Tibetan activist Tenzin Tsundue hit the headlines in January 2002 when he scaled scaffolding to the 14th floor of the Oberoi Towers in Mumbai to unfurl a Tibetan national flag and a banner which read 'Free Tibet' down the hotel's facade. China's Premier Zhu Rongji was inside the hotel addressing a conference of Indian business tycoons. Since then he has been at the forefront of the battle to free Tibet from 'Chinese occupation'. On November 24, Tenzin talked to rediff readers abot the Tibetan freedom struggle.
Here is the transcript:
Tenzin Tsundue says, hi, this is Tenzin Tsundue here, call me Tenzin
krishna asked, Hi Mr Tenzin, nice to have you here on the rediff chat today. Regarding independence for Tibet, what is the kind of support that you expect from India?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, I strongly believe that both India and Tibet are at receiving end with China causing so much of damage in south Asia, India for her security and Tibet for his Independence, we have to work together
Pradeep asked, hi Tenzin, Wish you and all our Tibetan friends all the best ...
Tenzin Tsundue answers, thanks Pradeep, we are undergoing a difficult struggle. Indians are with us today, that gives us a strong reassurance and solidarity
ppathak asked, Sir, how will you explain status of Tibet freedom movement?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, hi pathak, the Tibetan freedom struggle is undergoing an intereting turn today. It is like 1940 in the Indian freedom struggle, when Gandhi asked for home rule, while Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chadra Bose were fighting for independence. The Dalai Lama demands autonomy, while most for the youngsters wants nothing less than the restoration of independence
Pradeep asked, Hi Tenzin, Do you think any of the following scenarios could help Tibet achieve independence? 1) China becoming a democracy. 2) A global war which adversely affects Chinese influence and power. 3) Disintegration of China following the collapse of communism (like communist Russia).
Tenzin Tsundue answers, Pradeep, looking at changes happening in China, and what fast pace, gives me the hope that cChange form within china with change Chinese people's mindset on Tibet. The propaganda in China has educated every Chinese that Tibetans, Mongolians, manchus and Uighurs are their 'subject' and that these people are underdeveloped, unintelligent, barbaric. This colonial mind is ruling Tibet. Freedom of thought and democracy will definitely see a FREE CHINA, this will give us free Tibet
krishna asked, The Dalai Lama has agreed for an autonomous Tibet under Chinese rule. What does the younger lot think about it? Are they ok with it?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, Krishna, the traditional and the faithful would never question his Holiness, while the educated youngsters can differentiate religious faith from political reasoning. Youngsters like us deeply respect HH, but we make our own political decisions and take the matter into our hand and get into action. This is what most youngsters do.
shailesh asked, Would you like the Indian youth to join your struggle for freedom?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, I am as much Indian as I am Tibet. I have more Indian friends than Tibetans, because I studied in Madras and Mumbai. There are many Indian youth joining us. We want more to join in our struggle. This is what will make the difference.
Vijay asked, If you call yourself a freedom fighter then go back to your own country and struggle.
Tenzin Tsundue answers, Yes, I have already done than my friend. But I found that I am more useful working here from India than there, where I have no skills to do much. Strategically, I feel being outside, we can support them by giving voice to our people working inside. While there in Tibet, I was imprisoned for three months, beaten up, interrogated and tortured. Here in India also I have been to six different jails. It is same whether you are inside of outside, the struggle has to continue in ones own life.
SAGAR asked, Good evening sir, what is your opinion on India's relationship with China regarding Tibet?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, Sagar, India and China share a superficial relationship based on mystery and mistrust. It is only the rich businessmen who want to take advantage of each other's business opportunities and call this new 'hindi-chini buy buy.' This relationship does not benefit the majority of Indian or Chinese citizens. This is about profits for those corporate leaders and government characters whom are already wealthy. Very little trickles down. We would welcome India-China relations on a good level but not at the cost of Tibet. Just imagine, when the British ruled India and some third country wanted to sell out Indian interests for the profit of so very few.
AK asked, Hello, with the whole world aligning itself with China, primarily because pf business reasons, don't you think the issue of Tibet is being put to backburner by various governments?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, Yes. It is true. The corporate world is aligning itself with China and thus governments follow. However, we need to build support amongst citizens so that when change comes to China, the international support is there for us. That is why we continue to struggle and press for the Tibetan issue to get coverage. IF you look at other movements for freedom and rights, you will see that they have high points and low points, but history changes. Circumstances will not always be the way they are now. We see great changes coming to China. The communist party is desperately trying to stay in power and trying to adapt. But they cannot adapt in the way they need to stay in power forever. With change comes opportunity and we'll be ready to seize that.
rishi asked, Hi Tenzin...I am honored to talk with you. I have three questions - 1. How optimistic are you about 'Tibetan Freedom' within your life span? 2. Tibetan freedom movement is the only in this world which is peaceful. When do you think the patience run out? 3. Do you think peaceful protest will turn Communist China's heart? Even Mahatma Gandhi's peaceful protest won't have born fruits if it were Hitler on the other side. Your case is more unfortunate, I think communists are worse than Hitler.
Tenzin Tsundue answers, We will remain non-violent because this is a basic principle in our life. We want a peaceful tomorrow and this is our contribution for world peace. At the same time, we see that China is changing and the ordinary Chinese person desires freedom and rights. There are hundreds of millions of Chinese agitating for change even today and this is only increasing. We feel solidarity with them.
Patrick asked, Tenzin, (1) I recently saw a documentary on Tibet youth freedom struggle. It was really interesting. Why are you not joining Falun Gong movement and not opposing china jointly? (2) As per the Tibet history, it was under an Indian ruler for sometime. Why is Dalai Lama not suggesting the way to join Tibet to India; instead he is suggesting it to join to china? Is he afraid? (3) How are you planning to oppose Tibet railway line, which is a danger to Tibet culture? Why can't it be blown away?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, We do work with Falung Gong and other Chinese dissidents and activists wherever and whenever we can. Falun Gong is extremely large but not a centralized movement. So sometimes it is hard to find ways to cooperate. However, we remain committed to working together. We also work with the government of India who feels threatened due to huge presence of Chinese military in Tibet. All the dangers that are coming over India due to rampant abuse of nature and resources in Tibet we have 5000 soldiers in the Indian army and they are day to day working on the Indian borders with Pakistan and China. We are working with many parties with whom we share common interests of freedom.
venky asked, Tenzin, this is Venky. I was your neighbour in the kalina hostel at Mumbai University. Currently I am in the US. My question for you is outside of India there is not much coverage given to Tibet's struggle. Except for Dalai Lama no one knows anything about Tibet. How are you planning to address that?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, hi Venky Sir, true there is more coverage on HH than Tibet, but for us HH is the face of the movement. Wherever he goes, Tibet reaches there. On the other hand, it is also about how westerners look at Tibetan issue, they are touchy about HH than Tibet. But it is HH who took Tibet to the world. But now a new generation is coming that is better equipped to spread the message about Tibet than the past generation.
harsha asked, hi, I am harsha, I really feel very bad for the Tibetans. Can I somehow contribute to the struggle, like actively participate in any of your movements? Interested to know
Tenzin Tsundue answers, Harsha, we need more people like you who understand our struggle. Please join us actively through organization like www.friendsoftibet.org or studentsforafreeetibet.org in this way you can make a difference and increase the impact of our collective actions.
Ankur asked, Hi Tenzin, I wanted to know what motivates you to invest so much of time and energy and emotions for your cause? Do you seriously think Tibet will ever be able to free itself from Chinese rule? Given the international recognition of Tibet as part of China, do u ever get frustrated by all of it and consider giving it up?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, Dear Ankur, if I wanted to be personally comfortable, I would have by now made an easy life, but I cannot run away from the conditions of my life. I am born a refugee, but I do not want to live like that. I want a life with a sense of purpose and dignity. I look at our freedom struggle as a challenge. What bigger challenge is there than freeing Tibet from China. Realistically, when we study today's China, I understand like me there are many Chinese who look for freedom within China, who are suppressed by the capitalistic government being run by corporate managers in the name of communism. As an activist, it is a difficult life, but the struggle is my life. Personally, sometimes, I find it difficult. But I love the challenge. I have pledged that I will free Tibet and until we could free Tibet, I will not take off this red band from my forehead. Some lives are more extraordinary.
Burhan asked, Hi Tenzin, China has shown its character over and again as being one of the most brutal and conservative nation. In such circumstances how do you anticipate that handful of freedom struggle within Tibet and outside can eventually have some sizeable impact. Thanks,
Tenzin Tsundue answers, Dear Burhan, People want CHANGE, but they fear it, as it uproots them from comfort. National and international change happens because few people make a vision and work towards it, and when they engage more people, it becomes a mass movement, and then a revolution. Revolutions are visions of the few and made possible by the mass.
NJRamesh asked, Have you made any efforts to talk to Left Front leaders and make them supportive to your cause? If they explicitly support your cause, wouldn't Indian polity be firmly behind you and greatly increase the chance of success? Why has this strategy not been pursued?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, I have now, mane 'liberal left' people with me, but for an effective change, it is too small. The problem with the left in India is that they are too fundamentalistic. Their education of Tibet is not updated since 1960s. Their immediate reaction is that Tibet is supported by the CIA. Yes, there was a history of CIA supporting the Tibetan armed resistance movement. But its history, as the habit, US supported us only to check the spread of communism and when their interest was over, they dumped us. Today we have support from India but the left does not know this. The left is more concerned about their 'communist' affiliation to China. They do not know that China has changed and it has now become one of the biggest capitalist power, but being run in the name of communism.
winks asked, Tenzin ! Hi! Why do you think has the Tibet movement faded a bit.. I mean there was a time when it got open support from celebs and the social elite. Why did you guys let it fade away, the Iron was hot and an impact should have been made then when the whole world was talking about free Tibet, is it not very very difficult now with very feeble support from the west?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, winks, there is little hope for the longevity for celebrity support. It comes and goes like monsoon. The real strength of any support is the one based on true understanding of the cause by the people. Public support should be mobilised and we are doing just that. More than the support form the west, I feel Indian support is crucial for Tibet. That is why I am staying put here working with many Indians. More than that, the real strength for the struggle is the Tibetan people's work, both inside and outside. We are 100 times stronger today as compared to my parents' time way back in 1960 and 70s.
tibetzindabad asked, what happens to Tibetan leadership after the Dalai Lama passes on?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, traditionally, the Dalai Lama comes back in a new incarnation. But this Dalai Lama, who is the 14th, said his coming will depend on the need. He said if the Tibetan issue is not solved he would be born outside Tibet, perhaps in India. HH is out leader, but now the Tibetan people with new education and world awareness, we are running a democratic government from exile. This system too will throw up elected member as prime minister, and other leaders. Whatever, the struggle will continue. Perhaps, it will be interesting to see, emergence of new directions in the struggle after HH.
premal asked, why Tibet movement is at India if they want to fight for the freedom? let them go to Tibet and fight. Why we are allowing them to stay in India?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, Dear Premal, What you see in India is only the presence of small exile population with one lakh and twenty thousand Tibetans. Most of our people are inside Tibet and they are actually running the freedom struggle from within Tibet. While being in exile in free country, we are supporting them. India has her concerns. After 1962 war, India suddenly became aware of China's true ambitions on Asia. With India's support Tibetans run more than 100 schools, 500 monasteries and 34 refugee camps India. This has helped Tibetans continue their struggle without losing our Tibetans identity. But legally, we are foreigners. It is only for India's interests that India is allowing Tibetans to live in India and run a small Tibetan welfare office, which we call "Tibetan Government in Exile". This is being run from here in Dharamsala. If all Tibetans return to Tibet, CHINA will be India's neighbour forever. Only for the hope that Tibet can be once again the buffer zone between India and China, India is supporting the Tibetans, covertly though.
priyanksinghthakur @ rediffmail.com asked, Don't you really feel that without China's own wish, freedom of Tibet is nearly impossible?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, Priyanka, freedom is not begged and given for pity! Freedom is fought for with dignity and grace. Freedom is not bought or traded. Freedom is won by struggle and hardship put by the people, supported by many. If we go by China, today's corporate leaders who run China like Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, for Tibetans, even the common ordinary Chinese are not happy in their own country being suppressed by the government for asking democratic rights, right to form labour unions, seeking religious rights, addressing problems of land usurped by corporate giants. We seek change, change is already happening both from within and outside
Dr B asked, Do you think Tibet is part of South Asia or East Asia?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, Dr B, it would depend whether it gets India on its support or, continues to be under Chinese occupation. If the situation continues, it would be east Asia, psychologically it China, if it is independent with India's support, it would relate more to India, cultural ties and trade, and basic amenities. Geography is also mindset.
ronn asked, Mr Tenzin Tsundue Why are you opposing China? Don't you think china will provide you better leverages in developing Tibet with technology and innovation, why Don't you go with them side by side. I think Tibat is stunt, you don't want to work with better people. You don't follow the new world orders.
Tenzin Tsundue answers, Dear Ronn, The future of Tibet is what we are building today. The basic culture and mindset of the Tibetans is not materialistic, its spirituality. Our spirituality represents our culture. Given a choice I would choose a monastery than an industry that makes millions biscuits a day. The civilization of Tibet saw the revolution with the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet. So, China's rampant materialistic hunger, running a consumerist market economy is directly opposite to our cultural values. Today in Tibet, Tibetan pilgrims cannot enter monasteries, as they have to make way for tourist who pay big money taking photos in the monasteries. There are more number of brothels, karaoke bars, discos in Tibet today than monasteries in urban areas. This is the danger we see to our culture. I don't not want to join such a party.
kashish asked, What do you do?
Tenzin Tsundue answers, Dear Kashish, I am graduate of Madras University, with a BA from Loyola and MA from Bombay University. I am now a small-time writer, and activist for free Tibet. As an activist, I work within our community educating our people, and empowering our youngsters doing motivational workshops. And I write about our struggle creating awareness and seeking support. Have you seen my recent article in Hnidustan Times Op Ed? This was just before Hu Jinato's visit to India. I travel to different places in India talking Tibet to Indian public, showing films, staging Tibetan traditional dances and songs, meeting people. And yes, sometimes, staging protest, getting beaten up by police and spending nights in jail, fighting court cases. But for me the main work in working within our community. The Tibetan freedom struggle should be fought by the Tibetans. There will be support, but it should be us leading it from the front. I know there are many people out there supporting us. I want to thank all of them. It is India's support, the love and care with which we nurtured the freedom struggle since 1959. Today with 1 lakh and 20 thousand Tibetans in India and 30 thousand more outside, we are running a tough struggle. Thanks to India the dream of free Tibet resuscitated.
santhosh1 asked, Tenzin, I did not get an answer from you regarding why you insult our guests when they visit India? I understand your cause, but please note that you have no right to disrupt and act in a way that demeans the prestige of a country like India that has not only accepted you folks whole heartedly and hosted you on our soil. We, the citizens of India expect a little more maturity from your people.
Tenzin Tsundue answers, santosh, this time during Hu Jintaos' visit, for the first time, the mainstream India media discussed tibet. TOI, HT, IE, NDTV, TIMES NOW, CNN IBN, all of them discussed Tibet. This has never happened in the past. All Tibetans protests have been reported as incidences. This time the media coverage looked at the issue, and took note of it, by having panel discussion on issues like 'why Tibet matters to India' has for the first time, drew attention to Tibet as an issue. Tibet has been recognised as an issue between China and India. So long as this is not done, China and India's relationship has no base. Both the parties have been avoiding, therefore the border talks have not reached anywhere. When China claimed Arunachal Pradesh, only then India got pinched. The issue of Arunachal was decided by 1914 Simla agreement, and the border is called 'McMohan Line.' It was singed between British India and the independent Tibet. So when today's India talks about Arunachal it naturally has to talk about Tibet as a country. There is little knowledge of history of the Himalayan region in India. As a Tibetan born India, I feel for India as much as the Tibetan cause. The issue is one.