded by the Chinese government) summed it up the best. As the holidaying Simpson family strolls through Tiananmen Square, they stop at a plaque reading, "On this spot, in 1989, nothing happened."

Today, nearly two decades later, as we applaud the dimple-faced Dalai Lama's gentle pragmatism and are shamed into guilt by the helpless tears of red-robed monks, I can't help feeling a horrible and cynical sense of déjàvu. Yes, op-ed writers and 'thinking' actors have been passionately outspoken about the Tibet cause. And yes, an otherwise impassive regime in Beijing seems momentarily on the defensive.

Yet, one can't help thinking that history will spin once more in a cycle of liberal rage and paramount indifference. We are sentimental (and simultaneously ignorant) about Tibet just as we were about the Tiananmen struggle back in the 90s. We respond with empathy to the Tibetan search for identity, not because we necessarily understand the complex political history that drives the movement, but almost entirely because of the benign grace of its leadership.

In fact, scarred by Partition and bruised by violence in Kashmir and the North-east, Indians are by and large notoriously unsympathetic to separatist causes anywhere in the world. The middle-class Indian is scarily enamoured of the idea of a mighty Nation State that rules with an iron fist. Take away the twinkling eyes, soothing spirituality and chuckling Irreverence of the Dalai Lama, and his measured calls for non-violence, and ask yourself, would you still care about Tibet if he were not at the helm? Or would you be obsessing instead about Chinese good flooding the Indian market and swallowing domestic companies in tsunami-like waves? Last month, when the Prime Minister was in China, crafting the theatrics of a changing relationship, Tibet wasn't even loud enough to be a stage whisper. But I don't remember any of us being especially upset. Instead, there was relief that the dragon could be a friendly animal too.

The truth is, that while there is much hand-wringing and chest-beating about Tibet, trapped in our own our dysfunctional love and loathing for China, we are uncertain about how to respond-sometimes cautions, sometimes cautions, sometimes impulsive and, sadly, often indifferent.

Diplomacy though cannot afford to be mandlin or unpredictable. It is by definition much more strategic and self-serving. Step back then and stack up the varied responses of the world to the current crisis. You may lose count of the number of hypocrisies that have come to haunt the China-Tibet debates.

There's America-lofty in its criticism, supposedly generous about how the Olympic Games must 'go on,' furiously calculating trade volumes with one hand and how to contain Beijing with the other. Democracy isn't Washington's favourite word when it comes to oil rich Saudi Arabia or a pliant Pakistan. But it's thrown about as a selective philosophical principle when needed. There's France and its playboy President who is asking for a boycott of the Olympics, but leads a country that has simultaneously been trying to persuade the European Parliament to lift an arms sale embargo against China.

Closer home, the socially liberal communist-so quick to condemn 'State brutalities and human rights violations within India-haven't just been silent, but they've actually termed Tibet an 'internal matter' for their ideological compatriots to tackle on their own terms. Then there's the BJP-filled with well-meaning rage at the government's effete lack of intervention, but stub-bornly blind to the parallels the people of Kashmir may draw from the Tibet struggle.

And finally, there's the Congress, unable or unwilling to respond coherently. Till the churlish mid-night missive was delivered to our Ambassador in china, the government actually seemed a trifle pleased to receive a pat on the back from its northern neighbour on how it had 'handled' the protest. The Indian government prides itself on the hardball it has played with the world's superpowers on demanding a seat for itself at the global high table. But we are too timid and tentative to even allow a meeting between the Dalai Lama and the Vice-President.

And then, of course, there is the rest of us-captivated by the poignant photo opportunity of the Present, till we turn the page and forget all about a tragedy called Tibet.

(This article appeared in Times of India on 29 March 2008. The writer is a Managing Editor of NDTV 24*7.The views expressed in this column are those of the writer, not necessarily those of the Central Tibetan Administration)

Courtesy to

Saturday, May 17, 2008

*Now Tibet is not so far*

*Now Tibet is not so far*

When I packed my sleeping bag that early morning before
sunrise for this long journey, I placed a white (khatak)
scarf at the alter of His Holiness and said I have decided,
whatever happens, I will make my way through. Walking for
almost 70 with 300 people covering more than 900 kilometers
through Himachal, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, UP, we reached
Almora town yesterday in the Kumaon Mountains in the
north Indian state of Uttrakhand. From here Tibet is
not very far.

The March to Tibet began from Dharamsala on 10th March,
the same day similar uprisings happened all around the
world, organized by Tibetans and Tibet supporters, even
in Tibet -- a global Tibetan uprising. We started with 100
core marchers, on our way many more joined us. As we leave
Almora tomorrow into the high mountain valleys towards
Tibet, we are 300 marchers and eight support marchers who
are foreigners from different countries, some of whom have
been with us from Dharamsala.

All along the route the Indian people have welcomed us
with warmth, cheered our spirit and in some places offered
us water and shelter. At most places we spent our nights
in Ashrams, Gurudwaras and schools, sometimes on empty
grounds on the roadside, where the local municipality
provided water in tankers driven by tractors. Indians have
a culture of going for long journeys across their country
for pilgrimages and therefore hospitality is a natural
custom. The police have been sending an escort all along
the route in jeeps or on motorbikes passing the security
duty from one district to the next.

You must be aware that we were arrested by Indian police
in Kangra District on the 13th March and jailed us for 14
days. The second batch of the March was launched three
days later and that carried on the March spirit. After
our release, all 100 of us rejoined the March, but there
is already a court case slapped on us. At the end of the
last month, Choeying, Lobsang Yeshi and I had to appear
in Dehra court and will have to do that again in June.

I learned that some people had the impression from
various media reports that the March had been canceled.
I myself received phone calls from few people whose doubts
I cleared. Seeing an imminent confrontation at the border,
His Holiness did advise the organizers against the continuation
of the March, but after seeing the courageous non-violent
uprisings that happened all over Tibet and the ongoing
Chinese crackdown on our people in Tibet, our commitment
was revitalized by their sacrifice and inspired us. Now we
can't stop it. So we re-launched the March to Tibet from
Delhi on the 19th April after a temporary halt.

The journey from Delhi passing through UP was difficult;
it was extremely hot, dry and dusty. The trucks and buses
on the highway threatened to run over us sometimes rushing
by our ears, and sometimes stopping by to pick our campaign
flyers that we were handing out on the road. As we walked
one after the other in a long single file like the multiple
legs of a millipede -- one long body. Even when the head
has taken the next turn, the tail is still trailing behind
from the last corner.

The Marchers wake up at 4 am, after washing and packing
sleeping bags, tents and mattresses, we have breakfast
and start walking at 5 am. Usually walking for 6 to
7 hours a day we cover a distance of 20-25 kilometers,
sometimes walking even 27 or 28 kilometers. The logistics
and kitchen team move ahead in trucks and set up the
camp. At many places water is luxury. We bathe under
hand-pump water taps on the roadsides; scores of monks
bathe together sometimes in wheat fields. It's a great
experience answering nature's calls in open fields under
the moonlight with a jug of water by your side.

Most of the marchers are Buddhist monks from the three
monastic universities in south India; some old people
who escaped from Tibet along with His Holiness the Dalai
Lama in 1959, the eldest one being 78. The youngest are
two 17-year-old boys, born and brought up in India and
have never seen Tibet. There are several young mothers
who left behind their family in the care of their
husbands. Our communication team tries to reach out to
the outside world and also arranges opportunities to talk
to local media. During the evening gatherings, after the
daily prayer, the media coordinator tells the news. Many
times the Marchers applaud Tibet support actions taken in
different parts of India and abroad. The protest against
the torch in London, Paris, San Francisco, Canberra and
Tokyo received huge appreciation. The ongoing Tibetan
protests in Kathmandu are highly appreciated understanding
Nepalese police brutality.

We are now starting the last leg of the March. From
Almora to the border is now barely 200 kilometers,
and it will now be cold as we ascend higher into the
Himalayas. I know returning to a homeland that is still
under foreign occupation is not easy. Chinese military will
of course guard the border with machine guns, even Indian
police will find an excuse to stop us. Confrontation is
inevitable, but we are not stopping. We may even have to
camp at the border for a long time, might have to call
for international support and participation. We march
into uncertainty.

The March to Tibet is a process for us to return to our
homeland and reclaim our right to be in our native land
in freedom. Whatever happens, we have deep commitment to
non-violence; we will not retaliate. We may be beaten,
jailed or even shot at, but we are not giving up. And
for me there is no other plan in life other than this
March. For all of us marchers, this is our life commitment.

For daily updates and photos about the march,
and to read personal stories of the Marchers please visit:
We have a number of non-Tibetan support Marchers who have
been walking with us for a couple days or longer, and some
right from the beginning. If you are interested in joining
please contact our coordinators:
Sherab Woeser (cell phone: 0091-9418394426)
Lobsang Yeshi (cell phone: 0091-9410936742 / 9756969141).
If you are far away or can't join us, you can help spread the word.
Donations of sleeping bags, shoes and mattresses can be of great use.
Your financial contribution can help feed the Marchers and give water
to keep us going. I count for every Tibetan's contribution
towards this movement.

Bod Gyalo! (Victory to Tibet!)

*Tenzin Tsundue, on the way to Tibet*
May 13, 2008
Almora, Uttarakhand State, India
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