On November 18, more than 500 Tibetans boarded buses in Dharamsala (home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile) bound for Delhi with the rallying cry 'Chalo Delhi.' At the same time, buses left Bir and Dehra Dun heading for the same destination.
Tibetan activist Tenzin Choedon was among those who boarded the bus to Delhi. The plan was to hold 3 days of protest against the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao, and voice Tibetan opposition to China's ongoing and brutal occupation of Tibet.
"It was not hard to recruit people to join us on this trip as Hu Jintao evokes a strong and emotional response from our community. Tibetans can never forget his role in the crackdown and imposition of martial law in Tibet in 1989 when he was the Party Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region," says Tenzin.
The young Tibetan activist explains how the protests were organised and why:
The first day of the protests drew a crowd of approximately 700 people. We marched on Parliament Street, chanted and sang patriotic songs and listened to speeches by leading Tibetan activists and Indian supporters.
When we returned from our first day of protest we found the community hall we had rented in Chanakyapuri surrounded by police. They would not let us get off the buses and insisted that we leave immediately as we were too close to the Chinese embassy and Hu Jintao's motorcade route.
After a long standoff, and intense negotiations, with the help of Arunachal Member of Parliament Kirin Rijiji, we were ordered to move to Majnu ka tilla (MT), the Tibetan camp in North Delhi. Although they promised us that we would be free to travel to the demonstration the next day, most Tibetans did not trust the police at all.
The authorities here have a long history of locking Tibetans up when Chinese leaders visit. Typically, they seal off the Tibetan youth hostels and Tibetan residential areas days before the leaders even arrive. In this case, we got the personal guarantee of the District Commissioner of Police. But most people still did not think we had be allowed to leave once inside MT. To our relief, the following morning, we had no problems and all 15 buses were allowed to go to Jantar Mantar along with a police escort.
The feeling of solidarity and strength amongst the over 1,000 people present at Jantar Mantar on the second day of the protests was incredibly moving for everyone present.
Again we marched, chanted, sang songs, recited prayers, and read poems. Tibetan and Indian leaders spoke, former political prisoners gave testimony, and members of the crowd took turns expressing their hopes, frustrations and thoughts about the future of the Tibetan freedom movement.
We concluded with a candlelight vigil that was beautiful even though it ended on a kind of strange note as the police rolled in and began outnumbering the crowd. We realized this was exactly the time that Hu Jintao was meant to arrive at the airport and this was the extra security meant to keep us in line. Despite the extra tension, the buses returned
back to Majnu ka tilla with no problems.
The final day of the protests commenced with an extended Buddhist prayer session that swiftly transformed into yet another high-energy protest. With intense passion, we marched around Jantar Mantar and effigies of Hu Jintao were burned in the streets. As our program drew to a close, the chanting reached a fevered pitch and Tibetans wept openly in the crowd.
The Rapid Action Force (RAF) was present throughout the day but quickly seemed to grow bored with our peaceful protest.
The protests have been well covered by not just the Indian media but also the international media. For this, we owe a big thanks to the Indian and Chinese authorities for giving Tibetan activist Tenzin Tsundue an order not to leave Dharamsala. This was done because they fear that he might breach security and protest Hu Jintao as he has done during the past two visits of Chinese Prime Ministers.
In the end, Tsundue traded his presence in Dharamsala for the permission we needed to have this mass gathering in Delhi. And, while it has been strange not to have Tsundue around the past three days, his presence was felt throughout the protests.
To show our solidarity with him on Monday, hundreds of supporters put red bands around our heads (like the signature red band that Tsundue has vowed to wear each day until Tibet is free) while we read a short statement from him and one of his poems.
Our message to both the Indian and Chinese authorities is that in attempting to silence his voice in this way, they have now created hundreds more Tsundues. And the next time a Chinese leader visits India -- watch out!