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Is Tibet better off?
[Monday, August 20, 2018 21:30]
By Bhuchung D Sonam

Chinese military drill in Lhasa/file
Chinese military drill in Lhasa/file
In his piece published on 12 August in the news-portal The Print, the former chairman of the Press Council of India and a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India, Markandey Katju, claims that Tibet has “vastly improved under Chinese-rule” and that the exile Tibetan government is “a fake organisation, funded by foreign countries” seeking “to restore the feudal Tibet, ruled by the reactionary lamas.”

The former judge has obviously read his fair share of official Chinese propaganda and in fact the last bit about the exile government wanting “to restore feudal Tibet” is a cut-and-paste from CCP’s textbook on publicity. China’s massive propaganda apparatus has been going into overdrive spending billions of Dollars resulting in its increased reach around the world and producing over-the-top documentary films such as 'Amazing China', which highlights the country’s economic and technological achievements. However, one would not think that prominent Indians such as Justice Markandey would fall prey to such misinformation and to propagate it without a speck of reflection and deliberation on a matter of such importance – colonialism.

As a Tibetan refugee, I bear the direct brunt of China’s occupation of my homeland and denial of the fundamental rights. (I was smuggled out of Tibet and have not seen my family for over thirty years!) I must also accept the fact that Tibet before 1959 was far from being a Shangrila-like realm as is sometimes painted in literature. It was a pre-modern society with the bulk of its population living as farmers and herdsman; and with a large number of people bonded to monastic and aristocrat estates. It neither pursued industrialisation nor extracted its rich mineral deposits or utilized its unimaginably huge water resources. Instead Tibetans chose to live their lives largely cocooned in the Buddhist worldview of “contentment”.

Simply because Tibet was undeveloped and isolated did not warrant a foreign power annexing it by force which has resulted in deaths, destruction and turmoil over the decades. Scholars opine that a large chunk of Tibetan civilization and historical documents stored in monastic universities and libraries were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and the Tibetan language is taught only up to primary levels with Mandarin as a medium of instruction in schools across Tibet. Today Tibetan culture, language and identity face severe restrictions, testified by the recent imprisonment of Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan language advocate, and the jailing, harassment, and torture of many writers and intellectuals.

One must accept, as Markandey writes, that China has introduced “modern schools, universities, engineering and medical colleges, modern hospitals, freeways, supermarkets, fast food restaurants, mobile stores and apartment buildings.” But a façade of modernity must not blind our judgment of colonialism and its underlying intentions. What are schools and universities without the freedom of thought? What are freeways without freedom of movement? Can material growth compensate for the denial of fundamental rights? Tibetans are neither zoo inhabitants to be fed, displayed and lulled to dreamless sleep with “fast food restaurants” and “supermarkets” nor are we rural bumpkins to be easily coopted into “Chinese Dream”. We are human beings who simply aspire to a space to call home in which to decide our destiny in our own wisdom and in our own quietness.

Justice Markandey, however, claims that Chinese rule has “undoubtedly” benefited the Tibetans. He further writes: “Lhasa is like any other modern city,” which is precisely the problem. Lhasa should not be like any other city. Markandey unfortunately does not choose to examine the insidious nature of a colonial power; i.e. to appropriate and alter the unique culture, language and identity of its subjects, and turn them into bastardized doppelgängers of the colonizers. China has been dragging Tibet along this treacherous path for over half-a-century and Markandey sings paeans to its actions.

Perhaps, it is too much to expect from someone who said that “90 per cent of Indians are idiots” and that “Pakistan is a fake country” with more fools than India. And his views on LGBT are no better. Markandey recently wrote that “[n]owadays there is a lot of talk of gay relationships and gay marriages. To my mind it is all humbug and nonsense.” He asks: “Will a gay relationship or gay marriage serve nature's requirement of continuing the species? No, it is only sex between a man and a woman which will give birth to a child, not sex between a man and a man, or between a woman and a woman.” The former judge reduces the role of men and women to that of reproduction alone. His patriarchal judgment of women is even worse. “Women who remain single are prone to have psychological problems,” he writes.

It is easy perhaps for many of us to ignore Markandey’s comments as the bluster of a cantankerous septuagenarian. But in an age saturated with fake news and swirls of intrigue, one must kibosh them with facts and impose our lived experience. The habit of people such as Markandey to reduce everything to the binary route of black and white is an urgent reminder to us that things are far more wisely viewed in shades of grey.



Bhuchung D. Sonam is the author of four books, including Yak Horns: Notes on Contemporary Tibetan Writing, Music, Film & Politics and Songs of the Arrow. He lives in Dharamsala, a small town in northern India.


The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.
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