By Tenpa Gapshi
Lately, a wind is blowing, leaving its musky entrails in its track; vacuous and immaterial, and yet twirling behind every unfinished sentences, and raised eyebrows, sometimes ominous and at other times, simply used as a one word all-illuminating sentence, dramatically enclosed within two full stops: Unity.
You can almost smell it like the wet smell of the ocean, flat and smooth, leaving a certain level of wetness on your cheeks as it passes over you. That word, Unity, is the new magic word, developed within the embryo of the election year, and then bottle fed and diapered in the intervening years, to become this full blown, all encompassing, structured, top-down commandment of sorts. Before that, most Tibetans were not even aware that they were disunited, so one could very well imagine the gust that was created due to the collected intake of air with this sudden realization. Of course this knowledge was like finding a dark secret about your best friend and it lingered there at the back of the head, whispering and coloring the past, present, and the future of your relationship, and eventually, in an uneventful way, slowing clouding everything you thought you knew. And it has done exactly that, much like the previous magic word: Freedom. Apparently, it now means living under the Communist regime without the guarantee of any democratic rights.
Now, there is a certain section of Tibetans who believes Unity means accepting the official position on the future of Tibet, regardless of the fundamental difference of one’s stance on it, even at the cost of shutting down opposing viewpoints – in a democracy. The March 10th 2015 embarrassing behavior of the NY/NJ Organizing Committee who orchestrated this entire fiasco is a manifestation of this particular brand of thinking which thrives on exclusivism and ostracization of others based on the manipulation of authority and misrepresentation of His Holiness’ core message of democracy and freedom of thought and expression. What happened in New York was unfortunately inevitable as this process had been going on behind the scenes in a lot of other organizations like Gu-Chu-Sum and some branches of Chushi Gangdruk who have either changed their main goal to that of Umay-Lam or resorted to using ambiguous terminology ‘supporting the will of the Majority’, and most recently with some branches of Tibetan Youth Congress who tried to hijack the movement to conform to their point of view. Apparently, some local RTYC members convened their own meeting in Bylakuppe Tibetan settlement and after holding discussion for ONE day based on ONE speech given by H.H in Salugara (which didn’t contain anything against Rangzen movement), they decided they wanted to change TYC’s goal to that of Umey Lam. That must have been some meeting! I wonder if they had some renowned Oracle came and perform some miracle, like creating a whole Mandala in the middle of the room while levitating, which in turn formed divine words and manifestations, leaving no doubts in the minds of the attendees as to the direction the movement must take from now on. Either that or they were high on acid because that is the only way I can interpret this astonishing development from people who purportedly were staunch Rangzen supporters for decades before this. I would imagine it will take much longer to order some stationary for a local office or organize a child’s birthday party.
My personal take on this issue is very simple. March 10th is a sacred day for all Tibetans. It represents the first time in Tibet’s history (that I know of) when common people and nobility, rich or poor, men or women, laity and clergy and people from all three provinces rose up as one people against the Chinese occupying forces and showed the indomitable spirit of the highlands.
Subsequently, thousands died in the streets of Lhasa fighting the Chinese army and most were just ordinary people like me and you. Although the Tibetans were facing numerically superior and battle hardened veterans armed with better modern weapons, they fought bravely wearing ancient armors and using old weapons and repelled the Chinese attacks many times. The remaining resistance crossed the Kyichu River and kept fighting in Lhoka in Southern Tibet. The fighting lasted there until July when reinforcements arrived for Chinese and it was finally overwhelmed. It is estimated around 60,000 Tibetans died fighting the Chinese occupying forces between March 10th and July 1959. The streets of Lhasa were littered with the bodies of our brave men and women and the ground was drenched with their blood. Moreover, it is quite clear, their brave sacrifice bought the time needed for His Holiness to escape to India as the resistance kept the Chinese preoccupied until it was too late for them to do anything about it.
The reason why I felt the need to retell this significant moment in our history is because it appears some opportunistic people seem to have completely forgotten the sanctity and sacredness of this day and are instead busy engaging in petty politics to gain whatever small-minded goals they have, completely sullying the sacrifices made on this day by our martyrs, then and now. Demanding that the very slogans that were raised during this time, such as ‘Free Tibet’, ‘China out of Tibet’ and ‘Independence’ not be repeated displays the absolute depravity of those involved. It is a slap not only against Rangzen advocates and against all Tibetans who have come together to commemorate this momentous day but also against those memories of martyrs who died fighting for our country. It was a shameful moment in our struggle which no doubt saddened a lot of Tibetans inside Tibet and provided an embarrassing spectacle for the youths and other supporters of Tibet. Let us at least have the bare minimum of decency to not mar that singular proud legacy and try to rewrite history to suit the present needs. Let us commemorate March 10 as it should be, true to history and facts, by all Tibetans, with gratitude and humility for the sacrifices made by our martyrs.
Aside from that ignoble day, we have to seriously question this need for people to impose their point of view on others, whether covertly or brazenly, and failing that to engage in ostracization of individuals and organizations. In a democracy, you are free to disagree and argue your point, even passionately, but you are crossing the line to autocracy when you feel the need to impose it on others.
If you no longer believe in the goal of the organization, then you have every right to leave the organization, either to join another organization that suit your present political aspirations or even start a new one particularly tailored to your needs. If there are no supporting members for an organization, it will die a natural death as it should. When you feel the need to force others to conform to your point of view, it shows a lack of moral strength and conviction and moreover belie the very foundation of our struggle which is supposedly based on a truthful and honest struggle against an authoritarian colonial regime.
In the end, words are just words, simply staining a piece of paper if the reader doesn’t know what it means or take poetic license to stretch the meaning to pretty much encompass everything and anything, in effect making it absolutely meaningless. Even China claims that they elect their leaders democratically and Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il used to ‘win’ ‘elections’ with astonishing high percentages but that doesn’t mean they enjoy true democracy or unity for that matter. It is imperative that people truly educate themselves on the meaning of unity in a democratic society and perhaps we might save ourselves from repeating such embarrassing moments in our history.