July 06, 2006

Tibet from the 14th floor

Several years ago, a young man climbed the scaffolding on the Oberoi hotel in Nariman Point, made his way up to the 14th floor and unfurled a banner and a flag. This was no Spiderman, but a small-made, articulate, passionate fellow. The banner he unfolded up on the hotel read, in letters large enough to be seen on a thousand front pages, "Free Tibet".

Let me say that loudly: FREE TIBET.

Why did Tenzin Tsundue -- that's his name, this passionate fellow -- do this, and why at the Oberoi? Because the Chinese premier, Zhu Rongji, was in town. He and his entourage were guests at the hotel. "In no time," Tenzin told MidDay, "every window on the entire floor had a Chinese face looking at me. I was proud to show them the Tibetan flag. That one moment was worth it all."

Some of Bombay's finest eventually dragged Tenzin off the scaffolding and into custody. But Tenzin had made his point. He had reminded the Chinese premier, his entourage, and those Indians who cared to notice, that Tibet will not be swept under some bland Chinese carpet, forgotten forever.

Yet what drives a man to take a risk like that to make a point like this? After all, the most familiar response to mention of Tibet, or to incidents like this one, is indifference and a certain scorn. Far easier, you see, to disparage commitment like that than try to come to grips with the cause it represents. As Tenzin himself wrote in MidDay: "We know we are fighting a losing battle, with the world having given up on us." (Note that that didn't stop him from his climb).

Why should the world have given up on people like Tenzin? Why should India?

Well, partly because of a breed that likes to call themselves hawks. You know, those fellows who mouth profundities such as "jis ki lathi, us ki bhains" ("he who has the stick owns the buffalo"; or, as MS Golwalkar once told us, "a not-so-graphic translation into English would be, 'might is right'"). Apparently the rest of us should nod our heads at such ditties, recognizing that they capture the essence of that thing called "realpolitik" that drives the working of the world. China has taken over Tibet, it has now built a spectacular railroad in there, it is a powerful country, so why waste time considering the plight of a few hundred thousand Tibetans?

And yet, for all their knowledge of how the world works, the hawks forget the innumerable lessons of history, of a thousand struggles for freedom and justice. Of our own Indian struggle for freedom, the battle that defined us as a nation.

After all, the British definitely owned all the lathis. Where would we be today if the hawks had surveyed the scene, announced that might was right, and convinced such Indian heroes as Azad, Lala Lajpatrai, Bhagat Singh and Tilak -- not forgetting Patel, Gandhi and Nehru -- to give up the fight? To give up because what they were doing was, given the ownership of the lathis, futile?

Luckily, they didn't. Despite the lathis, India won freedom.

And that's why I admire people who climb scaffolding.

It is convenient these days for us Indians to deal with China, open passes for trade, welcome its assorted leaders when they visit, admire its progress and development. And hey, they recognize our accession of Sikkim, we recognize theirs of Tibet, simple. Realpolitik all over again, quid pro something or the other. Besides, we are desperate to emulate China's progress -- seen the "10 Wonders of the New China" message that's making the rounds? -- so we prefer to gaze at that, whatever it is. Tibet? What's that?

Only, the world really doesn't work that way. So again, that's why I admire guys who climb scaffolding and unfurl banners.

Say it with him today, World Tibet Day:



wise donkey said...

If instead of risking his life, he had killed few lives or thrown a grenade, he and the issue would have got more interest..
pointless to condemn terrorism, when we dont pay attention to peaceful protests..

Aqua said...

What a wonderful post Dilip. Kudos on that! Yes, the issue to Tibet cannot be swept under a bland Chinese carpet. I am proud of Tenzin Tsundue...who is one of the few vocal tibetan freedom fighters.

As for Wise donkey,...India won Independence through peaceful non violent means. Non-violence is what Tibet's leader the Dalai Lama stands for,...and we believe that truth will find a way someday! That's called hope!

milieu said...

As outsiders, we should certainly support the freedom of any people, wether they are Tibetans or any one else. But ultimately the Tibetans have to win this for themselves.
But we should certainly give them our support as much as we can.

tejal said...

@Aqua - "India won Independence through peaceful non violent means"

I am not entirely sure it was that simple. Yes Gandhi did withdraw the non co-operation movement after Chauri Chaura but he kept quiet during the quit india movement of 1942 where violence escalated a lot more than chauri chaura. Gandhi's realpolitik was far different than those who took his rhetoric to its word . Bhagat Singh, Azad and the others who Dilip mentions in his post were not what u would call "non-violent" protestors.
Peaceful protests do have their place in struggles and revolutions, and yes finally freedom is/was won by mass peoples movements, but the role that the radical revolutionaries play in this struggle is by no means insignificant. Guerilla warfare is a disaster without the support of people (Che). What would u say the role of the FLN was in the Algerian freedom struggle? They were not non violent, but they had a huge mass base in Algiers.
The Tibetan people should be applauded and admired for their resilience against an opressor so powerful and their commitment to non-violence is indeed novel and we should all hope that it succeeds, but there is role for every one to play in the struggle for freedom.

Aqua said...

@ Tejal: yes, as you put it so well "there IS a role for every one to play in the struggle for freedom". my post was in direct response to wise donkey's comment. Throwing a grenade, or killing a few innocent civilian lives will surely get attention and interest...but then,...what will separate the Tibetan freedom fighters from rabid terrorists. Have the terrorists managed to achieve their cause? (apart from earning a special place in hell for themselves).

kuffir said...

free tibet.

km said...

Free Tibet NOW.

And thanks also to Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys for raising Americans' awareness about the Free Tibet movement.

Nobody said...

Hi Dilip,

Free Tibet is a movement started by people who do not want to be a part of China. Its the geographical independance that they are looking at. I personally feel that it is the problem between China and Tibet and hence something for them to sort it out. We have enough problems within us to solve than poking our nose into others' problems ands supporting someone just because he/she is meek. How many chinese people want to torture tibetians or put them in exile? These are battles between governments and not people. People get swayed by the speeches made by their leaders and start a movement. You can of course call this avoiding as being indiffernet, but this is what the world shuold be for problems related to geographical issues. If tomorrow you start supporting everyone who wants to be free from someone else, you might as well support LTTE, Palestine, J&K etc. Heck, you might have even supoported Pakistan formation before independence if they would have fought a non-violent battle. I feel geographical boundaries, for long, have been the bane of human societies and hence if we are too hypocritical to aolish such and other boundaries, at lease we should not support such boundary related disputes of 2 third parties.

Nobody said...


Continuing from my earlier comment, I feel that this way George Bush can also be vindicated for starting a war to 'free' Iraqi junta. Yes, I know there was no such movement as Saddam didnt allow one. Had he allowed it and there was such a movement, I am sure Us would have had used this movement to support their war rather than talk of WMDs. Hence, if it is related to countries and boundaries and vested interests and wars, both sides are equally wrong or right. This is because boundaries are made by human beings and hence made in selfish interests by on eparty which may not suit the other. I say, leave all the warring countries alone. You, as a country, have enough on your plate. Please look within yourselves before preaching to others what they should do.

Aqua said...

@ Nobody: I am apalled at your dismissing the Tibetan struggle for Freedom as a "problem between China & Tibet". No my dear fellow, we are not swayed by speeches of leaders,...we are swayed indeed...but by the longing and desire to return to our own country...the country of our ancestors...we are swayed by the intense desire to see our country free...to see the flag of Tibet flying high with those of other free liberated nations, we are swayed by the tears and sorrow of our grandparents who dreamt of going back to Tibet till they breathed their last in exile.
"How many chinese people want to torture tibetians or put them in exile?" you ask. Ask the 140,000 + Tibetan exiles living in India...Ask me...my paternal grandfather was put in prison in 1959, when Tibetans staged an uprising against the Chinese. He was freed about 14 years later...a tall strapping man on 6'2 came out of prison stooping and bent to half his size due to the torture inflicted on him by Chinese soldiers. Ask me...my father was among the first refugees to enter India...leaving his parents and 2 sisters behind in Lhasa.
I don't mind indifference...infact we are used to that. But please don't dismiss our struggle for Independence. That hurts more than indifference!

Aqua said...

Addendum to note to Nobody:
Dear Nobody,
you have a right to write off this struggle only if:
1. your parents and grandparents had to leave all that they owned and their beloved homeland
2. if your entire family has had to cross the himalayan range on foot braving the harsh elements and snow
3. after staying all their lives in cool climes, they had to spend days in a defunct refugee camp in tropical climes
4.if after a lifetime of good middle class prosperous life in their own countyr they had to build roads in an alien country while the government decided what to do with them
If in spite of all this, tibetans are willing to be peaceful and get their rights in a peaceful manner, it is not something to be made fun of or dismissed
Tenzing tsundue on the other has has faced all of the above...
in spite of all this, if he can control himself from hurling a bomb (even a stone hurled from the tower could have been lethal to the chinese premier), he is a true follower of the Dalai Lama and should be revered rather than ridiculed.

Nobody said...

Aqua: I am sorry if I hurt your feelings but you have to understand that in this world, what is important to you, might not be important to others and vice versa.

The point was not made to ridicule your freedom struggle - you are free to fight your wars in peaceful manner and I appreciate that you do not follow the footsteps of violent organizations.
You have a right to follow Dalai Lama and his principles and I am happy that you do.

However, as a third party (which I really feel I am), I feel that I have a right to be indifferent to your problems with China.

The problem you have is a very generic problem of thinking 'This part of land belongs to me and my people and others have wrongly staked claim'. Unfortunately, there is no world order today in place to do justice on such issues. History gets overwritten over centuries and hence the truth remains hidden. Then people who wish to be liberated / who feel they have the right to a piece of land and no one else has it, start a struggle against those staking claim. Such struggles are often repressed if opposite party is mighty as in your case.

How you fight your case is upto you as long as you dont harm others. If you wish to attract attention of the other world by non-violent means, I am very happy with it and those who wish to take up you rcause (like Dileep) can do so. However, this sets up a dangerous trend of taking outside help to solve your own house problems. And in the world order as it exists today, LTTE asks for support to India, Jamat-e-islami takes it s funds from Pakistan and so on and so forth ...

Having said that, I agree with you that your means to attract attention is non violent and I appreciate it and Tenzing tsundue for his actions.

However, I repeat, it is for you to fight your own battles.

Aqua said...

1. While you claim indifference, you contradict it by the very act of commenting here (and quite vociferously at that!).
2. For all those who are not affected in any way, this is a purely voluntary act. you are not bound to help in any way unless you want to. However, discouraging others who feel differently than you is not
3. No one else has fought our battles. If you are under the impression that that is what is required you are mistaken. China calls the Dalai Lama a "separatist"..now you honour us Tibetans by likening us to a LTTE or Jamat-e-islami. Surely we deserve better :)
4. It is not just about land or "geographical independence". It is about people denied the simple right to live their lives in a way they have been accustomed to for generations.
5. It is about a culture that has been uprooted from a land about the size of India and is being kept alive in alien lands.

I would not like to waste any more of my time in this discussion. however my request to you is if you cannot help, please do not hinder the efforts of others who understand these things, and those who genuinely feel for this cause.

The Dalai Lama says that your enemy is your biggest teacher,..for he teaches you tolerance and compassion. Today I can understand what he means and I thank you my friend, for enabling my understanding.

Dilip D'Souza said...

I didn't quite anticipate that there would be this small discussion here, but then again, perhaps I know why Tenzin wrote that "the world has given up on us."

Nobody, you certainly have a right to be "indifferent to Tibet's problems with China." (Aside, I would dearly like to rephrase that to read "Nobody has a right to be indifferent to Tibet's problems with China." End of aside).

I can't argue with that. After all, so many of us have observed that right to indifference so many times: Rwanda, Armenia, the Holocaust, on and on.

In retrospect, after an enormous tragedy has happened, many of us look back and say: "I wish I had not been so indifferent". Or we say: "Never again." That's when we understand the price of our indifference.

Tibet is a chance to tell ourselves: sure I have the right to be indifferent. But I also have the right to throw away that other right and give a damn.

Neela said...

Nobody: I agree that one can be indifferent to general border disputes or for that matter to any third party dispute. But can one be indifferent to people being thrown out of their homes and to murder and torture of human beings? Even if we do not believe in border disputes or territorial squabbles (and I don't much believe in it myself) surely we must believe in the rights of human beings to live their lives peacefully? And yes, that might mean supporting other disputes or denouncing other genocides where such rights are violated.



Nobody said...

@Aqua: You are right that I amprobably contradicting my indifferent stand by commenting vociferously here. Apologies again for choosing (unknowingly and unintentioally) to become an enemy of someone simply by being indifferent. I believe in justice more than anything else. However, the world today has come to an extent where you dont know which side is right and which side is wrong. This, because history has been written and contradicted and re-written many times by both sides in case of conflict. Hence, it pays to be indifferent at times when it does. Apologies again.God Bless You!
Dilip: Thanks for defending my right to be indifferent and yours to choose not to be.
Neela: Taking Tibet as a cue, and Aqua's words, this is precisely the language J&K separatists use against Indian Govt - that of a genocide and massacre and denial to live simple lives - which I choose to believe to be partially true and partially a lie (in case of J&K)- it is a propaganda to keep the issue burning. Hence although I appreciate that human rights should be protected more importantly than anything else, the world has blurred the lines between truth and lie to such an extent that it becomes extremely difficult to take sides.

Anonymous said...

I do support act of Tenzin and that we should support Tibet's struggle for freedon.

What I do not understand is where was the need to bring in Golwalkar? Let's for argument say that the hawks (and I don't think they call themselves that but you do) may be responsible partly. But what about the major reasons? Left is in power now. What are they doing about it? They are ruling a state for more than 25 years! what have they done for Tibet? why single out whom you call the 'hawks'?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Bring in Golwalkar? I just offered you a quote from him.

But more seriously, what makes you think "the left" (whoever they are, and assuming with you for the sake of argument that they "are in power now") are not hawks? That I didn't mean them?

The "left" doesn't have much of a leg to stand on, re: China and Tibet.

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