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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

A tale of two Tibets

August 25, 2008

Shobhan Saxena,TNN
Times of India
August 24, 2008

The mocking voices dub them Hyphenated Buddhists. The cynics snicker
at this crowd, calling them victims of 'Tibetitis' - a virus that
attacks when the stars get tired of fame. That's when they fall in
love with the mysterious rooftop kingdom. So, as movie stars take
refuge in Himalayan hotels with no running water or TV, turning
rosaries and talking human rights, epithets flow thick and fast:
Hollywood groupies in search of a new kick in life; dharma bums
looking for some kinky mantras for their T-shirts. Some of the labels
stick, sometimes making the entire Tibetan movement look like an
exotic drama being enacted in a Hollywood studio.

As the clock ticked towards 08.08.08, the skeptics were sure that the
strain would turn into a full-blown Hollywood epidemic. But, what the
world saw was something different: monks and nuns in ochre robes
facing the batons of Chinese police, young men and women with 'Free
Tibet' bandanas on their forehead marching the streets against the
Torch, a couple of daredevils climbing the Golden Gate bridge in San
Francisco and unfurling a freedom banner, and a bunch of Olympic
tourists going up a pole in front of the Bird's Nest just two days
before the games opened with a 'One Dream' message. They were all
ordinary folks, completely political with no glam connection.

This has been the year of a clash between the two images of Tibet:
one, the mystical land of pop spirituality which is always ready to
give shelter to celebs and make the world a better place with its
secret wisdom; and the second, a nation of real people with real
problems facing extinction as the Chinese tighten their grip on the
six million people who live in an area as big as western Europe. It
was this Tibet that emerged from the shadow of the other this year,
due to the hard work of some extraordinary activists.

Tenzin Tsundue must have walked a few thousand kilometres this year.
With a pair of jeans, two shirts in his bag and a pair of second-hand
shoes bought from a sidewalk, Tsundue just walked and talked Tibetan
independence this year. Arrested at least thrice in past five months,
the latest being this week, Tsundue tried to walk back to Tibet with
a huge group of marchers who made headlines around the world for
their "return march to Tibet". "Tibet is my country and it's my right
to go back to my homeland," says Tsundue, who did go to Tibet a few
years ago and got arrested by the Chinese army. And he tried
everything possible to make sure that he goes back there again, this
time for good.

Up and down aboard rickety buses plying on bumpy roads between Delhi,
Dharamsala and other small Indian towns on the Tibetan frontier,
Tsundue emerged as the symbol of Tibetan movement this year. The
poet-activist shouted slogans on the road, spoke to the international
media, addressed rallies across the Himalayan sweep on India's
northern frontier, led a march of 300 determined people, played
cat-and-mouse with the police as he tried to slip into Tibet, and
made court appearances for his "illegal activities".

While Tsundue re-energised the Tibetan "resistance" in India, a monk
known as Ven Tenzin Bagdro took the fight against China to a Spanish
court. Bagdro, who spent three hellish years as a political prisoner
in a notorious Chinese prison in Tibet, appeared as a witness before
a court in Madrid hearing a genocide case against seven top Chinese
leaders, including former President Jiang Zemin. As Bagdro, author of
the bestselling 'A Hell on Earth', began to walk towards the court
with a few fellow monks, tears started to trickle down his cheeks. "I
became emotional. I could not control my feelings as all the images
of suffering of the Tibetans came to my mind," says Bagdro, whose
crying face was splashed across the front pages of European
newspapers the next day.

China might have dazzled the world with its hi-tech show at the
Olympic stadium in Beijing, but, thanks to the efforts of Tibet
activists, many people around the world now see the steel wonder in
the heart of Chinese capital as Bird's Cage - a symbol of repression.
The Tibet activists - young and old - managed to get global attention
to their cause this year. "This year will be remembered as the Year
of Tibet and not Olympics," says Tsundue. No wonder, thousands of
travellers cancelled their trip to Beijing.

They might not have realized it but the biggest achievement of these
activists is that they have managed to convert the Tibetan cause from
a pop problem to a political issue. In our age and time, when a cause
is not a cause until it's endorsed (or ignored) by a celebrity, the
Tibetan activists managed to create a place for their cause in the
hurly-burly of global politics. They might have given a new meaning
to Tibetitis.
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