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'I see fire in the eyes of the Tibetans'
Vicky Nanjappa in Byalakuppe
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March 19, 2008 02:47 IST
Last Updated: March 19, 2008 23:12 IST

Nawang Sithar left his motherland, Tibet [Images], and came to India as a refugee in 1960, a year after the March 10, 1959 uprising. The 70-year-old has witnessed three major protests by Tibetans -- first in 1959, then 1987 and the present day uprising in Lhasa. According to him, the ongoing protest could be the most effective and the toughest.

Sithar, who spoke with the help of a translator, told "When the 1959 protests took place, I was in Tibet. We had a good number of people and China was not that well established then. However, we were overpowered and many of us were forced to leave our homes. It was with a heavy heart that I left my homeland for India.

I settled down at Byalakuppe near Mysore, which today has the largest Tibetan settlement in the world after Tibet. We had almost lost hope until our leaders told us to continue our fight. From day one, we believed in a peaceful protest and the news about Tibetans turning violent just cannot be believed.

From the time I settled down here, I have had a lot to do. The Indian government was kind enough to help us out. We did put in a lot of hard work to build this settlement. All along we lived in hope that we would some day return to our homeland.

However, nothing really happened after that until 1987 when the Dalai Lama [Images] announced the Five Point Peace Plan. It was clear that the fight for Tibet would be a peaceful one. We really hoped that this time the Chinese would come around and grant us what we have been seeking for. It became evident that we were no more seeking independence of Tibet.

The Dalai Lama said he was ready for meaningful autonomy of Tibet. There were a large number of Tibetans, who were not in favour of this idea while others felt this would be a better option.

Although we saw hope in all our previous endeavours, I feel this time something positive is bound to come out. It is very unfortunate that so many of our men have lost their lives during the struggle. Let me assure you that no Tibetan will ever instigate violence.

The current battle is going to be the toughest and I see fire in the eyes of the Tibetans, as they are determined to make their point. I know China is more prepared this time and from what I hear and read, I also realise that they are more stubborn than before.

I personally feel that China cannot afford any embarrassment this time, considering the fact that the Olympics [Images] is round the corner. The more they subdue us, the more embarrassed they are going to be.

Since the Olympics is round the corner, I personally feel that China may give in a bit if not fully. However, it all depends on the youth of Tibet and also the manner in which men in power handle the issue. We have only hope and determination left and cannot rely on man power as we have become a minority in Tibet also.

Although there are indications that protests will go on till the Olympics, I feel that the heat should be on. We have gone quiet in the past and this has worked well for the Chinese. Although I have spent most of my life in India, I still do not have this sense of belonging. We have set up hospitals, schools, cooperative societies over here, but if we are given our country back, then we will have no hesitation in leaving everything behind and returning to our home land.

The land here does not belong to us (it is leased) and neither are we allowed to purchase any property over here, as we have refugee status. Hence it is impossible for us to have a sense of belonging over here. When we came here in 1960, we had to think of ways to earn a living. Agriculture was our only hope. We thought that by the time we got a crop, it would be time for us to return to Tibet. However, that did not happen."

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