NEW DELHI, India, 14 August 2012
On this auspicious occasion of 66th anniversary of India’s Independence, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the people and government of this great country. We remain eternally grateful for the most generous support this country has offered us since we came in as refugees in 1959 fleeing persecution, with our beloved leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
To most Tibetans of my generation and younger, India is the only home that we have seen since birth. It is here that most of us blossomed with values, education, and the zeal to sustain our democratic movement. The biggest democracy in the world has totally embraced us with its warm hospitality.
While we celebrate the Independence Day, we are reminded of the fact that it has been 60 years since China invaded Tibet. Chinese troops entered Tibet through Chamdo in 1949.
History is witness to the fact that a unified Tibetan empire flourished from 7th-11th century. With internal fragmentation, there came periods of Mongol and Chinese invasions. The Chinese empires used divide and rule tactics to exert their influence in Tibet. This tactics was also extended to territorial division. All of Amdo and large parts of Eastern Kham were incorporated into neighbouring Chinese provinces by early 18th Century. But by the beginning of the 19th century, the Qing dynasty weakened to the point of becoming symbolic.
With the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, the 13th Dalai Lama returned to Tibet in July 1912 and banished the symbolic presence of the Amban and Chinese troops. In 1913, the 13th Dalai Lama issued a proclamation of independence of Tibet and for the next over 36 years, Tibet enjoyed de facto independent status.
This historical fact cannot be changed. China has tried hard to rewrite history and even placed a condition on Tibetan leadership to pronounce that Tibet has been historically a part of China. Our leadership has not succumbed to Chinese pressure on this historical fact.
The vision of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has been to seek genuine autonomy for Tibetans within China. This arrangement calls for a single Tibetan administrative unit with Tibetans having the power to legislate, execute and administer all matters within the competencies of the region. The 13th House of the Tibetan Parliament in exile stood with the vision of His Holiness and passed a legislation supporting the middle way approach of genuine autonomy.
The magnanimous decision of His Holiness to handover political power to directly elected leadership has brought the exiled Tibetan administration closer to true democracy. The new leadership under Dr Lobsang Sangay has reaffirmed its commitment to seeking genuine autonomy for Tibet. Advocates of independence for Tibet such as Tibetan Youth Congress and Students for Free Tibet, however believe that independence is the only solution to keep the hopes and aspirations of the Tibetans alive.
While we enjoy full freedom under a vibrant democratic set up, our brothers and sisters are second-class citizens in their own homeland. They do not even have the basic right to express their thoughts and demonstrate their true feelings. People’s lives have been so tightly controlled by the Chinese government that there is no space for any conventional protests or even peaceful gatherings in Tibet. Tibetans are therefore undertaking extreme acts of self-immolation since 2009 to express their dissent to the Chinese oppressive regime. As recent as 13 August, we have had two monks self-immolating in Ngaba province in Amdo. The onus lies solely with the Chinese government and the blame cannot be passed on to His Holiness the Dalai Lama or the exiled leadership.
Starting with monk Tapey who self immolated on 27 February 2009, to the most recent incident of two monks self immolating on 13 August from Ngaba, Amdo, Tibetans have demonstrated ultimate rejection of the Chinese rule in Tibet. Of the 49 who have self-immolated, at least 37 have been known to have died. Thirty-six of these have been reported since January 2012. Many Tibetans have been and are being detained for purposes of investigation and their whereabouts remain unknown even as they continue to be subjected to all kinds of unbearable torture.
As spokesperson for those who have no voices but yet are relentlessly fighting the brutal Chinese system, we should not get side tracked with debates on the correctness of the act of self-immolation. We are losing precious Tibetan lives and we must not let their sacrifices go in vain.
Tibetan issue has all the elements that a truly democratic country like India stands for. It is an issue pertaining to freedom, justice, equality and democracy. Tibetan movement may be the only movement truly upholding the principles of non-violence that this country advocates so strongly.
In this real political world where economic concerns override all other issues, let us work together and take up the challenge to keep the Tibetan cause alive and relevant.
About the author
Youdon Aukatsang is based in New Delhi and is a Member of Tibetan Parliament in exile.