By Jason Magder
In a few days, Michael Willcock's travel companions could either be shot, arrested, or sent to a concentration camp near the India/Tibet border.
The 22-year-old college graduate is the only Canadian to have joined a group of Tibetan refugee monks on a march from the Indian town of Dharamsala -- the seat of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama -- back to Tibet.
They set out on March 10, the 59th anniversary of Tibet's national uprising.
"They have all accepted the fact they could die or they could be tortured when they get back to Tibet," said Willcock, 22, who is currently holed up in a tent on the grounds of a monastery in the Indian city of Nainital after being barred from the march by Indian officials.
Until last week, Willcock, who is documenting the march for a film he plans to produce, was one of six foreigners on the march. However, Indian police arrested the five other foreigners, who hail from the U.S. and Europe, last Friday and ordered them to leave the country, saying they had violated the terms of their visitor's visas by taking part in a religious activity, according to the Times of India.
Willcock evaded police by crouching in the bushes. After fleeing, he was not able to rejoin the march because police were barring any foreigners to pass without proper papers. He made his way to the nearest town and then travelled to a monastery in Nainital, about 100 kilometres away to conduct interviews. He pitched a tent on the grounds of the monastery and plans to stay there until he can figure out a way to get back to the march without being stopped by local authorities. The march is intended to bring world attention to the cause of the Tibetans. For the monks, however, it's also a way to get back to their homeland.
"They just want to see Tibet one more time before they die, or touch the ground. They want to be back in their homeland when they die."
Many of the monks on the march are among the 100,000 Tibetans who were exiled from their home country in 1959 at the same time as the Dalai Lama.
Some of the marchers were born in refugee camps in India.
"It is a non-violent resistance against an oppressive and violent force," Willcock said, referring to China. "It's in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela."
The marchers are now at a standoff with Indian police at the bottom of a ravine near Almora, a town about 200 kilometres from the Tibet border. It would take about a month for marchers to travel the mountainous terrain. It's unclear when the march will continue, but the monks are determined to press on.
"It would be very difficult for police to surround 300 people and take them up the ravine and off to jail; they don't have the resources for that," Willcock said.