After being on a hunger strike for 12 days at Jantar Mantar, Tsewang Dolma, information and international relation secretary of Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), was forcibly taken to the hospital by the Delhi Police on 21 September, after she started showing signs of extreme starvation, which included lowered blood pressure, muscle weakness and confusion. Dolma is one of the three Tibetans who are on an indefinite hunger strike to protest against China’s atrocities against the people in Tibet, urging the United Nations (UN) to address the issue at the earliest. The other two — Tamding Hrichoe, vice president of TYC and Tenzin Wangchuk, finance secretary of TYC — are still continuing with the strike.
“Despite numerous memorandums to the UN regarding the plight of the Tibetans, there has been little or no response to address the issue. This time we are not giving in unless our demands are taken into consideration,” says Nyima Choezom, organisational secretary of TYC.
Although their (TYC’s) demands are not new, they represent the concern of the entire Tibetan nationals, who are living around the world as refugees since China took over Tibet in the 1950s. Their campaign is aimed at attracting the attention of the United Nations, whose intervention, they believe, is crucial in curbing Chinese atrocities in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), which China established in 1965.
Frustrated by the Chinese oppression, Tibetans have resorted to extreme measures to protest, the most prominent being self immolation.
On 27 April 1998, Thubten Ngodrup had set himself on fire at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar during a TYC hunger strike. That was the first case of self immolation by a Tibetan in exile. On 27 February 2009, a monk set himself ablaze in Tibetan populated Sichuan Province in China, becoming the first monk to protest the occupation of Tibet by China. There have been several instances of self immolations since then. Tibetan human rights activists claim that since 2009, 149 (143 in Tibet, 6 in exile) Tibetans have sacrificed their lives by setting themselves on fire. Most recently, on 27 August, a 55-year-old woman Tashi Kyi became another casualty of self immolation reportedly in protest against the demolition of her house by Chinese Police and officials in northwest China’s Gansu province.
The disturbing images and reportage of Chinese brutality from the TAR have brought worldwide support for the Tibetan cause, including India.
On 29 September, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi after receiving a delegation from TYC at her office, wrote in a letter to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon: “I strongly believe that the United Nations and its member states must act immediately and hold China responsible for their actions in Tibet.”
Indian leaders such as Shanta Kumar (former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh) and Prafulla Kumar Mahanta (former chief minister of Assam) met the Tibetans who were on hunger strike and assured them of raising the Tibetan issue in the forthcoming winter session of the Parliament.
Many view the China-Tibet conflict as a David-Goliath battle. On the one hand there is China, the world’s second largest economy with immense defence capabilities and on the other hand is Tibet, which according to the leader of the Tibetans, His Holiness the Dalai Lama “is a land not very rich materially but rich spiritually”. Tibetans allege that the Chinese policies are systematically designed to stifle Tibetan culture, language, identity and spiritual traditions. However, China feels that Tibet is ‘better off’ economically if it stays with China.
Statistics show that in 2011, Tibet’s nominal GDP topped 60.5 billion yuan (US$9.60 billion), nearly over seven times bigger than the 11.78 billion yuan (US$1.47 billion) in 2000. Tibet’s GDP has maintained double-digit growth annually for the past 20 years. Although Tibetans constitute 93 percent of the population in TAR, they complain that the Hans Chinese migrants, whose inflow has been quite constant in recent years, have largely been beneficiaries of the economic growth in the region.
Lamenting the fact that Tibetans have hardly benefitted from the economic growth, Tenzin Lekshay, media coordinator of Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “What’s the use of big digits and numbers, when the ethnic people are not benefitting from it? The whole issue is of the rightful ownership of the people of the land.”