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We Need to Change

Saturday, Apr 7, 2012
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This losar morning, I woke up early, without important works, I had never woken up this early. After an unusually more comprehensive morning prayer-session of more than an hour, daybreak was yet not around the corner. I went out, it was dark, came back in, out and again in, repeatedly, sat on the door-steps, tried to sleep, all in vain, suffocation by the walls made me more worried and finally decided to go out, though did not know where. Walking alone in the streets, aimless and lost, all I wanted was somewhere to go, something that I could keep walking on. I hated that quiet and peaceful city, I wanted to be distracted, distracted away from the flames of burning lives. A flash of consciousness made me realize that I had already reached the Lake by walking more than two kilometers, I sat on a bench facing the lake, I cried, cried loudly.

Never in my life had a losar been so infestive, even those few losars that came when I was the only Tibetan around, I still wished people and got wished and went out for feasts with my non-Tibetan friends. Though 2009 was too announced a No Losar year but feeling of sadness and anxiety was not this intense. But this losar, instead of being happy for being wished, I felt those festive and cheerful people irresponsible and thus neither wished anybody, nor replied to anybody’s wishing and greeting messages. In the afternoon, I got a call from Tibet and he was confused, “Aren’t peace and harmony what they want? But they appear to want exactly the opposite.” As announced, I fasted on losar. Only at midnight, hunger started calling but ignored and kept browsing.

Internet has been my only source of information about the crisis in Tibet and I have been surviving on the net all these days. News of self-immolations and mass protests with alarming frequencies in Tibet, consequent shootings and repressions have kept coming out, but in exile, nothing spectacular has come in response except those which we have always been doing – issuing statements, condemning the Chinese government, appealing the UN, protest marches, hunger strikes, rallies, candle-light vigils, praying, fasting, No Losar, etc. I have been guarding those common news portals, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, even the Chinese dissidents’ websites and waiting eagerly for something note-worthy to appear. After Jamyang Norbu la’s “Igniting the Embers of Independence” and “What Must I Do?” posted on October 18 last year, nothing came. I wonder where our intelligentsia have gone!

With all the resources we have in exile, Tibetans in Tibet seem leading us in our struggle even though they have no freedom – their intellectuals are mostly imprisoned, monasteries are besieged, people are kept under close surveillance, even peaceful protests could mean fatal and cost lives. Even in terms of innovating new ideas for the struggle, they are ahead of us – self-immolations, Lhakar, non-cooperation movements such as non-farming program, are all effective home-grown tactics of struggle. We have our exile government (I still prefer calling it this way), different NGOs, scholars, most importantly freedom, yet instead of leading, being led.

Besides, the Tibetans in Tibet have turned fearless. Ngaba alone had more than 20 cases of self-immolations and many more were said to come if the severe repressions would not cease. Kardze soon followed the trend which swiftly spread to other regions of Amdo and Kham – Golok, Chamdo, Yulshul, Machu, Themchen, Rebkong, and many more will definitely follow. When they can sacrifice their lives for the cause, we cannot even spend some time to think and write something; spend some time to think if there are less risky and cost-effective ways of struggle so that more lives can be saved. Yielding no result whatsoever with more than five decades of appealing and dealing with China has made everybody frustrated and furious and thus this fiery wave of self-immolations is considered to be hard-earned severe ways of protesting and so nobody dares to stop them, anybody dares would be considered obstructing the struggle. I too, during the initial few self-immolations, was very hopeful of something effective had finally begun and wished nobody stopping it. Even our government, unlike earlier, has started saying that it would neither encourage, nor discourage them. However, self-immolations went on and on endlessly with no corresponding effort from our side except repeating those activities which have already been proven ineffective.

Despite being always a staunch advocate of Rangzen, with endless coming out of extremely graphic images and footages of lives engulfed with flames, yet running and shouting for the common cause, I too feel like compromising my stance for the time being in case a new and effective idea comes up that can lead to a breakthrough of any sort which can save the lives that are expectedly in the queue, because any breakthrough with any nature and magnitude would mean breakthrough to both the ideology groups of Rangzen and Ume-lam, why cannot a breakthrough achieved by one group be used as a stepping stone by another? Being a common individual of no importance with democratic freedom, I do not care being blamed for “independence in disguise”, I cherish my freedom of expression.

Since the fruitless ninth round of talks, devolution of His Holiness’ political authority, charter amendment that shrank our exile government to an NGO and especially the recent surge of intensified and extreme ways of protests in Tibet, voices of opposition have turned louder and vocal repudiations of the middle-way stance is often seen. These are clear indications of our diplomatic failure that has led to this anger and frustration among the youngsters. Even our leaders recognize the failure, but still reluctant to switch to other options and resorts, even a hint of possible change if China persists with its arrogance is not seen. Past disagreement from the Rangzen advocates in terms of stance has now become an opposition to the futile way of pursuing the goal itself. Claims of being “more pragmatic” and “easier” have been proven unconvincing. The new strategy of engaging with Chinese people after losing trust with Chinese government too will take centuries to awaken even half of the Chinese population.

With Sherab Tsedor, Bhutuk and especially Jamphel Yeshi setting themselves on fire, flames of burning Tibet have already reached in exile, but we are yet lost – UN has been urged, politicians lobbied, China condemned, so what? Even though the UN will send a fact-finding delegation into Tibet (though very unlikely as we got such promises in the past too), it will raise the currently ongoing crisis but our end goal of national struggle will be forgotten, even if it will not send a delegation to find the facts, facts have already been found, everybody knows there is crisis, there are self-immolations and there is crack-down. The lobbied politicians may raise our issue in their parliaments and even if resolutions get passed, nothing big will come to our main struggle. What difference will it make to condemn the Chinese government (I do not mean it should not be condemned)? Chinese government knows better than us that they themselves are responsible for the crisis in Tibet. A government that has come to power by claiming the lives of 80 million people, one that massacres its own students and one that disguises its own troops with monks’ robes to lead the Tibetan peaceful protests turn violent with arson, looting and killing so as to justify crack-downs (we have all seen this evidence of distributing robes among the soldiers in 2008 pan-Tibet protests), even if pressurized by the international community, that does not matter much.

We have always been in the illusion of others doing something for us – Ban Ki Moon did not even mention Tibet when he visited China in 2010; Obama barely mentioned a bit but said Tibet being an integral part of China; even our host country India, when it comes to China, does anything at its will – rounding up our activists even at the mid of addressing the penal discussion without charges as preventive measures to Hu’s visit; and of course Nepal has almost turned a Chinese province. How lonely we are! Our house has been looted and plundered, family members slaughtered, made flee and the rest enslaved, those fled stay in rented houses but are too subject to abuses by their landlords at their wills. Such is our miserable fate!

Therefore, it is high time we should stop dreaming and start doing. We already have the most important resources our struggle requires: The Tibetans in Tibet are fully awakened and ready to do anything for the cause, they have the maximum courage the fight requires and all modes of communication technologies are at our disposal to organize them into disciplined fighters. They are just waiting for us to give them a call and they are ever ready to oblige.

Now we have only two options – are we going to persist with what we have been doing to keep wasting time or admit our failure and employ new strategies to make use of these aforesaid precious resources to have a result-oriented struggle? These two options are valid both for Ume-lam and Rangzen believers. A very expected argument here is the internationalization of Tibetan issue being an achievement, but then what we need is not moral and verbal support but support that helps us getting freedom and acquiring identity. All helps are but not necessarily helpful.

The need of the time is, therefore, to invest our maximum effort in innovating new effective and pragmatic ideas for the struggle. Everyone of us, from leaders to common masses, old to young, people from different walks of life need to think, talk and debate on new strategies. SFT has started exploring the weak points of the Chinese government. If everybody does so, we will definitely find some loopholes to seize our opportunity.

The Chinese scholar and Tibetologist Wang Lixiong has found one – his Village Autonomy model hits at the CCP’s weak point – it is a cost-effective strategy that can be applied lawfully and also claims to be result-oriented too as Wukan village in Guangdong Province is already an example for us to follow. He opines that our government’s pursuit of genuine autonomy can start with fighting for village autonomy. Under this strategy, instead of passively waiting for the leaders to go through fruitlessly endless negotiations, the villagers themselves take part in the process and become active fighters of village autonomy. They collectively elect village heads to form village council and obey only them, not those appointed ones. In this way, many village councils come together to elect and achieve township committee, and then many township committees to realize district committee, layer by layer, until genuine autonomy is achieved.

What is unique about this strategy is that everybody is an active participant of the struggle. Will the Chinese government arrest every Tibetan? They cannot. Will they arrest the elected village heads? Let them, we will elect again. Another critical feature of this strategy is that this village autonomy does not need to be approved by anybody else but by the villagers themselves. As long as they can persist with their approval, authorities can do nothing but to compromise. Moreover, this strategy does not require protest in the open streets that justify suppression and thus cost-effective. By simply not cooperating with the appointed authorities and disobeying them, this is a classic model of nonviolent strategy expressed through non-cooperation and civil disobedience movements.

Different doubts may arise here – the most obvious one must be that with such tight securities and surveillance systems in Tibet, how can the Tibetans be organized to struggle for autonomy. I think unlike Chinese people, Tibetan people in Tibet are politically already awakened enough to be organized. Whatever happens anywhere in Tibet is soon known here in exile; the election of Kalon Tripa was celebrated and talked-about almost everywhere in Tibet; a perfect example is that a simple call from His Holiness to refrain from wearing skins of endangered animals prompted them to not only stop wearing, but also burning such luxurious and expensive clothes to ashes. So a call from exile will surely activate everyone in Tibet. Another doubt could be that what Chinese can do cannot be done by us, we would be labeled as separatists and cracked-down upon, to this, Wang Lixiong replies, “Not even scared of self-immolations, what else are to be scared of?”

This is one new path that will possibly lead to our set goal of Ume-lam, there might be other paths to be explored for our both the goals if we start trying seriously to be innovative and creative. Thus said, before being possibly labeled as a hypocrite, I should clarify it does not necessarily mean that I have switched my stance to Ume-lam, I will not rest until Rangzen is restored. Our recent intensified anger and frustration is just because we have not got any breakthrough of any kind, to any goal, with all these decades of effort, ideological difference is not a recent development, it has always been there.

Thus, our optimism towards anybody else should end now. Being spiritual people, our moralistic and ethical expectations from the Chinese regime and the west have postponed our struggle to yield result. Our naïve ignorance of the realpolitik has brought us to this present state of crisis. Now we should know we are all alone – those who want to help us are not capable of helping and those capable will not help. It is all on us, ourselves. WE REALLY NEED TO CHANGE!

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