Tibet Starts to Hot Up

A nervous Chinese government, still smarting from a ferocious uprising in Lhasa a year ago, is forcefully suppressing dissent in Tibet in preparation for the 50th anniversary on March 10 of the armed rebellion that sent the Dalai Lama fleeing into exile with thousands of his followers.

Despite what the Dalai Lama has warned is an "unprecedented and unimaginably forceful crackdown," exiles in Dharmasala say many monks inside Tibet, unintimidated, have held demonstrations in the monasteries, with one monk setting himself on fire while holding a picture of the Dalai Lama. Chinese officials have denied the reports and no media confirmation has come out of Tibet as Chinese authorities have restricted access to the region.

Amid the tension, China has closed Tibet to foreign tourists. With reports of increases in security forces which resulted when the Dalai Lama’s support groups called for a boycott of losar, the Tibetan New Year celebrations in late February.

Year after year, Tibetans across the globe and their support groups have commemorated March 10 as Tibetan Uprising Day. With the 50 anniversary this year, tension is said to be high in some Tibetan areas. In Dharmsala, India, the Dalai Lama’s exile home, exile elders and the young as well continue to believe they will return.th

"Fifty years are enough, it’s time for Tibet" is a common axiom among the exiles. They say it is the lama whom they regard as a living god and the five-decade non-violent struggle that has given them the energy to fight for their cause.

But the wait has made many impatient, with a few hard liners demanding rangzen or full independence, differing with the Dalai Lama who seeks an autonomous region in the country with cultural and religious identity restored.

"Tibet currently is under siege and the Chinese are destroying our nation," says an activist named Ringzin. "Since we are struggling for a nation, the movement (Rangzen) will continue."

In past years, the anniversary has been marked with protests, demonstrations and candlelight vigils seeking to tell the world of their longtime struggle against the Chinese occupation. While these actions and the indefatigable travels of the Dalai Lama have won worldwide support for the cause, the Tibetans in Dharmasala view China as having indulged in both ethnic and cultural genocide.

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The uprising on March 10, 2008 – the 49th anniversary of the uprising — resulted in a military crackdown inside Tibet and the loss of more than 100 lives, according to the Tibetan government in exile in Dharmasala.

This time the Dalai Lama and the exile government have strongly appealed to Tibetans to not give in to provocations from the crackdown, so that the lives of many Tibetans are not wasted. The exile government instead has appealed to the international community for a solution.

But the pro-Tibet exile support groups have already geared up and started demonstrations against the Chinese, burning effigies of Chinese leaders and even shunning celebrations of the losar to mourn last year’s crackdown

With China rejecting exile calls for autonomy, and with its communist leadership embarrassed by international criticism, the Chinese have blamed the unrest on the Dalai Lama, who they believe as a “splittist” demanding independence of Tibet and instigating the riots.

Fearful that this year’s anniversary may see a return of the riots, Beijing has been keen to put forward its own view of the historical events of 1959 and repress any anti-Chinese movement inside Tibet, China has announced March 28 as a new, annual holiday officially called Serfs Emancipation Day, reminding all Chinese, including Tibetans, of the landmark democratic reforms initiated 50 years ago that they say freed Tibetans from what the Chinese government called the autocratic rule of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese also have issued a white paper presenting their interpretation of Tibetan history.

The Chinese appear to be seeking to buy time, hoping that once the 74-year-old religious leader is dead, they can select a Dalai Lama of their choice and sound the death-knell for the cause.

The unrest and the crackdowns have created divisions in India, with the Chinese pressuring the Indian government to act directly against the Dalai Lama. Both India and Nepal have got varied calls from China demanding bans on anti-China activities on their soil, raising questions over what activities the exiles will produce and to what extent they will be resisted by Indian and Nepali authorities.

In particular, now that the Dalai Lama is publicly hinting at choosing his successor, the Chinese would like a reiteration of New Delhi’s position on Tibet. Exiles hope the March 10 date will mark a strategic softening of the Chinese government as they regard themselves as non-violent and say they have no hatred towards the Chinese people.

Saransh Sehgal is based in Dharamsala, India who can be reached at info@mcllo.com