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Carrying a Symbol of Hope and Protest

June 5, 2008

Tibetan Freedom Torch makes stop Downtown on its world journey
Robert King
The Indianapolis Star (USA)
June 4, 2008

Gedun Rabsal doesn't know whether he will ever see his Tibetan homeland again.

He is unsure whether China will succumb to pressure and relinquish
its grip on that plateau region, which it claims as its own and has
dominated by force for the past six decades.

But on Tuesday morning, Rabsal, now a teacher living in Bloomington,
was on Monument Circle with his young daughters at his side, trying
to raise Tibet's profile with passing Hoosiers.

With a dozen other demonstrators, Rabsal sang the Tibetan anthem and
waved a Tibetan flag -- emblems of a would-be nation. Their point was
that as China prepares to host the Olympics, Tibet should be there as
its own country, with its own athletes, song and flag.

Instead, Rabsal said Tibet is effectively a region under siege, its
people unable to speak freely or worship whom they please, its
contact with the outside world severely curtailed since
demonstrations in March. Many of the demonstrators who spoke out were
jailed. Activists say as many as 200 were killed.

"The people of the world need to know what is going on in Tibet," he said.

With that in mind, Rabsal and his daughters cheered a pair of the
Dalai Lama's nephews, also from Bloomington, as they left the
Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Tuesday and headed south on Meridian
Street bearing a symbol of his greatest hope: the Tibetan Freedom Torch.

The torch is both a symbol of that hope and a reminder of the "pain
and suffering" being experienced by the people of Tibet, said Ball
State University Professor Larry Gerstein, a Fishers resident who
organized the demonstration.

Specifically, Tibetan activists want President Bush to boycott the
Olympics' opening ceremony in Beijing this August. More immediately,
they are trying to pressure the International Olympic Committee into
demanding that China not carry the Olympic flame through Tibet.

If it does, Gerstein said, it could prompt new protests, more
killings and more people jailed.

On larger issues, Gerstein said Tibetans want China to acknowledge
their independence, grant the safe return of the Dalai Lama and
release Tibetan Buddhism's second-most-important figure, the
19-year-old Panchen Lama, whom Chinese officials seized at age 6.

Like the Olympic flame, Tibet activists started their torch's journey
in Greece. Because of difficulties in traveling with a lit flame,
they eventually converted to the current battery-lit lamp designed by
a Tibetan and wrapped in a blessing scarf.

The freedom torch has been across North America, Europe and parts of
Asia. The plan is to bring it to China in August, but Gerstein has
grave doubts that the Chinese would allow that to happen.

"That would be the equivalent of China allowing the Dalai Lama to
return," he said.

In the hands of Jigme and Kunga Norbu, nephews of the Dalai Lama, the
torch made its way south through the city Tuesday.

Today, the Norbus are expected to present the torch to their father,
Thubten Norbu, at the Tibetan Mongolian Cultural Center he founded in
Bloomington after fleeing Tibet. The cultural center and the Norbus'
presence are the key reasons that the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled
leader, has made five Bloomington visits in recent decades.

Thubten J. Norbu, 85, is known also by the religious title Takster
Rinpoche and has been an activist for Tibetan independence since his
own exile in 1950. He has been in poor health in recent years, so
Norbu's sons have carried the torch. Jigme, 42, participated in the
Freedom Torch's runs in California.

"Now it is up to our generation to fight for Tibet's independence," he said.

That is why Rabsal, who teaches the Tibetan language at Indiana
University, continues to bring his daughters, ages 10 and 6, to
demonstrations like the one on the Circle. The 42-year-old hasn't
seen Tibet in more than 20 years, following his own flight from the
country. But he's teaching his daughters to carry the torch for
Tibetan independence, too.

"If it doesn't happen in my lifetime," he said, "it is my
responsibility, my hope, to give that back to my children."

Call Star reporter Robert King at (317) 444-6089.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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