A Cause For Courage

[image, unknown] New Internationalist Issue 274

The material that follows has been provided by New Internationalist

'Tibet' - even while preparing to sneak into the country to research this report, the word kept conjuring up romantic and exotic images in my mind. This was to be a trip to the 'Roof of the World', the 'Forbidden Kingdom', the mythical 'Shangri-La'. The Himalayan home of a peace-loving, unworldly people, who smile a lot and believe in a god-king they call the Dalai Lama. The mythology surrounding Tibet was powerful, and I was as susceptible to it as anyone.

photo by CHRIS WADE But I was also getting another, quite different, set of images - coming mainly from action-group bulletins and newsletters. The recent case of Sherab Ngawang, for instance, a 15-year-old political prisoner who was beaten to death because she 'pulled a face' at one of her Chinese guards. Or Palden Gyatso, a Tibetan monk who earlier this year came to the West to show reporters his nefarious collection of torture instruments. They were the kind used against him by his Chinese jailers over the course of 30 years, and he had obtained them by bribing guards.

These two sets of images - the romantic and the horrific - do not sit easily together. And the first set may well have done the cause of the Tibetan people more harm than good. If Tibetans are presented as a dreamy, unrealistic people, obsessed with religion, their struggle is unlikely to be taken seriously by a world driven by more secular values. Their demand for independence will be seen as pie-in-the-sky and their ability to rule themselves will be open to question.

Meanwhile, frustration is mounting among many Tibetans as they see their country no nearer to regaining its independence than it was at the time of the Chinese invasion 45 years ago. Some are asking how much longer Buddhist patience and non-violent resistance can hold out - is resort to the gun the only way to get heard in a violent world?

I had to get into Tibet if I were to gain any real sense of the conditions under which Tibetans are currently living. But working there had its difficulties. I had never before been in a country where surveillance was so intense and informer networks so organized that you really were putting locals at risk just by talking with them. Even Pinochet's Chile seemed safer in this respect.

It's one of the many ways in which China tries to stop real information about Tibet reaching the rest of the world. This issue of NI tries to get that information out by its own route - going first to Kathmandu to interview recent Tibetan escapees; then furtively into Tibet itself; and finally to Dharamsala, home of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.

Vanessa Baird
for the New Internationalist Co-operative

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995

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New Internationalist issue 274 magazine cover This article is from the December 1995 issue of New Internationalist.
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