Tibetans in exile still hold their dream
By Saransh Sehgal
DHARAMSALA, India - Half a century after the Dalai Lama fled Tibet to live in
exile here, many Tibetans and their offspring born in exile still dream of
going back to their homeland. With that dream in their heads, many will join
activities marking the 50th anniversary of the failed armed uprising in Tibet
against Chinese rule.
The armed rebellion started on March 10, 1959, and was soon quashed by the
People's Liberation Army. The failure of the uprising ultimately resulted in a
violent crackdown on the Tibet independence movement and the flight of the
Dalai Lama and his
followers into exile in India on March 31.
Exiled Tibetans now commemorate March 10 as Tibetan Uprising Day. In past
years, the day was generally marked with street demonstrations here and in
other cities around the world. This past March 10, however, the commemoration
protests spread into Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, which later turned into
unrest, marring the image of Beijing in the run-up to its Summer Olympic Games
But given 2009 will be the 50th anniversary of the uprising, exiled Tibetan
groups and their supporters - such as International Campaign for Tibet, Tibetan
Youth Activist, Tibetan Uprising Organization, Students for a Free Tibet and
Friends of Tibet - are planning even grander commemorations including more
massive street demonstrations. Some believe the protests will be more
impressive than those preceding the Beijing Olympics.
"Though the government in exile has said nothing yet on marking the 50th
uprising day, it is certain that support groups and non-governmental
organizations worldwide are sure to make that day as big as they can," said an
official with the Tibetan government in exile.
In recent meetings between exiled Tibetans in Dharamsala and Delhi, officials
said that Chinese political campaigns in Tibet had led to further unrest and
increased tensions between (Han) Chinese and Tibetans in the Himalayan region.
This could intensify the sentiments of Tibetans in their commemoration
activities next March.
And Tibetans in exile in general believe that the current situation in Tibet
benefits neither the Tibetans nor Beijing. The development projects the Chinese
government has launched in Tibet - purportedly to benefit the Tibetan people -
are, however, having negative effects on Tibetans' distinct cultural, religious
and linguistic identity. More Chinese settlers are coming to Tibet resulting in
the economic marginalization of the Tibetan people and the diminishing of their
Tibetans in exile are keen to mark uprising day because they don't want to
forget their homeland and always dream of possibly returning there in freedom
one day. Not only those who followed the Dalai Lama to flee Tibet 50 year ago,
but even the young ones who sneaked out of Tibet after 1959, or were born
overseas, hold that dream.
“It's been decades. I've seen my culture change. Tibetan Buddhism is in deep
threat, my homeland is in danger. Since we fled, our culture and homeland is
losing its importance. I still hope to get back to my province in Tibet, I will
devote every effort to this course,” said Tenzin, an old Tibetan who fled to
India five decades ago.
Yonten, a young Tibetan who fled to India in 2000, said, “I now dream of my
homeland every day. Fifty years are enough, its time for us to get back to our
Gompu, a Tibetan born in exile, shared similar feelings. “I feel the same as
other Tibetans born in Tibet. I am eager to see my homeland, meet my people and
glimpse the stories told of our old people. As a Tibetan born in exile I have
more responsibilities to make every effort possible to help my people back in
their own homeland.”
“Fifty years is long enough. Its time for a free Tibet," said another young
But, as for how to make this dream come true there is a gap between the older
generations and Tibetan youths, which is widening.
The older generations tend to respect the decisions made by the Dalai Lama. A
meeting of Tibetans in early November endorsed the Dalai Lama's "middle way",
which renounces Tibetan independence and seeks high-level autonomy, or "real
autonomy", for Tibet.
"Tibetan people's resistance is not against Chinese people, but to display
their desire to protect the legitimate rights of the Tibetan people and their
rich and valuable culture," an elderly Tibetan lady said. "Everyone knows His
Holiness is the Gandhi of our time and we accept his approach of non-
"[Whether] it be the middle-way approach, independence or self-determination,
whatever is pursued in the Tibetan struggle, we shall not deviate from the path
of non-violence to achieve our aims," said Tenzin, a middleaged Tibetan in
But as the Dalai Lama's dealings with Beijing fail to produce any positive
results, young Tibetans are becoming increasingly impatient with his approach
and are ready to try alternative methods to achieve a free Tibet. Many youths
who were born in exile are getting involved in the Tibet Youth Congress, one of
the most radical Tibetan exile groups.
Many of the youths actively participated in previous demonstrations on Tibetan
Uprising Day. And more are expected to join those set for March, as they are
prepared to make the 50th anniversary a benchmark for change. Many believe the
upcoming demonstrations will be among the most massive and most unforgettable
protests carried out by Tibetans in exile in recent years.
"We will make more protests on the upcoming uprising day. We will go on hunger
strikes and take other actions to let the whole world know how the Chinese have
been treating us Tibetans," said an impatient young Tibetan, Rinchen.
Hunger strikes, street demonstrations, protests in front of the Chinese
Embassy, peaceful marches and candlelight vigils will be high on agenda. In
Dharamsala, the exile home of the Dalai Lama which recently witnessed the
massive "March to Tibet" protests before the Beijing Olympics, preparations are
gearing up for commemorations. Free Tibet posters, flyers and flags are all
being prepared for the demonstrations.
During the last "March to Tibet" protests ahead of the Olympics, life in
Dharamsala slowed to a standstill, with no shops run by Tibetans or Indians
With India receiving varied calls from China to ban any anti-China activities
in Dharamsala, this prompts many to wonder what activities the Tibetans in
exile have in store and to what extent will they be resisted by Indian
Indeed, new generations remain devoted to the cause. There have been no signs
that Tibetans in exile here will give up their hope to return to their homeland
in freedom. And many are confident they will ultimately achieve their goal as
long as they hold that dream.
"Don't let anyone steal your dream. It's our dream, not theirs," said an
elderly Tibetan. "As long as there is no enemy within, enemies outside cannot
hurt you," said another.
Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in Dharamsala, India, who can be
reached at[email protected]