Thursday, November 04, 2010

‘To live without a country is painful’


Activist Tenzin Tsundue talks about his never-ending fight to gain independence for Tibet from China. Meanwhile, he lives in India as a refugee

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao came to Bangalore on April 9, 2005, the Tibetans were planning a protest. “Our country is under Chinese occupation,” says activist Tenzin Tsundue. “If we did not complain against Jiabao we would be failing in our duty as refugees.”

Initially, they were given permission by the police to hold a sit-down demonstration in the city, but this was withdrawn a day before the Premier’s arrival. So, Tsundue came up with a daring plan.

Knowing that Jiabao would be going to the Indian Institute of Science, Tsundue went to the campus a day before. There he spotted a tall building, and went to the roof and spent the night there. “I did not want to get caught, so I lay motionless for 20 hours,” he says. “I took no food or water.”

The next day, at 2.30 p.m., Tsundue heard the sound of sirens wailing. He was in luck. Jiabao was coming to the opposite building. Tsundue stood up and saw that the police, the media and the guests were gathered outside. Quickly, he unfurled the Tibetan national flag as well as a long red banner, which said, ‘Free Tibet’.

Then he threw down hundreds of leaflets which explained the reasons behind the protest, and shouted, ‘China out of Tibet!’

“Through the international media I wanted to draw attention to the Chinese invasion of Tibet and the genocide that is taking place in our country,” he says. “There is a gross violation of human rights.”

The gamble worked. The protest was broadcast all over the world and Tibet’s trauma was publicised widely. Of course, it is another matter that the police rushed up to the terrace, grabbed Tsundue, and beat him up severely. “I don’t blame them,” he says. “They were embarrassed and angry by the breach of security.”

Tsundue is one of the leading lights of the Tibetan protest movement. On a brief visit to Kochi, he came across as intense, sensitive, and deeply committed to the independence of Tibet. This idea is contrary to what His Holiness the Dalai Lama believes in.

The Dalai Lama says that Tibetans are ready to live under Chinese rule, provided they are given genuine autonomy. “His Holiness has hundreds of reasons to promote his Middle Way policy,” says Tsundue. “For me and many young Tibetans, independence is the goal. So there is a difference of opinion. But we are united in our effort to keep the struggle non-violent. And our many thanks to India for providing us shelter so that we can continue with our battle.”

Tsundue was born in a roadside tent in the early seventies in Manali. His parents were working as road-repairing labourers. They had fled Tibet, along with the Dalai Lama in 1959.

Tsundue did his schooling at Dharamsala. “It was His Holiness’ wish that the children studied in Tibetan schools so that we could have an understanding of our religion, culture and history,” he says. Later, Tsundue graduated with a BA from Loyola College in Chennai. But Tibet was never far from his mind

In March 1997, Tsundue was teaching English in a school in Ladakh. One morning, he slipped across the border into Tibet. A nomad, whom he encountered along the way, informed the Chinese authorities. Tsundue was immediately arrested. He was taken to Lhasa and, as expected, beaten up and accused of being an Indian spy.

“Every day I had a fear that I would rot in prison or be tortured or killed,” he says. “I had no hope that one day I would be free.”

However, the school authorities had filed a Missing Persons Report. Immediately, the CID launched an investigation and discovered that Tsundue had crossed over. Thanks to an agreement between India and China, anybody who is arrested, on either side of the border, can be detained, but if the person has not done any wrong, he is sent back. As a result, three months later, Tsundue was released.

In Lhasa, he had a brief glance of the city and it shocked him. “It was full of Chinese people,” says Tsundue. “The signboards, hoardings, and name plates were all in Chinese. In my imagination Tibet was a land of snowy peaks and grasslands, but the reality was so different.” Tsundue’s commitment to the Tibetan cause became even deeper following this trip.

Meanwhile, in India, the 1.2 lakh Tibetans live a life of uncertainty. “We cannot own property, because we are foreigners,” says Tsundue. “We have a permit which has to be renewed annually. Now you know why we are so desperate to get Tibet back from the Chinese. To live without a country is extremely painful.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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