Min vän Babak Rasolzadeh skrev till mig för ett tag sedan, från Tibet:
Anledningen till att jag skriver till dig är att jag under den korta tid jag har varit här, redan har upplevt ett demonstrationståg där Tibetanerna marscherar för att uppmärksamma ännu en tibetan som i tyst och icke-aggressiv protest tänt eld på sig själv. Detta sker tydligen i genomsnitt en gång i veckan, över hela Tibet. Och det är förstås något som den kinesiska staten försöker att lägga lock på. Det som har frustrerat mig och gett mig sömnlösa nätter här är att vi i väst vet så lite och rapporterar så lite om detta.
Därför har jag och några vänner här tänkt att sätta ihop lite material (bilder + video) samt en intervju med en av ledargestalterna för unga tibetaner i exil. Fokus är på självantändelserna och tibetanernas situation i Kina.
Nedan finns hans intressanta intervju + bilder och ett videoklipp. Sprid gärna!
Interview with Tibetan Refugee Activist and Writer Tenzin Tsundue
Participants: Tenzin – Tenzin Tsundue, Marina – Marina Hedlund, Maria – Maria Faltis, Sylvie – Sylvie Couval
Dharamsala, 20 April 2013
Babak: Having heard your captivating talk at the Candle March last week, most of us westerners attending were shocked that there is so little information about the Tibet issue in our home countries, and so little reported on the ongoing struggle and its victims.
Marina: We felt embarassed! I have been volunteering with teaching Tibetan refugees English here for 5 weeks and I knew some about the issue, but not in this way. Not these details and perspectives. This is not in the news.
Babak: And this was quite shocking for us. This is something your would think is worth reporting on much more. As many of us here in this room have contacts in media and friends who are journalists, we thought that maybe we could do something about that lack of reporting, even though we are not journalists. The way we thought that it might be good do conduct this interview was to go from the specific issues and questions related to what happened recently with the latest self immolation, and maybe the background of it, the statistics, and then to the general issue of the Tibetan situation and struggle.
Marina: Sorry for having to start from scratch. Could you please tell us who you are?
Tenzin: Sure. So, my name is Tenzin Tsundue. I am an India born Tibetan refugee. Born and raised in India. I did all my studies here. I am now a writer by profession and I work as an activist. I have been involved with the Tibetan freedom struggle directly as an activist for the past 19 years. Now, since I’ve finished schoold I’ve been working full time as an activist and the struggle has inspired me to go on. The way I went ahead in the struggle has truly made my life meaningful. My parents came to India from Tibet in the year 1960, after H.H the Dalai Lama escaped Tibet and sought asylum in India. Numerous Tibetans followed him. At the time, between 1959-1960, almost about 80,000 Tibetans escaped from Tibet, fearing for their lives. My parents at the time didn’t know each other, they we’re themselves young. Later, as most other Tibetan refugees, they also worked in the Himalayan regions in India, as ”cooleys”. You know, breaking rocks, laying roads. They were road construction labourers in the higher regions of Himachal. Later when they met and got married, I was born on the road side, in a ”cooley” camp. There was a time when the whole construction was getting over, and many of the workers were getting rehabilitated in proper refugee camps. Most other refugee camps by then, early 1970′s, were already constructed. For instance, Balu Kupe, Mungod, Hunsur, and many other. Our refugee camp was set up in 1975. I have very little memories of our camp. I must have been very young. My father had already died at the time, and my mother was surviving on her own with two kids. Later she got re-married.
So in that way we survived the road construction period and later the rehabilitation camps. Our camp was in south India, in extreme hot climate. Specially for Tibetan refugees, who had always lived in cold climate in Tibet. So I grew up in refugee camp in Kranatika, but because we were kind of a big family with by then 6 children, and also being poor, I was adopted by this Tibetan school, called Tibetan Childrens Village (TCV), and it has number of branches in different parts of India. One of its branches in Kulu Manali valley, is TCV Patlikoul. I was admitted to that school, and from 2nd standard to 6th standard I was studying there. So my fondest memories childhood and of growing up, was always my time in the Patlikoul school.
Unlike many of my Indian friends, with whom I studied in college and universities, our experience was very unique, very different from my Indian friends stories. Because for us it was basically the story of survival. You have to survive, and that too in a foreign country. One of my first lessons on life, was that we do not belong here, in this country where I was born. It was shocking to realize that you don’t belong here. You were born here, you grew up here, you were playing here and you’d been thinking that this is your home and then the first education you have is that you don’t belong here. You have no place here, you have no right to be here. You are only at the sympathy of the government and the people of India. You have to be kind to them, you have to be good to them. So that was the first education, and it quickly gave us a sense of maturity. You know one mature at a very early age in a situation like this, when you have nothing of your own, and you don’t belong anywhere. You’re also told that one day you will have to go back to Tibet, which is behind the Himalayas. A country we couldn’t see, a country we have never experienced, a country which is always in the history, in the form of songs and stories that we heard from our parents and grand parents and from our teachers. So I come from here. I come from these stories, these games and songs. Basically this memory of Tibet, and an aspiration for the future that there will be freedom. I come from here.
Babak: Today you’re very much an activist and involved with many Tibetan stuggles and refugee programs. Can you tell us a little bit about your engagement and about these movements and organizations.
Tenzin: At the moment I am a member of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), which our the largest NGO, with 88 chapters in different parts of India and also around the world. We have 35,000 registered members in this organization. TYC gives a sense of organization and leadership in the public, in our activism for a free Tibet. So whenever there is a need for public articulation, and public activism in expressing their protests, our their desire for freedom, it is led by TYC. The organization has earned that name because it has been highly trusted and is within the Tibetan community and it has been built over the past 40 years. So I am a part of the Dharamsala chapter of TYC. It was for instance TYC that had organized the candle light march that evening [last week] and that evening we were also there with two other organizations; the regional Tibetan Womens Assocation (TWA) and Students for Free Tibet (SFT). They were working with us. So in all parts of the Tibetan community, you will always find a chapter of TYC. Besides political activism TYC also offers social services and religious services. These are the things the Tibetan refugees need as refugees. Tibetans are also hugely religious people, so therefore there are a number of religious activities that Tibetans are involved in. So there are many religious duties TYC also has. Because of these things, TYC is the most trusted and most powerful NGO within the Tibetan community.
There is of course also the TWA and they are also powerful and there is also Kochosoun, which is the organization of the former political prisoners assocation, and then there is the National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT), which does alot of democracy education within the community. SFT is actually a support group based in US which has a chapter in India, and that chapter in India is run by Tibetans. Therefore it also considered one of the five more important NGO within our community.
So these are are the activities. But for me, our most important work aren’t these protest where we express our anger toward what China is doing in Tibet. In fact our protest activities is actually not more than 5% of our work. Our most important work is building the community from within the structures, in maintaining every Tibetans inner strength for the struggle. Intellectually understanding the struggle, our weaknesses, and building the struggle from within. Because we believe and we know, that the struggle will live only if Tibetans can continue maintain their strength from inside the community. If we fail from inside, no amount of support from outside can help us. So therefore because the core engine is the Tibetans themselves, we have to maintain that strength from inside. For that is not enough to have emotional involvement, more important than that is the intellectual understanding. We need to truly understand. Also to look at the struggle from a much larger perspective, and then see how do we place ourselves. What do we do? How do we firstly sustain the struggle, and if we can sustain it, how do we aleviate the standard of our activism? And how do we relate it to others who have interest in our struggle? These are the things that we have been involved in.
Babak: I want to come back to the struggle issue and the bigger picture because I think many of us have alot of question marks we want to talk about. Before that maybe we can go back to the specific issue of the candle march last week and maybe you can tell us a little bit about the background of that event?
Maria: And also who the monk that participated and spoke was? What he was saying because there were many statements [in Tibetan].
Babak: Also please, short about this last person who self immolated.
Tenzin: Yeah, sure. The most recent case of self immolation was Chugtso, a woman of 20. She set herself on fire in protest against the ongoing brutal suppression of Tibetans in Tibet and calling for return of H.H. the Dalai Lama. [read more http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/world/asia/tibetan-woman-kills-herself-by-self-immolation.html?_r=0]. This was actually the 115th case of self-immolation. Whenever there are these cases of self-immolation, we try to gather more information. We try to get their names, the family background, where are they from, what happened on that day, do we have a photograph of the person, what happened to the body, has the person survived the immolation? All these details we try to gather. But gathering information is difficult. Because whenever there are incidents like this the Chinese government tries to suppress information. They try to first create a telephone blackout in that district. The Cinese government can actually do that. In countries like India it is just impossible. Even if the government tries to do that with state-owned enterprises like MTNL and BSL, the AirTel company and various private companies will not do that. So it is impossible in a country like India. But in China it is possible for the government to create a blackout. And it is not just in the case of Tibet. Even in China, whenever there are [sensitive] cases like this, the Chinese government manages information. They release some information so that all the media companies can carry something. But whatever they carry, these are tailor made information, like a selected piece of photograph. For example there was recently an earthquake in western China, and the photographs we’re seeing are not of the destroyed buildings, but of the rescue forces coming in. In a free country like India, people are free to take any photograph of anywhere. And these photographs will be carried and it will be the media that decides what kind of photographs they want to carry. But there becase the foreign media is mostly unable to enter to those parts of China, the media has to publish whatever is accesible which is what Chinese media is ”leaking” out. So this is a tailor made information system that also affects how information is accessed by the outside world.
Therefore, when a self immolation happens we try to confirm it by all means possible and get more information about it. If it is also carried by any foregin media, Reuters, AP, etc. then we take action. Then we organize a candle light march. Therefore it takes some time to set on an action like this. Because once we do a public event, it is the confirmation by the community. Media can make mistakes, but Dharamsala cannot make a mistake. Therefore we take time and make double-sure that this actually happened, and then organize a public rally. This is the first step that we take as a response to a self immolation. As RTYC Dharamsala we have not mistaken any case of self immolation. Thus we are able to inform not only the public in Dharamsala, but also the media. This becomes our response to the people in Tibet. This is what we do.
In the case of Chugtso’s self immolation, it happened in the Dzhamthang region in eastern Tibet. Dzhamthang has already seen five cases of self-immolation, this was the sixth. Three men and three women. In most cases of self-immolation, we have seen that these are individuals suddenly coming out into the streets bursting into a ball of fire. They take the action in such a way that they make sure that they’re dying. By firstly drinking petrol. So that once they’re on fire, their belly bursts. I want to discuss this tactic. Why do they do this?
The first case of Tibetan self immolation that happened was the 27th of February, 2009. This was one year after the 2008 Tibetan national protest. You know the Tibetan national uprising that happened all across Tibet, at the time of the Beijing Olympics. It quickly went all across, created so much new about Tibet. We could do this because everyone was taking part in the Olympics. Everyone had a stake in the Olympics. Therefore by the sense of guilt or because it was a media sellable story, everyone was involved in it. It was an opportune moment for the Tibetan people to do that protest that went on for three months. It resultet in hundreds of Tibetans getting killed or go missing. After 2008, the Chinse government placed Public Security Bureau (PSB) in Tibet. They also brought in Rapid Action Riot Armed Gear. These people are trained to take care of rioters. They’re placed in all the towns and cities in Tibet.
When on 27th of February 2009, monk Thabe as first person attempted self-immolation, he survived. 2010 nothing happened. No self-immolation. 2011, month of March there was one self-immolation; monk Phuntso. When his self-immolation was going on, the Chinese security forces came and shot him. His body was dragged away. There was another case where the immolation was going on and the Chinese security forces, because they werer unable to grab the person, they hit the self-immolator with iron rods. Therefore the self-immolators themselves, started to prepare themselves to make sure that they are actually dying and not become a case like monk Thabe, where he survived the self-immolation and fell into the hands of the Chinese security forces. Who will then torture him, and threaten him that all his family and relatives will be rounded up and they will be in trouble. He will then be shot on video camera and will have to make statements, like ”I regret my action”, ”this is not right”, ”this is not buddhism”, you know things like that. It will completely demean all that action that he had taken. A self immolator will be willing to die, but when you are captured in such as situation and you cannot do antyhing to die, and you’re tortured and your family is threatened, you will make any kind of statements. So now the self-immolators are making sure that when they do this, they’re dying. Thus they drink petrol. They wear thick clothes and completely douze themselves in petrol and when they come out they burn, not only from outside but also from inside. Then they die.
Marina: Are they careful not to come close to other people?
Tenzin: Yes, so that they’re not arrested or taken. We see that most of them are individuals, planning on their own, making sure they’re dying. They’re done in the streets. You know, they shock people, suddenly coming out in a ball of fire. Then they collapse, and they burn, and they die.
Babak: What makes it even more shocking and powerful is that there seems to be no organized action behind this. No group, no organization that is ordering people. That it is individuals scattered all across Tibet, who do it on their own choice as their own actions. Could you say something about that. In terms of the vastness and spread of this. Is it concentrated in certain places? And how does the idea of it get spread and the message get through to those individuals who finally decide to take this horrific action?
Tenzin: Yes, sure. So this is the map of Tibet [pointing at the map on the wall]. We’re somewhere here in the northern region of India, in Dharamsala. [going through neighbouring countries]. It’s a big country. A country of 2.5 million square kilometers of land. Very rich in natural resources. A country that is geographically formed as a very unique land of plateau. A plateau that rises in avreage at a level of 4000m above sea level. You know Dharamsala is only 1700m above sea level. Tibet experiences 9 months of winter. Sweden? Nothern Germany? similar? ooh [laughter]. When the southern plateau of India hit the northern, it created the Himalayas, and this resulted in the uplifting of the Tibetan plateau. To the east are the low-land of China, Himalayas to the south. The deserts of East Turkistan and Mongolia are to the north. This is a huge piece of land where the population is only 6 million, about half the population of Delhi. So most part of the central and northern part and western parts are un-inhabitable cold deserts. I’ve seen most of the western parts because I went into Tibet and later was arrested by the Chinese secrity forces. They took me all across central Tibet to Lhasa, where I was put in prison for three months. Later they took me back on the same route and threw me back into India. So I’ve seen these parts. There are places where people have never seen a tree in their entire life. Just barren mountains and during summers they become green pasteurs. Kilometers of green pasterurs. During winters it becomes completely dry. And wind-swepts, strong winds.
A country like this, which has never been touched by miners and industires, is a huge resource. You know, gold, copper, rare earth minerals, and lithium, chromide, boxide etc. More than these, Tibet is a resource of rivers. Some of the most important rivers of Asia flow out of Tibet. The Indus river, that India and Pakistan are fighting over comes from Tibet. The importnat Sutledge river, flowing into India and then Pakistan, also starts from Tibet. Many contributing rivers to the Ganges river, the mother river of India, flow out of Tibet as well. Many rivers into Bhutan come from Tibet. The important Brahmaputra river through India, and later the life source of Bhangladesh, starts in western Tibet. River Salvene is the life source of Burma, it too starts in Tibet. River Mekong is the most important river for Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, it too starts in Tibet. River Yangtse starts in Tibet and flows into China and is the main source of livelihood for almost seven different provinces in China. The largest lake in Tibet, feeds the Yellow river, that the Chinese civilization was formed upon and goes through Beijing. So the rivers out of Tibet feed more than 1.5 billion people in Asia. This is in addition ot the important military strategic location of Tibet and its richness in natural resources. In other words, China has so much to loose if Tibet becomes an independent country. Therefore they’re fighting teeth and nails not to loose Tibet.
Tibet, East Turkistan and Mongolia make up 55% of China’s landmass. These are all occupied countries. Like Tibet, they are also scarcely populated. These three countries have a combined population of not more than 30 million. In a population of 1.3 billion. So for China, suppression of the native people in these three countries, gives them huge natural resources. Most of China’s natual gas and oil and uranium comes from southern Mongolia and East Turkistan. Gold, Copper and Lithium come from Tibet.
People used to think that we are now in post-colonial era, and that western colonialism has ended. But this is carrying on here. The only thing is that the west does not need to dirty its own hands. The work is done by the Chinese. But the profit is still coming the the West. The West has now sophisticated its mode of production. Earlier they had to themselves live in India, you know heard the Indians, gather natural resources from India and Africa. Now they don’t have to do that. They can wear their bow-ties and neck-ties, and tell their Chinese partners to get the natural resources from these countries and enslave the Chinse population. That’s why you don’t know about Tibet. Media will not talk about this, because most of your media is again run by corporate companies. They will loose their business if they do. Therefore people are ignorant. This is how it has been continuing.
When we come to talk about self-immolations, that these are the people at the end of the line, end of the whole process, who even though they are buddhist, as the most non-violent people, driven to such a point that they have to choose this path. Because their country’s natrual resources are drained, they’re forced to settle down in small towns, leaving behind their ancestoral lands as farmers and nomads, they have to study Chinese because they have to take part in the new Chinese economy. Their whole culture is at stake. They can no longer remain Tibetan. They have to become Chinese, become consumers or else they won’t survive. Their whole existence is at stake. Not only that it’s at stake, that they’re dying and their culture is dying, but nobody knows about it. When somebody tries to tell about this, take a photograph and send out, write aobut how the Tibetans are loosing their culture, the Chinese government will target you as somebody who is a separatist. And an act of treason is charged against you. Because you are seen as trying to split the ”motherland”. The idea of ”motherland” has been created for the past 60 years stating that all these people in these occupied countries are Chinese and that they have lovingly come to join the ”motherland” and be part of the Republic, and that there are some anti-social elements in these countries that are called the separatists. They try to suppress this.
When your country is at the brink of extinction and nobody knows about it…you know there is this idea of martyrism that you’ll die for your country and that way people will know about your country and its situation. Like you. You came to the candle light march and you were shocked to learn that in the larger picture this is what is happening. But people in Tibet they don’t know that ther’re are individuals like you willing to listen. They don’t know.
Marina: There has been demonstrations in Stockholm. But still it doesn’t reach everyone. I feel so ashamed as a human being. What can we do? To make a difference.
Tenzin: Let’s talk about that a little later. I’m trying to give the larger picture first. Going towards the technicalities. Not only why people are protesting, but why self-immolations? Why not other forms of protest action? This is the first question that comes from anybody. Why do you have to burn yourself and die? If someone is trying to kill you, your attempt should be to survive, right? But here, the Chinese are trying to kill you and you are also dying. Why? Analyzing the case of munk Thape, we see that it was succeeding a time of a new kind of protests slowly growing. The protests of 2008 was very costly for [the Tibetan] people. Everybody in Tibet had a sense of the struggle and the movement. They know that it was a huge movement that united people, made everybody excited we could do something. That we had actually made the Chinese government scared of us, when everybody connected and rose up together across Tibet. It shook the Chinese government. It created a sense of confidence within the people that if we all stood up we can do something. It had never happened for the past 50 years. It gave us a huge sense of satisfaction and confidence in the minds of the Tibetan protesters; if we stand up we can do something. And we had done it. But it was costly. Some of the most courageous people died. Who could have been leaders, who could have been continued sources of inspiration, they died. It was very costly. So people started to think; how do we maintain a struggle which is not costly like that? After August 2008, which is just after the Olympics, people started to come up with the idea of cultural empowerment, called the Lhakar movement, or the White Wednesday movement. Wednesdays are a holy day in the Tibetan community. This has now been heightened, as a common call among all Tibetans. They started to celebrate Lhakar. Make it big. Everybody does something special. Now strategically highlighted. Everybody is asked to do something Tibetan on that day. So you wear for instance Tibetan dress on that day, or you try to speak pure Tibetan language, or sing Tibetan songs that day, or eat Tibetan food, buy from a Tibetan shop, basically be Tibetan, act Tibetan, learn a little more about the Tibetan history, culture and people. So the celebration of the Tibetan culture and identity became an activism. This started to spread. And it was very powerful and culturally awakening. Number of Tibetans who had been going to schools or collages with Chinese they almost think like Chinese students. They were not hugely aware of their Tibetan identity, but Lhakar movement made them aware. The 2008 protests made them politically aware that they are Tibetan, and because you are Tibetan you have been targeted, your family has been targeted, visited by the intelligence officer at midnight, while your Chinese neighbour is not visited. So you are distinguished, even though you or your family have not been taking part in the any of the protests. There a number of Tibetans who work for the Chinese government. Instead of having taken parting the Tibetan protests, they may have actually condemned the protest.
Marina: Because they are scared?
Tenzin: Not only because they are scared, they think that the Chinese government is doing good for them. But now you are being distinguished, because you belong to a Tibetan family. Politically they have been made aware. Now what is happening is that the Tibetan cultural awakening, empowerment, the Lhakar movement is slowly making them Tibetan. Many young Tibetans on Wednesday become [truly] Tibetan. You know they wear colourful Tibetan dress, in groups of 10-12 boys, prance about in the streets, just being Tibetan. They are not doing anything political, but they are making a statement that they we are Tibetan and we’re proud of it. Some of them wear the exotic idea of Tibetan. They try to wear the Tibetan sword, they try to wear a half-naked dress with pulled down shoulders, being the “rough hunk” that they Tibetans are usually stereotyped into by the Chinese. You know the Chinese usually think that Tibetans are kind of exotic people. So [these boys] try to wear that image and highlight it. So Lhakar movement was already slowly growing. It was not confrontational but it was culturally empowering and awakening for the people. This is the period in which the [first] self-immolation happened. Because in the 2008 uprising, there were cases that were cleared out by the Chinese security forces by shooting and killing Tibetans. The protests have given the Tibetans a sense that when you are going out in the streets to protest you are bound to be killed. Or you get beaten up and end up in jail and you die in torture, or you’ll be spending the rest of your life in jail. There is a waste of life of a protester. Your protest is not even registered, and you are taken away. It is a waste of life. So the self-immolator is trying to buy time with that act of shocking people and being inaccessible to the people. Nobody can actually jump on you while you’re on fire. This is how I look at it.
Then the Chinese security forces themselves started to prepare for the self-immolators. Generally they’re ready with blankets, fire extinguisher, electric rods. Earlier they used to carry batons. Now in recent pictures we’ve started to see long iron rods. This is to beat the immolator down and then extinguish the fire. I’ve also seen photographs where the Chinese security forces are carrying a snare so that they can hook the self-immolator with the wire and bring the person down. Same tool with which you can ensnare a dog. I’ve seen these pictures.
Marina: How are these things placed out?
Tenzin: All over Tibet. In some of the most important towns and cities in Tibet these security forces are carrying these different weapons with them and regularly patrolling in the towns and cities. In the case of Thape and munk Phutsok, they weren’t the cases of drinking petrol. The cases of drinking petrol came later. The self-immolators themselves are also getting ready, learning from each other. How to make sure you’re actually dying, that you are not arrested or taken away. Out of 115 cases of self-immolation, it has come to 99 of them dying. The others who have survived are in the hands of the Chinese security forces, which is worse. They have been photographed and asked questions on videos, that have been broadcasted internationally and on CCTV. Some Tibetans has seen these survivors making statements. This is the worst case that they would never want to.
I’ve seen one shocking case of self-immolation is the Sertha region of Tibet. We heard that a self-immolator on that day died a very difficult death. We heard that he had ripped small pieces of his intestines with his own hands. But there was no photograph or video of this. Later we got to see the video which came out of Tibet much later, after about two months. The video that I saw was so shocking that I could not continue watching it beyond two minutes. Just unbearable. What was therein the video was this man who set himself on fire. While on fire the Chinese security forces came and extinguished the fire. By then the top and lower body was burnt and it was all covered with white powder from the fire extinguisher. But because he had drunk petrol, his belly was burst. The middle section of his clothing tied with “tuba” as a belt was still intact holding the burst belly inside. Because he had survived the Tibetans that were there in the street were surrounding him so that the Chinese could not take him away. Because he had survived it was a moment of living between death and life. He wanted to die. The fire had been extinguished and there is no way he can light the fire again. And no Tibetan would actually come and try to light it. The circle is big and security forces are nowhere to be seen. Then he does the most tragic thing. Because his belly was burst he put his hand into his stomach and started to rip open intestines from his body. As he was doing it he was saying “Free Tibet, Free Tibet”. He was falling from the pain and was getting up. Again he continued. You could see blood and pieces of his intestines. He may have had the courage to die, but I have no courage to see the video. He died. He collapses at the end and he dies. This is the level of conviction with which people think they can offer their life, their body, bearing this pain.
Maria: How old was he?
Tenzin: He was around his twenties. We have actually seen an evolution in the self-immolation as an act of protest, how it came to this level. Because there is no way people can protest in the streets, because there is no way they can speak to media, because there is no way they can address their problems in the courts because there the judgments are finally made by the communist party in the district, the region or the province. So courts cannot listen and address peoples problems. The judiciary cannot solve people’s problems. Media is state owned. Besides the state media there is no independent media from outside. Now the travellers have been banned from coming into Tibet. For the past 8 months no travellers have been able to go into Tibet, no media is able to go to Tibet.
Maria: Can you give an example how this information goes from Tibet to you? Is there anybody? Email is not a proper solution?
Babak: Of course without jeopardizing any person.
Tenzin: yeah! Tibetans are taking the risk of getting caught by sending this information from Tibet to India. When we get the information, photographs of immolations, or immolators, or just photographs of Chinese security forces patrolling in a city or a town, I’m personally not in touch with anybody in Tibet because I may cause danger to their lives. I’m always the second hand or third hand information receiver.
Marina: What about your own life?
Tenzin: I’m in no danger. But people in Tibet who are trying the send this information are taking the risk. Some of them have been arrested and have been charged for selling state secrets, and therefore they have been jailed. These could have actually been celebrated as citizen journalists anywhere else. If you see an immolation or somebody being beaten or taken away to jail, if you take a photograph and send it to media you are a celebrity, right? But there in Tibet it’s the opposite. You are actually risking your own life. Still people do bear witness to such horrendous injustice.
Now in a larger picture, why? Why the protest? Firstly the 60 year of Chinese invasion and occupation has completely consolidated the occupation in Tibet to such a level that Tibetans are today almost second class citizens in Tibet. I myself, when I saw Tibet in 1997, I was shocked to see that most of the shops and businesses and structures in the towns are Chinese owned. I couldn’t see much of anything that is Tibetan, other than the Potala temple etc. I couldn’t relate to the town. It was really like a China town. If that was the level in 1997, I can’t imagine what level it must have come to today. How Chinese must the towns and cities be today in Tibet. Tibetans that have been there since, say that most of the towns have actually become Chinese. There is nothing Tibetan about them. Even though these are in Tibet. It has come to a level where you don’t count as a Tibetan in your own country. Everywhere. By the government, administration, media, business, education, infrastructure, towns, transportation, everything is becoming Chinese. Being Tibetan, and maintaining the Tibetan identity is a huge struggle in itself. You don’t need to protest, just maintaining the identity is in itself a danger. You are considered anti-social element if you keep talking about Tibetan religion and culture. Forget about politics; forget about Dalai Lama or independence. Just maintaining your identity you are considered orthodox, hard-minded, thick-headed. Because all the time, the television, the newspapers, the radio, the films, all media keeps talking about being modern, accepting change, becoming rich, being a part of the industry, bying tractors, cars, taking loans, getting a big house, leaving your old system of nomadic culture, pastoral culture. These are hard labour work. This is old traditions. Be modern and embrace, take a loan, set up a business. This trend is targeted at the Tibetans all the time. Now the Chinese government offers loans and options to settle down in towns. They’ve created artificial towns in valleys where many people can live together in small houses. Like how reservoirs were created in Canada, USA and Australia. Something like that is now being created in Tibet. The nomads and farmers are told: if you settle down we can give you a loan. If you buy a house, and they will show this on TV, come to this house that has toilet, bathroom, kitchen and TV. Some Tibetans that have been lured into this process, they tell us that the houses into which they have been shifted have taps but no water. You have to pay extra for water connection. Nomads who have been using yak dung to make fire to cook, they have to buy extra gas connection in the house. In order to buy the houses the nomads and the farmers have to sell their land and their yaks. After having done so, the little money that they earned will be spent to pay the loan and live with that for a year. But after that, where do you go? You cannot feed yourself, your family. The biggest danger is that you have no other skill to live in a town. You are a farmer and a nomad. Your knowledge and skills are for surviving in the mountains, there you can do anything. But in a town you don’t even know how to wash a dish. You’ve never done dish washing. Now you have to train yourself how to wash a hundred cups a day in Chinese restaurant. You won’t even become a good dish washer. You have to compete with Chinese immigrant labourers. How bad do you not feel as a proud Tibetan nomad, having to compete with a jobless immigrant from China who is always preferred? As a nomad you are always told, “oh you’re a nomad, you don’t understand”. Obviously you will not understand how the coffee machine works; you will not know how to mop the floor. You’ve never seen a mop. You feel like a misfit. You’re nowhere, you’re life is gone. Not only you, but your whole family has no future now. They get trapped in a house like that. Then the government will ask you to pay for the loan. Having spent your money with no job, how will you pay? Then your house is taken away. Where do you go now?
Sylvie: Are they obliged to leave the animals?
Tenzin: Well what do you do? They’re constantly being told through the government, education, media to sell their animals and settle down in a house like this. When they come they get trapped. So women get into prostitution, men into alcoholism and gang fights. Nomads and farmers actually make almost about 70% of the Tibetan population. Where do they go? This is about the Tibetan livelihood.
Tibetan munks and nuns who want to receive traditional education cannot. People are not allowed to become a monk or a nun. New regulation has been made by the Cultural Department, which say that a child cannot become a monk or a nun until the age of eighteen. But traditionally Tibetans has always been sending their boys and girls to become a nun or a monk from early age, so that the kind of traditional education is received for them to be trained and disciplined both spiritually and physically. Now you cannot become a monk or a nun. A number of monks and nuns have been thrown out of monasteries because they were not eighteen.
Babak: Is the monasteries and the teachings going on there also a threat from a Chinese point of view? As I’ve understood it from talking to Tibetans in McLeod Ganj, the monasteries are a kind of last resort for Tibetans to maintain their identity, to keep learning Tibetan language to higher degree. Is this a reason that the Chinese government is really fighting against the monasteries?
Tenzin: There are two things to understand when we look at monasteries. They are the key institutions that maintain Buddhist traditions. And it’s not just Buddhism. Monasteries are centres of learning where you learn art, painting, sculpture, spiritual dances, language, poetry etc. They have always been the universities [for us]. It’s not just a place of worship, it’s a place of learning. They have always played this important role. You will see in Tibet that there are still today a number of monasteries that are being revived and being reconstructed. Some of them have even received support from the Chinese government, who has been trying to do two things: Maintaining some of the most important iconic buildings, monasteries and temples so that a message goes out to media and tourists that they are respecting Tibetan religion and culture. All the usual activities are going on in the monasteries. One good example is Sera. I’ve seen photos from Sera from about 20 different tourist who have gone there. Are their different photographs show us that they have been to Lhasa, Sera, Ganden, and the other same iconic places. All the tourist go here with guided tours and all of them bring back the same photographs, just from slightly different angles. So this is a tactic. The government wants to show the tourists we love and respect the Tibetan culture. But if you actually go deeper into the practice of that monastery, their study level, you will see that it is just superficial. A façade of practice is going. You know these monasteries used to be some of the most important universities. They had thousands of monks and nuns studying there, 20 or so different colleges under them, just like Oxford or Cambridge. People from Mongolia, all across the Himalayan regions, from China, used to send their students to study in these monasteries. Today they’re just iconic buildings, where some basic activities go on. That is function of the monasteries for the Chinese government today, where real study, education and freedom do not exist. Within the monastic administration there are always government board members there who will oversee the whole thing.
Marina: So by taking the guided tours we’re kind of helping the Chinese government?
Babak: It sounds like the tourists that go into Tibet and think they’re getting the authentic Tibetan experience are fooled?
Tenzin: No, I don’t think most tourists are fools. They actually see what is there. They feel it. Of course there may be some few who may just believe in whatever is being shown to them. Most people will actually understand what is going on. This is not just about the monastic education. Many other things, like public health, environment protection, or education for Tibetans are mostly the same. The same attempt. It think this is much more than China’s attempt to kill Tibetans. The globalization that has completely taken over China needs to have more consumers. Participants who are land owners, part of the rivers and mountains and plains, if they become a part of the consumer world then it becomes easy to run the factories. Therefore homogenization of the Chinese market is important, so that the Tibetans who hold the land in Tibet actually become a part of that consumer culture. Their propaganda works over time in making Tibetans think that their nomadic culture and monastic Buddhist culture are anti-development, that they are old minded, medieval. It’s not just the Chinese government’s construct; it is the force of globalization and market economy, which is trying to change people’s minds. This is clashing all the time. Two definitions of culture and development, clashing.
Marina: There is also a high rate of desertification in Tibet nowadays. With global warming that drives deserts from north further south. So the landscape is changing and climate is changing.
Tenzin: Yes, especially from Mongolia down into Tibet. It’s going at a very fast rate. Of course the nomads will also move down into the plains, and loose their ancestral land.
Babak: You said something about the effects of this modernization of Tibet, in terms of them becoming consumers and work in the capitalistic Chinese system. Could you elaborate more on the effect of the 60 years of Chinese occupation on the Tibetan culture and identity? Where is that heading if it continues in this way?
Tenzin: There is a danger of “nativizing” Tibetans. The Tibetans has never felt the idea of them being native. That there is a danger for their survival. They have always been a very proud independent people. The same with how natives in USA, Canada and Australia has been labelled natives. As something sensitive. So the natives in those countries have a sense of identity in them that they are sacred or special. Why should anybody feel that way? You are made to feel that there is a danger for your very survival and cultural identity. This is what has happened in the past 63 years of Chinese occupation. The Tibetans who have never felt that they are unique or sacred today feel that way. Therefore a natural instinct to resist this extinction [emerges]. A sense of anxiety that we have to do something or else we will all die.
Marina: Will the nomads be able to still continue support themselves in the future with the climate change?
Tenzin: Well natural desertification is something [bad]. But if Tibetans where left on their own, I’m sure there are traditional and modern ways to survive and deal with nature. But when you face a strategic state planing in settling down Tibetan nomads and farmers, it becomes difficult.
Maria: Coming back to the march; who was the monk that held an enthusiastic speech?
Tenzin: He’s actually a member of the parliament. His name is geshe Molam Tharchin. Geshe is a Tibetan education degree which is equivalent to doctorate that you receive after many years of studying Buddhist philosophy. We invited him that day to come and speak. We usually have a special speaker to come to the candle light march. Most of them speak in Tibetan to the community. What he was saying that day was to first try to encourage the people who had come in the candle light march, saying that we are not alone and that there is support from different parts of the world. A little different from what I was saying. For instance he said that in Australia some members of the parliament raised the issue of Tibet and passed a resolution. He said that in USA some supportive statements were made. Also recently in the Swiss parliament, the prime minister and H.H. the Dalai Lama spoke. Yet in the end [geshe Molam] said most importantly we have to maintain the struggle, it is our struggle, and that people in Tibet maintaining the struggle are under a lot of pressure and giving their lives in this way. Therefore we being in a free country in exile have to work hard and stay united. It is important that all of us make sure that we’re doing our best from our side in the struggle. These are the things he was saying.
Babak: I think we’ve taken much of Tenzin’s time. As a final question, going back to the issue of the future; when you were describing the nativization of the Tibetans and its effect, my thoughts were drawn to the parallel in US with the native Indians. How their culture and traditions have been very much marginalized to almost the brink of extinction. With similar symptoms like as alcoholism etc. From a certain point of view, historic point of view, their fate is very sad. Where do you see the Tibetan struggle going in the future?
Marina: People we meet are worried that the Dalai Lama hasn’t been politically active for two years. Is there a process there for instance?
Tenzin: There is no conclusion at all. I think after the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan struggle will become very active and people will take more responsibility. Up until now many people feel that the Dalai Lama is our leader and that we’re kind of dependent on him. After him I think every Tibetan will take a bigger responsibility. This we are already doing. That may come in different forms. Until now everybody thinks that we have to talk to China and that this is the only solution. Tomorrow it may be different. We may find support from I don’t know which country, that is angry with China. I don’t know how.
Marina: We’re here such a short time, but I would love to make a difference and create a difference. But how?
Babak: What is the most important factor, internally and externally, for the struggle?
Tenzin: As I said the struggle has to be maintained by the Tibetans. At the moment we do not believe in armed resistance. We do not want to. Besides our religious believes, it is strategically not wise to use violence. Therefore our strategy is to firstly survive and sustain the struggle. We need to be armed with education and skills. Unfortunately we do not have many Tibetans who can articulate and speak well, understand the struggle in a much larger picture, philosophically and intellectually and be able to communicate. We do not have many like that. We need more Tibetan writers. We need more Tibetans who take photographs, write blogs and engage in cyber activism, and connect to individuals like you. Many people may feel very strongly, but we have not been able to arm ourselves with educational skills. We need people who can do theatre and modern dance, create a modern place and act. Get into cinema, make films, documentaries. Make a unique dance which can be the most watched on youtube. You know, why not? All the options are there. We have not been able to do that. We need Tibetan modern dancers, actors, photographers, we need more of such skill development. As reporters you can help encourage or enhance such skills. Or if someone is doing something like that to support them.
The basic strategy in any freedom movement is that when you are under attack you defend yourself as well as attack. You defend yourself to survive. But when you attack you should attack with reasons. This is how we do. We fight back with reasoning, with historical facts, with other who also think like us. These are the tactics of resistance. At the same time we are also trying to survive by learning Tibetan and arming ourselves culturally. These are very positive strategies, not to bring down the other, but to rise ourselves.
The rest of this conversation can be listened to in the audio file of the interview.