Page One

Between Despair and Rage, Tibetans Choose Life, Peace

Friday June 20, 2003

China has yet again outdone itself in its legacy of terrorism against humanity—this time by forcefully deporting two weeks ago 18 Tibetans to Tibet from nearby Nepal, which otherwise was for these hopeful refugees their doorstep to the outside world, to freedom in exile. 

One cannot help but take his mind to these Tibetans—many of them sick, more than half a dozen of them in their teens—who are now languishing in a prison somewhere in Tibet. It is not hard to imagine their bodies broken by the harrowing ordeals of escaping over the Himalayas, only to be betrayed by the Nepalese government back into their everyday reality of oppression under Chinese occupation. One shudders to think of how their hopes for freedom were crushed under the weight of China’s naked dance of tyranny, staged before the very eyes of the world? 

There is a picture showing Nepalese policemen dragging away an exile Tibetan woman who had tried to stop the deportation by throwing herself before the bus carrying the refugees. Her act in desperation marks the helplessness surrounding the “Free Tibet” movement today. 

Nothing can be more emblematic of the Tibetan situation than the plight of these 18 Tibetans, and nothing more representative of China’s politics than this blatant disregard to both Tibetan rights to freedom and international covenants in law. Even in the seeming refuge of exile, China’s tentacles of repressive authoritarianism reach out with full viciousness.  

The incident is rendered all the more ironic by the way it unfolded amid hopeful signs of reconciliation between China and the exile Tibetan government as heralded by the latter’s just-concluded second delegation visit to China.  

To say that China’s communism and its illegal occupation of Tibet is the biggest blot on the conscience of every free human being today is an understatement. China’s violent persecution of Tibetan people, and all other peoples suffering under it, ridicules the very aspiration for peace and justice that defines our fundamental likeness as citizens of a free world. 

In a reality gone awry, rage is an open resort. We’ve seen this all too overwhelmingly affect our reality. Where despair is tested beyond endurance, violence all too often finds its bloody mark. The question becomes not of choice, nor even of reason. The question, as well as the answer, becomes a blind explosion of desperation and despair set off by a chilling absence of any choice or reason. In the tormentor’s tool of oppression, therefore, the victim finds the ultimate weapon in self-defense: an inescapable rule of human nature which finds testimonies in charred bodies and destroyed buildings strewn across the ravaged landscapes today from Palestine to Northern Ireland, from Chechnya to Sri Lanka, from the Muslim world and beyond.  

Sometime last year, in seeking to disguise Beijing’s persecution of Tibetan people behind the mask of anti-terrorism, a Chinese spokesperson told reporters about Tibetans stockpiling weapons in Tibet. Considering no shred of evidence was brought forth by a repressive regime that has so overwhelmingly infiltrated into all aspects of Tibetan life today, that statement couldn’t be taken as anything but a lie. But conversely and probably unknowingly, he might well have been addressing a danger that is real. 

On an average, over 3,000 Tibetans choose to risk frostbite, deportation, even death, every year by crossing over the Himalayas into the safety of exile. In 1998, an army-retired exile Tibetan, Thupten Ngodup, self-immolated himself in Delhi when the Indian police forcibly hauled Tibetan hunger strikers into waiting vans under pressure from China. All calls for Unto-Death Hunger Strikes by Tibetan Youth Congress invariably attracts hundreds of Tibetan volunteers, in India as well as in the US.  

In the Tibetans’ choosing of “death and destruction” upon self rather the other in their desperate bid for freedom and justice, only they know with what great hardships they’ve so far preserved the delicate balance which is their cultural heritage in non-violence and compassion. Onlookers rarely notice what they sacrifice in return: the instant gratification of walking, with a bomb strapped to your waist, into a room full of your oppressors and knowing you’ll be taking along with you at least a half of them. 

If the events of recent years have done us any good at all, it is that it has brought us new appreciation of our freedom, its meaning and its strength. Moreover, it has brought us an absolute understanding that if life, peace and compassion are to be preserved, it is only through active defense of one’s belief in them. The recent antiwar protests throughout the world leaves us with one legacy: the need to actively champion non-violence wherever they are being played out against the greatest odds imaginable. 

And it all begins with taking a stand for Tibet and the concept for non-violence and peace it represents. It begins with doing more than nodding your heads upon finishing reading this piece.  

Topden Tsering is the President of San Francisco Bay Area Regional Tibetan Youth Congress.