‘Tibetan Protestor Gets too Close to Zhu’
by Natasha Israni
( January 16, 2002)

Tenzin on the Oberoi with flag and banner

Tenzin Tsundue with the Tibetan national flag

'He was tall,
Arms akimbo,
Like the Everest,
I climbed the Everest,
And I was taller,
My hands free'

(This little poem was written by Tenzin Tsundue while he was in police custody, Cuff Parade Police Station, Bombay – January 16th 2002)

Protests by Tibetans in Delhi and Mumbai against Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji's visit to India and the Chinese occupation of Tibet peaked in Mumbai on Wednesday morning.

Tibetan groups in Mumbai such as the Maharashtra Tibetan Refugee Association and Friends of Tibet (INDIA) had earlier announced a 24-hour hunger strike at the Azad Maidan from the time the Chinese Premier arrived in Mumbai on Tuesday and till he leaves on Wednesday evening.

What the Tibetan spokespersons and their Indian supporters hadn't made public, and perhaps weren't aware of themselves, was an attempt by twenty-five-year-old Mumbai University student and Tibetan expatriate Tenzin Tsundue, to highlight the cause of his people.

Tsundue, clad in jeans and a blue T-shirt, managed to reach the 12th Floor of the Oberoi Hotel, where the Chinese Premier and his delegation are staying. Using one of the construction poles outside the building as support, he rigged up a red banner with the logo 'Free Tibet' and waved the flag to a surprised lot of security personnel, the Mumbai police force and casual bystanders.

The incident was all the more embarrassing for the Mumbai police force as police commissioner MN Singh had, just a day earlier, stated that the police was confident of keeping the Tibetan protesters under control and would ensure that nothing out of the ordinary happened. The drama at Oberoi Hotel lasted for almost an hour — between 10 am and 11 am — before security personnel climbed out of the windows, caught Tsundue and arrested him. 'It was a one-man show. The idea and inspiration was Tenzin's alone. He hadn't told anyone else about it. We think he might have managed to go up via the service ladder, we're not sure,' said Aspi B Mistry, a volunteer with the Friends of Tibet (INDIA), soon after the event.

Tsundue, who is the general secretary of the Friends of Tibet (INDIA), is now believed to be at the Colaba or Cuffe Parade Police station. He appears to have quite an individualistic trackrecord so far — he won the 2001 Outlook Picador Award for non-fiction for his collection of patriotic poems — 'Crossing the Border' — which he published on his own in 1999 on a shoestring budget while still pursuing an MA in English Literature at Mumbai University.

The poems depict the life of Tibetan refugees and are marked by the experience of being born in exile and a yearning for his Himalayan homeland. At present, Tsundue is pursuing a second MA — this time in Philosophy — apart from his work for the Friends of Tibet (INDIA) and the pursuance of a career as a writer.

Meanwhile, as part of the protests, around 500 Tibetan and Indian supporters gathered at the Azad Maidan on Tuesday and spent the night there. Out of these, 200 are on hunger strike. Last evening, Yogesh Kamdar of the People's Union for Civil Liberties addressed Tibetans at the Azad Maidan and issued a joint statement on behalf of four non-governmental organisations — Indian Liberal Group, Sarvodaya Movement, Citizens For Democracy and People's Union for Civil Liberties — in support of the Tibetans on hunger strike and their struggle for freedom from China.

Also, on Wednesday morning, while the Premier and his delegation were on their way to the Prince of Wales Museum, South Mumbai, another group of Tibetans staged protests in the Kalaghoda area near the Jehangir Art Gallery. Some of them lay down on the road while a few Tibetan women raced towards the gate of the Prince of Wales Museum and were caught only after they had reached it. The Mumbai police wasn't prepared to handle so many women protesters and had to hurriedly call for more female police personnel. Concerning possible arrests of Tibetan protesters, Sethu Das, Founder/President Friends of Tibet (INDIA) said, 'I'm sure they are prepared for any hardship when arrested.'