By Kulveer Singh
DARJEELING, India, 16 August 2020
Tibet, a mysterious and isolated kingdom until the 20th century, was known for its traditions, culture, and strong Buddhist belief, but the country is currently under China’s control, as China annexed this nation in the 1950s. Tibet’s territory at one time extended till present-day Nepal, northern parts of Bihar, a major part of present-day China, and even some parts of Afghanistan. But this extension of territory didn’t last, as the Chinese kingdom from the north, the Islamic kingdom from the east, and Hindu kingdoms from the south invaded and occupied most of its territory, forcing the Tibetan nation to shrink onto the Tibetan plateau.
Tibet was independent and sovereign during the rule of His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama and other Buddhist leaders in the beginning of the 20th century. With the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama, still a teenager at that time, was forced sign the Seventeen-Point Agreement. The Seventeen-Point Agreement was supposed to guarantee Tibet the status of regional autonomy and also to practice their religion, which is Buddhism. This agreement also allowed China to set up military headquarters in the holy land of Tibet.
In 1959, Tibetans held an unsuccessful uprising against Chinese oppression. In this uprising, many Tibetans died fighting for their homeland, and around 80,000 fled Tibet and sought asylum in India, including His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. These refugees were given support by the Indian government and were settled in various parts of India, with a headquarters in McLeod Ganj, that comes under the city of Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. Subsequently thousands have spread around the globe to different parts of the world seeking refuge, and setting up centres for their Free Tibet movement.
After the failed uprising of 1959, China took complete control of Tibet, and Tibet became a living hell for all the Tibetans in Tibet. Many monasteries were destroyed during China’s Cultural Revolution. China wanted to control Tibet because of three reasons: First, Tibet’s land which covers a large area, and because of the rich mineral reserves present in this land, worth more than US$100 billion. The second reason is because of the border. Tibet is a strategic point, as it has a natural border, the tall ranges of the Himalayas. The third and one of the main reasons is water, as two of the main river bodies in China originate in Tibet, namely the Yellow River and the Yangtze River. The main river bodies of India and a few other countries also originate in Tibet, giving China the upper hand.
In 1965, China formed the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), to make Tibet a provincial-level division of China, with an area of 1.2 million square kilometres. Tibetans claim the whole of Tibet, consisting of the three provinces of Amdo, Kham, and U-Tsang, is 2.5 million sq km. China has 5 autonomous regions: Guangxi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Tibet (Xizang) and Xinjiang (East Turkistan). The Tibetan provinces of Amdo and Kham were carved into provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan.
Until the 1980s, Tibet was not open to foreigners or even to journalists. From 1987 to 1989, small protests were held by the native Tibetans. But in 1989, huge protests were held on the day of the 30th anniversary of the 1959 uprising, where many Chinese shops in Lhasa were destroyed by the Tibetans, and martial law was imposed in the TAR. During this protest more than 450 Tibetans and Han Chinese were killed, 721 injured, and 2,100 arrested or detained.
In 1995, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama recognized six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama, who had died in suspicious circumstances in 1989. But soon after, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was abducted by the Chinese government and his whereabouts are still unknown. After the abduction of the 11th Panchen Lama, China named Gyaltsen Norbu as the Panchen Lama, who lives in Beijing. The controversy of the 11th Panchen Lama saddens the hearts of Tibetans around the world, as he is considered the second holiest after the Dalai Lama.
The biggest protest against China came in 2008 prior to the Beijing Olympics. The protests turned violent leaving a total of 22 Han Chinese killed and more than 300 injured, around 100 Tibetan protestors were also killed, and many disappeared.
Protest against the Chinese government took another form in 2009 when a young monk named Tapey set himself ablaze in the marketplace close to Kirti Monaastery in Amdo. Since then self-immolation has become a strong act of protest among the Tibetans against the Chinese government. Since Tapey’s brave act more than 150 Tibetans have chosen the path of self-immolation.
These acts of self-immolation grew solidarity among the Tibetans, and also got the attention of the world. Beijing’s response to the self-immolations was harsh, often involving the military to stop the protests. Since 2010, all negotiations on Tibet have been stopped between the Chinese government and His Holiness The Dalai Lama.
His Holiness The Dalai Lama has recently stepped down from the position of temporal power. A young generation has taken the stand and the government of Tibet in exile has a young and intelligent elected Prime minister, Lobsang Sangay.
In the present time, native Tibetans living in Tibet are not allowed to travel to other parts of Tibet, and the Chinese Government has refused to give them any passport. Their human rights are being violated and they don’t have the most important thing a human needs in the present world, that is freedom. People living in other parts of the world have thought that the Tibetans are happy because that’s what is being shown to them.
Around 100,000 Tibetan refugees are living in India today, making the world’s largest exile Tibetan community. In 2017, Lobsang Wangyal, an event organizer, had filed a petition in court for an Indian passport. The court gave decision in his favour, resulting in many Tibetans applying for an Indian passport, who were born in India from 1950 to 1987, and those who were born after 1987 having one of the parents Indian passport or citizenship. After this court judgment, many Tibetans have chosen to apply for Indian citizenship, as the road for the autonomy of Tibet from China has been really long, and they want to have their human rights as well.
In India every Tibetan is given a registration certificate (RC), and is considered a foreigner by the Indian government. Tibetans are only given a residence permit. But when Tibetans apply for Indian citizenship they have to leave the Tibetan settlements as they are no more refugees. It has become an individual’s choice to either take Indian citizenship or continue to live like a refugee.
For many young Tibetans, returning to their homeland is still just a dream. Many of them want to access banks and even apply for government jobs to live stress-free lives, and to travel abroad freely which is granted through citizenship, as there are restrictions on their freedom of movement as refugees.
According to Tibetans who have applied for citizenship, they are not betraying their motherland. They state that they are Tibetan from the heart, but the influence of India is present in them as their upbringing has been brought up in India. Travelling has become easier since getting passport, as opposed to the difficulties of travelling on the “Yellow Book” (Identity Certificate issued by the Indian government).
According to Tibetans, Indians have been really good and kind towards them to provide them shelter and refuge. But since India is a crowded country, employment opportunities are very limited. This leads to more Tibetans needing to migrate to other countries. The democratically-elected Tibetan leader Lobsang Sangay has also followed in the footsteps of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in seeking their goals through non-violence. He has given many speeches around the world seeking the support of the people for the purpose of a Free Tibet.
The Tibetan football team is the only team without any nation, as Tibet is not recognized as a country in the tournaments. Both the Men’s and the Women’s football team have played in Germany and a few other parts of the world. They couldn’t play the Dallas cup in the USA as their application for visa was rejected by the US embassy in Delhi.
A thought which upsets all Tibetan hearts is their future after the passing away of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who has led his people through the tough times. After the death of the Dalai Lama, there will be enormous pressure on the younger generation, as they will have to keep their community stable and bring a sense of security among themselves.
Recently, on the Tibetan Uprising Day, protests were held in front of the Chinese embassies all around the world, even in India. Tibetans sleep every night with the hope of returning to their homeland one day, hoping for their freedom, and for meeting their parted families which were all taken away by the ruthless Chinese. Every human being on this planet deserves equal treatment, freedom, and fundamental rights. Today there are lots of supporters for the movement of Free Tibet. They want to help Tibetans get their homeland back. We pray that Tibetans get their homeland back and take back what is theirs: freedom and human rights.
About the author
Kulveer Singh, supporter of a Free Tibet, is a class XII student of St Pau'ls School, Darjeeling, India.