December 10th to majority of the Tibetans is remembered as the day when Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. An award that helped internationalize the issue of Tibet and also spread the worldwide popularity of His Holiness to a household name. He literally became synonymous to Tibet itself.
This day has been commemorated for the past 34 years in exile with much jubilation and pride amongst Tibetans strewn around the world like broken beads of rosary. I watched the video of the conferment of the award back in 1990 in the hills of Darjeeling, India, when the advents of the Internet and social medias were not even born. On a rented VHS player, in a neighbor’s house filled with other Tibetans, we watched in sheer pride our temporal leader climb on the podium of the global stage carrying with him the hopes and aspiration of over six million Tibetans. I was barely 16 then and just about coming to terms with the political reality of being a refugee with a big “R” on the forehead amidst the tumultuous local revolution in Darjeeling demanding for a separate Statehood of Gorkhaland carved out from India.
Majority of the Tibetans do not have any clue that December 10th is in-fact celebrated as Human Rights Day as well. A day which was chosen back in 1948 by the United Nations to honor the Declaration of Human rights that enshrined the rights and freedom of all human beings. This was the year before CCP was even founded and the year before the invasion of Tibet and the fall of Chamdo, which precipitated the full annexation of Tibet a decade later in 1959. A cataclysmic event that robbed the rights and freedom of the Tibetan people under the nose of hypocritical United Nations. Despite repeated cries of help from the Tibetans, no resolution was passed to safeguard the liberty and freedom of the Tibetans and all they did was watch from the sidelines. The United Nations stayed oblivious to the fact that in fact “colonization was inimical to Human Rights and Pursuit of Peace.” They stood blind, deaf and dumb to the brutal colonization of Tibet by the forces of Mao.
His Holiness was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 after his famous Strasbourg proposal, where he laid the framework for the Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet to pave a path for Sino-Tibetan negotiation in a non-violent way. The proposal renounced independence and sought genuine autonomy within the Chinese constitutional framework.
Sadly after 1989, far from any resolution to the Tibetan issue, Tibet has been reduced to the most oppressed and most closed nation in the world. From a moral rightful case to fight for Tibet’s independence, restoration of sovereignty of its Nation-State, the Tibetan issue has been reduced to an issue of Human Rights and self-determination. Tibet issue literally became a case of a leper that no one wanted to touch but only sympathize
It’s 34 long years since the day of the conferment and the issue of Tibet has been stuck on a dead end. Owing to the policy of the Middle Way approach, the once rallying support from the Western block for Tibet’s independence started waning.
But His Holiness undeterred once stated that “Through our consistent stand of the Middle-Way Policy based on the foundation of non-violence has not yielded tangible result through dialogue with the Chinese government, it has helped us in strong support from Chinese intellectuals, students and those who are interested in and aware of the reality. This is the result of my efforts”
But for the Chinese leadership, they have always viewed Middle Way Approach in the lexicon of Trozan horse concealed with desires for full independence.
Many Tibetans barring a few started to look at advocacy of independence as going against the wishes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Core Rangzen Activists were vilified and labeled anti Dalai Lama clique. Even a musical group well known in Dharamsala, who wanted to be in the good purview of the CTA’s mandate of Umaylam, once replaced the word “Rangzen” independence to “Rawang” which means freedom to tone down the fiery nationalistic passion of the lyrics of the song while playing a famous cover song of Rangzen by the Shonu Rock Band, an anthem of a sort.
Fast forward to 2023, when the geo-political paradigm has shifted so much after China became superpower in all aspects and when Xi Jinping has consolidated his power to rule for life purging all his opponents and critics and is now hellbent on destroying the Tibetan culture and civilization and has attacked not just upon the reincarnation process but also attempted to malign the image of His Holiness. Sometimes I feel like the conferment of Nobel Peace prize probably cemented the policy of the Middle Way approach to such an extent that even after decades of being hit on a dead end, there is no buyer’s remorse. His Holiness I think is somehow straitjacketed following the global recognition and applause he received owing to his mastermind of the policy that earned him the award and now it is too hard for him to reverse the course and think of a referendum even if he pleases so, because doing so would be a slap on the face of Nobel Committee so to speak.
As of late amidst the growing Sino-Indian tension and China’s belligerence and assertiveness, India’s tone and overture with the Dalai Lama has changed significantly. From the days of policy of appeasement and kowtowing, Modi’s India has stood in defiance against China’s rhetoric. Now from the days of snubbing His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Modi has repeatedly called in person to wish His Holiness on his Birthday. Even referring to the McMohan line which India considers as the Actual Line of Control which China rejects it. The McMohan line was boundary defined under the Simla Agreement signed between Independent Tibet and British East India company, thereby indirectly resurrecting Tibet as a buffer state.
Should India declare Tibet as an “occupied territory” by playing the Tibet card to secure its borders based on the legacy of historical treaty between independent Tibet and British that India seemed to have adopted, what would CTA do to not react but respond. We are good in spiritual responses. But Tibet needs more than ever a political awakening, a political response to a question that begs our survival as a nation.
As of late, I have observed a slight change in the tone and language being used by the Tibetan government in exile aka CTA in terms of shaping the Tibetan narrative, deliberations and political discourse. As opposed to total surrender and compromise of reducing Tibet as an ethnic minority and domestic issue of China, a more assertive “China-Tibet Conflict” hashtag is raised. This overture was predicated by United State recalibration of Tibet as an occupied territory, a slight departure from calling Tibet an outright part of China like how back in 2014, U.S President Barack Obama, stated that “We recognize Tibet as a part of the People’s Republic of China. We are not in favor of independence.”
In November of 2020, after the trademark Pivot to Asia policy of Obama, a one term cracker of a President in Trump, who rattled China like no other President in the history of the United States did, what followed was an intense trade war with China, leading to a swift and sounding departure from Obama’s narrative, when the U.S House of Congress unanimously passed a bill titled “The elements of the China challenge” where the U.S declared Tibet as a “Militarily occupied country”
The ambiguity of One China policy followed both by India and the U.S in the context of Sino-India conflict in resurrecting Tibet as a buffer state by India and the U.S designating Tibet issue as an unresolved Sino-Tibet conflict should be a precursor to the change in the mast of the sinking Tibetan ship to take a new route.
With the ever changing Indo-China and Sino-U.S relationship fueled by mistrust, overt rhetoric and ambiguity, how will CTA work to seize the opportunity to shape the course of the Tibetan ship that is fast drowning.
Also, Tibet issue on the Human Rights Day should become more than the issue of human rights. More than the celebration of Nobel peace prize. It should also be a day to fight for the restoration of the rightful place of Tibetans being chased out of their country by the PLA.