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An open letter to Aamir Khan
April 03, 2008
Dear Aamir Khan
I read with great interest your detailed reply to your relatives, friends, admirers and Tibetan activists in which you have justified (external link) your decision to be one of the bearers of the Olympic Torch at New Delhi on April 17.
You have said in your justification: 'I request those of you who have asked me to stay away from the Olympic Torch relay to understand that when I do run with the torch it is not in support of China. In fact it will be with a prayer in my heart for the people of Tibet, and indeed for all people across the world who are victims of human rights violations.'
In 1936, on the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War and at the height of Nazi atrocities, the Olympic Games were held in Germany. The human rights movement was not as active in those days as it is now. Despite this, many advocated the boycott of the Games. Their appeals failed. Those who participated without any qualms of conscience, gave exactly the same reasons as you have in your justification. The Olympic Games do not belong to China, as you have rightly said. The Olympic Games did not belong to Germany, they said.
The question is not what you think and said about your participation. The question is how your participation is projected by Beijing to the suppressed Buddhists of Tibet and Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang, who have risen in revolt against what they consider as the Han colonisation of their homelands and what the Dalai Lama has described as a cultural genocide of the Tibetans.
Wherever the Olympic Torch is being taken, the Chinese have been keen that some prominent Muslim and Buddhist personalities also participate in carrying the torch so that they can demonstrate to the protesting Buddhists of Tibet, Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai and to the protesting Muslims of Xinjiang that prominent Buddhist and Muslim leaders in other countries have endorsed the Games.
The importance of your participation and of the participation of Saif Ali Khan to the Chinese was not only because you are both widely-admired film artists. It was also because both of you are widely-respected Muslim personalities.
The importance of the participation of football hero Baichung Bhutia to the Chinese was not only because he is a football hero, but also because he is a highly-respected Buddhist personality. He saw through their game and declined to let himself be used by the Chinese to serve their psychological warfare agenda in Tibet, Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai. One hopes he does not change his mind under pressure from our Communists. It is a pity you have not seen through their game.
You have rightly said in your justification that no country is free from instances of human rights violations. Not even India. In this connection, you have referred to Kashmir.
You and others, who have written on this subject, are correct in their references to Kashmir, our northeast, the grievances and anger of Khalistanis and Muslims etc. We too have been having problems with our religious and ethnic minorities just as the Chinese have problems with their minorities. No country in the world is free of such problems.
The question to be asked is not whether we have the same problems as China, but what has been our approach to these problems. Do we deal with these problems in the same way as the Chinese do or do we follow a different approach?
The religious and ethnic minorities in India, who have taken to arms against the government, have accused the government and its policy-makers of rigging elections, political, economic and social discrimination, lack of adequate political powers to manage their own affairs etc. They have accused the security forces of being prejudiced against the minorities, of excessive use of force against the minorities, of police torture etc. Has any group in India accused our government and policy-makers of indulging in cultural genocide of the minorities as the Dalai Lama and the leaders of the Uighur Muslim community in China have accused the Chinese government?
In India, since we became independent in 1947, no government -- whether of the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party or any other party -- has ever even thought of settling members of the majority community in areas where the minorities are in a majority. Pakistan has systematically settled Punjabi ex-servicemen in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and in the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan) in order to reduce the ethnic Kashmiris to a minority in their traditional homeland. It has systematically settled Wahabised Sunnis in the Northern Areas in order to reduce the Shias to a minority. China has systematically settled Hans from mainland China and the Hui Muslims from central China in Tibet in order to reduce ethnic Tibetans to a minority and dilute the majority status of Buddhism. It has similarly settled Hans in Xinjiang in order to reduce the Uighurs to a minority and dilute the impact of Islam. In our country, our laws will not permit such abuses.
In Jammu and Kashmir, no non-Kashmiri has ever been chief minister. Same is the case in Nagaland and Mizoram. Can you cite an instance since the occupation of Tibet by the Chinese in 1951 when an ethnic Tibetan has headed the local party and government set-up?
We have been fairly regularly holding elections in the northeast and Kashmir except during periods when serious insurgency situations did not permit the holding of elections. In Kashmir, there were allegations of rigging of the elections. Because of this, in recent elections, we allowed foreign diplomats and journalists to visit Kashmir before and during the elections to satisfy for themselves that the polls were free and fair.
Has China ever held a single democratic election in Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia since the Communists captured power in 1949?
We have many insurgent and terrorist organisations purporting to speak for the religious and ethnic minorities, which have taken to arms against the government. Have you ever seen our political leaders and policy-makers indulge in a campaign of demonisation and personal vilification similar to the Chinese campaign against the Dalai Lama? Beijing calls him 'a liar, a conspirator, a cheat, a terrorist' and so on. Even the Chinese Red Guards, who ran amok in China during the days of Mao, never used such expressions against political dissidents.
The leaders of separatist organisations freely interact with our media. They are interviewed by our print and electronic media and invited to participate in our television talk shows. You recently attended the World Leadership Summit organised by the India Today Group. I read in the media that one of those invited to address the summit was Yasin Malik, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. Can you mention a single instance since 1949 when Beijing has allowed a single dissident leader to similarly interact with the media and foreign diplomats? Have you ever seen a single interview of the Dalai Lama in the Chinese media? Have you ever seen a single statement of his ever published in the Chinese media?
There is an international humanitarian instrument called the Second Additional Protocol to the International Red Cross Convention. It accords to the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross locus standi to provide humanitarian relief in internal conflict situations. India has refused to sign this but, de facto, it observes many of the provisions of this protocol. It has allowed the ICRC to have an office in New Delhi. It has permitted senior retired police officers to act as consultants to the ICRC office. It has allowed the ICRC to conduct training classes in human rights for our security forces. It has allowed ICRC delegates to visit jails in Jammu and Kashmir to enable them to satisfy for themselves that humanitarian laws are being observed even in respect of terrorist-suspects. Has China done any of these things in its minority provinces?
The Government of India recently allowed Asma Jehangir, the well-known Pakistani human rights activist, who has been appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, to visit Gujarat and J&K to look at the human rights situation. She has come out with a very critical report. Will China allow the UN to appoint a similar Special Rapporteur for Tibet to inquire into allegations of cultural genocide in Tibet?
The way we handle our problems in the minority areas is totally different from the way the Chinese handle them. We handle them like civilised, democratic people. The Chinese handle them like Hitler and Stalin used to do. It is, therefore, totally unfair and incorrect to project as you have sought to do and as many leftist-minded intellectuals in India have sought to do, as if China is more sinned against than sinning and that its negative human rights record is no different from that of many other countries, including India.
I have myself been a strong supporter of the Olympics being held in Beijing. I wrote even after the recent revolt in Tibet that we should not support the moves for a boycott of the Bejing Games because by doing so, we will be humiliating over a billion Chinese people because of the misdeeds of their leaders and policy-makers.
At the same time, I have been of the view that we should not help China in giving a great shine to the Games despite all that has been happening in Tibet, Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia as if nothing has happened. A lot has happened in the Tibetan-inhabited areas of China. A lot of blood has been spilt. A highly-respected religious leader of the world has been insulted and demonised like no other religious leader of the world has ever been demonised.
The Beijing Olympics has already become a blood-stained Olympics. The Chinese are frantically trying to remove those blood stains. We should not help them in their efforts to do so. By lending your name and prestige to the torch run, you are unwittingly helping the Chinese to cover up the blood stains.
You have millions of admirers as an artist all over the world. You will continue to have millions of admirers whatever be your final decision. But many of them will have feelings of vacuum in their hearts over your failure to distinguish between the right and the wrong.