Tibet: The Gandhi Way – by Anupma Kaushik

Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, Tibetan Prime Minister in exile

Tibet represents one of the unresolved problems of the world. On the one hand are the Tibetans led by the Dalai Lama who claim that Tibet was an independent country which was annexed by a stronger neighbour, i.e. China. They also claim that their efforts for finding a solution through peaceful negotiations are not reciprocated by China. They fear that China is pursuing the policy of total assimilation of the Tibetan people and their culture ruthlessly suppressing any opposition and waiting for the demise of the Dalai Lama. They also claim that the Autonomous Tibetan Region (TAR) in China does not enjoy any real autonomy. The Chinese on the other hand claim that Tibet has always been an integral part of China and TAR enjoys real autonomy and the Tibetan people have been benefiting from modern education and economic development since 1950. Any resistance to Chinese authority by Tibetans is termed by Chinese as a revolt by traditional forces.

The strategy of the Tibetans led by the Dalai Lama so far has been to pressurize the Chinese government through the international community to respect human rights of Tibetans and to negotiate with the Dalai Lama on granting meaningful autonomy to TAR. This strategy has failed to produce any positive results. So the question is: how can the Chinese side be persuaded to negotiate a peaceful and mutually acceptable solution which in this case is achievement of meaningful territorial autonomy ? Can China be convinced that a peaceful and mutually acceptable solution will earn it legitimacy and respect in the world? This is highly unlikely. Can the issue be left to the future with the hope that by some chance China may turn into a democratic country and the new democratic leadership will realize that a peaceful approach is the best way forward to the solution of the problem. This too is quite unlikely.

The Tibetan leadership claims that they are pursuing a nonviolent struggle to gain meaningful autonomy but their efforts are clearly not bearing the desired results. Can the Gandhian method show the way forward? The question then is what would Gandhi have done in such a scenario. Truth and nonviolence were the main planks of Gandhi’s method. A person who resolves to adhere to truth cannot remain silent at the sight of violence and injustice. While the lover of truth ought to oppose violence and injustice such an opposition would mean ‘fight the evil’ but ‘love the evil doer’. The lovers of truth or satyagrahis will base their actions on self-suffering using soul force.

What form would it take? What steps can satyagrahis take? Can Tibetan satyagrahis and their friends resort to a boycott of Chinese goods? Will that persuade China to rethink the whole issue or should the Tibetan satyagrahis and their friends try and convince the whole world that only a total boycott of Chinese goods by the whole world can persuade China to rethink the whole issue. But the big question is: will the world listen to satyagrahis? It seems to be a very difficult task taking into consideration the popularity of cheap Chinese products; the large size of the Chinese market; the economic strength of China; the ruthlessness of the Chinese regime and selfishness of human beings and governments.

However, almost the same scenario existed in pre-independence India. When Gandhi talked about these tactics he was ridiculed and criticized by Indians themselves. People doubted his methods and were convinced that they cannot work. However Gandhi walked his talk. He led by example and lived his talk through simple life style; his readiness to face police batons; endure imprisonment and hardships and even face death for his conviction. This inspired a whole nation; people started using Indian goods instead of cheap foreign goods; joined the protest marches; left their jobs and studies; went to jail and even courted death. This included men as well as women; young as well as old; rich as well as poor; urban as well as rural people; and educated as well as illiterate. This inspired Martin Luther King Jr in USA and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Can it also inspire the Tibetan leadership to engage in satyagraha with single mindedness and then ask their followers and friends inside and outside Tibet to follow.

In the Tibetan case this is the most feasible method as the Gandhian method does not aim at defeating the opponent but forging unity out of division. This is very important as Tibetans will have to live with the Chinese even after they have achieved their aim. The issue then is whether the Tibetans are ready to put their heart and soul in their cause. Are they ready to make the sacrifice and then convince the world to make the smaller sacrifice?

Dr. Anupma Kaushik is a Reader at Banasthali University, Rajasthan, India. She worked for three and half years at the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath.

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Categories: Politics & Democracy, South Asia

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