By Maura Moynihan
DELHI—As India reeled from this month’s Mumbai terror attacks, an important conference on Tibet got under way in Delhi, where the Indian Core Group for the Tibetan Cause hosted 100 delegates from 30 countries representing International Tibet Support Groups.
The conference followed the weeklong Special Meeting called for Tibetans in Dharamsala and was held in a location far less salubrious than the Kangra Valley: a water park in suburban Gurgaon called Wet n’ Wild, which one guest renamed Dry n’ Dull.
Delegates hoped that the Dalai Lama would attend as he had in previous years, but the Tibetan leader had flown to Nigeria three days after the conclusion of the Special Meeting in Dharamsala.
The Delhi conference opened with remarks by Samdong Rinpoche, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, and by Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s special envoy for talks with China.
Both men reaffirmed the support of the majority of participants at the earlier meeting for the Middle Way policy, which calls for China to retain its rule of Tibet while granting it “genuine autonomy” as a minority region.
In a message to the Tibet Support Groups, the Dalai Lama wrote, “The situation in Tibet continues to be grim with a huge presence of police and military. Tibetans are living in a state of siege. My envoys presented the Chinese leadership at the eighth round of talks [in November] with a clear outline of the basic needs of the Tibetan people, rights enshrined in China’s own Constitution and statutes.”
“Unfortunately, my envoys have come back clearly finding doors to any reasonable talks being closed,” the Dalai Lama wrote.
Delegates shared concern over China’s post-Olympic power surge and Britain’s recent concession to China on the history of Tibetan sovereignty. “[This] was a callous attempt to get China to pitch in on the global financial crisis,” said one European delegate.
“It showed how easily the big powers will abandon human rights and ignore the suffering of the Tibetan people to curry favor with the Chinese Communist Party.”
At the meeting’s final gathering, Indian jurist J.S. Verma spoke eloquently of the history of Tibet in the 20th century. “Had the world taken action when China invaded Tibet in 1951, Tibet would surely have been saved,” Verma said.
“China was recovering from a disastrous civil war and did not have the resources to handle two conflicts: Korea in the East, Tibet in the West,” he added. “India paid for that mistake when China secured its control over Tibet in 1959 and then invaded India in 1962.”
Many delegates spoke about the “Rangzen [independence] clause,” the final declaration of the Special Meeting in Dharamsala.
This stated that, should China fail within two to three years to relax its military control of Tibet and negotiate with the Dalai Lama in good faith, the Tibetan exile government would be compelled to abandon the Middle Way approach and would call for independence.
One group at the Delhi conference recommended “recognizing the voices for Rangzen,” thus widening the parameters of option and strategy.
Among those attending the conference were delegates from Russia, Estonia, and Latvia who had lived through the Stalinist period, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the liberation that followed.
An East European delegate observed, “I think the Dalai Lama is being very strategic. He called for these meetings. He has suspended the negotiations [with China]. China can no longer pretend that they treat him with good faith.”
“He did not comment on the Middle Way at the press conference he held after the Special Meeting,” the delegate added. “He is dealing with a stubborn totalitarian state. It is very difficult.”
A ‘sovereign state’
Anders Andersen of Copenhagen said, “Tibet was a sovereign state, annexed by a powerful neighboring state. It is a straightforward colonial occupation. The U.N. had a charter [calling for] the abolition of colonialism by the year 2000.”
Many delegates spoke of working with the United Nations to bring China to the table with the Dalai Lama. China is a signatory to the U.N. Convention against Torture and other agreements on human rights but, because of its seat on the U.N. Security Council, is rarely held accountable.
The debate on the Special Meeting in Dharamsala swirled through the pubs, hostels, and Internet cafes of Majnu-ka-Tilla, the Tibetan colony in Old Delhi.
While many Tibetans expressed frustration with the Middle Way, elder statesman T.C. Tethong—father of Students for a Free Tibet director Lhadon Tethong—said progress had resulted from the Dharamsala meetings. “This time the young activists were given a platform. Everyone listened to them. They felt good about it.”
“All Tibet supporters follow His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s path of nonviolence,” said Tenzin Tsundue, the poet activist, dining in a Tibetan noodle shop on his way to a human rights conference in Europe.
“The Tibetan government-in-exile must inform the public if it has changed its policy [discouraging Tibetan protests against China, for fear of complicating the now-abandoned talks]. They have to be clear.”
“The Tibet movement has gone global!” said Phil Void of the music group the Dharma Bums, racing across the dry lawn of Wet n’ Wild and passing out lyrics to his rock anthem “Rangzen” in French, Italian, English, Japanese, and Hindi.
“Everyone knows His Holiness is the Gandhi of our time.”
Maura Moynihan, a writer and musician, has been a consultant to the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, America's largest Himalayan and Tibetan cultural institution. She worked for many years as a refugee consultant in India and Nepal and recently completed a master's degree in political science at the New School.