By Vijay Crishna
In August last year, I was in Nakchu, 500 km north of Lhasa, for the Horse Festival, which is the most important folk festival in Tibet. To my horror I discovered that the horse festival, which is about Tibetan horsemen displaying their prowess in archery, horsemanship and racing, turned out to be a run-up to the Olympic Games. So, in this huge field, the Chinese army did a march past, which was followed by folk dances, much like the Republic Day parade in India.
Suddenly, near the end of the parade, some monks from a nearby monastery were brought in carrying the Chinese flag. The crowd turned silent. Later, I was told that the local Chinese cadres of the Communist Party of China had decided to celebrate the festival in their own way and used this crude method of imposing the country’s domination by forcing the monks to carry the flag.
What I have noticed on my visits to Tibet is the deep resentment against the Chinese. You could feel it everywhere. People are scared to show it, because Chinese security personnel are all over the place. They are all in plainclothes and have infiltrated the monasteries. Most of the monasteries have a Chinese person in charge. Among the monks, there are some Chinese. That is why it was so amazing the riots took place in March.
The unrest spread rapidly, as a result of the use of mobile phones. When I was in Tibet last year, I had been amused at the way the monks were carrying two or three mobile phones. However, now I realise that these mobile phones were used as a potent tool to marshal the protests.
I am amazed at the Tibetan people. They have no weapons. Yet they continue to protest. It is like hurling bodies against bullets. As far as the Chinese are concerned, it is an internal matter of their country. Six million Chinese have been re-settled in Tibet. Very soon, there will be no Tibetan way of life.
Tibet is an extraordinarily beautiful place. The air is very clear and you rarely see such natural beauty: the vast expanses, the mountain ranges, the lakes, and the skies.
However, the people are very poor. There is nothing more disconcerting than to suddenly come across children wearing ragged clothing, and families living in pathetic conditions. Over the last 50 years, out of a population of six million people, more than a million Tibetans have been killed. This is similar to the Holocaust, but nobody knows about it.
The Tibetans also endured a massacre similar to Jalianwala Bagh, when in 1904 Sir Francis Younghusband led an army into Tibet.
At a place called Guru, the British asked the Tibetans to lay down their muskets, but the latter resisted. The British opened fire with their Maxim machine guns. Around 700 people were shot dead in 20 minutes. The Tibetans do not have anybody to highlight their history and, sadly, there is no nothing to mark this horrific tragedy.
The question I am asked often is whether Tibetans should resort to violence. This is a complex question and there are no easy answers. The Dalai Lama, an incredible man whom I have met, has stuck to the concept of non-violence, at what must be at huge personal cost. Even when riots were taking place, he stuck to what he believes. China should now talk with him about the future of Tibet.
At this moment, the future looks bleak. However, there are game changers along the way. There are huge forces building up in China, born out of frustration at the terrible degradation of the environment and the quality of life. People are angry and might revolt. Democracy might eventually come to China. There may be a sea change in the attitude of those who rule Tibet.(As told to Shevlin Sebastian) Vijay Crishna has practised theatre for many years and is a keen trekker. He has made several trips to China. Recently, in Kochi, he made an audio-visual presentation, Tibet Of Our Minds: A Journey’s End? organised by Friends of Tibet.