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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Born in exile: the young Tibetans of Dharamsala

November 24, 2008

More than 500 Tibetan dignitaries in exile met for a week in
Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile. It was the
largest assembly of Tibetans in 60 years.
Sébastien DAGUERRESSAR
France 24 News
November 21, 2008

Five-hundred and fifty-one Tibetan dignitaries met in Dharamsala,
India, where the Dalai Lama has been living in exile since 1959.
Discussion focused on the possibility of radicalising the struggle
for Tibetan autonomy, given that the Dalai Lama has recognised the
inefficacy of a conciliatory approach to Beijing. This radicalisation
has been taken up by Tibetan youths in particular, who want total
independence for Tibet. In the streets of Dharamsala, our special
correspondent Sébastien Daguerressar got firsthand testimonies from
these young Indian-born Tibetans, who dream of winning back a country
they have never seen.

He sits on the pavement, facing the temple on Dharamsala's main road.
Teacup in hand and MP3 player in his ears, he takes in the sun. "I'm
considering exile,' he says, anticipating my question. His name is
Khenrab Palden, 26, and exile for him is not just a personal goal -
it's a professional one. He is a filmmaker. His parents left Tibet
before he was born, he explains. But thanks to the Tibetan community,
his parents set up a business and managed to send their son to study in the US.

Khendrab Palden, young Tibetan filmmaker
In Massachusetts, Khernrab studies anthropology, the history of
religion, and film. "I feel 60% Tibetan, 20% Indian, and 20%
American. My country will be where I make my living. Tibetans are
like the Jews chased out of their countries by Hitler. Their exodus
included artists, photographers, musicians, directors. I think in 20
years Tibetans will also become a people of the arts." He orders
another tea, and continues: "I have returned to prepare for my new
film. It's not a documentary. It's fiction, about viewing Tibet
through the eyes of young Tibetans, from India or elsewhere, who have
never seen their country. It's complicated for us. On the one hand,
it is the promised land: one imagines magnificent countrysides, a
land where all live in peace and harmony. But it is also a dangerous
land, where liberty does not exist, where the Chinese will kill and
imprison you. All young Tibetan exiles are torn between these two
views of Tibet -- one magnificent, the other horrible."

The old guard, the new generation

Among all the young Tibetans we met in Dharamsala, only one had been
to Tibet. Wangdui, age 32, lived in Tibet with his farmer parents and
his brothers and sisters until he was 12. "I have few memories, only
of the countryside, and the cows of my father," he says. One day, in
Lhassa, the boy found himself in the middle of a pro-autonomy
demonstration. That day, all the demonstrators were arrested. The
children were returned to their parents but were put under
house-arrest by the Chinese police. To protect the rest of the
family, Wangdui's parents had to resort to sending him to India with
a group of refugees. For 18 years, he has heard nothing from his
family. "Of course I'd like to know how they are, but if I write to
them, they will be under government watch, so I'd rather not."

Wangdui, torn from his family at age 12
As for this meeting, he says, "It's very important. I'd like there to
be concrete results. I'm for Tibetan independence. And I'd like for
it to happen in this lifetime." This is undoubtedly the main
difference between the old and new generations. The latter want to
see Tibet free now. Khenrab, the filmmaker, is of this view. "We
young people want immediate results. The high road refers to global
peace, but young people find that too slow, too unrealistic, too
theoretical. We want world peace too, but we need to talk about
Tibet, which affects us directly."

New war, new tools

Tibetan youth are impatient. It's not a question of taking up arms,
but to nonetheless prepare militarily and take matters into their own
hands. Foremost, they want their exile to come to the world's
attention. "Tibetan independence is not just dependant on the Dalai
Lama," says Sonam Dorjee, 20, wearing a Che Guevara button on his
jacket. He is a member of the Tibetan Youth Congress, a very active
pro-independence organisation. "It's a question that concerns the
whole world. Tibetans never were Chinese, and we are ready to give
our lives to fight this injustice. What will we do? Make your country
ashamed. Your countries – France, the UK, Germany, the US. It is they
who permit this suffering in the name of preserving their relations
with China."

Sonam DORJEE, 28, activist
To mobilise international opinion, these young Tibetans live deep in
the Indian mountains, armed with a weapon – the Internet. In their
village, where you can find a cybercafé every 20 metres, they create
sites like tibetonlinetv.net, allowing viewers to see the talks in
Dharamsala in real time. Namla Tsering, 30, is working on
kalontripa.org, which he started on October 25. "It's a forum for
Tibetans everywhere. The goal is to find as many candidates as
possible for the prime ministerial elections in 2011… Those who have
20 or more supporters are considered serious candidates."  Young
Tibetans are creating democracy.

Appeal to the international community

Among the 551 representatives in the conference hall, most are older
dignitaries and don't share the ideas of their younger counterparts.
"The older members confuse politics with religion," says Dorjee. We
met up with one of the rare radical delegates, a young monk who goes
by the paradoxical name of Venerable Bagdro. Smiling, he distributes
a book that he just wrote. "Most of the others are moderate. They
just want basic cultural autonomy. But the young generation wants
more aggressive and total independence, and I will try to tell their
story at this conference."

Vénérable Bagdro hands out the book he wrote about his detention

Bagdro is young, nearly 40, perhaps. But he has seen the worst. From
1988 to 1991 he was imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese. He
finally managed to get to France, where he was hospitalised under the
protection of Danielle Mitterand. "I defend the idea of bringing
every injustice to the attention of the international tribunal.
Moreover, that's what I did. Last June, I raised a grievance to the
Spanish court against Hu Jintao for the torture to which I was
subjected. That's what my book is about." Bagdro leaves us with these
words and a smile, on his way to the conference.
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