Has India Done Enough for Tibet’s Cause

Tibetan Uprising Day, March 10 moves into its 60th year today.  It was in 1959 on this day that the people of Tibet revolted against communist China’s illegal occupation of their motherland.  

China’s bid to gradually take over Tibet’s territory started around 1951 and the unrest bubbling since then reached its tipping point by 1959.  Sensing danger to the life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, his government officials advised him to flee.  Disguised as a soldier, the twenty-four years old 14th Dalai Lama leaves Tibet on the night of March 17 and seeks political asylum in India after a 14 days arduous journey.

In this post, Mr. N. S. Venkataraman, a social activist based in Chennai, attempts to analyse India’s role in the Tibetan people’s fight for independence of Tibet and their earnest wish to return to their homeland.

Six decades have passed since China forcibly entered Tibet, occupied the land and unjustifiably claimed that Tibet belongs to it.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama had no alternative but to leave Tibet with his disciples entering Indian Territory on 31st March 1959.

Nehru – Friend of Tibet or China

When China occupied Tibet, India led by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru just kept watching and did nothing to stop China’s aggressive move. Obviously, Nehru was very friendly at that time with the Chinese government and he did not want to upset China by commenting on its occupation of Tibet.

While Nehru took such a stand, there were many sane voices in India who felt concerned about his inaction and reminded him that he is committing a historical mistake.  Sadly, Nehru not only kept silent, but virtually recognized the occupation of Tibet by China. If he could not combat China on the Tibetan issue, he could have at least refrained from according recognition to China’s occupation of Tibet.  History points to Jawaharlal Nehru for this lapse and many Indians continue to express their anguish about it.

Role of the West

It is now a matter of speculation whether India had the military strength, at that time, to combat China.  With India’s silence, the rest of the world thought that China could have a case in point for occupying Tibet; though a few western countries protested, it looked like a cosmetic exercise, even at that time.

In the 1950s, China certainly did not have the kind of military or economic strength that it currently possesses. Indeed, if western countries had intervened to stop China’s heinous act, things could have been different. The net result is that Tibet went under China and China had the last laugh.

However, Jawaharlal Nehru’s reticence disturbed the conscience of a large segment of Indians.  Nehru was a great historian and scholar and, of course, would have known about Tibet’s cultural heritage, noble traditions and the values they cherished.  But he failed the conscience of India and perhaps, his own conscience too.  This disturbed conscience state amongst Indians continues till today.

Refugee Status

It is to Nehru’s credit that the Dalai Lama and his disciples were welcomed and no restrictions were placed while allowing them to stay as refugees.  The only restriction was that they should not indulge in politics and aggressive protestations against the Chinese occupation of their dear country.

The Dalai Lama was treated with the respect that he deserves and allowed to travel all over India, meet people and attend programmes and meetings.  Later, he was also permitted to go abroad and convey to the rest of the world about the harm done to Tibet by China.

While guilty of its silence over China’s illegal occupation of Tibet, the Government of India tried to make amends for this grave mistake by standing up to China and treating the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans in India with dignity.  Nehru and subsequent governments refused to accede to China’s demand to set restrictions on the movements of the Dalai Lama and Tibetans in India.

“Next year it will be exactly 60 years since His Holiness the Dalai Lama left Tibet for exile in India.  Therefore, we are going to mark the year as ‘thank you year’ to all our friends and supporters especially in India.  India is our greatest and most loyal supporter and we are deeply grateful to this great nation.”  Dr. Lobsang Sangay, President, CTA at the Five-Fifty Forum. Tibetan Bulletin, September-October 2017.

The Government of India allowed the formation of the Tibetan Government-in-exile called the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) headquartered at Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.  Currently, the CTA is headed by an elected President, supported by a cabinet of ministers responsible for specific portfolios.

So, has India done enough for Tibet’s cause? Seemingly, the current approach of the Indian Government towards the Tibetan cause is similar to the act of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.  The present government appears to think that the illegal occupation of Tibet should have been prevented, but its sympathy for the cause of Tibetans now appears to be too late.

The ball is in the court of the Tibetans and it is for them to chart their course of action, utilizing the goodwill that they enjoy in India and in several parts of the world.

Mr. N. S. Venkataraman is founder trustee of Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a non-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause.  E-mail: nsvenkatchennai@gmail.com  Website: www.nandinivoice.com

The Five-Fifty Forum, a three-day conference was held in October 2017 at Dharamsala.  It was organized by the Department of Information and International Relations of the CTA to discuss, strengthen and revitalize the Tibetan movement.

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