Why I’ll climb more scaffolding and towers

Once, as a child, my parents left me with my grandparents while they went for a movie to the next village. They said I wouldn’t be able to walk back home in the night. So I broke the family water pot. My intention was that of a protest rather than to create a swamp in the kitchen.

Two weeks back Zhu Rongji, Premier of the People’s Republic of China, visited India. For me the Big Brother of my enemy country has come strolling nearby. I wanted to tell him in his face “Get out of my country”, and the best way to do that was to scream. I climbed the scaffolding and reached the 14th floor of the Oberoi Towers where Zhu was addressing a conference of Indian diplomats and business tycoons. From there I unfurled the Tibetan National Flag, a red banner which read “FREE TIBET”, flung in the air 500 leaflets reasoning why the protest and shouted slogans. In no time, curtains were raised and every window on the entire floor had Chinese faces looking at me. I was proud to wave the Tibetan National flag at them. That one moment is worth it all. Lucky I dropped the idea to slap Zhu in the conference room.

Later I wrote this while in police custody:

He was tall
arms akimbo
like the Everest
I climbed the Everest
and I was taller
my hands free

The police were sympathetic to the cause. More so for their benefit. They knew that once Tibet becomes Independent they needn’t bother about difficult protesters like me and the one lakh Tibetan refugees would go back to Tibet. With that, a better promise is that the Indian border along the Himalayas will be safe. It was only after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1949, that India came to share borders with China for the first time in history. One police officer said, “We must work together.”

The Tibetan freedom struggle in exile has been more symbolic than confrontational as in Tibet. In the past 40 years all we have been able to achieve is presenting the real Tibet as a country where real people of flesh and blood live with same capacity to feel pain and anger. We have been able to demystify Tibet from the clichéd notion of Tibet as Shangri-La, where lamas walk two inches off the ground.

But the freedom struggle seems to have stopped growing from the zenith of sympathy we reached when His Holiness the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1989. Ever since the Tibetan Government-in-Exile started dealing with China from 1979 the Tibetan freedom struggle stopped being a mass movement. Unless it becomes a powerful mass movement, I don’t believe the exile government can regain Independence for Tibet: dreaming of dialogue with China. It’s been 30 years, and all we received is a set of unacceptable pre-conditions “to consider for talks.”

My friends who came from Tibet recently say that it is hard to find trustworthy friends in Tibet these days. Every other person may be an informer for the Chinese. They whisk away activists in the cover of night and their dead bodies resurface on the outskirts of town. Some are beaten to paralysis. Any attempt to ask for basic human rights is synonymous with attempting suicide. Tibetans are a minority in their own country. A cloud of terror and oppression looms large over Tibet.

Now, two railway lines are being laid from north-eastern Tibet to Lhasa. This will flood Tibet with Chinese and they will drain the resources; the roof of the world will totter under its ecological imbalance. Soon the Ganga, Brahmaputra, Indus, Yangtze and Mekong will flow with blood and corpses. The heavy build-up of arms and nuclear missile bases in Tibet couldn’t have been conceived in Beijing to use against unarmed Tibetans.

A general apathy over Tibet and this non-action “non-violent freedom struggle” is slowly killing the movement. Though exotic Tibet sells in the West, there are hardly any takers when it comes to tackling the real issue. The issue is Independence!

I am Tired,
I am tired doing that 10th March ritual,
screaming from the hills of Dharamshala.

I am tired, I am tired selling sweaters on the roadside,
40 years of sitting, waiting in dust and spit.

I am tired,
I am tired eating rice ‘n’ dal
and grazing cows in the jungles of Karnataka.

I am tired,
I am tired dragging my lungi
in the dirt of Manju Tila.

I am tired,
I am tired fighting for the country
I have never seen.

As I write this page, I hear that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has called off the Kalachakra religious festival due to his ill health. I am happy more than one lakh Tibetans have been disappointed. Suddenly the centre moved, the periphery is unsettled and now they have to readjust. For many it is a wake-up call to a worse situation lurking ahead.

The next twenty years is a crucial period for Tibet. This will see the fate of Tibet decided: life or death. Once the centre disappears the periphery will be thrown into chaos. The “non-violent and peaceful Tibetans” will make one last desperate act to survive as a people, as a civilisation. How violent will it be?

The very nature of the Tibetan problem is political, and it has to have a political solution. We are grateful to India for whatever help and support she extended to us, but if the Tibetan problem has to be solved she should support the freedom struggle.

Yesterday India fell for China when Mao Zedong came with “friendship ties”, screaming “Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai“, but later they back-stabbed India in 1962. Prime Minister Nehru couldn’t withstand the shock. Today Zhu Rongji is extending “economic ties”, screaming “Hindi-Buy-Buy-Chini”.

We have known the Chinese for long as a difficult neighbour. We know we are fighting a losing battle, with the world given up on us. We may perish, but for India it will leave a cancerous wound along its 3,500-km permanent border with China.

Will India wake up to this reality? It is time we worked together for the Independence of Tibet and for a safe and secure border for India.

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