One step forward or two steps back? There are diverse and mixed reactions to the recent Joint Declaration of the prime ministers of India and China regarding Tibet. To find out how Tibetans in India view the outcome of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to China, THE DAYAFTER detailed Correspondent Yudhajit Shankar Das and Photographer Mangal Kumar to Dharamshala for our Anniversary Issue’s cover story. Their report:
It was after nearly a decade that an Indian prime minister was visiting China. Some success had to be achieved, otherwise his detractors (and there is no shortage of them) would have demanded his head as they have already begun demanding on a much lesser issue like Ayodhya. So, take the easiest way out. Agree to one of the long-standing thorns in Indo-Sino relations. Accept that the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) is a territory of China. And presto——-one thorn removed and one more feather added to the PM’s cap.
This has led to mixed reactions in India. Not only Indians, but the Tibetans too who have settled in India are divided into two groups——-one welcomes India’s stand while the other denigrates it; and both have logical justifications to prove their stand. Vajpayee has been furthering petty political benefit of the country at the cost of Tibet. According to Professor Brahma Chellaney, the PM’s spin doctors wanted to show that his China visit was path-breaking, and so, as a quid pro quo they equated a non-issue like Sikkim with an international dispute like Tibet. Before Vajpayee’s visit to China, very few people knew that China does not recognise Sikkim as a part of India. So it was highlighted that Vajpayee’s statesmanship and persuasive skills ‘softened’ China and made it accept Sikkim as an integral part of India. In return, “India has bartered away Tibet, betrayed the trust of the Tibetans and invited the dragon to come close.
Vajpayee confidently claimed that the Indian stand on Tibet had not changed. But the joint declaration issued at Beijing had something else to say. It specifically said that “We recognise the Tibetan Autonomous Region to be a territory of People’s Republic of China and reiterate that India would not allow any anti-China political activities in India”. Previously, all statements from India on Tibet used to begin with “India reiterates that Tibet is an autonomous region of China.” Was it a change of heart among the Chinese, a semantic play on words by both the governments or ‘whistling in the dark’ by Vajpayee with his media men putting on all the spin they could garner.
The initial blunder was committed by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954 when he failed to read the Chinese correctly and opened up eight border passes for trading. The agreement which was for eight years was a border trading agreement and not a border alignment. The pass at Bara Hoti was captured and renamed Huji, new maps with border delineations cutting into India were issued by the Chinese government. When the Government of India protested, the Chinese issued revised maps though they still retained physical hold over some of the Indian territory. After the Aksai-Chin conflict, Chou-En-Lai said: “The old Aksai-Chin maps are correct. The delineations are correct.” Nehru tried to atone for his China policy for the rest of his life. It is possible that Nehru might have been under pressure because India was in a formative stage; however, it is difficult to understand what are, or were, Vajpayee’s compulsions.
Lhasang Tsering, who was elected president of the Tibetan Youth Congress for two consecutive terms (1986, 1989) but resigned in 1990, says: “Time is running out fast for Tibet. If not saved, Tibet will die. But India will have a cancerous wound stretching from Kashmir to Myanmar and it will always bleed India. Indians should be more concerned with Tibet than the Tibetans because India’s security hinges for a large part on the sovereignty of Tibet.”
Until the Chinese aggression of Tibet in 1949, only 75 policemen used to guard the Indo-Tibetan border but now India permanently deploys seven to eight divisions of the army to guard the frontier. India is presently spending one-third of its defence budget on safeguarding our border along Aksai-Chin.
For centuries, India and China had never shared a border. It was only after the Chinese aggression that China had become India’s immediate neighbour. Tibet used to be a perfect buffer between three great Asian powers——-India, China and the erstwhile USSR. In 1949, Chairman Mao declared: “Tibet is the palm of China and Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and NEFA are its fingers.” Beijing also claims Arunachal Pradesh (formerly known as NEFA) to be a part of China. According to the Indian PM’s letter to the Chinese PM on September 26, 1959, China was occupying 40,000 square miles of Indian territory (Aksai Chin, the Pangong area and Demchok in Ladakh, the Spiti area, Shipki Pass and the Nilang-Jadhang area in Himachal Pradesh, Bara Hoti area in Uttaranchal, Khinzemane, Shatse, Longju and Migyitun in Arunachal Pradesh). China has helped Pakistan to develop its nuclear programme. It has also helped Pakistan upgrade its naval base at the Gadwar port in the Arabian Sea as a consequence of which the Indian’s Navy will be vulnerable along the Western Coast.
The defence equilibrium will get off balance with the completion of the first phase of the Chinese railway project from Gormo to Lhasa in 2007. This will allow the Chinese to move troops and heavy armament to the Indian frontier at short notice. The motive for the railway line became clear with the statement issued by Chinese President Jiang Zemin to the New York Times on August 2001: “It is a political decision, and we will make this project succeed at all costs, even if there is a commercial loss…” The railway project will make it possible for Beijing to convert Tibet into a permanent defence base from which it can launch any kind of offensive against India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan. China is ruthlessly felling trees in Tibet which is creating an imbalance in the ecosystem. The unrestricted exploitation of minerals and the forest is causing floods in various Indian States like Assam and Orissa. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) stated that the floods in Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh in 2000 were caused due to the release of excess water accumulated in man-made and natural reservoirs by China.
China has waged a market war against India targeting mainly the electronics and toy segments. Goods are smuggled (even though official import is allowed) through Tibet and Nepal. Chinese confectionery, electronic goods and toys are sold at rates cheaper than Indian products
The Tibetan medical system (gSowa rgipa) is one of the world’s oldest medical traditions. Tibetan medicine is a combination of science, art and philosophy to provide a holistic approach to health care. It is a science because the approach and principles are enumerated in a systematic and logical framework based on understanding the human body in relation to the environment. It is an art because the diagnostic techniques are based on creativity, insight, subtlety and compassion of the medical practitioner. And it is philosophic because it is based on the key Buddhist principles of altruism, karma and ethics. Tibetan astrology (’byung rtsis) plays an important role in the preparation of Tibetan medicine. Kong Ju, the fifth wife of the great Tibetan king, Songsten Gampo, who was an expert exponent of Chinese classical astrology, laid the edifice of ’byung rtsis. Tibetan doctors have to have a thorough knowledge of Tibetan astrology also. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama set up the Men-Tsee-Khang (an organisation for the preservation and development of Tibetan medicine) in Dharamshala in 1961 in his efforts to preserve the Tibetan culture in exile. There are about 42 centres of Tibetan medicine all over India. Tibetan medicine is popular nowadays and the Tibetan doctors at Dharamshala claim to have made advances in the fields of AIDS and cancer.
Tibet was known in Sanskrit as Buta and the language is referred to as Butia in Sanskrit texts. The mythological origin of the Tibetans is drawn to a simian father, an incarnation of the compassionate Avalokitesvara (Chenresi) and a mountain ogress. The population of Tibet is Mongoloid. Historically it has been established that the Tibetans are autochthonous and original inhabitants of the area. The Tibetan classical age starts from the seventh century when King Songsten Gampo ascended the throne. He was a great conqueror, an able administrator and a reformer of great renown. He sent his minister, Thon-mi Sam-bota, along with 16 men to India to learn Sanskrit. Only Sam-bota returned to Tibet and with his knowledge of the Gupta Brahmi script designed one for the Tibetan language. Trisong Detsen, the king of Tibet in the eighth century, deputed his minister to request the Indian savant, Shantarakshita, to come to Tibet to teach Buddhism. Santarakshita also trained several meritorious Tibetans to become the first Tibetan Buddhist monks.
The king’s troops under the command of four generals defeated the Chinese who later entered into a peace treaty with the Tibetans. The term ‘Dalai’ was conferred upon the Lama Sonam Gyatso by the Tumet Mongol ruler, and thus the great Dalai tradition came into being. After the death of Sonam Gyatso, Gedun Dupa was recognised as the first Dalai Lama.
Tenzing Dolma (Hotel owner): “I am sorry that Vajpayee has agreed to ban anti-Chinese political activity in India.”
B. Tsering Yeshi (President, Tibetan Women’s Association): “We want the Indians to know why we are here.”
Tsewang Lhadon (Executive Director, Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy):”Human rights are being trampled in Tibet.”
Thubten Samphel (Central Tibet Administration): “The Government of India has helped us a lot.”
Kalsang P. Godrukpa (President, TibetanYouth Congress): “The Government of India has betrayed our trust.”
Tsewang Yeshi (Tibetan Children’s Village): “How can the Chinese claim Tibet is a part of China when Tibetans do not have rights.”
A monk in Dharamshala: “Only love of mankind can solve problems”.
Tibetans in India maintain their culture and religious tradition with complete sanctity and devotions.