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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

A friend of Tibet

September 9, 2010

Shevlin Sebastian
Express News Service
September 6, 2010

KOCHI -- In February, director Ritu Sarin calls
Sethu Das, the founder of ‘Friends of Tibet’, and
says, “There is good as well as bad news.” “Tell
me the good news first,” says Sethu.“We won the
Silver Conch Award at the 11th Mumbai International Film Festival,” says Ritu.

Then, with tongue-in-cheek, she says, "The bad
news is that there was no Chinese around to
create a controversy.” Sethu laughs.

During the Palm Springs Film Festival, at
California, in January, China protested the
screening of the documentary, ‘The Sun Behind The
Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom,’ directed
by Sarin and Tenzing Sonam. When the festival
organisers refused to withdraw the film, China
pulled out two of its films in anger.

‘The Sun’ eventually won the ‘Best Of The Fest’
award at Palm Springs, apart from the Vaclav
Havel Award, for contributing to human rights, at
the One World Film Festival in Prague in March.

It also won the Best Long Documentary award at
the 3rd Kerala International Documentary and
Short Film Festival in Thiruvananthapuram in June.

The film, 79 minutes long, is a riveting look at
the life of the Dalai Lama as he spends his time
in meditation at his headquarters at Dharamsala
and follows him on his travels all over the
world, including stops at Seattle, for an
interaction with Chinese journalists, at London,
where he has an enjoyable meeting with Prince
Charles, at Berlin, where he meets German
legislators at the Parliament, and Paris.

In the French capital, the Dalai Lama meets with
the members of the expatriate Tibetan community
and elucidates on his Middle Way approach. “We
are not seeking independence,” he says. “We are
very happy to remain within the People’s Republic
of China. We only want to preserve our culture and religion.”

But, increasingly, young Tibetans feel that this
approach has yielded little benefits.

"There is a division among Tibetans between total
devotion to His Holiness as our religious and
political leader, and at the same time wanting
independence,” says Lhadon Tethong, director of Students for a Free Tibet.

Says a young Tibetan: "Since China has ignored
the Middle Way, the time has come for the Dalai
Lama to change his policy.” Writer Jamyang Norbu
says that the Dalai Lama is on the horns of a
dilemma. “It is difficult to be a political and
spiritual leader at the same time,” he says. “But
it is time that His Holiness led the protests of the youth.”

But even as the people are talking, the scene
shifts to Lhasa, where young monks holding aloft
Tibetan flags are staging the biggest-ever
protest, since 1949, when the country was annexed
by the Chinese. This was in March 2008, before the Olympic Games at Beijing.

"We want freedom! We want independence!" shouts a
monk, as groups of men burn cars and try to pull
down shop shutters, followed inevitably by
Chinese policemen wielding the baton with great
force. Soon, tanks are rumbling on the streets.
Many Tibetans are killed, even as the uprising is quelled.

Later, at a public meeting at Dharamsala, a woman
leader, Dolma Gyari, says, "You cannot kill
everyone with your guns! More will rise up behind
them.” As the protests continue in Tibet, young
India-based Tibetans, led by activist and writer,
Tenzin Tsundue, begin a march from Dharamsala to
Tibet. (Tsundue gained international fame when he
unfurled a long, ‘Free Tibet” banner alongside
the Indian Institute of Science building, in
Bangalore, during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit in 2005).

Says Tsundue: "This march will link the struggle
in exile with the struggle which is happening
inside Tibet.” The group walked for four months
through the Himalayas, but at Dharchula, which is
60 km from the Indo- Tibetan border, the Indian
police forcibly closed down the march.

Meanwhile, at a rally in New York, a young
Tibetan rap singer, Namgyal Yeshi, sings, "If you
are Tibetan, it’s time to regain independence.”

The camera cuts to Chinese Foreign Ministry
spokesman, Qin Yang, who says vehemently, "The
Dalai Lama should give up his position on
independence.” In the end the film leaves one
with a poignant feeling for a people, six million
strong, who have lost their country and are
gradually losing their culture, especially in
Tibet, where Han Chinese have moved en masse into
the country. They now number 7.5 million. The
Tibetans, tragically, are becoming a minority in their homeland.

The future, in the face of China’s political and economic might, looks bleak.
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