AFTER U.S. ABANDONS IT, TIBETAN RESISTANCE STRUGGLES ON ALONE AGAINST CHINA
by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
KATHMANDU, Nepal, March 20, 2004 -- The Khampas, the staunch followers of the Tibetan spiritual leader known as the Dalai Lama, who is now living in exile in India, once fought in Nepal against the Chinese army, and are now once again heroes in Nepal.
The government of China, the huge northern neighbor of Nepal, is very sensitive about Tibetan issues, and Nepal's government prohibits public programs related to Tibetan politics. But an exhibition of photographs of the Khampas of eastern Tibet has attracted wide interest and crowds to the Siddharth Art Gallery in Kathmandu, and helping to create a modern positive omage of the Tibetans who launched the resistance movement for the autonomy of Tibet five decades ago.
The Khampas of eastern Tibet are famous for their fearlessness, horsemanship, nomadic lifestyle and the unique cultural heritage of their form of Buddhism, which spread from Nepal to Tibet in the 6th Century.
Australian photographer Jill Grocher is presenting the lifestyle, tradition and culture of Tibet through her photographs in support of the Tibetan Buddhist lamas, or monks.
The Chinese have made no effort to stop the exhibition.
Tibetans living outside Tibet accuse the Chinese government of encroaching on their culture and traditions, but the Chinese government claims that Tibetan culture is preserved and flourishing as it allowed to develop.
"Unfortunately, the rich and devout Buddhist lifestyle is beginning to fray at the edges as pressures from outside are starting to erode the beliefs of the younger generation. I feel that it is important to document the culture and try to keep pride in this vibrant culture," said Grocher.
Khampas (Tibetans) fought against the Chinese Army from the late 1960s into the early 1970s in the Mustang area of northern Nepal. usually with the support of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. But much as weith the American support of the mujahadeen resisting the Russian Army in Afghanistan and the Shiites resisting the regime of Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War, the resistance movement was crushed when the United States ended its support of the Tibetans.
"We could not withstand with about 40,000 ferocious Chinese soldiers as we had only 5,000 to 10,000 soldiers fighting with the support of CIA," said a Tibetan present at the PGrocher photo exhibition. "With the crushing of the armed struggle, our culture and tradition has been trampled in Tibet," lamented another monk.
Khampas are the people living in Tibet, which is divided into three regions including Kham, Amdo and Utsang. The total population of Tibet was six million in late 1950s when Dalai Lama went to exile in India after China annexed Tibet in its territory.
More than 150,000 Tibetans live outside Tibet including in Dharmashala, India, where they have their own government-in-exile. About 20,000 live in Nepal and about 50,000 in Dharmashala; the rest are in Western countries, including the United States.
"There is great danger to our culture," said one Tibetan monk. "The government tried to destroy all the monasteries from 1959 to 1980, closed down all the monasteries and the monks were forced to marry, driven out or imprisoned," said another Tibetan.
After the 1980s, there was more freedom but monks cannot even spell out the name of revered Dalai Lama and must try to suppress the Tibetan resistance movement. China claims that Tibet is the part of Chinese territory.
"We are facing a tragic situation in Tibet; we cannot study Tibetan culture, tradition and respect our revered Guru Dalai Lama, living in India," said a Nepalese Tibetan on condition of anonymity. "We cannot even visit India to have a glance of the Dalai Lama. It is quite difficult to visit Dharmashala," he said.
From 2,500 to 3,000 Tibetans enter Nepal illegally every year and go to Dharmashala to meet Dalai Lama. There is a reception center in Ichangu in Kathmandu that can hold 400 people, but some 900 Tibetans live there at any given time/ Yje cventer is run with the support of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees and the Tibetan exile community living in Nepal.
"Since it is difficult to enter Nepal, the only alternative is to go to India," said a Tibetan who recently visited the Dalai Lama. Chinese police arrest the Tibetans trying to enter Nepal and they face great difficulties if caught. "Some are beaten, tortured and imprisoned," he said.
"Nepali police also arrest us and sometimes hand us over to Chinese authorities. and we have reports of killings and torture," he added. Nepal arrested 18 Tibetans and handed them over to the Chinese last year. No one knows what the future may hold for them.
American ambassador Michael E. Malinowski strongly objected the arrests last year, and since then Nepal's government has allowed the Tibetan to travel to India under the auspices of the UNHCR, the world organization's premier refugee agency.
"We are peace-loving people and believe in non-violence as taught by our revered Dalai Lama. Our movement's purpose is to save our unique culture, tradition and religion," the monk added.
As cultures become endangered, it is important to document them before they are lost to homogenization and MTV culture. Traditional values and lifestyles give meaning and balance to life, a fact that we in the west are slowly coming to realize, said Jill who is writing a book on Tibetan Khampas, the Tibetans argue.
The future of Tibet is still uncertain, as the liberation movement has not gained momentum after relations improved between the United States and China with the end of the Cold War. At a time when the world is struggling to eliminate terrorism and the methods of war are intensified by modern weapons and equipment, the Tibetans are playing the conch of peace for their cause. This, they say, is an example of a peaceful resistance movement based on the philosophy of non-violence initiated by Mahatma Gandhi, the great leader who freed India from Britain's colonial empire, whose relevance is now being tested again.