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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Frankly My Dear: Sharing Tibet's dream

April 20, 2008

Sify, Saturday, 19 April , 2008,

Phew! The Olympic Torch relay went off okay in Delhi – no snuffing out
the flame like in Paris, no major ruckus like in London, no misleading
the people with decoys like in San Francisco. Delhi just closed almost
every road near Rajpath, where the Olympic Flame was to be paraded,
pulled out all the stops in security arrangements, kept the general
public at bay and heaved a huge sigh of relief when it was over.

Unfortunately, this symbolic torch run gave out confusing signals. It
was a claustrophobic little stroll, cocooned in three layers of police
and securitymen, spanning just over 2 km, with each torchbearer allowed
barely 40 steps. There was no cultural festivity, no thrill of sport, no
joyous cheering or excited chattering of children craning to get a
glimpse of the historic flame.

Special: Blood on the Roof of the World | Full coverage: Tibetan
uprising | Images: Flames of fury

Last time, when the Athens Olympic torch blazed through Delhi in 2004,
we had all this and more. We had our fill of the spirit of the games, as
the flame proudly paraded the 33 km stretch, we turned it into a
magnificent cultural event with hundreds of singers, dancers, actors,
filmmakers, musicians, sportspeople, politicians and others.

There was even a theme song for the Athens Olympic torch relay, Lau se
lau jalti hai (one flame lights another). With lyrics by Gulzar, music
by L Subramanium and sung by Kavita Krishnamurthy, it reminded us that
nothing is impossible for the human spirit: Saat samundar tair ke
jaanaa, tez hawaa se haath milaanaa / ghoomti machhli, aankh nishaanaa,
ek ungli par globe ghumaanaa (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…). The Olympic flame illuminated the splendour of
the human spirit, it inflamed our passion to break through mortal barriers.

Unfortunately, this year the theme for the Olympic torch seemed to be
fear, frustration and limiting the human spirit. There were 17,000
security personnel guarding the flame, and practically no audience.
Several Tibetans were arrested for trying to get close to the flame, but
there was very little violence, with only two protestors nursing bad
injuries. All in all, it was a successful Olympic Torch run for the
Indian government.

But it was even more successful for the Tibetan protestors, who had a
parallel torch run – called the Peace Run. It started with a dignified
little ceremony in Rajghat, at the samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi, where a
Flame for Tibet was lit and mantras for peace chanted by members of
various religious groups gathered there – Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim,
Christian, Sikh, Jain, Parsi. Then the flame travelled to Samta Sthal,
where hundreds had gathered and there was some celebration of Tibetan
culture and identity – complete with Yak dances.

Read Antara's latest columns

Many of us took part in this peace march, organised by the Tibetan
Solidarity Committee. Marching in solidarity was former Defence Minister
and evergreen activist George Fernandes, 78, wrapped in a Tibetan flag
and holding aloft an Indian flag, refusing the car cruising along, eager
to pick him up so he didn’t get too tired by the time the crowd gathered
for the demonstration at Jantar Mantar, Delhi’s designated space for
protest. At one point, he had to give in and climb into the car that
kept pace with the marchers. Other marchers included Members of
Parliament of the Dalai Lama’s Government in Exile, like Tsering Youdon,
apart from Jaya Jaitly, Nafisa Ali, Kirti Azad, Sonal Mansigh, Vandana
Shiva, Sonia Jabbar and numerous other sympathisers. Huge crowds of
Tibetans in ‘Torch for Tibet’ T-shirts rent the air with slogans in
Tibetan and English, demanding peace and freedom in Tibet.

And because the Olympic torch was out of bounds, many of the marchers
held aloft sturdy old Eveready torches – lending a touch of steel to
this determined protest. It also added a light touch to this otherwise
grave demonstration against terrible human rights abuses in Tibet. With
banners, posters and paintings highlighting the plight of Tibet – many
asking for a Free Tibet – and ardent slogans, it was a peaceful but
passionate protest.

Which was important for India – the home of 100,000 Tibetan exiles, the
country privileged to host His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a nation founded
on democratic principles which allows dissent, and a country clearly
terrified of China. It was important that the Olympic torch relay went
off peacefully, showing off India’s muscular security. And it was
equally important that the protest march went off peacefully, showcasing
India’s heart of democracy, where dissent is not only allowed, but made
space for.

It is clear that the Olympic torch relay across the world has been a
victory for the Tibetan people. The relay of the holy flame has belied
its theme, ‘Journey of Harmony’, the fear and panic clouding it has not
allowed us to connect with the slogan ‘Light the Passion, Share the
Dream.’ It has brought nothing but trouble for China. The holy Olympic
Flame has bathed the host country in an unholy and terrible light.

Unfortunately, as it darts through other countries, shrouded in
paranoia, the flame will probably not ignite immortal desires in the
human spirit, or showcase China as a new superpower. It will probably
continue to illuminate China as a repressive regime and underscore its
enormous human rights violations, its ‘cultural genocide’ in Tibet, its
sponsorship of the genocide in Darfur, its support for the brutal
Burmese junta, and its predilection for threatening Chinese democracies
like Taiwan, trampling human rights and free speech, and stifling
democratic freedoms. Besides, we have our own issues of Aksai Chin,
China’s territorial claim over parts of Kashmir and all of Arunachal
Pradesh.

This furious protest was expected, anyway. And not just because of the
powerful Tibetan diaspora around the world. If China had free speech,
then any ‘cheap and best’ Chinese PR firm would have advised the leaders
to not take the torch around as a worldwide flame of shame. But
repressive regimes tend to be blind. Maybe this experience preparing for
the Olympics will help clear their vision a bit. Maybe it will help them
loosen up and allow some democratic freedoms – in Tibet and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, we need to carry on the torch of freedom and fundamental
rights. Celebrities may carry the Olympic torch, but civil society is
the eternal torchbearer of conscience and human rights. And we need to
carry on the flame till it lights up a new future for Tibet, a future
with democratic freedoms and peace. Till then the slogan of the exiled
Tibetans at the peace march will ring in our ears – Loto, loto, Bhuela
loto! (Return, return, return Tibet!)

As people privileged to be free citizens of a flourishing democracy, we
owe it to the thousands without a country, who remain exiled from their
motherland. The Olympic torch will run its paranoid course, but the
Tibet torch is now in our hands. We need to ‘light the passion and share
the dream’ and find a solution to the messy problem of Tibet.

The views expressed in the article are the author’s and not of Sify.com

- Antara Dev Senis Editor of The Little Magazine, an independent
publication devoted to essays, literature and criticism on social
concerns and issues neglected by mainstream media (www.littlemag.com).
Sen has earlier worked as a senior editor with The Hindustan Times and
The Indian Express, among other assignments. She can be contacted at
sen@littlemag.com
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