We spoke to Gonpo Dhundup la, President of Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), the largest non-governmental Tibetan organization based in Dharamshala, India, who is currently leading a month-long Tibet Matters March, demanding that world leaders take action against China's repression and breaches of human rights in Tibet. As a third-generation Tibetan born in exile and the youngest elected President of TYC, Gonpo has participated in various protest activities and was detained several times.
1. Please tell us more about the Tibet Matters March.
Tibetan Youth Congress flagged off a month-long “Tibet Matters March” on 29th April 2023 from the state of Sikkim and will cross West Bengal and conclude at Tezpur in Assam on 23rd May 2023. The march involves over 80 volunteers from the regional chapters of TYC in India and Nepal.
The very purpose of organizing this peace march is reflected in firstly, the very title of the March – Tibet Matters. The reason for keeping that title is that Tibet matters for India’s security, Tibet matters for global peace, and Tibet matters for the betterment of a whole section of the population and their livelihood. So, for this campaign, we have three major demands.
The first one is to urge Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and all the world leaders to raise the issue of Tibet in the upcoming G-20 meeting in September this year. The second one is to demand the Chinese government address the deteriorating human rights situation under its repressive role in Tibet and immediately shut down the colonial boarding schools which are there inside Tibet and eliminate the Tibetan culture and identity. So our third demand is to seek support from the international community in resolving the Sino-Tibet conflict. So with these three major demands, we organize this campaign and today is the seventh day of our month-long campaign.
2. One key demand of the March is that G20 leaders should take action on the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibet. What, in your opinion, can the G20 leaders, especially India do to further the Tibet cause?
For India, we always say that Tibet’s and Tibetan people’s call for Tibet's independence is not just for the Tibetan people. India’s security is also a key point. Siince the Chinese illegal occupation of Tibet, there is a continuous border tension in the so-called Line of Actual Control. India shares a more than 3000-kilometer border with Tibet. From Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. It was a very peaceful zone when Tibet was an independent country. With the Chinese illegal occupation of Tibet, now there is a continuous problem, and there is continuous tension in the regioN.
Tibet’s environment, especially Tibet’s water plays a significant role in human habitation in the downstream places. The Tibetan Plateau is the major resource of big rivers and a rich repository of indispensable freshwater resources that are shared across Asia. A large percentage of the world’s population depends upon rivers originating in Tibet. Almost 2 billion people depend on freshwater resources originating from the Tibetan plateau. For example, the Brahmaputra river. People of Assam rely on the river which originates from Tibet. Now China is constructing different dams and they are diverting the river. This is going to be a negative impact in the coming future. So we always say that Tibet's independence is not just for the Tibetan people, it's ]for Indian security too.
3. The March is happening in the larger context of the recent disinformation campaign against HH the Dalai Lama. How important do you think is the need to educate the world about Tibet and Tibetan culture?
Yes, our march also plays an important role in educating the masses. We were very pained and hurt by the recent incidents. It was sad to see people misjudging HH Dalai lama based on a few seconds of an edited video. It has hurt the sentiments of millions of Tibetans, Buddhist followers, and admirers of the Dalai Lama around the world. So through this campaign, we aim at creating awareness among the people of what is our struggle, and what is our culture. The world should understand much devotion and respect that we Tibetans bestow upon HHDL. Tibetans in occupied Tibet are ready to sacrifice their lives to have a glimpse or to keep a portrait of Dalai lama under the Chinese oppressive regime. Through this campaign, we are also highlighting the significance of HHDL and his contribution to global harmony and global peace.
4. May 23, 2023, will mark 64 years since the forced signing of the 17-point agreement which legitimized China's invasion of Tibet. What is your message to the world as March concludes on May 23?
We purposefully chose the conclusion date of 23rd May. It is one of the worst days in modern political history. It was the day when China forcefully asked to sign a so-called 17-point agreement with the Tibetan delegation. The Tibetan delegation then was given two options- either to sign the agreement on their responsibility or to take a full-fledged war in the Tibetan capital city. On 23 May 1951, a small Tibetan delegation was forced to sign the 'Seventeen-Point Agreement' in Beijing. The agreement legitimized China’s invasion of Tibet and took away Tibet’s political independence. The agreement promised Tibet control over its internal affairs, respect for the religion and culture of Tibet and to protect the power and status of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. But China did not abide by its own agreement and forcibly occupied Tibet in March 1959. Moreover, they have declared war against Tibet. They fully controlled Tibet under their military crackdown and therefore HHDL and 80,000 Tibetan people had to flee the country.
5. The March was launched on 29th April. Is there any particular reason behind choosing this date?
This March was started on 29th April which TYC observed as the Martyr day. On April 29, 1998, Thupten Ngodup, a retired member of the Special Frontier Force and a volunteer for the TYC’s indefinite hunger strike in New Delhi, set himself on fire and died in Delhi where the police forcibly took TYC hunger strikers away from Jantar Mantar as a top Chinese military personnel was on visit to the Indian Capital. During the hunger strike, he was one of the participants and with the critical situation inside Tibet to make awareness and to draw support from the international community, he burned himself to death. We started this campaign on 29th April, which marks his 24th death anniversary. The date of the self-immolation of Pawo Thupten Ngodup in 1998, the first self-immolator by a Tibetan in the nation’s freedom struggle is observed as TYC Martyr Day. Martyrs’ Day honors him and all the Tibetans who have sacrificed their lives for Tibet. Tibetan Youth Congress seeks to show solidarity and support and to raise the issue of self-immolations to India and the international community.
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