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Sympathy towards Tibetan cause and writing on the wall for China

August 22, 2008

By Anand Gurung, andygurung@yahoo.com
Nepal News
August 21, 2008

I don't know if there were any protests by Tibetan exiles in
Kathmandu yesterday or if they plan to stage any today. I didn't call
Tashi [the Tibetan activist who updates the media on how many Tibetan
protestors were arrested from which places in the city, provides
photos and tells us how those who have been arrested are doing] nor
did he call me. Probably there weren't any protests today. The radio
which blurts out hourly news updates is preoccupied with the human
tragedy unfurling in the eastern Nepal due to damage in Koshi
embankment. I turn on the T.V and the same footages of the massive
toll the swollen river has taken on the lives thousands upon
thousands of people can only be seen. It is sad to looking at trauma,
deaths, destruction, depravation and displacement caused by the
natural (or is it man-made?) calamity in the evening news and read it
again in gory detail the next morning. But even during immense
suffering life has to go on.

On Tuesday police broke up anti-China demonstrations by exiled
Tibetans, rounding up more than 200 protestors as they tried to march
to the Chinese embassy protesting against China's crackdown in their
homeland earlier this year.

The Tibetan protestors, including nuns and monks, shouted 'Free
Tibet' and 'China, thief, leave our country', as they were bundled
inside waiting police vans and trucks to be driven off to various
detention centers, some being just picked up and some dragged by
policemen while still chanting anti-China slogans.

Emotions run high in these demonstrations, but compared to the
people's movement your correspondent covered back in 2006 where the
police high-handedness and, in some instances, brutality could be
witnessed first hand [especially when they indiscriminately opened
fire on the very people they vowed to protect], this protest was
largely tame: It didn't even take the police half an hour to take the
situation under control.

Though the sheer scale may be different, there was some kind of
resonance of the 19-day long people's movement in the demonstration
by Tibetan exiles - it being an expression of pent-up frustration of
years of oppression and brutality. The scenes were also similar: the
same poorly trained police using more force than required to break up
the largely peaceful protest, the beatings, the arrests, the cries
and shouts in the ensuing melee and confusion, and all this while the
national and international photo journalists arrests these images in
their cameras and reporters and rights activists observe it silently.
All were same, except that the protestors were Tibetans and they were
demonstrating on a foreign soil against the injustices committed in
the country they fled from.

Watching the Tibetan men and women, old and young, fight it out so
passionately in the streets of Kathmandu against the gross human
rights violations during the recent Chinese crackdown in Tibet, the
brutal suppression of Tibetan religious and political aspirations and
its deliberate effort to wipe out the unique cultural identity of
Tibetans (by changing the demographic composition of the
territory)  from the face of the world even as it boasts its own in
the Olympics pomp and pageantry -- one almost feels the pain and
sadness of these Tibetans in one's whole body. Some fervent
protestors even call for freedom in their homeland and although it
looks like distant dream at least for now, one still see some sort of
legitimacy to the demand.

But ask any government officials and police authorities about Nepal's
handling of the Tibetan protests and one often gets the terse,
readymade answer - "It's a matter of policy. Nepal considers Tibet as
an integral part of China and is against any political activities by
the exiles." And parties like United Marxist Leninist and now the
ruling CPN (Maoist) party issue statements pledging their stance
towards "One China" policy and their leaders keep brushing off the
protest, staged regularly since March of this year, as
inconsequential, inspired by "nefarious motives" even as human rights
organisations around the world criticise Nepal for its lack of
sensitivity towards the Tibetan cause.

Agreed that China is now a world power and Nepal, being its small
neighbor which looks forward to its support and assistance for its
development, should also give importance to its legitimate concerns.
But this should in no way be the cost of portraying itself as China's
stooge. How can you keep brushing off the modern day human tragedy by
acting as a good neighbor, when the whole world is criticising China
for sealing off Tibet from the rest of the world. Can we just keep
saying that we are a non-aligned nation when the Tibetan cause is
giving rise to protest movements around the world with many showing
solidarity to the Tibetan cause? If not, then why does it shy away
from simply admitting that Tibet was once an independent nation [no
matter what may be your definition of"independent" is] and that it
was ceded (?) by Chinese forces in 1949 (?, confirm) in much the same
way neighboring Himalayan nation Sikkim would later be ceded (?) by
India. Why Nepal still ignores the fact that there was a violent
uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet back in 1959 and that
thousands fled the country after it failed, more than 20,000 of whom
now live a life of an exile in Nepal. Yes, Nepal, as a tiny country
which hardly has any say in world matters, can't possibly think about
criticizing China which is projected as the economic and military
super power of the 21st century and bring its wrath over it. Falling
in the natural "area of influence" of China, Nepal is also quite
vulnerable to China's intimidation should it appear to be going
against her interests. But China has always been a peaceful neighbor,
never poking its head on Nepal's internal matters as other countries
like to do, while silently contributing to the development of the
country's infrastructures by helping build roads, hospitals,
transportation system, television station and conference halls (it
hardly needs to be metioned here  but the venue for the country's
first Constituent Assembly is a Chinese built Birendra International
Conference Center), and Nepal is bound to reciprocate by giving a
patient ear to its concerns here. Still, Nepal should show the
diplomatic dexterity by treating the Tibetan issue with the
sensitivity it deserves acknowledging the fact that any slip in this
matter would tarnish the image of the country while still appearing
to be addressing the genuine concerns of its northern neighbor.

However, still our leaders (and the government discreetly) and few
from the press fraternity takes pleasure in thinking that the
protests are largely staged, that it is not genuine, that it is
backed and possibly even fueled by what they call "foreign elements"
to embarrass the Chinese as they host the greatest sporting spectacle
the Olympics. Intent on falling in the good books of Chinese leaders,
major communist parties of the country went to every length the
denounce the peaceful protests by Tibetan exiles, simply forgetting
their own struggle against former king Gyanendra's autocratic regime.

While I myself haven't been to Tibet and couldn't say exactly for
sure whether reports that claim China has imposed its brutal
authoritarianism in Tibet is largely a "western media propaganda" or
whether China's claim that it has 'liberated' Tibet from its feudal
past and brought development to its difficult terrain (Beijing to
Lhasa train service which passes through the world's highest altitude
being one) has some truth in it, but hearing and reading reports of
hundreds of Tibetan people making dangerous journeys every year
through the barren land and treacherous mountain passes, often under
the constant fear of being shot at by Chinese border forces, just to
cross over to Nepal, to relative freedom, and make it to their exiled
spiritual leader Dalai Lama in India, it becomes clear that there is
indeed something not very right about Chinese occupation of Tibet
that so many people want to flee from it.

And here again the height of insensitivity is shown by Nepal, which
thinking that it is just doing a job of a good neighbor, nabs these
poor souls who have just made it into Nepal risking their lives and
deport them back to China to face an uncertain, and given China's
poor human rights record, a possibly perilous fate. And how Nepal has
tainted its international image by closing down the Dalai Lama's
office under the pressure of the Chinese government, by carrying out
raids in Tibetan refugee camps to arrest recent Tibetan defectors.

Why is China so intent on ruling Tibet under its iron fist? Why is it
prodigiously suppressing Tibet's political aspirations for
self-governance and denying its people free expression of their
unique cultural and religious identity? This goes beyond
understanding, especially when China itself allows greater degree of
autonomy in Hong Kong and Macao under concept of two systems in one
country? A former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind
rightly asked in his article not so long ago: If China is able to
live with genuine autonomy and cultural freedom in Hong Kong and
Macao, and if it would be only too happy to concede it to Taiwan, why
can a similar offer not be made to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people?

Except for few radicalised youths who call for end of Chinese rule in
Tibet, most Tibetan people would be quite happy if they are offered
significant political and cultural freedom in their country. The
Dalai Lama has also repeatedly made it clear that he is not seeking
independence, saying that it is practically unattainable. But China
still appears to be hell-bent on denying the Tibetan people their
right to self-governance and practice their unique culture and
religion.  It all seems to be very futile to make China realize that
by doing what it is doing in Tibet it is just betraying what the
Olympic Games it is organising stands for.

"Increased repression or political and cultural reform are the only
choices left available to China and the price they would pay if they
opt for repression will be high and will grow," the former British
secretary writes in is article, and this seems to be the writing on
the wall for the land of the Great Wall.

On the day the Beijing Olympics was to begin on August 8, Kathmandu
was witness to the largest anti-China demonstrations by exiled
Tibetans followings weeks of intensified demonstrations. Altogether
1,068 protestors were rounded up from various parts of the city all
through the day and taken to various detention centers. Same scenes
were repeated, some with striking resemblance. Having covered so many
of the protests by Tibetans exiles in the past, couple of faces
taking part in the protests were quite familiar and with some I was
even in talking terms. But looking at them and their friends forced
into waiting vans and trucks, often cruelly, even as they appear to
be try to just stage a peaceful protests. When asked why the Tibetans
were denied the right to stage peaceful protest, the police in-charge
in the area simply said that the place is a"restricted zone" where
all kinds of demonstrations are prohibited. And asked since when was
the place declared a restricted zone, he bluntly said that it is
matter of policy, that they are just acting on orders from"above". My
British journalist friend asked whether by "order from above" he
meant "Chinese embassy", the police official denied to make any comments.

Later, after all the protestors were whisked away from the place and
the vehicles started to again move without any obstruction, the
journalist friend asked me whether he was correct in thinking that
Nepalese people don't have any sympathy towards the Tibetan cause.

According to figures, 10,000 Tibetan refugees have been detained
during their protests in Kathmandu since in March. Although most are
released after that very evening or the next day, but given the
allegation made by international human rights activists of "excessive
use of force" against the protestors and our very own "vibrant" media
largely ignoring these protests as unimportant when the international
media is keenly following it, my journalist friend was not wrong in
reaching to this conclusion.

It is not that Nepalis don't have sympathy towards the Tibetan cause,
towards the plight of Tibetans living a life of an exile all over the
world. Who else but Nepalese can understand their woes as the country
is home to more than 20,000 Tibetan refugees, a number which keeps
increasing every year. But I tell my journalist friend that as Nepal
itself is going through such turbulent times, and thus making us
insensitive, that what he sees as lack of our sympathy is sheer
indifference on our part that is brought about by so many problems an
ordinary Nepali is bogged under at present.

Yet, again the sympathy talked about here is too high and noble an
emotion which most Nepali can hardly afford. And even the little we
may have we have to share it among the one-lakh Bhutanese refugees
and those Nepali speaking refugees who are continually driven away
from Assam and elsewhere into Nepal from here to foreign lands. And
what about the Kashmiri cause, the Palestine cause, the Iraqi cause,
the Irish cause? It seems the world is too busy only in trying to
give a lesson on human rights to China.

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