The Fire That”s Burning Tibet

Posted on May 20, 2013 in GlobeScope, Politics

By Sweety Sinha:

With the visit of the Chinese premier Li Keqiang, speculations are high among the foreign policy analysts that it will be a breakthrough trip amid the recent border standoff. Focus on economic collaborations seems to take the centrestage. In this highly speculative environment what needs to be noticed is the attempt of the Indian state to keep off all Tibetan protesters from the scene of this bilateral diplomacy. On the contrary, what India needs is to exploit this event to voice its concern over the cause of the Tibetans.


India has been a mute spectator of the Tibetan resistance, continuously appeasing Beijing on one hand and on the other hand providing  Dalai Lama with a secure exile. Since India shares border with this Himalayan kingdom, spillovers of the instability in Tibet is bound to hit the geo-strategic zone of Kashmir. With the invasion of Tibet, India is also a frontline state and has to spend immensely on its border security. Stabilizing conditions will help India divert its meager resources for developmental tasks. Also, India should rally for the cause of human rights of the Tibetans.

Today, Tibet has been closed to independent media, UN monitors and international delegations and the issue seems to survive only among the Tibetan diaspora. Anxious about the fate of Tibet, the new generation has tried to draw the attention of the global community by resorting to Self Immolation as a form of protest to the Chinese rule when the roof of the world is slowly and steadily being incorporated into the Dragon Land.

It was in the early years of the establishment of PRC that Chinese embarked upon an enterprise to establish their undisputed sovereignty over the plateau region of Tibet. Since then, the plight of the hapless Tibetans had ceded to be an active issue in the international community. The world has failed to unite and put multilateral pressure on Beijing. At a larger canvass of global dynamics, China has evolved to be a global power in military, strategic and political domain. Economisation of diplomacy and China’s permanent seating in the UNSC also prevents nations to take harsh steps towards China.

Self-Immolation or Politically Driven Suicides?

The questions arise as to why the youth is adopting such harsh steps of self immolation? There are as many as 120 cases of Self Immolation today. Why are they driven to such state of desperation? What has triggered these politically driven suicides? Why they assert their unflinching loyalty to Dalai Lama whom they have never seen in their lifetime? According to the Chinese propaganda this was the generation that was going to benefit immensely from the Chinese rule in Tibet. But there has been massive policy failure. Tibet has been environmentally strategic region and Tibetans lived in harmony with nature, guided by their Buddhists beliefs. China encroached upon their land guided by its quench for resources and its consumerist, expansionist and materialistic tendencies. The revolution that has unfolded is an immediate response to the political alienation, cultural assimilation, economic marginalization and environmental destruction. Tibet has been treated as a virtual ‘colony’ and Tibetans as second-class citizens. As Tibetan Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay has stated, “Tibetans have every reason to believe that China wants Tibet but not the Tibetan people, else it would have applied the ‘one country, two system’ model as in Hong Kong and given the Tibetans the power to retain their culture and language.”

China has systematically carried out religious persecutions of the Buddhist monks and nuns. It has consistently tried to equate his holiness Dalai Lama with a demon that has alienated the whole of Tibet and made them the ‘class enemy’ of the Chinese. It is the gravest insult anyone can make towards the Tibetan Buddhism. It has been the height of intolerance depicted towards Tibetan culture and spiritual values. China has undertaken a subtle process of demographic transition through population transfers into the Tibetan land that has left the Tibetans in a minority in Tibet. The political dictatorship, arbitrary detentions, Mass arrests, coercion, torture in prisons, shootings of unarmed protesters are few of the methods adopted by PRC to crack down on the peaceful, quintessentially non violent Tibetan protests. Tibetan nomads were accused to be primitive and unscientific and the ‘western development’ campaign has driven them to the verge of extinction. All this has added to the intolerance of the Tibetan youth who are setting themselves ablaze for the cause of their nation, culture and religion.

The reaction of the Chinese government towards this extreme form of political protest is essentially brutal and aggressive. The official stance towards self immolation is to equate it with criminal and terrorist activities that are sponsored by the exile government. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei accused the Dalai Lama of ‘masterminding’ the series of self immolations and asserted that ‘the Dalai group is sparing no efforts to incite Tibetan independence activities by creating various troubles.

India Needs to See Political Realities

Under Nehru, India recognized the Chinese claims over Tibet. His idealist approach towards China had cost India dearly in the early years. Now India must adopt a Security -centric, pragmatic foreign policy choices towards China. India’s security concerns were not respected by China as it has violated the LOAC (Line of Actual Control) at various occasions. Chinese duality over nuclear arm twisting is not at all hidden. On one hand, it aided India’s arch rival Pakistan to gain nuclear power status and on the other it has opposed India’s Pokhran achievement vociferously at all global platforms and undermining India’s rise as a global power. China has always used Pakistan as a proxy against India.

The Way Ahead

In the wake of these global realities, the visit of the Chinese premier will be looked at with high expectations. Diplomatic adroitness and political agility is required on the part of the Indian policy makers. Mutual negotiations are needed to settle the long standing border disputes. Equally important is to settle the water disputes. China’s developmental goals need to dam the mighty Brahmaputra, but this will actually dry up India’s North-East. So, both nations should strike a balancing cord over the issue.

With all these issues, the real need is to address the Tibetan demands for statehood. Weather Manmohan government will be able to address the Tibetan cause is yet to see. It would be a successful trip if Indian policy makers can actually voice the demands albeit needs of lakhs of Tibetan refugees living within its frontiers. It is not about Tibetans- it is about humans who have lost the hope. It is high time the global community of peace lovers come together in raising an issue which has been ignored. It is the ripe time to ensure a smile on the face of every child who is Tibetan, but has not seen his homeland. It is time to create a better world where humans can co-exist with fellow humans with respect and dignity.