Tibet: A Historical Background
Tibet, located across the Himalayas, became a nation in the 2nd century B.C. From then on, till the 9th century A.D., a dynasty of 43 successive kings ruled over a sovereign, united Tibet of three provinces and emerged as one of the most powerful and prosperous nations in Central Asia. From 9th century AD, Tibet disintegrated into small principalities. From the 13th century to the 17th century, Tibet was ruled by a series of hegemonies such as Sakya, Phagdru, Rinpung and Tsangpa.
In the year 1642 A.D., His Holiness the Fifth Dalai Lama founded a government which ruled Tibet for the subsequent three centuries until the invasion of Tibet by Communist China in 1949. Until then, Tibet maintained its steady position as a peaceful buffer state between the two Asian giants – India and China.
In 1949, the Chinese Communists established their rule over Mainland China and as per their policy of expansion, started invading Tibet from its eastern borders. Hence, in the early 1950s, revolts against the Chinese occupying forces started erupting in Eastern Tibet, ultimately culminating in the 1959 National Uprising in the capital city, Lhasa. Thus, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, his government, and over 80,000 Tibetans sought refuge in India. As a result of the Chinese occupation of Tibet more than 1.2 million Tibetans have lost their lives and 6,000 monasteries were destroyed.
What’s going on in Tibet?
Tibet, ruled by China since 1959, has been under virtual martial law since the peaceful protests that swept across the Tibetan plateau in 2008. As a result of over 50 years of Chinese hard-line policies leading to political repression, cultural assimilation, Chinese population transfer, economic marginalisation and environmental destruction, Tibetans inside Tibet began protesting through self-immolation (the act of setting one’s body on fire) in 2009. In the absence of space for conventional forms of protest, Tibetans are left with no other option. As of January 10, 2013, 97 Tibetans are confirmed to have self-immolated and 82 of them have died. The whereabouts and conditions of the surviving 15 remain unknown. The self-immolations have taken place across geographical regions and social groups in Tibet including monks, nuns, students, nomads, farmers, intellectuals, and artistes. Though most of the self immolators are young, their ages range from 16 to 64.
China’s Response to Tibetan Self-immolations
Rather than objectively investigating the causes behind the self-immolations and re-evaluating their policies in Tibetan areas, the Chinese authorities have responded to the self-immolations with further repressive policies and dismissed them as “acts of terrorism incited by the ‘Dalai clique’”.
Besides complete regional lockdown, heavy-handed measures have been put in place to punish the self-immolators’ family and friends through criminal prosecution. Self-immolation is now classified as a criminal act and anyone who organizes, plots, incites, coerces, entices, or assists another to carry out self-immolations is to be held criminally liable for intentional homicide.
Why Tibet Matters to India
Historically, Tibet served as a buffer state between India and China. If the issue of Tibet is resolved peacefully, Tibet could serve as a bridge between the two most populous nations in the world.
As the roof of the world and the water tower of Asia, irreversible environmental destruction in Tibet bears severe consequences for the entire world, particularly the neighbouring downstream countries. The PRC government plans to divert Tibet’s mighty rivers northward to feed the arid areas. These river waters are a lifeline to India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal, Cambodia, Pakistan, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, which make up 47 percent of the global population.
Indian Cultural Heritage
Cultural and religious ties between India and Tibet are more than 13 centuries old. Tibet is an extension of Indian cultural heritage, with Tibetan Buddhism originating from India. The advent of Buddhism in Tibet had completely transformed the Tibetan people’s way of life. Tibetan script was also derived from India’s Devnagri script. Therefore, Tibetans often describe their relationship to India as that of a Guru (teacher) and Tibetans as chela (student).
Despite over 50 years of repressive Chinese policies aimed at eradicating Tibetan identity, Tibetans inside Tibet remain firm in their determination to pursue their aspirations. Most of the self-immolators are young Tibetans, who were born after the Cultural Revolution and have never met His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They were driven to self-immolate as a result of their direct personal experience with the Chinese hard-line and discriminatory policies in Tibet. In its efforts to find a lasting solution to the situation in Tibet, the Central Tibetan Administration remains fully committed to non-violence and pursuit of dialogue.
What Can You Do:
Join the Solidarity with Tibet Campaign by:
- Sharing the link to www.solidaritywithtibet.org on your facebook page and other social networking sites;
- Organize a presentation on the current situation in Tibet;
- Write to your local MLAs and MPs requesting them to raise the Tibet issue in the State Legislative Assembly and the Parliament;
- Write articles in your local newspaper and magazines about the current situation in Tibet;
- Set up a Tibet Support Group in your locality i.e. schools, colleges, universities;
- Organize rallies and vigils to show solidarity with Tibet and raise public awareness on the issue.
For more information, please visit:
An organisation called ‘India for a free Tibet’
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