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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."

OPINION: Ignoring a true friend

February 4, 2009

The Pioneer
[Tuesday, February 03, 2009 14:25]
By Claude Arpi

March 2009 will mark 50 years in exile for the Dalai Lama and his
followers. During this half-a-century, the Tibetan leader has supported
India and stood by the country in the face of international criticism.
Is it not time for India to officially recognise the Dalai Lama’s
contribution to peace and tolerance and honour him with the Bharat Ratna?

Every Republic Day brings its lot of pleasant and unexpected surprises
with the announcement of Padma awards for the year. This year, while
people like Mr Madhavan Nair, the chairman of the Indian Space Research
Organisation, received a well-merited award for the Chandrayaan project,
the first Indian mission to the moon, or Mr Anil Kakodkar got it for
being instrumental in the political ‘Deal of the Year’, some nominations
are more surprising.

One is Sister Nirmala who succeeded Mother Teresa as Superior General of
the Missionaries of Charity in March 1997. When Mother Teresa was
already awarded the Bharat Ratna for her work with the foreign mission,
why give the second-highest civilian award to the same organisation
while thousands of Indian NGOs are doing similar (and often better) work
in India? Though born into a Brahmin family (her father was a devout
Hindu Indian Army officer), Nirmala Joshi converted to Roman Catholicism
under the influence of Mother Teresa at the age of 24. Many will think,
probably with reason, that there is an honours quota for Christian

Without arguing further about this particular case, I have for years
wondered why Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, has never received any
recognition from India (not even the Gandhi Peace Award).

Some will argue that he is a foreigner in this country. But there is no
formal provision that recipients of the Bharat Ratna or other awards
should be Indian citizens. Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa), the
1980 recipient of Bharat Ratna, was Albanian-born; two non-Indians —
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1987) and Mr Nelson Mandela (1990) — also
received the highest award.

The Dalai Lama is today, not only in India but the world over, the
foremost practitioner of ahimsa and the most worthy heir of Gautam
Buddha who 2,500 years ago wandered across India, propounding a gospel
of love and compassion.

For the Dalai Lama and more than one lakh of his followers, March 2009
will mark the completion of 50 years in exile. During this
half-a-century, the Tibetan leader has often made India proud. He was
even recently named as the ‘most revered leader of the planet’ by
several Western publications. Why? Because he has chosen as his life
commitment the promotion of human values such as compassion,
forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline — all values
deeply-rooted in Indian tradition.

The Tibetan cause is his third commitment; the first and the second are
what he calls ‘universal responsibility’ or ‘secular ethics’, and the
promotion of religious harmony and understanding among the world’s major
religious traditions. He often repeats: “It is important for all
religious traditions to respect one another and recognise the value of
each other’s respective traditions.”

Though he considers himself “as the free spokesperson of the Tibetans in
their struggle for justice,” the fate of his people is only his third

A few years ago, a controversy erupted when some neo-Buddhist monks
declared that the Dalai Lama was ‘not divine’ and that he should be sent
back to his country. While the Tibetan leader has never pretended to be
‘divine’, (he says that he is just a simple Buddhist monk), this raises
the important aspect of the Tibetan presence in India and their role in
supporting India in its hours of difficulties. Not only have the Dalai
Lama and his people never schemed against this nation, but also they
have always been at the forefront of India’s struggle for its integrity.
It is a pity that certain facts are not well known, if not completely
ignored by the media and Indian public.

How many in India know that not only did Tibetans participate in the
liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, but that they were instrumental in the
fall of Chittagong?

While US declassified documents (particularly transcripts of Henry
Kissinger’s secret negotiations with China) give a fairly good idea of
American dirty tricks against the Bangladeshis and India, nobody speaks
about the role of the unsung Tibetan heroes of the Special Frontier Forces.

Under the cover of the Mukti Bahini, Tibetan commandos infiltrated East
Pakistan (it was not yet Bangladesh) a few weeks before the beginning of
the war. They conducted raids to destroy bridges and communication lines
deep inside Pakistan’s eastern province. The operation was so secret
that most senior officers of the Indian Army’s Eastern Command in
Calcutta did not know about the activities of 3,000 Tibetans jawans
commanded by a Tibetan ‘General’.

By the time Pakistan surrendered, the SFF had lost 56 men — nearly 190
were wounded — but they blocked a potential escape route for East
Pakistani forces into Burma. They also halted members of Pakistan’s 97
Independent Brigade and two Commando Battalion in the Chittagong Hill

In 1989, the Dalai Lama was rightly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. While
actively practising the Buddha’s teachings, he has always stood by
India, even when it went against his very principles. For instance,
after Pokhran II he said, “The assumption of the concept that it is OK
for some nations to possess nuclear weapons and the rest of the world
should not — that’s undemocratic.”

Is it not time for India to officially recognise his genuine
contribution to world peace, universal responsibility and the defence of
the highest Indian spiritual values?

Born in Angoulême, France, Claude Arpi's real quest began 36 years ago
with a journey to the Himalayas. Since then he has been an enthusiastic
student of the history of Tibet, China and the subcontinent. He has
authored several books.

The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the
publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect
their endorsement by the website.
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