News and Views on Tibet

Now or Never: MIC Boycott Campaign in India

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by Sethu Das
Friends of Tibet (INDIA)

“To be silent in the face of great social evil is to be an accessory to injustice” Alexander Hescher

The ‘refusal to buy or use’ British products by the Irish Republican Army marked the beginning of the ‘boycott’ movement in the modern times. From Ireland to one of the most successful boycott campaigns in South Africa in the ’80s, the world has witnessed many attempts to boycott products made or distributed by the adversary in order to create a world of slaves. ‘Boycott’ has become one of the effective methods of protest. From the boycott of the British-made cloths to British-distributed liquor by the Indians; boycott of Marcos-controlled media to Coca-cola products by the people of Philippines; boycott of Israeli-products to Israeli-distributed Coca-cola by the Palestinians to the boycott of American-controlled Chilean goods by the people of Chile, we have seen people in different parts of the globe fighting for their rights without ignoring their duties. The visible success of consumer boycotts strengthened the belief of many in the developed and developing countries.

Tibetans in exile have tried and still trying many methods of protests to send their message across to Beijing. Unfortunately, the boycotts of ‘Made in China’ products were limited to the demonstration of occasional burning of broken products at a venue convenient to the photographers and to the wire-agencies. While appealing the international community and nations to boycott Chinese products and questioning China’s entry to WTO and the MFN status, Chinese goods are enjoying the status of the most preferred products in many Tibetan homes. When the ordinary, uneducated Tibetans admire the quality of inferior Chinese products, the educated ones get into the debate on the ‘pros and cons’ of the boycott movement.

Without getting into a debate or waiting for the blessings, the members of the Friends of Tibet (INDIA) and its advisors decided to start one of the most difficult campaigns from January 1st, 2003 — the boycott of the Made in China goods in India by Indians and Tibetans. While discussing this, many of us also felt the importance of the campaign at this stage as cheap Chinese products are replacing our own products and becoming a threat to Indian industry. Some even felt that we are years late to make the Tibetan settlements free of Chinese goods. Meanwhile, It is encouraging to see about 1,400 members of the organisation taking a pledge that they’ll never sell, buy or use any products Made in China. Our first task is to educate the shopkeepers ‘why it is immoral to buy and sell Made in China Products.’ Then we’ll speak to individual buyers and later to the authorities.

“The oppression of people must stop and as China is now beginning to negotiate a peaceful settlement we support the move whole heartedly. However should these delicate negotiations fail, we from the multi lateral forces outside China and Tibet have to ensure that the talks continue and that a peaceful solution is found. We therefore believe that a boycott of Chinese products will help us develop and grow the power of consumer boycotts,” says Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi and an advisor to Friends of Tibet (INDIA)’s boycott movement. She is a firm believer of consumer power and finds many reasons to support this movement. Rajiv Vora, a life-long worker with the Gandhi Peace Foundation and an advisor to Friends of Tibet (INDIA)’s boycott movement says “In the boycott of Chinese goods lies non-cooperation with the regime that is out to destroy Tibet, and humiliate and damage India. Buy Chinese goods if you wish to fund forced labour in China; Chinese repression in Tibet; and, China’s aggression on India”.

The first person to come forward to take the pledge and make his shop free of Chinese products on the New Year day was Rahul Rana, a 11-year old student who owns a small shop in a village near Dharamshala. Samten, a 63-year old Tibetan shopkeeper came next. Since today morning, 61 shopkeepers have taken the pledge that they’ll never sell any products Made in China. This is perhaps the first time the boycott of Chinese goods is being initiated by an organisation and the supporters of the cause of Tibet in a disciplined and organised way covering nine Indian cities and states starting from Dharamshala. While Tenzin Tsundue (General Secretary of Friends of Tibet INDIA) and his team of six to eight people worked day and night to make this happen in Dharamshala, others in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta, Madras, Pune, Hyderabad, Sikkim and Kerala are planning different strategies. He sees success in this campaign because of its different nature and the approach.

It is interesting to read Gandhiji’s reply to Charles Andrews about burning foreign goods in Bombay in 1921. Gandhiji wrote: “I want to destroy the goods which harm India. Millions of Indians have been ruined by the English factories, which, by taking work away from India, have turned thousand upon thousands into Pariahs and mercenaries and their women into prostitutes. India is already inclined to hate her British dominators. I do not wish to strengthen this hatred. On the contrary, I want to sidetrack it, to turn away from people to ‘things.’ The Indians who bought the materials are as guilty as the British who sold them. The materials were not burned as an expression of hatred for the England, but as a sign of India’s determination to break with the past. It was a necessary surgical operation”.

Hundred years ago, during the Swadeshi Movement, India’s ‘dumb millions’ burned foreign clothes in public and never bought them again. Women refused to wear foreign bangles and use foreign utensils; they refused to wash foreign clothes. Even the priests declined offerings, which contained foreign sugar.

Tibetans can do it — inside and in exile.

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