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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

The torch of Tibet

April 20, 2008

By Antara Dev Sen
The Deccan Chronicle
Thursday April 17 2008

As you read this, the Olympic torch will be hidden away somewhere in New
Delhi. And for a very short while, it will go out for a public run,
rushing through Rajghat concealed by several protective rings of Indian
and Chinese security personnel. Thankfully, it won’t take long ­ it’s
only a 2-km journey. Then it can be stowed away in some heavily guarded
safehouse till it flies off in its special Chinese plane. And we can
breathe again.

The excitement over the Olympic flame this time is fascinating. It has
nothing to do with the spirit of the Games, or with parading the
achievements or triumphs of the host country, China. The excitement is
about Tibet, a so-called "autonomous region of China". This Olympic
flame illuminates the decades-long suffering of Tibetans and the severe
human rights abuses of the Chinese. And it ignites protests. The sacred
flame is running scared.

Last time there was an Olympic torch relay in New Delhi, for the Athens
Games of 2004, it was cheered through its 33 km parade by wildly
enthusiastic crowds.

It was indeed a celebration of the spirit of the Games, of the spirit of
unity and cooperation.

The Athens Olympics slogan "Pass the Flame, Unite the Word!" came alive
with Gulzar’s remarkable theme song, Lau se lau jalti hai (One flame
lights another), sung by Kavita Krishnamurthy to L. Subramanium’s music.
It reminded us that nothing is impossible for the human spirit: Saat
samundar tair ke jaana, tej hawaa se haath milaanaa /ghoomti machhli,
aankh nishana, ek ungli par globe ghumaana (To swim the seven seas, to
join hands with the mighty winds, to aim for the eye of the spinning
fish, to spin the globe on one finger...). In a thundering cultural
event with hundreds of singers, dancers, actors, sportspeople,
politicians and others, the Olympic flame rekindled in us the desire to
reach for the sun.

This time, it has rekindled in us our fear of a repressive regime.

As the flame scurries from country to country, ducking demonstrators,
lashing out at protesters, leaving a trail of arrests, bitterness and
mild violence, it doesn’t allow us to think of the spirit of the
Olympics, or even register the theme this year: "Journey of Harmony".
And the slogan? No, it is not "Lay off Tibet, or Else". It is, in fact,
rather beautiful: "Light the Passion, Share the Dream."

Unfortunately, it is not easy to share China’s dream, without sharing
Tibet’s grief. There are other issues with China too ­ links to the
Darfur genocide, to the Burmese junta, trampling human rights and free
speech, threatening democracies like Taiwan, and a general abhorrence of
democratic freedoms. Forget our own fears in Aksai Chin and Tawang.

Unfortunately, the Dragon’s way of "lighting the passion" makes you
cringe. It breaths fire at anyone who dares to bring up Tibet, kills
monks and other protesters, and badmouths one of the world’s most
respected spiritual leaders, calling the Dalai Lama a lowly conspirer
and "serial liar".

The Olympic torch parade that was supposed to celebrate China’s rise as
a superpower has become a Flame of Shame highlighting ruthless arrogance
and contempt for democratic freedoms. It has in fact made many innocents
around the world sit up and uncomfortably take notice of the country
behind the "Made in China" label that fills their homes.

To add to China’s woes, its burly "flame attendants" have not been
popular. These tracksuited paramilitary forces have been widely disliked
for their brusque pushing and shoving and rudely ordering the athletes
about, and were called "thugs" in London. In spite of their efforts,
there have been furious protests in London, in Paris ­ where the flame
was snuffed out four times, then swiftly hidden in a bus to save it from

more ignominy ­ and in San Francisco, where the administration lied to
the people about the route to mislead huge crowds of protesters and
allow the heavily-armed and guarded torch a quick run on an empty
stretch of road. In Islamabad, the torch was confined to the Jinnah
Stadium. The space for the spirit of the Olympic flame was shrinking

Thankfully, in spite of some Dragon growls, we ­ the world’s largest
democracy ­ have stood our ground about allowing dissent. Even though
the surprise Freedom Flame run by the Tibetan Youth Congress two days
before the torch relay landed 27 protesters in jail, adding to the
hundreds who have been jailed since protests began in March.

As the Olympic flame makes its short dash through New Delhi, there is
another parade planned, and in the true spirit of celebration. The
Parallel Peace Run by the Tibetan Solidarity Committee, led by the
Tibetan government-in-exile, will gather at Rajghat at 10 am and march
to Jantar Mantar to celebrate the non-violent struggle for Tibet, and
showcase Tibetan culture and identity. This may be the rally to watch.
It will not have the Olympic flame, but it will bring alive its slogan:
"Light the Passion, Share the Dream."

For India was founded on dreams of democratic freedoms, including the
freedom to pray, to believe, to be proud of one’s own cultural identity,
to voice dissent. These are the fundamental rights of everyone in India,
whether a citizen or a refugee. The Tibetans in India have these rights.
And as the host of 100,000 Tibetan exiles, as the country privileged to
host the Dalai Lama, and as a nation proud of its moral principles, we
are inclined to share the dream of the Tibetans. This is not a
secessionist dream, just a vision of a future Tibet which is truly
autonomous, where people can have religious, cultural and personal
freedoms, and the "cultural genocide" is stopped. This is the true
"Journey of Harmony". And hopefully it will live on in our hearts, long
after the torch relay and the Olympics are over.

For in any democracy, civil society is the real torchbearer of freedoms
and conscience. Forget the shy flame flickering in the forest of Chinese
and Indian securitymen. Let’s bring alive the true spirit of the
Olympics. Nothing is impossible. We have already turned the Beijing
Olympics flame into the Tibet Torch. We need to use it to light up the
future and find a solution to this 50-year-long saga of Tibet.

Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine

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