|Breathing Fire at Tibet|
|Written by Vasundhara Jolly|
|Monday, January 04, 2010 06:54 PM|
There is an issue that has been bubbling under the nearly double-digit GDP growth rates of the two rising powers of the East: India and China. It seems that a landscape of harsh mountainous terrain means more than just difficulty in setting up public transport. This relatively remote ‘roof of the world,’ Tibet, has been under the spotlight off and on since 1950, when the Communist Party of China took over most of Tibet to re-establish it as the Tibetan Autonomous Region, thereby asserting it as official Chinese territory. India offered help to Tibet, like any co-operative neighbor would, and the then-Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru allowed His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to escape to India and settle down in a small town nestled in the Himalayas, by the name of Dharamsala. This location is now home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Government-in-exile, many Tibetan refugees and an interesting mix of Europeans, Americans and other foreigners, all disciples of the sacred faith of Buddhism as advocated by the Dalai Lama. The many problems facing the Tibetans include China’s denunciation of Tibetan spiritual leaders, a huge population transfer of Han Chinese to the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), making Tibetans a minority in their own land, and the growing emphasis on the Chinese, rather than the Tibetan language, in schools. Tibetans feel that their fundamental human rights are being violated by Chinese authoritarianism. Another cause of their discontent is the high degree of deforestation being inflicted upon Tibet, causing constant soil erosion and flooding, extinction of wildlife, uncontrolled mining and dumping of nuclear waste, which they feel is due to the rampant path of development adopted by China.
Recently, Chinese media was in an uproar over the visit of the Dalai Lama to the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh in India, which borders the Tibetan Autonomous Region. This border is a disputed one, as China maintains that their territory expands further than the McMohan Line, a border agreed to by Great Britain and the then-independent Tibet in a 1914 treaty. What started as a weeklong religious discourse trip to a state in India was suddenly turned into a way for the Chinese media to make political accusations and promote its vision of a politically dangerous and hostile Dalai Lama. Beijing repeatedly asked New Delhi to stop the Dalai Lama’s visit to this Indian state of controversial borderlines. It however, sought to keep its irritation over the visit relatively subdued so as to not further inflame the diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The scene changed, however, when Chinese scholar, Hu Shisheng, was quoted in the Chinese Communist Party’s paper, The People’s Daily, stating that the Dalai Lama had traveled to Arunachal Pradesh under pressure from India and that, “By doing so, he can please the country that has hosted him for years.” To this, Indian Minister of External Affairs and Tufts alumnus Dr. Shashi Tharoor responded by affirming the sovereignty of Arunachal Pradesh and dismissing these comments as “silly.” Even so, the continuous barrage of rhetoric does not seem to underline the importance of this issue.
The Dalai Lama has been known for advocating a “Free Tibet” for the past several decades by way of a peaceful protest, for which he was honored with a Nobel Peace Prize. Conducting these peaceful protests from Indian soil has not helped to improve relations between the two Asian giants.
Despite the repeated attempts of China to turn the world against this silent revolutionary, his influence just keeps on spreading. Many Tibetans believe that if the Dalai Lama is not allowed to return to Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism, as it is now known, may die. China cannot continue to consider him a threat to its sovereignty and peace, while simultaneously imposing its power on the TAR if it expects a submissive Tibet. Nevertheless, other nations such as the US and the United Kingdom have bitten their tongues when asked about their stand on this issue. While the Tibetan Diaspora continues to garner support and funds for the cause, there is still a fear in the back of their minds. The freedom of their nation, that is the idea of an independent country, may not be possible in the lifetimes of all those Tibetans who walked for days through the harsh terrain of the Himalayas to reach India. The Dalai Lama continues to impress and acquire followers effortlessly while reminding us of another great leader, who, through the use of nonviolent protest, gave a suppressed and subjugated people a reality. The Dalai Lama’s ideology echoes that of Gandhi, who made possible India’s independence from the British in 1947. Hopefully, Beijing, like the United Kingdom, can recognize the importance of giving a deprived people and peaceful ideology a home.