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March 22, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/ The Dalai Lama

'We want only genuine autonomy'

Forty years ago, the Dalai Lama fled his native Tibet and settled down in India with his flock. Over the years, he has grown in stature and influence and the Nobel Peace Prize has done much to enhance his standing in world politics. Yet he remains exactly where he was: a refugee. Still hoping that his dream of an autonomous Tibet will one day be realized, as he tells Pritish Nandy.

Over forty years have gone by since you came here as a refugee, heading a government in exile. What do you see as the future of Tibet?

Very bad, if you look at it in local terms. My people are in chains. There is environmental havoc taking place. There is cultural genocide. Human rights violations are taking place all the time. Repression of my people. Things are getting worse and worse out there in a sense.

At the same time, things are very good, if you look at it in a global perspective. India, our strongest neighbour, has been very good to us. There is great understanding and compassion, amazing love. There is cultural synergy between our nations. India is the bright light of hope that shines, as one of our greatest writers said, to dispel the darkness that pervades our land.

Communism has collapsed worldwide. Be it the Soviet Union, the father of the Marxist state, or the nations of Eastern Europe, they have all realized that totalitarianism is a failure. It cannot survive. Repression must be replaced with freedom. The old order has fallen. I am sure that a new spirit of freedom will pervade the rest of the world and we will move towards a more open, a more democratic social order. Tibet waits for that day. I have been here for 41 years, waiting for that day.

What is your view on the coming of the young Karmapa to India?

He is a very fine young boy. He has come to study here and, as long as the issue does not get politicised, it is fine. India is a warm country. India is always open to people to come to stay here. It welcomes everyone. That is its most wonderful quality.

The problem is: Other nations do not always see it in this light.

Do you think that considerations of trade with China will eventually force the Western nations to ignore Tibet and the repression against your people?

Trade is very important to the Western nations, I agree. But how can they ignore human rights violations? How can they ignore repression and cultural genocide? Even the mightiest Marxist states have fallen because they did not listen to the voice of the people. How can Tibet be ignored? It is not possible, Pritish.

How do you see your struggle for a Tibet evolving in the future?

Our own spirit today is very strong. Unlike, say, what it was forty or fifty years ago. Our struggle will continue. But strictly through non-violent means.

We are not seeking a complete separation from China. We want only genuine autonomy. Self-rule for the Tibetan people. In fact, more and more Chinese people today understand and appreciate our point of view. More and more Chinese people are themselves beginning to support us. They realise that for reasons of genuine stability in the region it makes sense for the People's Republic of China to give us this autonomy. We are not going to break away. All we need is some degree of freedom, some satisfaction. Up to now they have imposed their will on us and used harsh methods and force. They have to realise that this will not work.

We are your shishyas. India is our guru. We believe in non-violent means to achieve our political objectives.

What do you feel about the kind of international support that your movement has been able to drum up in recent years? Is it strong? Is it adequate?

It is strong and, what is more important, it is growing. In fact, it has grown very fast in recent years. In France, Germany, England, Norway; many smaller nations. Support to us is growing faster than we thought it would.

But the free world's trade with China is also growing?

You are referring to America. But they have also appointed a special co-ordinator for Tibetan issues in the State Department.

But China still gets Most Favoured Nation status in the US?

Yes, but there are issues they have to satisfy. That is why the status is annually renewable. It is not a continuing status. It is linked with issues of human rights.

For us, actually, the most important relationship is with India. India has done a great deal for us but it could have done more. It could have taken a stand on issues that it stays clear of today. India's attitude towards China, I believe, as well as its policy towards Tibet is somewhat overcautious. That is why the Chinese leadership may be thinking that they can bully India. That is my feeling.

However, in recent months, China appears to have realised the importance of India. That is why during the Kargil crisis, despite the strongest efforts of Pakistan, China stayed neutral. This is a clear indication that they have finally recognised the importance of India. Maybe it is because India has now gone nuclear! That is the sad part. No one understands your power unless you show it.

So what do you expect of India?

I would like India to recognise Tibet as an autonomous region within the People's Republic of China. That is not difficult to do. This can be done on the basis of the 1914 Simla Convention in British India which recognized Chinese suzerainty over Tibet on the basis that China recognizes Tibetan autonomy. India should press for that. It should recognize China's suzerainty over Tibet and insist that China must give us full autonomy.

You know why I said I think that India is overcautious? It is because in 1987 and 1988 there was a lot of tension in Tibet. Some Tibetan people were killed. Many were injured. Lots of nations all over the world expressed their concern. But India kept completely quiet. That was not necessary. I felt very sad. It was not a political issue at all. It was a human rights issue and India is always known for standing up on such matters.. The whole world sympathised with us and India, which has otherwise done so much for us, chose to keep quiet. It made me very, very sad.

India is such a big country. It is such a strong country. It is an upright country. It has done the maximum for us Tibetans. Yet why is it not ready to stand up for us on issues like human rights violations?

What is, in your opinion, India's most important contribution to your people -- other than giving you refuge?

Teaching us the importance of non-violence and educating us. I remember Pandit Nehru telling me that if the Tibetan struggle is to succeed we must educate our young people. We must teach them English. We must put them through school and college. Only then can they take the message of a free Tibet worldwide. He was so right.

The fact that the Tibetan struggle is still alive and is, in fact, finding more and more supporters worldwide is exactly because of this. Because we listened to India, because I listened to Pandit Nehru and encouraged young Tibetans to study and learn and take our message all over the world. Education has been the strongest force in binding us all together in this struggle for autonomy and self-realisation and I owe that to your country and your leaders. They showed us the way.

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