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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?"

Big security for small Tibet protest

April 20, 2008

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News, Delhi
April 17, 2008

In a quiet corner of central Delhi, several hundred protesters chanted
anti-Chinese slogans while others applauded enthusiastically as they
watched the performance of a Tibetan dance.

By Indian standards it was a relatively quiet demonstration that would
not normally have attracted the presence of a police riot squad lorry
parked nearby.

Yet such are the sensitivities of the Indian authorities over the Tibet
question, it was treated as no ordinary protest.

The demonstrators were encircled by a ring of police who nearly
out-numbered them. The only other time of the year that such measures
are used is during India's Republic Day celebrations.

Middle class

At no point did police allow the protesters to get anywhere near the
official torch carrying ceremony.

Anyone trying to cross a barricade that was protecting it was told to
make an about-turn in no uncertain terms.

Most taking part in the protest were the relatives of Tibetans who fled
their homeland about the same time as the Dalai Lama in 1959.
Many were middle class professionals such as 30-year-old Tenzin Paldan
and her sister Tenzin Tsering.

They were for the most part very different from their more vociferous
counterparts who protested against the Olympic torch when it first
arrived in India on Wednesday night.

"We are here because we support independence for Tibet and do not
approve of China staging the Olympics," said Ms Paldan, who is a nurse.

"Our grievance is not with India - after all they have provided us with
a sanctuary from Chinese repression."

Traffic jams

It was only when asked how far the protesters should go to highlight
their grievances that these seemingly peace-loving sisters struck a more
belligerent tone.

"We support any efforts - including the use of violence - to disrupt the
torch carrying ceremony. The Chinese are using the Olympics as a
propaganda tool while persecuting our people and they should not be
allowed to get away with," said Ms Tsering.

Other demonstrators, such as 32-year-old Tamdin Tsering, said they were
not against China hosting the Olympics but are in favour of Tibet
immediately being given more autonomy.

"That should be a precursor to our full scale independence," he said.

While the demonstrators nosily banged their drums and distributed their
leaflets, it seemed that the rest of Delhi looked upon their protest
with a collective shrug of the shoulders.

The only way many will have noticed that the torch carrying ceremony was
taking place at all was because the middle of the city was effectively
closed down, creating huge traffic jams in areas adjoining the centre.

Bookshop owner Naresh Kapoor said that many people sympathised with the
plight of India's 100,000 or so Tibetan refugee population and would
like to see the region gain independence.

"I think at times our government has been too subservient to China, and
we should be more assertive in telling them what we think about the
Tibet question, which is a decades-old wrong that needs to be
rectified," he said.

When asked if he also feels sympathetic towards those Kashmiris who
would rather their territory was not under Indian control, Mr Kapoor
argued that such comparisons cannot legitimately be made.

"Kashmir has never been an independent country in its own right whereas
Tibet has - and that is the essential difference," he said.

But Shakeel Donoo, a Muslim Kashmiri tour guide working in Delhi, said
that many Indians who support the Tibet cause were hypocritical.

"There is no difference between the two struggles," he argued. "At the
heart of each is an oppressed people denied their legitimate rights by a
far larger neighbour.

"India should perhaps remember that if Tibet does get independence, that
will have implications because the north-eastern state of Arunachal
Pradesh should be part of Tibet as well."

Many in Delhi chose not to go to work because of the disruption caused
by the torch carrying ceremony.

But if they thought such a tactic might enable them to escape the
controversy it caused, they would have been sorely mistaken.

The ceremony itself - and the protests running alongside it - were given
saturation wall-to-wall coverage by at least 40 English and vernacular
satellite television channels.
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