Tibetans need to be heard

In order to keep the Chinese dragon smiling, will the Indian elephant turn its back on its old ally, the Tibetan snow lion?

 |  5-minute read |   27-09-2014
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I remember sneaking out of college to eat hot momos at Majnu Ka Tila, the Tibetan refugee camp that over the years has become quintessential Tibetan eat-street. Snuggled away in labyrinthine lanes across a settlement on the Yamuna Riverbed, MKT is now known as Arun Nagar, is one of the many places where the refugees from Tibet settled after fleeing the Chinese genocide in 1959.

The soft pouches of dough filled with spicy vegetables and meat, known as momos has been the cultural ambassador for Tibetans and to eat Momos at Majnu Ka Tila is a rite of passage for every south Delhi college student; I was no different.

We have come a long way from thinking of momos and Manjnu ka Tila as extraneous to our culinary and cultural fabric. The fact that many of our resident North Easterners have tried to replicate the bonhomie of Tibetan soup kitchens at many a market square across the capital, speaks volumes.


On the more somber side, given the continuing unrest in Tibet, many Tibetans have taken Indian citizenship and are now part of the Indian population.

Dharmashala now nicknamed Little Lhasa is the seat of the Central Tibet Administration. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for whom I have great respect and reverence, has been ensconced safely in the lap of Dhauladhar Range at the Tsuglag Khang Temple in McLeod Ganj for over four decades.

Various monasteries have mushroomed along the hillside and given that India shares a religion with Tibet (no prizes for guessing-Buddhism!), the Dalai Lama is seen as India's ambassador of peace, as much as he is seen as Tibet's. Given this scenario India has the moral duty of upholding the ideals of a Free Tibet, and our commitment to the cause must go beyond retweeting a #FreeTibet hashtag-more so in times like this.

Despite encouraging words from the Dalai Lama, Chinese President Xi Jinping's three-day India visit had many Tibetans unsettled and protesting with their flags, banners and placards outside Chinese Embassy. While many Indians are smiling at China's promise to invest 20 billion dollars over the next five years in India's economy, it comes on the heels of an unsettling statement by the foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei who told journalists a few days back: "Tibet is an integral part of China and India should not allow any separatist activities on its soil."

In order to keep the Chinese dragon smiling, will the Indian elephant turn its back on its old ally, the Tibetan snow lion? A snow lion that has been struggling for freedom from the Chinese regime since 1951. Behind the brave-faced protests by pro-Tibet activists demanding a free and independent Tibet is this niggling fear that this well may happen and Xi Jinping's visit to India is an indication of dark days for the Tibet Resistance Movement in India.

It is still early to gauge the impact of the Chinese Foreign Minster's loaded statement, but it is clear that the diplomatic move made by the Indian government is not just to secure good trade and investment with China but to also ease the heat at the India-China LAC in the Ladakh region where hostile Chinese troupes were glaring Indian down soldiers' eyeball-to-eyeball.

The Dalai Lama's statement that Tibet is India's problem as much as it is China's could not be truer at a time like this. The Tibetans describe Chinese rule over Tibet as, "calculated and systematic strategy aimed at the destruction of their national and cultural identities".


Our historic struggle against colonial rule points toward politics that are not tolerant of cultural imperialism; India has for past six decades been sympathetic to the Tibetan cause. During the visit of the Chinese President, His Holiness issued a statement: "Xi Jinping's thinking is more realistic and he is more open-minded so he can learn more from India. He should gather experience from what he notices in India.

Both India and China are heavily populated. But India is a democratic nation where people sharing different languages and scripts live with stability and harmony since 1947," he said to the Central Tibet Administration.


Interestingly, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had proposed Middle Way Approach to seek a genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people rather than independence. While this may be at variance with what some of the Tibetan activists propound - freedom or nothing.

It may well be the way forward given that India's current diplomatic stand is Pro-Chinese stand. It would be a shame to witness any kind of crack-down on Tibetan culture, trade or settlement in India. After-all it is the belief that Tibet and India are not so different politically and culturally since both have a history of struggle against occupation.

We hope there is light at the end of the tunnel after all and that Hong Lei statement remains a blip on the larger democratic history of India's hospitable and charitable nature towards the Tibetan diaspora.


Archana Dalmia Archana Dalmia @archanadalmia

The writer is a columnist for Mail Today.

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