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Tibetan self-immolations expose Chinese repression: Tenzin Tsundue
The Tibetans, who have for long waged a non-violent resistance to attain independence from China, have of late, tried to build pressure on the communist country by indulging in self-immolations. Calling it a criminal act, Chinese authorities, on the other hand, arrest people who they believe would indulge in self-immolations. In this interview with Tenzin Tsundue, a well-known India-based Tibetan activist; citizen journalist Ashim Sunam tries to understand the strategy behind self-immolations and the overall idea of Tibetan independence movement.

Since 2009, more than 100 Tibetan monks have set themselves on fire. Is this Tibet's way of pressurizing the Chinese government? Does it guarantee success to Tibet?

The Tibetan self-immolations are a unique response by the people of Tibet, which is deeply spiritual, based on Buddhist practice of compassion and altruism, shaped by Tibetan tradition of warriorship. Unlike the violence that is prevalent around the world – state or organizational terrorism – the Tibetans offer their lives, that too in this most brutal fiery death.

Like all acts of resistance, strength lies in the brutal insistence on truth, and speaking to the conscience of the enemy. No methods of resistance guarantee success, only non-violence can, even when you fail politically.

The Chinese are considering self immolations as a criminal act and are arresting friends of the immolators, and destroying TV satellite connections as well. This reflects that the Chinese do not want further immolations. Will the Tibetans ever stop such acts before attaining independence?

The occupation forces do everything to defend their power control; the Britishers used to criminalise Indian freedom fighters' acts of dissent, including the Salt Satyagraha movement. The Tibetan self-immolations expose Chinese repression. China has not only occupied Tibet, but the ever expanding Chinese production empire now needs Tibetan land, animals, rivers and as they take them away they try to suppress Tibetan voices.

When a rape victim fights back for survival will you ask the victim to stop fighting or will try to stop the criminal from perpetrating the violence?

The self-immolation in October of 26-year-old Sangye Gyatso was said to be master-minded by Tibetan Youth Congress. Do political outfits encourage such acts?

Like The Hindu newspaper you are also quoting Chinese news agency Xinhua which made such baseless accusations. Since you subscribe to Chinese media you must have by now found out that the Chinese media never quote opinions of the 99 self-immolators who have left behind last statements in the form of text, audio and video records. The slogans they shouted demanded freedom for Tibet and return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Instead of investigating why so many self-immolations are happening, what are the demands of the self-immolators the Chinese authority as usual blames “outside forces”?

The Tibetans for long have been fighting peacefully; still the Chinese government is not listening to your demands. Will this increase the chances of the movement becoming violent?

Freedom is never given, it’s always fought for and constantly protected. I have never believed that the power hungry Chinese despots would relent one day. The Chinese dictators are taking advantage of the dictatorship in making as much money while they are in power. They know the regime is not lasting long. Like in Tibet, Chinese people's struggle for freedom and democracy is also becoming more aggressive and confrontational.

Many claim that the future of Tibet is uncertain after His Holiness the Dalai Lama renounced political authority. So, how important is the current phase of the movement?

The present phase of the Tibetan freedom movement is crucial as our Government in Exile runs with complete political authority after His Holiness the Dalai Lama renounced his political authority in 2011. The struggle must gather strength and become self-reliant. We all believe that we will be able to return to Tibet during the life-time of His Holiness. If it doesn't work out like that, the Tibetan struggle is likely to become more aggressive and chart different paths which will challenge China as never before.

China claims that it is His Holiness the Dalai Lama who is instigating the unrest. Is it true?

The sixty years of Chinese occupation of Tibet has not only caused irreparable damage to Tibetan culture and environment, but today Tibetans are reduced to minority in their own country, as millions of Chinese immigrant workers have been settled down in Tibet. Today, Tibetans fear their culture and are battling for survival. If the Tibetans seek inspiration from the exemplary non-violent thought and action from their leader the Nobel peace laureate His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is it wrong? His Holiness the Dalai Lama is teaching non-violence to the whole world. Should China be more insecure?

Even after 60 years of Chinese rule in Tibet, the Chinese government has only been able to create fear and suspicion in the minds of their Tibetan subjects, while for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is living in India for the past 53 years, people's love and faith has only increased. China has every reason to be jealous and be insecure on one man – His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Why have many countries urged China to talk to Dalai Lama but not supported Tibetan independence openly. Why are they silent?

Asking China to talk to the Dalai Lama is a small politics to taunt the Chinese dictators from whom they want better trade deals. Not supporting Independence of Tibet is to keep alive their business interests in China. None of the western governments at the moment would want Independence of Tibet which may inspire Mongolians and the people of the East Turkestan’s unity and Independence. These three occupied countries put together make half of China's landmass. Industries of the world are able to make cheap ‘Made in China’ products by partly draining natural resources from these occupied countries and by slave labouring the Chinese people. Which country would want to disturb this treasure house?

Are you ready to compromise on your demands or attaining Tibetan Independence is an ultimate goal of the movement?

Like all 206 independent countries in the world our dream for Independence is as simple. Only an independent Tibet can truly guarantee the survival of the Tibetan nation. Why should our dreams be smaller and yours bigger?

Have you ever thought of gathering Tibetans from all around the world and protest on a major scale like never before? What are the future plans, if nothing works out?

The one lakh fifty thousand Tibetans around the world are united and work together in coordination every single day. Sometimes an issue is raised in Japan, and by the time it comes to us in India as the daylight passes over this part of the world we gather information and make sense of it by approaching from different angle. We then hand it over to our people and supporters in Europe. They take it to different heads of the governments and international media. By the time it had snowballed in America and Australia, the issue would have become an international one exposing China of its atrocities in Tibet.

Today when the world has more need of China's cheap labour and free natural resources we are challenged beyond measure. But, we know the Chinese empire is once again crumbling, this time under the pressure of globalization. We will return home to a free Tibet soon.

(The picture for the story was taken by Ashwini Bhatia)

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