Monday, March 17, 2008

The tragedy of Tibet

The tragedy of Tibet

Tarini Mehta
Tuesday, 18 March , 2008, 10:22

In this exclusive article, Tarini Mehta of Friends of Tibet documents Chinese repression on the Roof of the World, and wonders whether New Delhi’s 'quiet surrender' to China bodes well for the subcontinent."Are we simply going to stand by and watch while a great nation is systematically plundered and destroyed?" she asks.

Over the past few days over a hundred Tibetans protesting Chinese rule over their country have been killed. In the face of this crisis the world has once again woken up to the reality of the Tibet issue. Can we say that the age of colonialism has ended when there are nations still controlled against their will by another?

Tibet, once a sovereign state with a unique system of government, culture, language and religion was invaded in 1949 by 35,000 Chinese troops. What followed was a large-scale massacre of the Tibetan people and their traditions. Over 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed from 1949-79. And now while we watch more numbers will be added to the list. It is also important to note that the Fourth Geneva Convention, which China has ratified makes irrelevant China's claims to sovereignty over Tibet.

Special: Blood on the Roof of the World

Perhaps only older generations of Indians can truly understand what it feels like to be ruled by a foreign nation. We also just recently won our freedom through a movement much like that of the Tibetans, and our nation has been built on the ideals of freedom and democracy. Yet, Tibetans are not allowed to protest against China in India.

Right now hundreds of Tibetans are held prisoner all over India. Their crime? Demanding human rights and freedom. Tibetans are here only because they are refugees, and their sole desire is naturally to return to their homeland. The Indian Government should for the sake of justice allow them to work to get their country back.

The case for the Tibetan movement becomes stronger when we see the kind of life they live under Chinese rule. There is no freedom of assembly, religion or speech. Tibetans cannot even carry pictures of their supreme spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, for a simple crime such as this or even just shouting ‘Free Tibet’ they are given long sentences in prison. Torture is still used in prisons and labour camps in Tibet, even though in 1988 China ratified the UN Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

In November 2005 the United Nations Special Reporter on torture visited China and Tibet and confirmed that torture was still very widespread, leading to a “culture of fear”. He vividly describes the kinds of torture that take place:

“beatings; use of electric shock batons; guard-instructed or permitted beatings by fellow prisoners; use of handcuffs or ankle fetters for extended periods…submersion in pits of water or sewage; exposure to…extreme heat or cold, being forced to maintain uncomfortable positions…for long, deprivation of sleep, food…water; prolonged solitary confinement; denial of medical treatment and medication; hard labour…suspension from overhead fixtures from handcuffs…”

Many Indians feel sympathetic about the suffering of the Tibetans, but ask why they should endanger themselves for another country. The fact is that by ignoring the situation in Tibet, India is putting itself in grave danger. China’s activities in Tibet since 1949 pose a grave threat as problems in Tibet have major trans-boundary effects.

Nearly half of the global population depends on the rivers of Tibet for survival and one of the most concerning projects being undertaken now is the diversion of the Brahmaputra, which could cause major water shortage in India and Bangladesh. China is also reported to have stationed approximately 90 nuclear warheads in Tibet, and the Ninth Academy, China’s academy for nuclear research located in Amdo, Tibet, has dumped a large quantity of radio active waste in a haphazard, dangerous manner.

The potential for devastation will increase as China continues such hazardous activities. One can only imagine the future crisis this will create. Tibet acted as a buffer zone between India and China and now that this is gone we are open to many dangers. It is in India’s interest if Tibet is returned to the Tibetans and becomes a ‘zone of peace’ as the Dalai Lama wishes.

Are we simply going to stand by and watch while a great nation is systematically plundered and destroyed? Has our government ‘quietly surrendered’ to China as George Fernandes points out in his press statement released today. This issue is not merely a domestic matter between China and Tibet, but as the International Commission of Jurists point out “What is at stake is the very existence of Tibet as a member of the family of nations, and this matter concerns the whole family of nations.”

Before it is too late let us take a stand on this issue, put pressure on governments and support the Tibetan movement for freedom and justice.

The views expressed in the article are of the author’s and not of

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