For almost half a decade, India has been home to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, along with 200,000 Tibetan refugees. Two years ago a support group was formed by young Indians who want to do more to help the cause. Pravit Rojanaphruk talks to Prashant Varma, Organisational Secretary of the Friends of Tibet (INDIA), who was in Bangkok recently to exchange views and experiences with Buddhist groups in Thailand about the role of Indian citizens in helping to win Tibetan Independence from China. Excerpts follow:
Q: What is the aim of your group, and how are you going to achieve it?
A: The Tibetans have been in India for 45 years. Until now there has never been a Tibetan support group in India, even though Indian communities have done so much. We have not really adopted a very strong stance. India is such a diverse society that nobody bothers to ask why such and such a person is in their country.
Secondly, India and Tibet have enjoyed close cultural and historical relationships for thousands of years. Tibet got Buddhism from India, and India has a responsibility for the suffering of its neighbours, especially when the cause is just and the path is non-violent. In March 1999, a few friends got together and decided that we should publicly support the Tibetan cause. Indians should know whatís happening inside Tibet. We want good conditions where Tibetans can lead their lives in a social and cultural context.
We donít have any membership fees. I donít work on a salary. Our website is our office. The aim of our programmes is awareness of Tibetan problems through arts, culture, seminars, photo exhibitions etc. Most Indians donít know that weíre spending more money guarding the border with China than that with Pakistan.
Q: Many think the Tibetan cause is futile because every government wants to please China and penetrate its market.
A: No, itís not like that. To me it seems that the Tibetan struggle is more like a pilgrimage. I am not confronting the Chinese people but the government and Western multinational corporations whose views are rooted in ignorance and greed.
Itís not that all Chinese are bad and enemies to the Tibetans. Itís a struggle rooted in a spiritual consciousness. Itís a struggle about truth and justice. Policies are very relative terms: they just pass away with time.
Q: But Western governments, and even Thailand, wonít discuss the Tibetan issue when meeting their Chinese counterparts
A: Even the Indian government wonít officially bring up the issue. But I feel our efforts are not to change the governmentís policies. Our task is to transform the view of the common man.
Q: What do you think of Tibetan youths who are increasingly calling for armed struggle as they are disenchanted with the Dalai Lama?
A: Some Tibetan youths are critical of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but they are sincere. I personally feel that if violence is used, in the short term it will work but in the long term it will create disharmony, because thereís no genuine reconciliation. Looking at it in a spiritual way, patience is a very important aspect of spiritual struggle. The most important thing is that, if the cause is based on truth and justice, non-violence is the only path.
Q: Media Mogul Rupert Murdoch was once quoted in Vanity Fair magazine as saying that the Dalai Lama is Ďa very political monk running amok in Gucci slippersí. How do you respond?
A: I have tremendous respect, devotion to and admiration for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I think the question of Gucci shoes would not arise if Rupert Murdoch had a chance to meet His Holiness, because meeting His Holiness transforms oneís inner conscious. His Holiness is truly a bodhisattva.
Q: What lessons have you learned from your activities so far?
A: Itís very strange when I look back on it now. It was more like external involvement as a student, as an activist. But over the years it has become more like an inner journey to me. Tibetan people to me represent a tradition which is very ancient and very reflective of wisdom, compassion and humility, which sustains them through all hardships. So I have personally gained a lot and feel more strongly about the basis of this struggle. It is not just losing their homeland but losing the past. As Indians, or as human beings, we have responsibility toward other human beings, and we canít just ignore othersí suffering. Through learning about other peopleís suffering, or helping them, we can also heal our own suffering.
Q: Many who support the Tibetan cause seem oblivious to the fact that traditional Tibetan culture is rather oppressive and centres around the god-king figure of the Dalai Lama and that this is part of the reason that the Chinese invaded Tibet and claimed they were Ďliberatingí it?
A: I am not very well read, but while there was some oppressive policy, on the whole I think the people were very happy. People had a lot of freedom, and I feel that His Holiness has been strongly advocating and trying to bring about democracy. Heís very clear in his view that when they go back to Tibet it will be entirely up to the people. He will stay out of politics. But a god-king, or a dharmaraja? If he is very good, you cannot have a better ruler than that. Thatís why His Holiness is constantly reminding people that heís a simple monk and just wants to be a monk.
Prashant Varma is the Organisational Secretary of Friends of Tibet (INDIA) and can be contacted at