Tibetan activist, writer and poet Tenzin Tsundue was recently arrested during the Brics summit in Goa for protesting against Chinese President Xi Jinping. He jumped in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s motorcade with ‘Free Tibet’ posters and ended up spending three nights in Goa’s Sada jail. Tsundue, who has been protesting against the Chinese occupation of Tibet for the past 23 years, spoke to Sidharth Bhardwaj about the changes in Tibetan movement, India’s support for it and challenges for China:
How did you join the Tibetan freedom movement?
I did my schooling in a Tibetan refugee school in Himachal Pradesh and then BA from Loyola College, Chennai. I started organising small student rallies and exhibitions on Tibet. After doing my BA, i decided to go to Tibet, get arrested and from there, start a revolution. I got arrested and was beaten by the Chinese. They told me, “You’re born in India, you’re an Indian. Go back.” I came to Mumbai and did double MA in English and Philosophy from Bombay University. I started writing stories and poems and that’s my source of earning. Since then, i have been protesting against the occupation and also bridging the gap between the elder generation and the younger generation to prepare them for the struggle.
Why did you protest in front of the motorcade of Vladimir Putin?
Goa can easily be policed. The only loophole was of timing. When the cops were looking for me during the daytime, i was sleeping. I used to make my moves at night. I spent around 20 hours in a marsh near the road where the motorcade of the leaders was to pass. I was arrested following the incident and spent three nights at the Sada jail. Even if Putin mentions it to Xi Jinping, my protest is successful.
Is the movement losing its traction with the younger generation?
I am the eldest among the 100 odd activists who came to protest against Xi Jinping. Except me and one more activist, rest were below the age of 20. The movement is being passed on to a new generation. They are college students who left their classes to come out and protest.
With trade booming between India and China, what are the prospects of India abandoning the Tibetan cause?
India and China are competitors, not partners. When Xi Jinping visited Ahmedabad in 2014, he promised an investment of $100 billion, but he left by saying he’ll invest only $20 billion and that too across a span of five years. Both the countries are today suspicious of each other. Trade has always been an interest between the two but even in this, China has had the upper hand.
But India has called for Hindi-Chini bhai bhai.
Jawaharlal Nehru got China’s feedback in 1962 when China attacked India. The policy was dropped by Atal Bihari Vajpayee who affirmed that Hindi and Chini cannot be bhai. Today, both Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping want to leave behind a legacy and it’s a competition between the two. A key component is the United States as they are a complementary power for India and a competitive power for China. It’s not about partnership at all.
Has there been any change in India’s stance post 2014?
With a majority government, we are witnessing a more confident India. That said, India has still not made any comprehensive policy towards Tibet. Congress had an obligation to follow the Nehruvian policy whereas BJP today has an opportunity to design something new. Though it hasn’t done that yet, one unique change that we witnessed was inviting the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile to the oath taking ceremony of Narendra Modi.
How confident are you of getting support from a government that has itself been accused of curbing dissent?
I feel that the Indian democracy gives freedom to all voices: those coming from the Kashmiris, the Naxals, and the Communists. India not only gave us refuge, but gave us political space and an environment for intellectual growth to sustain the movement.
India has given us the freedom to go back to our country one day and that is our goal. We embraced non-violence through Buddhism. Physical occupation of Tibet doesn’t make China a victor. Despite their efforts to dilute our population and destroy our culture, we will outlive China with our principles.