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|July 19, 2002|
The Rediff Special/ Ramananda Sengupta
I never did get his name.
Clad in a orange T-shirt which had 'Tibetan Youth Congress, New York Chapter' emblazoned across the front and back, designer jeans and sneakers, he was arguing furiously with some other young and not-so-young men when I first saw him.
It was early morning, April 28, 1998, and we were all gathered in a makeshift tent at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar complex. The night before, Thupten Ngodup, 50, had immolated himself in protest against the forcible break-up of a Tibetan Youth Congress-organised hunger strike by the Delhi police. One could almost smell the charred flesh under the overwhelming aroma of incense lit around a picture of the first Tibetan 'martyr' on foreign soil.
The youngster from New York was shaking with rage. "How long?" he demanded to know. "We have tried peaceful methods for 50 years, but China refuses to listen. It is time for action!"
Action? What kind of action? Violence? What about the Buddhist values of non-violence, so assiduously promoted by Tenzin Gyatso, better know as his holiness the 14th Dalai Lama? In fact, didn't the self-immolation itself go against the grain of the non-violent principle?
They are fighting for a homeland that many have never seen. And they are led by a man whose name has become synonymous with non-violence.
Rumours about the Dalai Lama's failing health have been rife recently. And though he insisted that all was well soon after he was discharged from Mumbai's Lilavati hospital in January following a stomach ailment, he also admitted that the doctors had advised him rest and recuperation from his extremely hectic schedule.
The spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his non-violent drive to free his country from Chinese occupation, was born July 6, 1935, which puts him on the wrong side of 60.
And for most of those 60 years, he has steadfastly propagated the Gandhian principle of non-violence when dealing with the Chinese over his homeland. And while the leadership of the newly elected Tibetan parliament-in-exile plans to continue with that policy, many, particularly members of the Tibetan Youth Congress, are straining at the yoke.
They are particularly upset over the 'middle path' unveiled by the Dalai Lama in 1998, which affirms he was ready to negotiate for partial autonomy in place of full independence.
"The Tibetan Youth Congress's stand on independence has been very consistent. It demands complete independence of Tibet, consisting of all the three provinces of Dhotoe, Dhomey and U-tsang, that is, one representing the whole of historical Tibet. It opposes the Chinese division of Tibet by the formation of TAR [Tibetan Autonomous Region] and incorporating the Amdo and Kham areas into other Chinese provinces. It maintains that only complete independence will guarantee the survival of the Tibetan people, their religion, culture, and opposes all deviations from it whether in terms of autonomy, federation, confederation or Taiwan status," says Tenzin Samphel, vice-president, TYC.
"TYC maintains that the issue of Tibet is not the issue of the returning of the person of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but concerns the future of the six million Tibetans. Though TYC has never resorted to violence as a means to achieve Tibetan independence, it has kept the option open. Several general body meetings addressed the issue of making it an active policy," he adds.
"We have the money, and we have the people ready to die for our cause," said the youngster from New York. "It is only out of respect for the Dalai Lama that we are restraining ourselves. As for our policy of non-violence, there is nothing that says we can't hire outsiders to do our dirty work. I know of at least three mercenary outfits who'd be delighted to do whatever we ask if the payment is right!"
Mercenaries? Fighting the PLA? He must have seen the scepticism in my eyes. "We don't have to launch a war in China; we can always target Chinese interests abroad," he retorted, before he was shushed by a wary colleague.
"Many people misunderstood TYC's position to be in opposition to the Dalai Lama's policy of non-violence, which is not true. It is born more out of the utter brutality of the Chinese rule and wholescale destruction of the Tibetan culture and identity in Tibet, and the apathy of the international community, which has failed to provide any meaningful support to the many peaceful initiatives of the Dalai Lama," continues Samphel.
"Nowadays, the international media and the big nations pay attention to violent struggles, while ignoring peaceful movements," concurred another Tibetan student leader in Dharamshala. Identifying himself only as "Thupten," since he did not "want His Holiness to misunderstand me," he added: "Besides, look around you. Most of us youngsters are unemployed and those who cannot escape abroad are turning to drugs and violence. Anything is preferable to that kind of a life. If taking up arms helps us get a sense of direction, what's wrong with that?"
But New Delhi, which gives sanctuary to the Tibetans on the condition that they do not indulge in any anti-China political activity on Indian soil, might have a problem with that.
"Though it is most unlikely that the Tibetans will try to attack Chinese interests on Indian soil owing to their deep and abiding sense of gratitude for us having given them sanctuary, if such a thing did happen, we would have a really tough time explaining ourselves to China," warns a China watcher at the ministry of external affairs. "If these guys are serious, they should be warned that any such action could backfire rather badly on them."
"Backfire?" scoffs the student leader, while agreeing that a sense of gratitude was very much prevalent. "We have lost almost everything. What should we expect? Deportation to Tibet? That might not be such a bad idea after all. It will surely generate international interest in our cause."
Design: Lynette Menezes
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