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Tibetans in exile still hold their dream

December 15, 2008

By Saransh Sehgal
Asia Times Online - Kowloon,Hong Kong
DHARAMSALA, India - Half a century after the Dalai Lama fled Tibet to live in exile here, many Tibetans and their offspring born in exile still dream of going back to their homeland. With that dream in their heads, many will join activities marking the 50th anniversary of the failed armed uprising in Tibet against Chinese rule.
The armed rebellion started on March 10, 1959, and was soon quashed by the People's Liberation Army. The failure of the uprising ultimately resulted in a violent crackdown on the Tibet independence movement and the flight of the Dalai Lama and his followers into exile in India on March 31.
Exiled Tibetans now commemorate March 10 as Tibetan Uprising Day. In past years, the day was generally marked with street demonstrations here and in other cities around the world. This past March 10, however, the commemoration protests spread into Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, which later turned into unrest, marring the image of Beijing in the run-up to its Summer Olympic Games in August.
But given 2009 will be the 50th anniversary of the uprising, exiled Tibetan groups and their supporters - such as International Campaign for Tibet, Tibetan Youth Activist, Tibetan Uprising Organization, Students for a Free Tibet and Friends of Tibet - are planning even grander commemorations including more massive street demonstrations. Some believe the protests will be more impressive than those preceding the Beijing Olympics.
"Though the government in exile has said nothing yet on marking the 50th uprising day, it is certain that support groups and non-governmental organizations worldwide are sure to make that day as big as they can," said an official with the Tibetan government in exile.
In recent meetings between exiled Tibetans in Dharamsala and Delhi, officials said that Chinese political campaigns in Tibet had led to further unrest and increased tensions between (Han) Chinese and Tibetans in the Himalayan region. This could intensify the sentiments of Tibetans in their commemoration activities next March.
And Tibetans in exile in general believe that the current situation in Tibet benefits neither the Tibetans nor Beijing. The development projects the Chinese government has launched in Tibet - purportedly to benefit the Tibetan people - are, however, having negative effects on Tibetans' distinct cultural, religious and linguistic identity. More Chinese settlers are coming to Tibet resulting in the economic marginalization of the Tibetan people and the diminishing of their culture.
Tibetans in exile are keen to mark uprising day because they don't want to forget their homeland and always dream of possibly returning there in freedom one day. Not only those who followed the Dalai Lama to flee Tibet 50 year ago, but even the young ones who sneaked out of Tibet after 1959, or were born overseas, hold that dream.
“It's been decades. I've seen my culture change. Tibetan Buddhism is in deep threat, my homeland is in danger. Since we fled, our culture and homeland is losing its importance. I still hope to get back to my province in Tibet, I will devote every effort to this course,” said Tenzin, an old Tibetan who fled to India five decades ago.
Yonten, a young Tibetan who fled to India in 2000, said, “I now dream of my homeland every day. Fifty years are enough, its time for us to get back to our home.”
Gompu, a Tibetan born in exile, shared similar feelings. “I feel the same as other Tibetans born in Tibet. I am eager to see my homeland, meet my people and glimpse the stories told of our old people. As a Tibetan born in exile I have more responsibilities to make every effort possible to help my people back in their own homeland.”
“Fifty years is long enough. Its time for a free Tibet," said another young Tibetan.
But, as for how to make this dream come true there is a gap between the older generations and Tibetan youths, which is widening.
The older generations tend to respect the decisions made by the Dalai Lama. A meeting of Tibetans in early November endorsed the Dalai Lama's "middle way", which renounces Tibetan independence and seeks high-level autonomy, or "real autonomy", for Tibet.
"Tibetan people's resistance is not against Chinese people, but to display their desire to protect the legitimate rights of the Tibetan people and their rich and valuable culture," an elderly Tibetan lady said. "Everyone knows His Holiness is the Gandhi of our time and we accept his approach of non- violence."
"[Whether] it be the middle-way approach, independence or self-determination, whatever is pursued in the Tibetan struggle, we shall not deviate from the path of non-violence to achieve our aims," said Tenzin, a middleaged Tibetan in Dharamsala.
But as the Dalai Lama's dealings with Beijing fail to produce any positive results, young Tibetans are becoming increasingly impatient with his approach and are ready to try alternative methods to achieve a free Tibet. Many youths who were born in exile are getting involved in the Tibet Youth Congress, one of the most radical Tibetan exile groups.
Many of the youths actively participated in previous demonstrations on Tibetan Uprising Day. And more are expected to join those set for March, as they are prepared to make the 50th anniversary a benchmark for change. Many believe the upcoming demonstrations will be among the most massive and most unforgettable protests carried out by Tibetans in exile in recent years.
"We will make more protests on the upcoming uprising day. We will go on hunger strikes and take other actions to let the whole world know how the Chinese have been treating us Tibetans," said an impatient young Tibetan, Rinchen.
Hunger strikes, street demonstrations, protests in front of the Chinese Embassy, peaceful marches and candlelight vigils will be high on agenda. In Dharamsala, the exile home of the Dalai Lama which recently witnessed the massive "March to Tibet" protests before the Beijing Olympics, preparations are gearing up for commemorations. Free Tibet posters, flyers and flags are all being prepared for the demonstrations.
During the last "March to Tibet" protests ahead of the Olympics, life in Dharamsala slowed to a standstill, with no shops run by Tibetans or Indians opening.
With India receiving varied calls from China to ban any anti-China activities in Dharamsala, this prompts many to wonder what activities the Tibetans in exile have in store and to what extent will they be resisted by Indian authorities.
Indeed, new generations remain devoted to the cause. There have been no signs that Tibetans in exile here will give up their hope to return to their homeland in freedom. And many are confident they will ultimately achieve their goal as long as they hold that dream.
"Don't let anyone steal your dream. It's our dream, not theirs," said an elderly Tibetan. "As long as there is no enemy within, enemies outside cannot hurt you," said another.
Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in Dharamsala, India, who can be reached at
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