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Published: December 17th 2005
To clarify, it is Boycott MADE IN China, not Chinese people, that Tibet supporters and Chinese supporters worldwide advocate. Not buying the mass-manufactured products which generally condone human rights suppression in China.
After having spent two months in Tibet (that is including the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai), over a month in Nepali Tibetan areas, and another 2 months in Tibet-in-exile, I have had a chance to see different forms of Tibetan life.
I'm still learning, don't have the answers to the problems, can't predict the future or even the best way to continue.
What I have seen in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala is a mixture of continuing efforts at changing the system from within and outside. There are 7 or 8 established NGOs in McLeod Ganj, including the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), GU Chu Sum, Tibetan Youth Congress, Students for a Free Tibet, Tibetan Woman's Association, and others. From their titles, one can guess what aspect of society they are directed towards and aiming to help.
Groups like Gu Chu Sum and TCHRD are concerned with political prisoners, both current and former, as well as torture, human rights in Tibet and in prisons, education, and other aspects. From what I read and saw, Gu Chu Sum is helping these former political prisoners in constructive ways, providing education, vocational training, accomodation, financial support, emotional support. TCHRD
Picture from the Mao era; Tibetan children dressed in Chinese clothing in school.
is also quite important in collecting verified information and facts about human rights in Tibet, as well as educating the exile community on these concepts, on the exisiting conditions, and holding workshops, visiting schools, publishing magazines and papers, and holding awareness campaigns.
Students for a Free Tibet, an association well-established in many countries, has been interpreted by some as radical, the more extreme approach to Tibetan rights. However, their approach, while attention-grabbing, is peaceful, planned, systematic, and aims to include all ages of society, with emphasis on youths. Their campaigns over the years have been a part of significant changes and brought needed attention to important issues (for example, the withdrawal of a potential World Bank loan to help re-settle more Chinese farmers in Tibetan areas, back in July, 2000; or the impending execution of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, in December 2004, commuted to life imprisonment in January 2005) (other well-known groups, like Canada Tibet Committee and International Campaign for Tibet, to name a couple, also campaigned on these issues and also raised awareness).
Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) is another well-organised, internationally-established group, collecting information and publishing the magazine, Rangzen
, as well as
tools of torture
Some examples of instruments used to torture and constrain prisoners in Chinese prisons.
having published various other documents on the environment, education, health care, and other aspects of life in Tibet.
Recently, while I was in the area, TYC organised two candle-light vigils and a protest march and rally in response to the ongoing and heightened religious repression in various parts of Tibet, particulary in the large monasteries of Lhasa (Drepung, Sera, Ganden...).
So there are established and continual actions happening in the exile community (and not only in the Dharamsala area; also in exile communities around India and the world).
The main problems I noticed were a lack of collective activism, with various support groups not fully communicating with one another. As well, there is a lack of concern, an apathy, on Tibetan issues among some Tibetans, more concerned with world-common issues of education, prosperity, personal happiness... But for a foreigner coming from a privileged background and country, I am not to judge the mentality of a person who has come from harsh educational and religious repression, and economic disparity. For some, the change from Tibet to exile is so extreme and the possibilities for self-gain so vast.
In my opinion, there are good things happening,
The 13th Dalai Lama predicted trouble from China, and strove to make changes in Tibetan society, including improving the Tibetan army, as well as social changes. He met a wall of resistance in the monastic and social hierarchy, something which is today used against Tibetans in their efforts for independence.
and not everyone is dreamily unrealistic about Tibet's future. I talked with many young and old Tibetans, and while they would all most likely love for Tibet to be a completely independent nation, many are pragmatic and realise they must work in steps, striving first for autonomy and control over the most important aspects of their lives: religious freedom, improved education, an end to imprisonment of those who speak about Tibetan rights and freedom, an end to the brutal torture still occuring in prisons in Tibet, more employment possibilities not hinged on Chinese nationality of language skills, better and more affordable health care, to name a few. I gathered that one strong view and hope of many Tibetans in exile is to achieve these important goals, perhaps strive further for more autonomy, perhaps gain complete independence, but working all the time in steps.
At an open-discussion meeting on Tibet's future and directions Tibetan supporters should be taking, one foreigner voiced her opinion that Tibetans were not making enough noise or screaming for enough attention. Given the number of problems and fights for basic human rights occuring around the world, there certainly is competition for empathy and support. In her
view, Tibetans need to grab ahold of the media spotlight. Certainly, the Dalai Lama has the spotlight wherever he goes; but often the Tibet issue is obscured by the general fascination about His Holiness and buddhism. And when Tibet is really highlighted, high-profile Tibetan campaigners (of the movie and pop star variety) can often unintentionally render the serious situation a bit trite.
How does one grab the spotlight today? The level of violence and atrocities is unbelievable and impossible for television viewers and newspaper readers to fathom. Consequently, peace marches and vigils don't have the impact of suicide bombers or scandals involving certain domineering nations. But that is the irony, isn't it? Tibet has been invaded and violated, and is continuing to be vioated (religiously, environmentally, socially...) by the Chinese authorities. Scandals in mainstream news are paralleled quietly in Tibetan news: prison torture is on-going, including brutal methods of torture; freedom of speech is utterly repressed; security camera spying and invasion of privacy are a thing of the past and present in Tibet.
Compared to other people, Tibetans don't scream enough. This is true. I have met so many stoic and contained Tibetans who revealed the extent of
The Refugee Reception Centre is generally the first stop of all new arrivals. Here, they are accommodated, fed, given medical treatment, given basic English classes, and is where they wait for audience with the Dalai Lama.
their pain and torture, the injustices they and their families suffered, only after I repeatedly pressed them to. But it is not in Tibetan nature to dwell on their pains or to draw attention to their selves. They have a basic Buddhist acceptance of suffering that perhaps differs from the average person's need for vengence.
That is not to say that all Tibetans fit the popularised version of pacifist and altruist. But the majority of whom I met certainly prioritised non-violent means to publicise their plight. Non-violent, but still daring: take Tenzin Tsundue, an Indian-born Tibetan, who has attracted media attention many times, by actions such as scaling high buildings to drape freedom banners when important Chinese or international delegates are present:
Many Tibetans also realise that having Chinese language skills and integrating with Chinese in certain ways is not bad, can be beneficial economically and socially. However, these things should not be the decisive factor in obtaining employment and education; again, freedom of choice, voice, and options are stressed.
One other important thing I noticed is that of Tibetans who did criticize the Chinese government, most were careful to point out that
it is not the Chinese people or even culture they are against but the imposition of it on the Tibetan culture, the eradication of the Tibetan culture, and moreover the control and actions of the Chinese government over the Tibetan people.
and many more links:
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