“If somebody is oppressed, you cannot be free yourself”

Posted on April 19, 2010 in GlobeScope

Rudrani Dasgupta, our correspondent from Kolkata, got the opportunity to walk the talk with Shibayan Raha, who has been fighting for the Tibetan cause, nearly all his life.

Why on earth would someone fight for the freedom of another nation? Isn’t it enough being free yourself? That is not what Shibayan Raha believes in. “As long as somebody out there is being oppressed, you cannot be free yourself”.

This is what he says.

India has a size-able number of Tibetan refugees and quite a few of them know Shibayan as one of those young people who are fighting passionately for the freedom of Tibet from China. He is not your average college activist shouting slogans from the canteen. In fact he chose to give up all that for a cause he believes in.

Shibayan Raha started out as a kid who was disillusioned with the monotony of life around him. He finally found his calling when he went to Darjeeling in 2003. He saw flags and posters all around, rallying for a Free Tibet. “Something just struck my mind”, Shibayan says. And here he is, five years down the line.

In 2006, he went to Dharamsala (Himachal Pradesh), the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan-Government-in-exile. Soon after that` he joined Students for Free Tibet (SFT) as a volunteer.

On 23rd November 2006, Chinese president Hu Jintao came to Mumbai for the India-China Economic, Trade and Investment Cooperation Summit. Outside the Taj Hotel Shibayan unfolded the Tibet flag which read “China Get Out of Tibet and Aksai Chin”. He was arrested on various charges and the case is still on. However, this did nothing to dampen his passion.

Shibayan, protesting in Mumbai

On 9th April 2007, he was arrested along with another activist Migmar Tsering while trying to storm the Chinese Embassy in Delhi. They were protesting for the release of the Panchen Lama who comes second in the Tibetan religious hierarchy after the Dalai Lama. He has been kidnapped by the Chinese government at the age of six, a few days after he was recognised as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. This activity sparked off a chain of events leading to his arrest. He landed up in Tihar jail where he went on a complete hunger strike. After three days without any food or water, the jail authorities forcibly hospitalised him citing the excuse of tuberculosis. After five days, he was finally released.

When you question him about all this, he replies in a cheerful voice. Shibayan has no regrets about having gone to jail. “You get to meet all kinds of people there. It is an experience in itself.” At times, such unflagging optimism can bewilder, to say the least. All his harrowing experiences have not done anything to diminish his passion for Tibet. He has earned the respect of thousands of Tibetans and other people for not letting go.

Today, he is the Outreach Coordinator for SFT and working hard.

“There are 7 million Chinese as compared to the 6 million Tibetans in Tibet today”. Thousands of Tibetans are being jailed, beaten up and tortured every day in Chinese prisons. “I have met Tibetan political prisoners who have been in prison for over three decades. Today, they are free and have smiles on their faces, in spite of what they went through.” He speaks of a woman who had been imprisoned for over thirty years. When she was released, her daughter could nor recognise her. People are tortured for participating in non-violent peace protests in the country. One scrap of information relating to the Dalai Lama can land them in jail. No one is spared, not even the monks who have to face the worst of it sometimes.

“There is an AIDS epidemic in Tibet now. All the good things are reserved for the Chinese, including the top jobs.”

This should sound familiar to Indians who know their own history.

Does Shibayan think that his contribution will bring freedom to Tibet?

“It is a long road. I might not get to see a free Tibet in my lifetime, but I hope I can do my bit towards it”, he smiles.