Monday, August 04, 2008

‘There is deep resentment against the Chinese’

In Tibet, the people struggle under the yoke of foreign control

By Vijay Crishna

In August, last year, I was in Nakchu, 500 kms north of Lhasa, to witness the Horse Festival, which is the most important folk festival in Tibet. To my horror I discovered that the horse festival, which is about Tibetan horsemen displaying their prowess in archery, horsemanship and racing, turned out to be a run-up to the Olympic Games.

So, in this huge field, the Chinese army did a march past and there were some folk dances, similar to the ones in our Republic Day Parade.

Suddenly, near the end of the parade, some monks from a nearby monastery were brought in, and they were carrying the Chinese flag. The crowd became silent at this insult to Tibet. Later, I was told the local Chinese cadres of the Communist Party had decided to celebrate the festival in their own way and used this crude method of imposing China’s domination by forcing the monks to carry the flag.

What I have noticed in my visits to Tibet was the deep resentment against the Chinese. You could feel it everywhere. People are scared to show it, because the Chinese security is all over the place. They are all in plainclothes and have infiltrated the monasteries.

Most of the monasteries have a Chinese person in charge. Among the monks, there are some Chinese. That was why it was so amazing the riots took place in March. The unrest spread rapidly, thanks to the use of mobile phones.

When I was in Tibet last year, I had been amused at the way the monks were carrying two or three mobile phones. But now I realise these mobile phones were used as a potent tool to marshal the protests.

I am amazed at the Tibetan people. They have no weapons and yet they continue to protest. It is like hurling bodies against bullets.

The current situation in Tibet is a stalemate. As far as the Chinese are concerned, it is an internal matter of their country. There are 6 million Chinese who have been re-settled in Tibet. Very soon, there will be no Tibetan way of life.

Tibet is an extraordinarily beautiful place. The air is so clear and you rarely see such natural beauty amid the vast expanses, the mountain ranges, the lakes, and the skies.

However, the people are very poor. There is nothing more disconcerting than to suddenly come across children wearing ragged clothing, and families living in pathetic conditions.

In the past 50 years, out of a population of 6 million people, more than a million Tibetans have been killed. It is akin to the Holocaust, but nobody knows about it.

The Tibetans also endured a massacre similar to the Jalianwala Bagh killings. This was in 1904 when Sir Francis Younghusband led an army into Tibet. At a place called Guru, the British asked the Tibetans to lay down their muskets, but the latter resisted. The British opened fire with their powerful Maxim machine guns. Around 700 people were shot dead in 20 minutes. The problem is that the Tibetans do not have anybody to highlight their history and, sadly, there is no monument to commemorate this horrific tragedy.

The question I am asked often is whether Tibetans should resort to violence, since the Dalai Lama’s way of non-violence has not worked. It is a complicated situation and there are no easy answers. One has to say that the Dalai Lama, an incredible man, whom I have met, has been steadfast, at what must be at huge personal cost, to the concept of non-violence. Even when the riots were taking place, he has stuck to what he believes. China should now talk with him about the future of Tibet.

But, at this moment, the future looks bleak. However, there are game changers along the way. There are huge forces building up in China, born out of frustration at the terrible degradation of the environment and the quality of life. So, people are angry and might revolt. Who knows, democracy might eventually come to China. Then, there may be a sea change in the attitude of the rulers towards Tibet.

(Vijay Crishna, the managing director of Lawkim Limited, of the Godrej group, who has been to Tibet several times, gave an audio-visual presentation, 'Tibet Of Our Minds: A Journey's End?', organised by Friends of Tibet, at Kochi recently.)

(As told to Shevlin Sebastian)

(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Chennai)

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