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Needed: Poorna Swaraj for Tibet
Claude Arpi
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June 29, 2007

If you have visited Dharamsala or any other place where Tibetan refugees live, you would have had the opportunity to hear modern Tibetan songs. The uncommon blend of traditional Tibetan tunes with a contemporary beat is particularly enjoyable. Although one is unable to grasp the lyrics, one can notice a word coming up again and again in all songs -- rangzen. It means 'independence' in Tibetan.

Every young Tibetan longs for rangzen, even though nearly 20 years ago, the Dalai Lama had made his famous Strasbourg Proposal.

In front of the European Parliament in 1988, he dropped for the first time his insistence on an independent status for Tibet, by stating: 'The whole of Tibet known as Cholka-Sum (U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo) should become a self-governing democratic political entity founded on law by agreement of the people for the common good and the protection of themselves and their environment, in association with the People's Republic of China.'

The Tibetan leader has not gone back on this commitment, but the Tibetans continue to dream of rangzen. At the same time, the communist leadership in Beijing [Images] is dragging its feet in opening meaningful negotiations with Dharamsala.

Five rounds of 'dialogue' between the Dalai Lama's representatives and Beijing's officials have led nowhere except perhaps to an acknowledgement of a larger than expected gap between the two sides.

For Beijing today, there is no question of giving to the people of Tibet the autonomy promised 50 years ago by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai.

This was the background of the first two-day 'Conference for an Independent Tibet' organised by Friends of Tibet at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi on June 23 and 24.

The organisers had announced: 'The conference will have a sharper focus and seek to bring in organisations and individuals who are genuinely opposed to the Chinese occupation of Tibet and support the ongoing Tibetan struggle for independence inside Tibet.

"The conference will try seeking answers to questions surrounding the Tibetan movement and work towards building a stronger network of organisations and individuals who aspire for a free and an independent Tibet.'

Friends of Tibet, an NGO-based in India received a message from the Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama stating that the Tibetan leader has always encouraged democracy and the expression of different point of views.

Interestingly, one of the issues on which the talks between Dharamsala and Beijing stumble is 'democracy'. The Dalai Lama has clearly stated that unless Tibet becomes a self-governing democratic political entity 'founded on law by agreement of the people for the common good', the Tibetan people will not be able to enjoy a genuine autonomy.

More than 300 people -- mostly Tibetans and Indians from different walks of life attended the conference.

A passport which belonged to Tsepon Shakabpa, the Tibetan government's envoy in the 1940sRajeev Vora, a prominent Gandhian and founder of Swaraj Peeth inaugurated the conference by unveiling a passport which belonged to Tsepon Shakabpa, the Tibetan government's envoy in the 1940s.

This passport is one of the surviving legal documents proving that Tibet's independent status was recognised by the Western powers. Vora explained why he was supporting the Tibetan cause: "The struggle for an independent Tibet is a search for truth."

Another interesting document from the British Archives was shown during the conference. In December 1949, a British MP asked the UK government what the legal status of Tibet was. The minister for commonwealth relations reiterated: 'Since the Chinese Revolution of 1911, when Chinese forces were withdrawn from Tibet, Tibet has enjoyed de facto independence. She has ever since regarded herself as in practice completely autonomous and has opposed Chinese attempts to reassert control.'

When the parliamentary question and its answer were shown to KPS Menon (India's first foreign secretary and grand-father of the present foreign secretary), Menon declared: 'This should be given wide publicity', thereby acknowledging that the position of the Government of India was the same.

Another prominent Gandhian, Radha Bhatt, chairperson of the Gandhi Peace Foundation described the time when the borders between Uttarakhand, where she grew up, and Tibet were non-existent. Cross-cultural exchanges were constant and people could freely move from one side of the border to the other. After Tibet was invaded, these cross-border movements were stopped; new rules and regulations are being added everyday, she complained, making it impossible to keep the century-old contacts with Tibet. She movingly added: 'The need to free Tibet is also the need to free India, give me back the culture I grew up with.'

Lawrence Liang, legal researcher of Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore, mentioned that as a kid in Bangalore where his parents, of Chinese origin, ran a noodle shop, he came into contact with Tibetans refugees. It is what motivated him to study the Tibetan case in international law.

For him, the international community has weakened Tibet's case by recognising China's de facto sovereignty over Tibet as de jure sovereignty. The Strasbourg Proposal further does help Tibet's case as the Tibetan people themselves surrendered its rightful right to self-determination.

Several other speakers highlighted the deadlock of the present negotiations and the lack of trust in the present authoritarian regime in Beijing which will be organising the Olympics [Images] next year.

They all agreed on one aspect of the Tibetan struggle: the urgency of the situation. With the arrival of the train in Lhasa, it is only a question of a few years before Tibet faces the same fate as the Native Americans after the opening of the railway line in the West of the United States in the 19th century.

Today, the 'first Americans' live in reserves where they are reduced to perform for American tourists. Next year more than two million Chinese 'tourists' are expected to visit the Roof of the World. Is it any different?

When one looks at what is happening in Tibet today, with the train bringing lakhs of migrants, the environmental degradation, the threat to divert rivers, the militarisation of the plateau, the marginalisation of the Tibetan people in their own country, the situation has never been so gloomy and critical.

Many speakers noted that the situation is gloomy not only for the Tibetans, but also for India which acquired a new neighbour in 1950.

The Conference Resolution asked for recognising Tibet as a colony. Quoting the UN Resolution of 7th February 1995 on 'Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples' adopted by the UN General Assembly, it called upon the United Nations and other international bodies to take action to remove the last vestiges of colonialism.

According to this Resolution, ratified by China, it was 'one of the priorities of the Organisation for the decade that began in 1990'.

The conference pointed out that: 'Realising that complete independence (Poorna Swaraj) under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and with the help of India and other members of the freedom-loving world community is the only hope for Tibet.'

Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, the Dalai Lama's special envoys have been summoned to Beijing soon after the conference. According to the statement of the Dalai Lama's Office, the envoys received instructions from the Dalai Lama during an audience on June 26, 2007, and are due to leave soon.

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