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The Long March Home

June 18, 2008

Jamyang Norbu
June 17, 2008

Mother Pollard was probably the oldest participant in the Montgomery
Bus Boycott. Apparently no one knew her actual age or her first name,
she was just called Mother. After several weeks of walking painfully
to her destinations, people had urged Mother Pollard to drop out of
the boycott and ride the buses. Mother Pollard refused. She made an
offhand comment in response which has since become famous. She said:
"My feets is tired, but my soul is rested."

I think this is how the Rangzen Marchers must be feeling right now,
feet(s) tired but hearts at rest, when they glimpse the snow capped
peaks in the distance and know they are getting close to home.
Looking through the photographs in their website
( I notice a number of old palas and amalas among
the marchers. One old man has a cane in his right hand a national
flag in his left and a portrait of His Holiness hanging from his
neck. But he looks good for another few hundred miles.

Quite a few freedom struggles have at least one good march in their
stories. There is of course Mao's Long March, which has been much
mythologized by CCP, but whose core narrative has been effectively
demolished a couple of years ago by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday in
their Mao: The Unknown Story. They effectively proved that even the
heroic battle at the Luding Bridge (which Tibetans call gya chamsam
chenmo and believe was built by Thangton Gyalpo) was virtually
invented – cut out of whole cloth – by communist propagandists.

But marches in non-violent freedom movements though perhaps less
celebrated have more substantial and genuine resonance. I met an old
black minister in Dharamshala once who had marched with Doctor King
from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The marchers not only endured the
heat, dust and hardships of the march itself, but were set upon by
state troopers and deputies with dogs, billy clubs, tear gas and bull
whips. Seventeen marchers were hospitalized and one was killed, but
after two more marches the conscience of the nation was awakened and
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Then we have Gandhi's Salt March, from his Sabarmati Ashram to the
coastal village of Dandi in Gujurat (about 390 kilometerss 240 miles)
on March 12, 1930. It was initially derided by many at the time,
especially in the English langage press in India. The ultra
nationalists thought that such symbolic action was ridiculous and
contemptible. Gandhi's choice of the salt tax as a symbolic target of
his march was initially met with incredulity even by the Working
Committee of the Congress.

But the salt tax was a profound symbolic choice, since salt was used
by nearly everyone in India. It represented 8.2% of the British Raj
tax revenue, and most significantly hurt the poorest Indians the
most. Gandhi felt that this protest would dramatize Indian
Independence in a way that was meaningful to the lowliest Indians. It
was also the first action to demonstrate Purna Swaraj or complete
self-rule which was declared on Januray 26 earlier that year by the
Indian National Congress.

The symbolism of the March to Tibet is in its destination. That is
where the marchers, through their determination and sacrifice, are
telling us where we must we must commit all our energy, all our
resources, everything, to achieve the independence that Tibetans
earlier this year called out for in the streets of Lhasa, Labrang,
Kanze and other centers in Tibet.

The Salt March failed to win major concessions from the British, and
80, 000 Indian were jailed as a result. But the campaign had a
significant effect on changing world and British attitudes toward
Indian independence, and caused large numbers of Indians to actively
join the fight for the first time.

I know some people have been skeptical of the March to Tibet. A
former TYC president made a dismissive comment about it in a meeting
in New York earlier this year. And perhaps there is a some ground for
a little skepticism. In 1995 Dharamshala politicians from the United
Association (chigdril tsokpa) and the three regional parties (cholkha
sum) organized a Peace March to Tibet. The goal was later switched to
Delhi. Halfway, at Ambala, the march-leaders hustled everyone on
buses claiming that they had to be in New Delhi to meet the Dalai
Lama. Thupten Ngodup who had volunteered for the march later
expressed his strong disappointment to a friend.

But this time our Marchers have proved immensely courageous,
determined and resourceful. I have lost count of the times that their
leaders, or a contingent of the marchers, have been arrested. Somehow
they keep coming back. When I saw the photograph of what seemed like
at least a few thousand Indian policemen filling the side of a
mountain road in Utterkhand, I thought it was all over. But I was
wrong. Five non-Tibetan volunteers on the March have been issued
"Quit India" notices, but they have probably managed to get around
them too. The marchers also had the Indian authorities stopping their
food supplies and impounding their trucks, but they seem to have
overcome those problems as well. Probably the worst moment for the
marchers must have been when the Dalai Lama ordered them to give up
the march. His Holiness told the press (Reuters) that he thought the
march was dangerous and pointless.

Of course it is dangerous business. One marcher has already died. If
the Indian authorities allow them to cross the border, they could be
shot by the Chinese. They would definitely be arrested and jailed. I
am informed that tomorrow, Tuesday the 17th, is D–Day. The marchers
will be arriving at Dharchula, the last border town before the "inner
line" of the Indo-Tibet border. My informant tells me that "It seems
that the police will definitely stop the marchers and arrest everyone
here tomorrow."

Yet I know that the march will somehow continue. I can't tell you
how, but I absolute faith in the courage, the determination and the
resourcefulness of the leaders and the participants of the March. All
I ask of you the reader is to forward this article to as many friends
and acquaintances, and bring as much public attention to this history
making event. Go to their website and put in your greetings and
encouragements. They should know that we are with them always.

I cannot help directly but tomorrow I am going to burn some juniper
and sage and make a sangsol offering with my wife and kids. I will
offer a prayer to all the old gods and goddesses of Tibet (the fierce
gods who once gave us victory over the Tang Empire) to watch over the
marchers, to protect our people and guard the integrity, the
life-force (la) of our ancient nation against the gya-dre demons of China.

Among the marchers is an ex-paratrooper who has received a medal of
valour from the prime minister of India for single-handedly wiping
out two Pakistani bunkers at Kargil. Right now these Tibetans are
marching peacefully for freedom. One day these same people could be
marching with rifles. What happens will in large part be dictated by
how China deals with its Tibet problem. But the March will go on.

The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the
publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect
their endorsement by the website.
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