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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?"

The Bounty of March

April 1, 2009

Tenzin Tsundue
Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 13
April 4, 2009

The Tibetan activist outlines his people's
crucial history of hope in the half century since
the March Uprising As a schoolboy in Class vii,
my first serious Tibetan history lesson was one of provocation.

I used to listen to Professor Samdhong Rinpoche's
Tibetan history lectures on audio tapes sent by a
scholar uncle in Varanasi. In one anecdote,
Professor Rinpoche tells of the 1950 fall of the
eastern gate of Kham-Chamdo to invading Chinese
troops. A messenger in Lhasa ran to deliver the
Morse code alert to the Tibetan Cabinet.

As he stood gasping for air at the door to an
official hall, the doorkeeper blocked his entry,
stating that this news would disturb the aristocrats" party within.

In March 2008, protests swept across the entire
Tibetan Plateau in a people's movement that was
reminiscent of the Lhasa uprising of March 1959.

The international media descended last year on
His Holiness the Dalai Lama's exile residence in
Dharamsala to ask him, "Do you support this "riot"? Can you stop it?"

His Holiness replied: "No, I can't. I have no magic power."

He was right. He had expressed a similar
powerlessness back then in 1959 when the
occupying People's Liberation Army ordered him to "control the rebels."

Tibet's unofficial resistance movement began with
monks, nomads and farmers taking up arms when
China first invaded Tibet in 1949. Tibetan
soldiers later organised themselves with the CIA
and the Indian Government's help.

And in exile, they fought for India: in 1962
against China, in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation
war, and in 1975 against Pakistan.

When US President Nixon befriended Mao Zedong in
1972, the CIA dumped the Tibetans, and when the
Nepalese army threatened to flush out Tibetan
camps, the Dalai Lama ordered an end to violent
resistance with the camps' disbandment.

Today, 6,000 Tibetan soldiers serve the Indian
army in its declassified Sector 22, a
paramilitary force posted mainly on the Siachen
Glacier. In 1951, the Lhasa Government did
officially protest Beijing's imposition of the
17-Point Agreement for the "Peaceful Liberation"
of Tibet, but then tried to live with
newly-Communist China in an arrangement of
autonomy; by 1959, citizens rebelled against
Chinese bullying and arrogance. The otherwise
apolitical farmers and nomads rapidly spread the
word: "The Chinese military plans to kidnap His
Holiness Kundun. We must protect him."

The next morning, people gathered in
unprecedented numbers and made history. In Lhasa,
the anxious crowds gathered in front of the Dalai
Lama's summer palace, shouting slogans and
begging their leader not to leave his abode.

When government officials from inside the
Norbulingka walls requested the crowd to
disperse, war cries arose of "China, get out of Tibet!"

The protective gathering lasted for many days and
the mounting tension between PLA soldiers and
Tibetans resulted in the Dalai Lama escaping to
India. Thousands of Tibetans were massacred in the following days and months.

This public awakening is honoured in exile every
March 10 as Tibetan National Uprising Day, and
continues to inspire new generations of Tibetans.

The spontaneous protests in Lhasa in 1987, 1988,
1989 and 1993 have all been resurgences of this public indignation.

During the last half century, Tibetans have
repeatedly proved that the real issue of Tibet is
not the status of the country's high-profile
leader, but the wishes of the citizens
themselves, sometimes even overriding official
statements and agreements. The protestors of the
2008 uprising knew they, too, would suffer loss
of life, incarceration and torture.

Yet shepherds born under Mao -- who had never
seen the Tibetan flag  -- photocopied the design
from a book smuggled into Tibeet and flew it
gaily in the air. A friend's uncle, a nomad from
a remote mountain region in Amdo, reported on the
phone that since there were no Chinese in the
mountains, he was running about with other nomads
searching for them. The group hoped to raise our
fists and shout in their faces: "Chinese Go Home!".

The 2008 uprising happened in the wake of the
failing "dialogue process" between Dharamsala and
Beijing. It historically signifies Tibetans'
rejection of Beijing's bribes of material comforts and individual security.

They repudiated Beijing's lofty claims of
development and its "gifts" like modern schools,
hospitals, highways, shopping malls, discotheques
and the much-admired railway linking Lhasa and
Beijing. The Chinese Government described the
people's uprising as a "disturbance" instigated
by the "Dalai Clique," thereby belittling the
Tibetan nation's aspirations and insulting the
intelligence of the six million Tibetans inside
Tibet. This is symptomatic of colonial powers
that treat colonies as treasure islands and their
citizens as exotic beasts on leashes. In 2002,
after the resumption of "dialogue" with the
Beijing leadership, the Dalai Lama's envoys were
scolded by their Chinese counterparts for
masterminding anti-Beijing protests within the
international community, including the
pro-independence activities of the Tibetan Youth
Congress. The envoys replied that, as a
democracy, the Dalai Lama can't dictate terms to
his people as the Beijing does in its own country.

Upon the promise of further dialogue, and a
possible "give-and-take" solution in the future,
the exile government "requested" Tibetans not to
stage protests during visits by Chinese
presidents and prime ministers of foreign
countries. But many of us have utterly no trust
in the corrupt Communist leadership and continue
to protest. The exile government created such
high hopes for "dialogue" that some of us
"rebels" have even been tagged as"anti-Dalai Lama" by our community.

By keeping our political stand steadfast through
this criticism, we appreciate only too well that
China itself lacks the will to negotiate, using
the charade of promised talks simply to fend off
Western criticism of their appalling human rights
record. Today, the Dalai Lama himself is saying
that he is losing hope in Beijing.

Beijing is not confident enough to invite the
Dalai Lama to Tibet or China and has repeatedly
rejected his autonomy proposal. Most Tibetan
youth believe they can regain their identity and
dignity of life through independence, and that
without independence Tibet will die under the
Chinese weight. Tomorrow, even if autonomy is
granted, our struggle for Independence will continue in Tibet.

The Tibetan people's struggle to re-establish
their lost independence is, therefore, not a
secessionist movement — the difference is mmore
philosophical than ideological. Following the
non-confrontational Buddhist methods of conflict
resolution, His Holiness has repeatedly tried to
stop the Tibetan youth from sitting on hunger
strikes, marching to Tibet, and requested
Tibetans inside Tibet to restrain from mass
street protests as they would result in loss of life.

What, perhaps, remains misunderstood is that even
though Tibetan youngsters take aggressive and
confrontational actions, our common credo remains
Nonviolence. The Dalai Lama has gone out of his
way in introducing and successfully nurturing a
vibrant democracy-in-action in the exile Tibetan
community. We will bring this gift to Tibet when
independence is achieved. With such strong
democratic safeguards now enshrined in our exile
community, how can the Chinese Government expect
to continue with its childish propaganda that the
Dalai Lama's return to Tibet would re-establish "serfdom and feudalism."

In 1997, having read my Shakespeare and AK
Ramanujan I graduated from Loyola College, Madras
and went to Tibet to start a revolution. This
romantic rebel soon got arrested, beaten and
thrown into jail in Lhasa. A fellow-prisoner
advised me: "Do not let the smoke out even if
Free Tibet burns in your heart." But by then this
inexperienced prisoner, a Bhagat Singh fan, had
already boasted he had come to free Tibet.

For both Tibetans inside and outside our land,
the undeclared common strategy of the movement is
to live through this difficult struggle with
patience, and outlive the dictatorial Chinese
leadership to witness changes in China for ourselves.

His Holiness has now called for people-to-people
contact between Tibetans and the Chinese. Our
future leaders may not be as brilliant, dynamic
or unifying as the 14th Dalai Lama, but Tibet
will have passed successfully through one of the
most difficult periods in its long history.
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