KOLKATA ― A young Tibetan activist succumbing to fatal burn injuries obtained during a self immolation bid while protesting against Chinese President Hu Jintao’s trip to New Delhi for the BRICS summit signals a paradigm shift in anti-China protest on Indian soil. Adding to the woo, another Tibetan settler ― a 26 years old refugee jumped off the Howrah Bridge, an iconic British made architecture in Calcutta for the first time in the city’s history. Surely, this sudden development will leave the Indian foreign office mandarins stupefied even though the very concept of punishing oneself to shame the rulers is not a path breaking approach in the Indian political context historically.
Mahatma Gandhi used the more non-violent form of protest for bargaining with the imperial power and fasting remains a utilitarian medium of highlighting the causes as well as extracting the legitimate demands to this day. In fact India’s present policy of according a special status to the citizens representing the backward classes through reservation has its origin in a violent political movement of the early nineties.
Young students were then encouraged to lit themselves up on flames for attracting administrative attention towards the humiliation faced by the deprived. However, Tibetans repeating the same strategy against a foreign dignitary in India might not produce the desired outcome and will only create further impediments in their struggle for preserving cultural rights within the precincts of People’s Republic of China.
In decades of demand for the halt of Chinese repression in Tibetan dominated areas, the recent spate of unrest and frequent attempts of self-immolation is unprecedented so much so that it elicited a somewhat sympathetic response from the authorities. Previous incidences of Buddhist monks committing hara-kiri to denounce religious policies of tyrant regimes can however be traced to the South East Asian region.
Such action served as a detonator for widespread chaos in South Vietnam resulting in the ouster of President Ngo Dinh Diem’s government in 1963. But what used to be a practice reserved exclusively for protesting monks and nuns has spread its tentacles to grip all strata of the Tibetan society.
That people are frequently setting themselves alight is in itself an illustration of an intense desperation prevalent among Tibetan natives to resist the Chinese rule. In towns and villages across swathes of south western China, dozens are taking the path of a monk from the Kirti Monastery to invite a charred death in a significant gesture of direct action.
But then in the midst of a bitter acrimony between the warring parties, it is the ordinary Tibetans who are suffering the most while encountering the brutality inflicted by Chinese security forces day in and out. Unfortunately, the general tendency to mould Tibetans into particular stereotypes for years has thrust the deracine people into a political cul de sac.
The world at large tends to project a one-dimensional picture of their apathy and ultimately ends up questioning their intellectual prowess. The horrible communication gap between the Chinese leadership and the Tibetan people is a result of such misinterpretation of respective positions and psyche. For example the majority of people in Tibet and outside talking of independence are not alluding to secession.
Their concept of freedom is rather confined to some sort of relaxation in the dominating role of the Chinese oligarchy in everyday life. In fact policies that erode the unique Tibetan culture and identity remains the thorny issue that the Tibetans would like the apparatchiks in Beijing to address adequately. It is indeed time for the Chinese leadership to push through a compromise formula that the Dalai Lama can work on instead of delaying the dialogue process further.
Moving beyond loose rhetoric, both the Communist leadership and the Dalai Lama’s clique should respect the opposite perspective in order to ensure a just outcome that might put an end to the long strife that has benefited none of the stakeholders.
To arrive at a realistic solution to an essentially identity crisis, one needs to delve into the aspect of Tibetan identity in a modern, evolving and somewhat conflicted society. While the political issue is doomed to be settled in favour of China given the prevailing nature of international politics, the fine prints of a roadmap towards preserving Tibetan identity and cultural heritage should be drawn out at the earliest.
Beijing needs to recognize that the policy of demonizing the Dalai Lama and the idea to make the Tibetan religious figures and officials denounce the spiritual head has backfired. Instead, it is a task cut out for the Chinese leadership to alleviate the fear among the Tibetans grappling to align their cultural norms with the requirements of modern world. As rightly pointed out by Premier Wen Jiabao, starving an entire population of its basic rights is latent with the possibility of a second cultural revolution exploding the rigid structure anytime.
NOTE-- Seema Sengupta is an independent journalist based in Kolkata, India. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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