Last year around this time, a television news channel quoted His Holiness the Dalai Lama as saying that he is willing for Tibet be a part of China. This shocked many Indians. One of them happened to be the landlord of my Indian college friend living in Pune. I was visiting Pune for a photo-exhibition on Tibet that we were organizing in the city, and I was supposed to stay at my friend’s rented accommodation. After listening to the news clip, the landlord refused to let me step in his house, calling me “Chinese”. I was deeply hurt, but what could I say?
The man knew everything about Tibet and its struggle. My friends protested, but his landlord was adamant. He said, “If Dalai lama wants to make Tibet a part of China, then why is he here in India? All the Tibetans should be immediately sent back to China.”
Decades back, when the Indian parliamentarians were first getting to be conscious of Tibet’s occupation by China and the consequential danger to India, Nehru was questioned about his mild policies towards the PRC. In defence he said, “…not a blade of grass grows there”, referring dismissively to the Aksai Chin area of Ladakh.
This has been the Indian mentality behind issues over its 4,200 km Himalayan border; part idealistic peace-making and part gross neglect. Because of this both India and Tibet have suffered tremendously and both are at a loss to find any solution to the quagmire created by Beijing’s occupation of Tibet.
I have been watching with a sense of sadistic pleasure the rituals as India and China try to molest each other during their border debates. While they solemnly pretend to be solving border issues with utmost seriousness, they both know that without first solving the status of Tibet, no lasting solution is possible. But as a diplomacy and PR exercise, the dragon and the tiger have been — uncomfortably — trying to smile at each other.
As a schoolkid I first participated in a Tibet protest rally in Kullu when I was in the fifth standard. We shouted “Tibbat ki azaadi, bharat ki suraksha“, but in the busy Indian streets, bystanders watched us merely for the spectacle of Tibetans on parade, not giving any attention to what we were saying. It hasn’t changed much even today with the Indian masses.
When news of the PLA’s invasion of Tibet reached India in 1950, Indian leaders expressed outrage and people marched down the streets in Bombay in protest. That was then the prevalent spirit against foreign invasion and injustice, having recently won her independence.
Those marchers were one type of Tibet supporters in India. Around the same time another brand of Tibet supporters were born — the patriotic Indians who saw the danger to India from the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet. This lot were mainly the educated ones. They supported Tibet, keeping India’s interests in mind. This trend grew steadily ever since. Today the sub-continent has more than 150 Tibet Support Groups. They mainly create awareness about Tibet through grassroots education and also by lobbying public representatives to take up the issue of Tibet at the national international levels.
Last year, when the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee went to China and declared the “Tibet Autonomous Region as part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China”, many Tibetans and Tibet supporters expressed anger and disappointment. Some even called it India’s betrayal of Tibet.
If we look more deeply, I think this happened mainly because we have failed to convince India the viability of our freedom struggle. Most of our efforts to explain our situation have been going to the west. After 45 years of protests and asylum in India, the Indian government was still not convinced of the possibility of free Tibet. India once again decided not to invest political expediency in us.
But this does not mean India has given up on Tibet. Never. India can’t afford to do that due to her own interests. Besides the border, there are many other geo-political and cultural considerations that guide India’s interest in a free Tibet.
It was our own decision to seek “Genuine Autonomy” for our homeland without striving to separate Tibet from China that has left little political choice for India. When we ourselves go about announcing that we do not seek independence for Tibet, how can India help us? India won’t do anything that would make China her permanent neighbour.
The fact that India is sheltering more than 130,000 Tibetans living here as foreigners, with all basic necessities provided, tolerating the illegal Tibetan Government-in-Exile, and recruiting 10,000 Tibetan soldiers into the Indian Army, is a clear sign that India has not washed its hand of the idea of Tibetans independence.
This doesn’t mean India will take up the issue of Tibet anywhere. India has not, and I think will not, raise it with China or in international forums. In the mass Indian psyche Tibet doesn’t mean anything other than “Kailash-Manasarover”. Tibet is definitely not an issue within India.
For the past few months we have been vigorously campaigning across India to stop the execution of Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. Tibetan Youth Congress took the campaign to four metropolitan cities, and yet besides a few news reports no major media took any serious note of the issue. The colorful Tibetan culture makes a pretty background for Bollywood films, but it never makes it to the news headlines, not even the Dalai Lama.
From the first day of exile in India till today, we have resettled ourselves from being empty-handed escapees to become the most successful refugees with more than 100 schools, over 500 monasteries and cultural centres and a standard of living that is a little better the average Indian. From this basic infrastructure of exile government, our hope of resurrecting a new Tibet flourished. Today we confidently think of returning to our homeland to resurrect a new Tibet — and this dream is only made possible by India.
The reality in which India lives — with a humongous population and growing “working chaos” as somebody described it — means she has little energy to attend to any issue unless it is literally burning. To top that is the power struggle among the political parties, for whom “the seat” is more important than any national issue. After Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi there’s never been a strong government at the centre to make any political headway.
And yet, I believe if there is one country that can understand our struggle to regain the lost freedom and dignity of being a nation, our craving to re-establish that Tibet which can be a safe haven for our culture and traditions, it is India. India can help us achieve that, and will remain a partner in its maintenance.
I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most sincere and dedicated Indian friends of Tibet. And I have felt the power of that spiritual bonding. This is the source of my conviction that finally the declaration of Tibetan independence will arise from this land.