Rod MacGregor of Dundee SSP puts the case for Tibetan self-determination.
The Indian town of McLeod Ganj takes its very Scottish sounding name from a British military officer, having been a garrison town during British rule in India. Though it is now over six decades since the British state gave up its imperial ambitions in the sub-continent and ended its occupation there, a thread of occupation still runs through the fabric of Mcleod Ganj.
Today, though, the occupation is not one enforced by a conquering imperial army, but consists of refugees fleeing from the occupation of Tibet by the army of the People’s Republic of China.
Mcleod Ganj is a suburb Dharasalam, home of the Tibetan government in exile and of the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, since he fled there from his native Tibet in 1959. Many of the Tibetans in exile there have terrible tales to tell of human rights breaches and atrocities committed by the army of the People’s Republic of China.
There is a DVD called Ce Qu’il Reste De Nous (What Remains Of Us). It is the story of a young Tibetan refugee who was born in India but grew up in Montreal, Canada. She returns to Tibet (using her Canadian passport) with a portable DVD player and a message from the Dalai Lama. She also films the reaction of the Tibetans to the video, all, of course, in secret.
Personal horror story
As an additional feature on the DVD there are interviews with three Tibetans in exile. Each interview is a personal horror story of torture, exile and human rights abuses committed by the Chinese against the Tibetans.
Dawa Khyzom is now a refugee in India after escaping through the mountains. She spent three years in prison for the horrendous crime of bearing a flag during a peaceful demonstration in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.
They took us to the prison, legs and hands tied up. I was with two other nuns. The soldiers wouldn’t stop hitting us all night. They would hit us all over. It’s the same in every prison. They kept us starving while in jail. The only food we had was sandy and rotten.
Tenzin Choedak was sent into exile by his mother, who sacrificed all that she had with the hope that her son could freely go to a Tibetan school. He left Tibet, guided by a Sherpa, by way of Nangpa La’s pass, which lies between Mount Everest and Cho Oyu at a height of 5800 metres.
He describes his perilous journey to India through the vicious cold and heavy snow of the high Himalayas, relating how he arrived there with frostbite and having counted five dead bodies frozen in the snow on his journey. Tenzin Choedak was eight years old at the time of his escape from Tibet.
Instruments of torture
Palden Gyatso is a monk who enraged the Chinese authorities and was imprisoned for 33 years, his “crime” in their eyes being resisting patriotic re-education. After spending all that time in jail he made his escape to India through the mountains. He took with him some of the instruments of torture which he had managed to take from the prison.
On the wall there was all these torture tools. When I asked for my rights a soldier picked up the biggest one and showed me how it worked.. I could see the electricity come out. And then he said, ’Here are your rights.’ He would put it in and out (of his mouth), breaking my teeth. Then he let it in my mouth. The electric shock went through my body and I fainted.
These three people are at least now out of Tibet and the reach of the occupying Chinese forces. But thousands are still imprisoned under this brutal regime for simply demanding their basic human rights and wishing only to be left alone in their own country. The source of all this misery has its roots sixty years ago.
The People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet in 1950, and though life in much of Tibet continued as normal, an uprising in 1959 was brutally put down and the Dalai Lama was spirited away to begin a lifetime of exile from his native land.
Though the accepted mythology has it that there was no resistance to the Chinese invasion, there was, in fact, a fair amount of armed resistance, as Tibetans, backed by the American CIA, fought back. It should not be thought that the Americans were extremely concerned about Tibetan independence, it was just that, as one CIA man put it, one more opportunity to create a running sore for the reds.
This resistance went on for nearly twenty years, but times change, and when US president Richard Nixon visited China in 1972, the writing was on the wall for the CIA sponsored Tibetan resistance movement, leading to the eventual closing down of the operation.
In 1971 the seat of China at the United Nations was taken over from the Republic of China, situated in Taiwan, by the People’s Republic of China. The PRC, as permanent members of the security council, had the right of veto, making it virtually impossible to debate the fate of Tibet at the UN. (Which says much about the democratic structures of that organisation.)
With the lack of any meaningful debate on the question of Tibet at the United Nations, the occupation by the People’s Republic of China has become an almost forgotten occupation. While we have in recent years heard much about the military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Chinese occupation of Tibet rarely makes the headlines in the world press. The United States and China drew ever closer, till in the year 2000, normal trade relations became permanent between them. All of this, it should be noted, against a background of brutal repression by the PRC in Tibet.
But now, the United States and the West had access to the world’s biggest supply of cheap labour and a gigantic new market for their exports.
Tune remained the same
Yet though the partners changed, for the Tibetan people the tune remained the same, and their slow dance of death continued seamlessly, uninterrupted. With this change of partners, however, one of capitalism’s most enduring truths was revealed, namely, that for capitalist elites, the making of millions will always be more important than the lives of millions.
And how those millions and the very land of Tibet itself have suffered at the hands of the Chinese military occupiers!
Since the Chinese invasion over 1.2 million Tibetans have disappeared in labour camps and prisons, been executed, died of starvation or been tortured to death (1 in 5 of the population). With spies and informers everywhere it has been likened to the old Stasi of East Germany. It is very dangerous for Tibetans to talk politics publicly, leading to an almost permanent air of mistrust.
Apart from this racial genocide there is also a parallel cultural genocide taking place simultaneously. Over ten million Han Chinese have immigrated to Tibet, making the Tibetans the minority population in their own land. The very Tibetan language is under threat. In a scene from Ce Qu’il Reste De Nous, a group of university students open up after viewing the secret film.
We’re university students, but since childhood we have studied in Chinese. It has become almost useless to learn our language. People of my generation already have difficulty speaking Tibetan. Imagine how hard it is for those younger than us. I worry about our future.
When a student is asked whether any one of them had ever thought about leaving Tibet he replies that everyone present would very much like to go to India. Beijing has changed the names of rivers and mountains, and for the last three generations Tibet, in tour books and schools, is a suburb of the motherland.
As a further attack on Tibetan culture between 1959 and 1977 the Chinese invaders looted, burned and demolished over 6000 monasteries, leaving only twelve undamaged.
In March 2008, the Channel 4 series, Dispatches, screened an episode entitled, Dispatches: Undercover In Tibet. They discovered a horrific situation, including the forced sterilisation of Tibetan women. This is despite Tibetan women supposedly having exemption from China’s strictly enforced laws concerning birth control.
Forced abortions and sterilisations are commonplace if women cannot afford the fine (the equivalent of £70) for having more than one child. In the programme, one woman, a married farmer, tells her horrific story.
I was forcibly taken away against my will. I was feeling sick and giddy and couldn’t look up. Apparently, they cut the fallopian tubes and stitched them up. It was agonisingly painful. They didn’t use anaesthetic. They just smeared something on my stomach and carried out the sterilisation.
Apart from aspirin for the pain there were no other drugs. I was so frightened, I can’t even remember how I felt. Some people were even physically damaged by the operation. They have limps and have to drag their hips.
Environmentally, too, the Chinese invasion has been a catastrophe for Tibet. Since 1950’s invasion 68% of the forests have been felled. Many rare animals unique to Tibet such as the snow leopard and the wild blue Tibetan sheep are now rarely, if ever, seen. And to add to this woeful tale, China is using Tibet as a dump for its nuclear waste and a store for its nuclear weapons.
Tibet is a land rich in natural resources. Gold, silver, some of the largest reserves of uranium in the world and even some oil have been discovered. But like some colonialist power of old the PRC plunder another’s land to enrich themselves.
Spirit of resistance
But even with all the brutality, oppression, imprisonment without trial, torture and attempts at humiliating the Tibetan people, the spirit of resistance remains, the flame of freedom still burns. In 1989 and again in 2008 the people rose and were brutally and lethally put down by the Chinese military.
The whereabouts of many of those arrested two years ago in 2008 are still unknown but their fate is very unlikely to be a happy one.
Sixty years on from China’s original invasion of Tibet, and fifty years on from the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile, the Dalai Lama now adopts the approach that he would settle for Tibet to be an autonomous region within China, much like Hong Kong is, but the Chinese refuse to negotiate even with this concession. Some more radical elements within Tibet maintain that only independence should be considered if Tibet is to be truly free.
In the third century BC the Chinese began building the Great Wall of China. In the sixty years since the People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet they have been trying as far as possible to build a great wall of silence. Taking over the chair from The Republic of China at the United Nations has been a great help to them in this.
And they are not slow themselves when it comes to imposing censorship. When the uprising of 1989 took place foreign journalists and observers were quickly expelled, allowing China’s human rights violations and violent response to the uprising to go largely unreported in the west.
In the uprising of March 2008, by the seventeenth of the month, all foreigners and journalists had been expelled from Tibet, again making the reporting after that date of Chinese brutality in the repression of the uprising extremely difficult.
But the keystone in this great wall of silence is the complicity of the so-called free world, the west, whatever you wish to call it. As a major trading partner and source of cheap and plentiful labour China must not be offended at any cost. Why should the suffering of a small population at the roof of the world matter when placed against the vast profits to be made for the capitalists by simply ignoring the situation.
As socialists we side with the oppressed against the oppressor, we defend the small and the weak against the big and the powerful.
The Scottish Socialist Party has a great record when it comes to opposing military adventures and occupations. We have opposed the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but this opposition did not mean that by implication that we supported Saddam Hussein or the Taliban.
Our stance was that if change was to come in those countries it had to come from within, from the Iraqi and Afghan peoples themselves.
So, it should follow from this stance that while we should support the Tibetan people in their struggle against brutal repression and occupation, some may not wish to see a free Tibet under the Dalai Lama, though some may.
What we should, however, look for is a free Tibet with the people of Tibet themselves deciding how their country should be run, and not having tyranny and terror forced upon them by an invading army every bit as brutal as anything that the old British or the new American empires ever came up with.
Motion to SSP conference
Conference notes the continuing presence of Chinese military forces in Tibet and also the human rights abuses torture and imprisonment without trial inflicted upon the Tibetan people by their Chinese occupiers. Conference believes that the Chinese military should withdraw from Tibet and that the Tibetan people should be free to decide their own future.