Freedom First

‘The Tibetan Triangle’
by Major Geneal (Retd) Eustace D'Souza
(Freedom First. March, 2002)

"We in India who enjoy freedom must continue to support with vigour the aspirations of the people of Tibet"

The recent visit of Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji to India, including Mumbai, is the raison d'être for this article, to remind readers that the docile Tibetans, followers of Lord Gautama, are in serious danger of ethnic cleansing in their own homeland, and their centuries old culture systematically destroyed.The Chinese are going about this pogrom with calculated and alarming persistence, precision and planning while the so-called free world that cherishes its own freedom, pays scant attention to the festering Tibetan problem. The visit of Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji to Mumbai provided an opportunity for this docile and peace loving people that have sought refuge in this land of Lord Buddha, to draw the attention of all lovers of freedom and human rights, to their plight, through the Gandhian method of non violent protest. One hopes that these peaceful demonstrations of protest against the unabashed and ongoing rape of this once peaceful and remote Shangri La, perched on the roof of the world, will have impinged on not only China but also the free world.

Having faced and being engaged in four skirmishes with Communist China's People's Liberation Army during the 1965 War along the high altitude passes on the Sikkim watershed at Natu La, Cho La, and Yak La, and being privy to the steady ethnic cleansing of the Tibetans when a sub unit of his own battalion, the 1st Bn The Maratha Light Infantry was the last to withdraw from Yatung and Gyantse in 1955, this writer has been involved in the Friends of Tibet movement in Mumbai, keen to associate himself with the Tibetan freedom struggle Chinese protests notwithstanding.

His interest in this then mysterious Shangri La began in the fifties when he read with much interest Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschneiter's brilliant book 'Seven Years in Tibet'. He had of course read reports of the 'European' invasion of this mysterious land by Francis Younghusband who led a British/Indian force through Natu La into Tibet establishing the British presence at Yatung, Gyantse and Lhasa. As a regimental historian, he was also privy to very sketchy reports of his own regiment's spells of duty in this once 'forbidden' land.

In 1956, this writer recalls how he accompanied a small escort with a Chinese prisoner who sought repatriation to China, after the Korean Campaign under the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission Scheme. It was in February, in the middle of winter where the only access to Natu La, the handing over point, was over a narrow mule track from mile 5 on what is now the Gangtok-Natu La highway. No officer was allowed to accompany the party but this writer did so in the uniform of a sepoy. To irritate the Chinese at the Pass, the handing-over was deliberately delayed for four hours, to a very irritated Chinese Political Officer dressed in immaculate typical dark blue Chinese uniform and mounted on a caparisoned sturdy Tibetan pony. The superciliousness of the Chinese Officer was evident as he fretted and fumed over the delay.

During the 1965 War against Pakistan, this writer, then a Brigade commander, encountered the PLA in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation when the Chinese moved up 1000 men towards the Pass in an attempt to relieve pressure on the beleaguered Pakistanis in the West. When the Marathas at the Pass did not budge under intense provocation after four skirmishes, quiet descended along the watershed except for the ongoing proxy war. All this is by way of background. On January 3, 1967, the Chinese, using bonded Tibetan labour joined their side of Natu La with a motorable road from the road head in the Chumbi Valley below. Since those days Tibet has undergone a sea change. Using reprehensible means beyond the pale of human rights at even the most basic level, the Chinese Government did all in its power to settle the Han Chinese from Mainland China in Tibet at the expense of the Tibetans. In this coldly calculated plan the Tibetans (6 million) have been outnumbered by the mainland Chinese (7 million), a situation that will be further aggravated when the Gormu-Lhasa railway linking mainland China is completed. It is on record that the Chinese President has stated that though the construction of this rail link is uneconomical, it will be completed and extended to Shigatse and then on to Sinkiang. The labour for this project has been imported from China! Under the guise of improving the lot of the locals of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region, developmental activities are proudly shown to tourists as efforts being made to improve the lot of the Tibetans. This is far from the truth. These developmental activities are meant to enable China to strengthen its stranglehold on this once peaceful land to a point of no return. In doing so thousands of Tibetans have either lost their lives or have sought refuge in India. The rest is history.

That the Chinese are most sensitive to any criticism of their hold on Tibet, their human rights record and other illegal activities as, for instance, using it as a dumping ground for nuclear waste, is too well known to deserve recall. When such issues were raised with a nine member high powered Chinese delegation at a seminar held recently in the University town of Manipal in Karnataka, the reaction of the delegation, when issues relating to Tibet was raised, invariably drew violent reactions of protest. The rape of Tibet, its age-old culture and its people continue, judging from the number of ethnic Tibetans who escape to India. Their stories record vividly the grossest violation of human rights and Chinese sensitivity to any such references drawing strong protests.

When our Mumbai Tibetans held a silent and non-violent hunger strike during the visit of Zhu Rongji, the Mumbai police were explicit in prohibiting any demonstrations in areas being visited by the Chinese Premier. However they were permitted to hold a hunger strike on Azad Maidan where about 200 Tibetan protestors and their Indian friends participated. In his brief address to the protestors, this writer stressed the need never to give up hope. He drew attention to the Tibetan flag with the rising sun as a sign of hope: the sun was not setting but rising. Decrying the fact that the free west chose to keep silent on the rape of Tibet, this writer suggested that the only way to stimulate the involvement of the West in their freedom struggle was to discover oil in Tibet!

The strong urge for justice and the return of freedom to this peace loving people is so strong, that one young protestor, Tenzin Tsundue managed to evade the strong police cordon at the Oberoi Towers in which Zhu Rongji was residing, and clambering up to the tenth floor unfurled a banner demand Tibetan freedom. as a striking and visible form of protest.

It is time that we let the world know that those fleeing Tibet including the Dalai Lama have been given ready refuge in India and that under Indian law they are permitted to demonstrate within the requirements of security and diplomatic convention.

It would be an interesting exercise to ascertain the wishes of the Tibetan people through a neutral body under UN auspices to determine whether these peace loving people want Independence or wish to remain under Chinese rule.

We in India who enjoy freedom must continue to support with vigour the aspirations of the people of Tibet.

For its part, Freedom First has, time and again, drawn the attention of its readers to the continuing rape of Tibet and the systematic destruction of the culture and the people of Tibet.