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SETHU DAS ON THE CHINESE AGGRESSION ON TIBET
(Interviews: The Epoch Times, Malayalam Weekly, April 2008)
Sethu Das, Founder and President of Friends of Tibet (India).
In India, 'Friends' Speak Up For Tibetans
(By Suman Srinivasan | The Epoch Times, New York | April 06, 2008)
Epoch Times: What do you believe is the background for the protests in March?
Sethu Das: There seem to be a lot conspiracy theories around about the origin of the recent protests in Tibet. The Chinese government blames His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan government-in-exile in India for "masterminding" the Lhasa protests. However hard the Chinese government tries, I do not think they can influence the minds of the thinking people in this world. The protests in Tibet are only a sign of a larger issue China is facing today, not only from occupied Tibet, but also from Taiwan, East Turkestan, Inner Mongolia, and other minority areas. The suppression of Falun Dafa practitioners is another serious concern. Most human rights violations in China go unnoticed as most people and governments are comfortable doing business with one of the most brutal governments in the world, rather than exposing its crimes against humanity.
Epoch Times: What do you think really happened on March 14? Do you think there were really "riots" as the Chinese government says?
Sethu Das: I have strong objection to the usage of the word "riots" to describe the recent happenings in Tibet. There was a deliberate attempt from China to reduce the Tibetan people's uprising to mere "riots." The uprising of a people cannot be seen as a riot. And what has happened and continues to happen in Lhasa and other areas of occupied Tibet is not a riot between two communities. The Tibetan protesters in Tibet are not fighting the ordinary Chinese people on the streets of Lhasa. Instead they are rising up against a regime which illegally occupied their country and ruled for the last five decades.
Epoch Times: Why is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cracking down on the Tibetans now? What is your view?
Sethu Das: We have only seen the CCP cracking down on the Tibetans. In the days to come, we'll witness the CCP hunting the dissidents in Xinjiang. The Uyghurs have already started an armed uprising following the death of Mutallip Hajim, a prominent Uyghur philanthropist who died in the police custody. The Chinese government will crackdown on everyone including the Falun Dafa practitioners before the Olympics on the pretext of national security. The CCP has already branded Muslims and Tibetans as terrorists. The coming days will be crucial for both China and all those freedom loving people inside and outside China.
Epoch Times: We have read that young Tibetans do not accept the Dalai Lama's "middle way" approach of trying to negotiate for autonomy in Tibet along the lines of "one country, two systems." What approach to the future of Tibet does the Friends of Tibet take? Why?
Sethu Das: It is true that most Tibetans do not agree with the Dalai Lama's middle-way approach to the issue of Tibet. I think it is only the Tibetans in exile and some Tibet support groups confused about the terminologies—Middle Way and Independence. There is absolutely no confusion inside Tibet. Everyday Tibetans are dying and being imprisoned for demanding "independence." I am not aware of any individual Tibetan inside Tibet either killed or imprisoned for demanding a genuine Autonomous Tibet.
As an organization, Friends of Tibet has always stood with the people of Tibet and continues to demand Independence simply because independence is the demand of six million Tibetans living and suffering under a brutal regime. I do not think it is the duty of any Friends of Tibet member or a supporter to make Tibet a part of the PRC, simply because, Tibet is already a part of China at least officially.
Epoch Times: Do you have any comments about the Indian government's attitude towards the Tibetan issue? Do you believe that the Indian Left is being influenced by the Chinese Communist regime and putting pressure on the government?
Sethu Das: I feel proud of what a developing country like India has done for refugee communities in general. Though legally we do not recognize the term "refugee," we have done more than refugee status can for all those who were seeking asylum in this country. We have refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tibet, China, Sudan, Iran, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and many other countries. And we have our own people from Kashmir and Sri Lanka living here as refugees. This support of the Indian government is only at a monetary level, not at a political level. Our foreign policy is only to appease brutal governments. Our government spends millions to maintain good relations with the military junta in Burma, military regimes in China and Musharaff-led Pakistan. Once democratic governments come into existence, naturally the Indian government will change its stand. This is the double standard most governments follow. Most governments prefer to be with the rulers than with the people regardless of whether its a military regime or a democratically elected government.
The left in India is bankrupt and influenced by China. Their relationship is of mutual benefit as they see each other as the last communists in the world. But things are changing. Just two days ago, in a discussion on Tibet organized by Friends of Tibet in South India, a very prominent communist Member of the Indian Parliament openly criticized China's recent aggression on Tibet. He even stated that the ongoing violence in Tibet has nothing to do with the upcoming Olympics but is a genuine people's movement for freedom. So there is hope. There is a webpage on Friends of Tibet with more about the discussion.
Sethu Das, Founder & President of Friends of Tibet (India) speaking during the discussion on 'Chinese Aggression on Tibet' organised jointly by Friends of Tibet and Design & People at Lumiere, Ernakulam on April 29, 2008.
Epoch Times: Despite the Indian government's kowtowing to its election allies, the Indian Communist Parties, and the Chinese Communist Party, it appears that the Indian media and general public have come out strongly in favor of the Tibetans' rights and are supportive of boycotting and protesting the Olympics Torch that is coming to India soon. Given your recent travel across the country for the Tibetans, what reactions have you seen to the Tibetan issue and the Olympics Torch?
Sethu Das: First of all we should not underestimate the willingness and power of the ordinary people in this country. This is one of the reasons why Friends of Tibet spends more time speaking to ordinary people in India about the issue of Tibet than to decision-makers. The Indian public and the media were always sympathetic to the Tibetan cause, except in the case of few communist mouthpieces published from Kerala and West Bengal and with The Hindu Daily. Perhaps The Hindu is the only national newspaper which uses the language of the Chinese Communist Party. If you look at the previous editions of The Hindu you can see the editor of the newspaper calling the Falun Dafa ... and the Dalai Lama a "Devil." This is not the language of Indian media and Indians. We do not use this language even to describe terrorists. The language adapted by The Hindu is the language of Chinese Communist Party. Fortunately, in spite of all these attempts by our fellow leftists, the people in this country remain untouched by the Communist propaganda.
India has a history of boycotting Japanese goods during Japan's aggression on China and today there are thousands of Indians boycotting Chinese goods to protest China's Tibet occupation. What I am trying to say is that the people in this country have always responded to political situations in a responsible manner. And they will continue to do so. Regarding the Olympic torch, I must admit that there is a mixed feeling. A parallel torch is being viewed as anti-sports by sports personalities and sports lovers. At the same time most thinking people look at the event as a repetition of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which was used by the Nazis for their propaganda. For the host country, the Beijing 2008 Olympics has nothing to do with sports but their propaganda the one and the only chance to show a united China to the international community.
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Sethu Das addressing a hunger-strike organised by Tibet Solidarity Committee in New Delhi in April 2008 to protest the Chinese aggression on Tibet. (Photo: Liz Roy)
(Malayalam Weekly of The New Indian Express, April 2008)
Friends of Tibet is a people's movement for an Independent Tibet. Sethu Das who is a Malayali is the president of this organization as well as one of the founding members. When this writer contacted him he was in Dharamshala. From a telephone interview with Sethu Das:
K Haridas: Is it just coincidental that the protests happen with the Olympic Games?
Sethu Das: Lets at first look at China. From a statement of the Foreign Affairs minister of China thousands of protests took place in China and in other occupied areas during the last two years. Many separatist movements have taken birth inside mainland China. There are many boiling problems going on and on. We should see the current protests along with them. It's true that the Olympic Torch passes on through Tibet. But one should not see Tibet protests in isolation. There were protests not only in Lhasa but also in other different parts of occupied-Tibet and in north-west Xinjiang. The situation is pathetic. Mobile pictures and emails reveal the same desperate situation.
K Haridas: Can we think that the Tibetan condition was worse after the corporate capitalist policies of the Chinese Communist Party after the death of Mao?
Sethu Das: China's greatest paradox today is the present condition of open economy and closed society. In my opinion no country can open up its economy while keeping its society closed. What China does today is this. They have opened their economy with a great speed. The society still remains closed. Even now the Chinese society is banned from knowing certain truths. Many websites and blogs are banned in China. The Chinese population is unaware of what is happening inside their own land. The situation is some what similar in America too.
Once I asked one of my American friends to get a copy of the book 'People's History of the United States' by Howard Zinn. He gave me the book only after a time lapse of two weeks. When I enquired about the delay, he replied: “I was afraid whether you would ever speak to me again after reading this book!” What the white man did to the Red Indians was that cruel. Let's think that all these happened in the olden times. Even today does the average American citizen know about the atrocities it has committed in Iraq? So every government has the same way of hiding information from its own people in varying amounts. For the Chinese they don't have any problem in massacring their own people. In reality what they intend is the land in Tibet. It's with the hidden agenda of China to place them geographically near to India and is not out of any love for the Tibetans.
K Haridas: What is your opinion on the criticism as Tibet becoming the global waste dump due to the recent policies and plans?
Sethu Das: Let's look at Tibet trough the eyes of the Tibetans. Environmental studies have shown that Tibet is literally becoming a dumping ground for toxic waste. Recently I had the opportunity to talk to some of the former political prisoners from Tibet. They have treaded a long way through these waste heaps. They don't know whether those waste dumps are nuclear or not. There is a possibility. Certainly this is not only the specialty of the Chinese government. Isn't the situation somewhat similar in Kerala too?
Another environmental problem which is going to happen is the plan to divert certain rivers by the Chinese government. The ultimate aim behind diversion is to bring water to Beijing, thus improving the luxuries of cities. This has become the basic policy of Chinese policy makers. I recently met a young monk who lived in a village which was in the outskirts of the capital city Lhasa. He told me that there was still no electricity in his village. All the electricity was sent Beijing! But, Lhasa city too has a part. Big shopping malls, bars and brothels have come up there. A railway has been built from Beijing to Lhasa. It is said to be one of the greatest engineering wonders in the world. But how many Tibetans have the luxury to travel in such trains? Isn't like Rajdhani Express or Palace on Wheels? Certainly these are not the specialties of a single country.
K Haridas: Isn't the movement headed by the Dalai Lama voicing mainly the problems of religion and are keeping quiet in the most important economic matters concerning the nation?
Sethu Das: There is an exile government headed by the Dalai Lama functioning from India. They are handling all these matters including the issues concerning the religion and of Buddhist monasteries. But it is true that the major share is for religious freedom.
K Haridas: The Dalai Lama asks for self governance and not independence. What is the stand of your organization the 'Friends of Tibet' has on this topic?
Sethu Das: See, Friends of Tibet has no responsibility to make Tibet a part of China. Tibet is already a part of People's Republic of China. The need is for separation. But sometimes I feel that the 'Genuine Autonomy' His Holiness the Dalai Lama is demanding is much beyond independence. The autonomy that Dalai Lama demands for are the rights for a separate nation itself.
K Haridas: Aren't the non-violent measures of the Dalai Lama starting to give unhappy end in his followers?
Sethu Das: I don't think so. I think his supporters are still the same at large. The slogan of the protesters in the recent protests inside Tibet is: 'The return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and the freedom of Tibet'!
K Haridas: Isn't the Dalai Lama who is supposed to speak on all atrocious acts; keeping quiet on the mass killings which America does in Iraq?
Sethu Das: Never. He has severely criticized the United States on the issue. He has given much criticism on the subject even though he maintains good relations. Probably he is the only spiritual leader who opposed capital punishment and called for amnesty for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
K Haridas: Doesn't the Dalai Lama receive financial aid from the global powers like America?
Sethu Das: See, the problem with the Dalai Lama is that he does see people like Saddam Hussein and George Bush alike. He does not see a difference. He sees men as equals. In the past I have discussed the issue of 'foreign funds' with Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, Kalon Tripa de facto the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. My opinion is that the financial aid that Tibet receives from the United States and the European Union is to be seen only from the critics' angle. I have asked Prof Rinpoche the logic behind accepting funds from the foreign powers which continue to invade smaller nations. The freedom Tibet is going to achieve with help of those powers will not be permanent. Take the case of Poland. After securing freedom with the help of the international community, Poland was among the first to send its army to Iraq to help the coalition forces engaged in the invasion of Iraq.
K Haridas: Has the Chinese Communist Party made Chinese settlements in Tibet to solve the problems of nationality?
Sethu Das: Population transfer is a popular methodology of China. In Lhasa alone there are more Han Chinese than native Tibetans. A former minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile told me that if you travel by the border areas of Tibet you will hardly see a Tibetan face there.
K Haridas: Isn't there a chance for a suppression of the protests as in the Tiananmen Square?
Sethu Das: That's our fear. What had happened in Myanmar could happen in Tibet also. In Myanmar there is a long silence after a sudden outburst. The Chinese regime could suppress all sorts of protests like the one in Tiananmen Square. Then the people will forget all these. These are serious concerns. The greatest threat the Tibetan people is now facing is to keep the spirit of protest alive and going.
K Haridas: In the end, how did you get in this society called the 'Friends of Tibet'?
Sethu Das: In 1995 when I was working with The Economic Times, I had an opportunity to be at Dharamshala. The unforgettable sights and the unbelievable facts affected me greatly. I saw many who had lost their limbs in the tortures. Later I became a regular visitor there. Thus that became a way of befriending with the Tibet. Now the Friends of Tibet has 21 national and seven international chapters.
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Friends of Tibet, PO Box 16674, Bombay 400050, India.
Friends of Tibet is a people's movement to keep alive the issue of Tibet through direct action. Our activities are aimed at ending China's occupation of Tibet and the suffering of the Tibetan people. Friends of Tibet supports the continued struggle of the Tibetan people for independence. Friends of Tibet is also one of the principal organisers of World Tibet Day around the world.