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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Montrealer Flms Monks' Trek

June 1, 2008

Jason Magder,
The Gazette (Montreal, Canada)
May 30, 2008

MONTREAL - In a few days, Michael Willcock's travel companions could
either be shot, arrested or sent to a concentration camp near the
India-Tibet border.

The Vanier College graduate is the only Canadian to have joined a
group of Tibetan refugee monks on a march from the Indian town of
Dharamsala - the seat of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama -
back to Tibet. They set out on March 10, the 49th anniversary of
Tibet's national uprising against China.

"They have all accepted the fact they could die or they could be
tortured when they get back to Tibet," said Willcock, 22, who is
holed up in a tent on the grounds of a monastery in the Indian city
of Nainital after Indian officials barred him from the march.

Until last week, Willcock, who is filming the trek for a documentary
he plans to produce, was one of six foreigners on the march. Indian
police arrested the other five, who hail from the United States and
Europe, on May 23 and ordered them to leave the country.

Indian authorities said the foreigners had violated the terms of
their visitor's visas by taking part in a religious activity,
according to the Times of India.

Willcock evaded police by crouching in the bushes. After fleeing, he
was unable to rejoin the march because police were prohibiting any
foreigners to pass without proper papers. He made his way to a nearby
town and then travelled to a monastery in Nainital, about 100
kilometres away, to conduct interviews. He pitched a tent on the
grounds of the monastery and plans to stay there until he can figure
out a way to get back to the march without being stopped by local authorities.

"I'd really like to get back there and document everything that's
going on because it's a very pivotal moment," he said by cellphone
this week. "They're not letting anyone through without papers. It's
going to be difficult, but I am going to try to get back as soon as I can."

The march is intended to bring world attention to the cause of the
Tibetans. For the monks, however, it's also a way to get back to
their homeland.

"They just want to see Tibet, or touch the ground, one more time
before they die. They want to be back in their homeland when they
die," Willcock said.

Many of the monks on the march are among the 100,000 Tibetans who
were exiled from their home country in 1959 at the same time as the
Dalai Lama. Some of the marchers were born in refugee camps in India.

"It is a non-violent resistance against an oppressive and violent
force," Willcock said, alluding to China, whose military crackdown in
1959 prompted the uprising. "It's in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi,
Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela."

The marchers now are at a standoff with Indian police at the bottom
of a ravine near Almora, a town about 200 kilometres from the Tibet
border. It would take about a month for marchers to travel the
mountainous terrain. It's unclear when the march will continue, but
the monks are determined to press on.

"It would be very difficult for police to surround 300 people and
take them up the ravine and off to jail - they don't have the
resources for that," Willcock said.

Indian police have stymied the protesters on several occasions during
the march.

Four days in, while trying to cross from one Indian state into
another, marchers were stopped by police and many were arrested.
While some marchers were held in jail for two days, Willcock was
detained for just an hour.

"They thought I was an Indian national until I opened my mouth. Then
they sent me out," Willcock said.

"It's too bad, because I wanted to stay to document what was going on
inside the jail."

Willcock said he believes Indian police are following the group
closely and are even monitoring their phone calls. To make sure his
footage isn't seized by local authorities, he has been mailing his
tapes to Belgium, and he plans to pick them up after he has finished
shooting footage, sometime in September.

Despite resistance from local law enforcement, Willcock said there
has not been any major violence toward the group.

The monks who have been his travelling companions for nearly two
months have taught him a lot about compassion, he said.

"Some have scars all over their bodies or bullet holes, but they have
completely forgiven the people who tortured them or killed their
families and who are responsible for all their suffering," Willcock said.

"I want to bring back that message and show people that people are
trying to solve their problems in a way that doesn't involve war or
violence or killing other people, but purely from the heart, showing
love and compassion. I think the best way to fight for freedom is
peaceful resistance."

The monks have already forgiven their attackers for transgressions
they will perpetrate against them in the future, he added. The monks
believe they won't have an easy time crossing into Tibet and could be
killed even before they set foot in their homeland.

Willcock said he hopes to capture that pivotal moment on film, though
he'll try not to get too close, having vowed beforehand not to cross
the frontier.

"I have never feared for my own life because I never considered
actually crossing the border," he said.

Willcock's mother, Dawn Bramadat, said she's incredibly proud of her
son's journey, but it's hard being so far away and knowing he may be in danger.

"He didn't get a visa to get into China and therefore into Tibet, and
I was a bit relieved when that happened," she said from her home in
Notre Dame de Grâce. "He will have to stop at the border, and that
will be hard for him, knowing he will be separated from his friends
and fellow marchers."
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