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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

The Dalai Lama's Men

January 11, 2008

The Indian Express[Monday, January 07, 2008 15:42]
The New Indian Express features three Tibet activists from Cochin,
Kerala, while Friends of Tibet (Cochin) completes five years of its
activities for an independent Tibet.

By Shevlin Sebastian

In 1995, Sethu Das, son of the illustrious Malayali cartoonist,
Yesudasan, went on a holiday to Jammu. From there, he decided to go to
Srinagar. On the first day, the bus went half way and had to return to
Jammu because of a landslide. On the second day, the road was deemed
unsafe: a terrorist group had attacked an Army convoy. So, Sethu went to
the bus terminus at Pathankot, which is on the border of Jammu and
Kashmir, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Buses from Pathankot went to all
parts of north India. Sethu saw that all the buses were full, except for
one bus, which was going to Dharamshala. On a whim, he decided to go
there. What Sethu did not know then was that Dharamshala was where the
Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile had its headquarters.
So, when Sethu landed up at the town, he was intrigued to see monks and
nuns in saffron robes walking around. He enquired and was told that
these innocent-looking people were political prisoners who had escaped
from Tibet because of brutal Chinese oppression. "It was an eye-opener
for me that such a horrible situation existed in Tibet," says Sethu.
What further stunned him was the revelation that nearly all of them had
been tortured in Chinese prisons.

"One monk showed me his right hand," says Sethu. "Two fingers had been
chopped off." Then, there was the tall and well-built Reting Tempa
Tsering, 70. He had spent years in Chinese jails and was shot at while
escaping to India. "The bullet was lodged in his back," says Sethu.
Despite the urging of the Dalai Lama to remove it through surgery,
Tsering refused. He said he wanted the bullet to be a symbol of Chinese

Meanwhile, shocked at his ignorance of the Tibetan tragedy, Sethu began
interacting with the members of Gu-Chu-Sum, an association of former
political prisoners from Tibet. He collected books and videos on the
subject and started helping out by sending donations from Mumbai, where
he worked as a designer. In 1999, he came up with the idea of a web
site: Friends of Tibet. The first member was his younger brother, Suku,
34, who lives in Kochi and works as an architect. Later, it became a
full-fledged Tibet Support Group. "In India today, there are 3,900
members, with 21 chapters, while international chapters in Uruguay,
Pakistan, Nepal, Spain, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom have been set
up," says Sethu.

In Kochi, the Friends of Tibet office at Changampuzha Nagar, which is
run by Suku, is small and cosy: there are low sofas, a blackboard on a
wall, and various posters on Tibet, one of which has this line: 'China,
Get Out of Tibet'. "We are trying to bring an awareness of Tibet to the
people here by distributing leaflets, having public meetings and
launching campaigns," says Suku. The latest campaign is called 'The
World with Tibet'. These are postcards which show the map of the world,
but with one crucial difference: Tibet is shown as an independent country.
Asked about the reaction of Kochiites to the Tibet issue, Suku says that
there are differing responses. Those who are aware of China's
overwhelming military control of the country, say, "Why are you fighting
for a lost cause?" Another group questions the need to fight on behalf
of foreigners, when there are so many causes within the country that
need support. "As long as Tibetans remain in India, and are unable to go
back, we will fight for their rights," says Suku.

One of those fighting for their rights in Kochi is activist, V.J. Jose,
52. Every month, he conducts meetings, where he shows films about
China's oppression of Tibet and gives talks explaining the history and
the background of the country. "After seeing the films, young people
express shock at what is happening in Tibet," he says. If you check out
the web site (, you will see gruesome photographs
of executions of Tibetan activists by Chinese soldiers. In one, the head
of a young Tibetan woman has been blown off by a gun blast. The people
are in agony and as their culture and way of life are being destroyed by
the Chinese, Tibetans are fleeing the country. Nearly all of them find
refuge in India and there are a few families in Kochi, as well. "There
are 1.3 lakh Tibetans in India living in 54 settlements," says the
Mumbai-based Sethu. "They are hoping to return to a free and independent
Tibet one day."

Although this seems like an impossible dream, the Das brothers continue
to fight for the Tibetan cause in Kochi and in several parts of India
trying to bring an awareness about a country which, for many people, is
just a name on a map.
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