“I am born in India, but I cannot become Indian. I once went to Tibet to see the situation myself. There I was arrested, imprisoned, and finally thrown out by Chinese who called me ‘Indian.’ In India we are living as refugees, but legally we are foreigners. China’s occupation of Tibet has left us homeless, our families are broken and separated with nowhere to go. The situation inside Tibet is much worse. Tibetans are oppressed under the law, armed police, military and by the majority Han Chinese population.”
~ Tenzin Tsundue
It was the first night of my homestay in Dharamsala, India, the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. I walked into the one-room home of a Tibetan family, and was instantly overcome with disbelief that a family of four lived in such a small space, and now I was going to live there for the next month. After a cup of homemade warm Milk Tea (a Tibetan specialty) my Amala, Tibetan mother, placed a DVD into the player. I sat on the small wooden bed, and for the next 45 minutes watched a documentary recounting the events of the March 2008 uprisings in Tibet. The film ended, and I sat there as my eyes welled up with tears. Suddenly the door opened and my Pala, Tibetan father, entered the room. This was our first time meeting. He sat down and attempted to speak with me in broken English. The credits of the film were still rolling down the screen, so this quickly became the topic of our conversation. He proceeded to tell me that he was an ex-political prisoner of Tibet. In the early ‘90s he peacefully protested the illegal Chinese occupation of Tibet in Lhasa (Tibet’s capital), and was subsequently arrested for doing so. After spending three years in prison, he escaped to India, only to spend the next three years of his life in a hospital recovering from the brutality he experienced in prison.
Since the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, the Tibetan people have been subjected to unimaginable suffering. More than 1.2 million Tibetans have died, and 150,000 now live in exile. In Tibet today, over 650 Tibetans are locked in Chinese jails for supposed political offences, which can range anywhere from holding a peaceful demonstration to possessing an image of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, their true religious/political leader. Torture in the prisons is a common occurrence that political prisoners experience. Regularly beaten with metal rods, and given electric shocks to the eyes, genitals, temples and mouth, many prisoners die in custody, or are released needing immediate health care, and left with permanent physical scars, as well as emotional and psychological damage.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has proposed the Middle-Way Approach to peacefully resolve the issue of Tibet, and has subsequently been adopted by the Central Tibetan Administration (The Tibetan Government-in-Exile) and the majority of Tibetan people. The policy is a “non-partisan and moderate position that safeguards the vital interests of all concerned parties – for Tibetans: the protection and preservation of their culture, religion and national identity; for the Chinese: the security and territorial integrity of the motherland; and for neighbors and other third parties: peaceful borders and international relations.” The operating principles of the Middle-Way Approach are nonviolence, negotiations and compromise, democracy, ecological sensitivity, universal responsibility, and protection and promotion of traditional cultures. This approach has been followed since 1987, and after eight rounds of talks with the Chinese, a settlement has not been reached between the two governments.
Some believe that with time the Middle-Way Approach will prove to be successful. Tenzin is a 26-year-old Tibetan who has recently fled from Tibet to Dharamsala, and is now unable to return to Tibet because he is on China’s list for wanted political prisoners, due to his involvement in the protests of March 2008. Tenzin believes in the Middle-Way Approach as a way to solve the Tibetan-China problem. In an interview with him I shared information about opposing views of the Middle-Way Path, and his response was that people need to have patience. He believes that over time it will prove to be a successful tool for combating China. However, for the younger generation of exiled Tibetans, the Middle-Way has failed to yield substantive results.
A news article published last year on the Tibet issue stated that: “Many feel the goal of independence and a tougher stand by the government-in-exile would give them a better chance of achieving greater autonomy. The Dalai Lama is too idealistic. International politics is about hard bargaining, it is about money.” Some Tibetans believe that the concept of non-violence poses a fundamental problem for their aspirations. Many believe that the Chinese do not take Tibetans seriously because they are non-violent. In response to the protests leading up to the Beijing Olympics many young exiles were hurt because, “We were told to cool down when we had the world’s attention. Gandhi said protest peacefully; he never said that you do not have the right to protest.” With this growing animosity toward the Middle-Way Approach, and with many people believing that time is running out, other options should be explored.
In opposition to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s approach of the Middle-Way, Lhasang Tsering has been brave enough to evaluate this policy, and offer other paths to follow in an effort to regain an independent Tibet. Tsering is an active, sober and realistic voice about the situation Tibet faces. He has proposed the idea that Tibet is not an issue solely for Tibetans, but also an international issue.
Tibet has multitudes of resources: the rivers that supply water to a large portion of Southeast Asia reside in Tibet, the monsoon season is dependent on the Tibetan Plateau and China relies on its rich uranium resources. As China maintains power over Tibet, it has continually abused the land, and has now created a threatening future for Southeast Asia, which houses half of the world’s population. China’s extraction of uranium has not only devastated the land, but its disposal of the chemical waste back in Tibet does not follow international guidelines. Were an earthquake to occur, the chemical waste could be dispersed throughout the rivers to all of Southeast Asia, leaving millions without water.
Geopolitical experts warn that water will be the world’s next valuable and limited resource. With global warming, climate change and heavy industrial pollution destroying the globe, tomorrow fresh water will have unprecedented value. And Tibet, the 2.5 million square kilometer landmass situated on the Roof of the World, is perhaps the world’s major storehouse of fresh water in the form of glaciers, lakes and rivers. About a hundred rivers in South Asia originate from the Tibetan Plateau. The country that controls Tibet will hold the power to rule Asia.
These facts leave no doubt that we need to globally come together and put our effort into freeing Tibet from Chinese communist rule. We must focus on the future and have the goal to win Tibet back in a non-violent way. If the Middle-Way Approach is the path His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people wish to follow in their fight for independence or autonomy, they will need international support in doing so. We cannot rely solely on governments throughout the world to combat China in freeing the reigns they hold so tightly over Tibet. Some blame the United States for not taking a stronger stance against China, and while this might be the truth, our government cannot be expected to take such action. Change needs to come from citizens of every country pressuring their governments about Tibet. In order to build this wave of pressure, I believe His Holiness the Dalai Lama has the power to unite people all over the world. As stated in an article: “Reverence for the Dalai Lama knows no bounds. He said stop wearing animal fur and every Tibetan inside Tibet stopped. If tomorrow he gives us the power everyone will respond. They just need to give the signal.” Tibet protests are constantly organized by very successful NGOs that dedicate their time to raising awareness for Tibet. For the Middle-Way approach to work, however, many radical events must take place.
The Tibetan culture has thrived in exile, and emerged as one of the most successful refugee communities in the world. However, China has already occupied Tibet for 50 years, and time is running out. Now more than ever, more extreme measures must be taken. The eight rounds of talks with China have proved unsuccessful, but that does not mean the Middle-Way approach need be demolished, but rather exercised in a different way. Radical international support is the only feasible option I see in solving this problem in a nonviolent way.