Sunday, August 05, 2007

Response to N Ram on Tibet

Tibetan film-maker exposes the ugly underbelly of India's Chiense National Newspaper
Since the Hindu has not used my letters I summarize here points made in the hope that this discussion can reach a wider forum.

Dear Sir,

In recent weeks, Mr N Ram has written articles in The Hindu ("The Politics Of Tibet: A 2007 Reality Check", July 5, 2007) and Frontline ("Future Tibet", July 14-27, 2007), which present a remarkably rosy picture of the situation in Tibet and are uncritically supportive of Chinese policies in the region. I have written to him a number of times pointing out some of the inconsistencies in his reporting and the fact that such misrepresentations of fact could be seen as pure propaganda on behalf of the Chinese government. Unfortunately, Mr Ram has not deemed it necessary to extend even the courtesy of an acknowledgment letter, let alone to provide a platform for a fair debate on the issue of Tibet. I summarize here, some of the main points I made in my letters to Mr Ram in the hope that this discussion can reach a wider forum.

On more than one occasion, Mr Ram makes the crude comparison of the Dalai Lama's international popularity as a religious leader to Ayatollah Khomenei, thereby signalling his intentions to demonise him. He then rails against what he describes as the Dalai Lama's "alignment with colonial interests and western powers...". One could look at this criticism in the context of China's vast holding of US Treasury bonds, which literally keeps its economy afloat, and ask, who is more aligned with western powers - the Chinese government or the Dalai Lama? One could also easily point the finger of colonialism to China's forcible occupation of Tibet.

Mr Ram claims that, "while the Tibetan Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation belongs to the mystical-religious realm and asks a lot from 21st century believers, the Dalai Lama's approach even to rebirth is decidedly ideological-political." However, he also says that the Chinese government continues to follow "centuries-old custom and tradition that empower it to recognise and appoint both the Dalai and the Panchen Lama." The historical accuracy of this statement is debatable but it begs the question, why does an avowedly atheistic Communist Party find it necessary to involve itself in the "mystical-religious realm" in the 21st century?

Mr Ram contends that China's constitution "guarantees religious freedom to all citizens and regional autonomy to ethnic minorities in extensive parts of a giant country." Is it really enough for a journalist to cite the existence of a law to prove that all is as it should be? Surely he is aware of the ongoing repression of religious freedom in Tibet? Today, it is a crime in Tibet to be found in possession of the Dalai Lama's picture. Amnesty International's 2006 China report stated that in Tibet, "freedom of religion, expression and association continued to be severely restricted and arbitrary arrests and unfair trials continued." On the fate of groups such as Falun Gong, even the avowedly left-wing journal, CounterPunch, has made grave allegations against the Chinese government (see article in the October 1-15, 2006 issue).

Mr Ram mentions "China's unprecedented economic growth" and "inclusive and nuanced socio-political and cultural policies" as markers of its "exceptional patience" in dealing with the Tibet issue. This glowing picture is at odds with the reality of a country where the growing division between the rich and the poor saw no less than 23,000 incidents of rural and urban unrest in 2006, many of which were brutally quelled by force.

Even more beguiling is Mr Ram's continued faith in the Communist Party of China's Marxist credentials - "The law... defines national regional autonomy as the basic political system of the Communist Party of China to solve the country's ethnic issues using Marxism-Leninism". That the CPC has now launched a form of 'Leninist capitalism' untrammeled by democratic freedoms or trade union rights is fairly well-known. The only ideology guiding China's present rulers is that of absolute power at any cost.

By consigning Tibet's fate so unambiguously to the implied benevolence of its Chinese overlords, Mr Ram seems to forget that India has a stake in this matter. He dismisses the Dalai Lama's claim that Tibet had "been a strategic 'buffer state' in the heart of Asia guaranteeing the region's stability" for centuries. Yet, the truth is that until the People's Liberation Army invaded Tibet in 1950, India and China had never shared a common border. What is Mr Ram's response to Chinese Ambassador to India, Mr Sun Yuxi’s blithe assertion last November that "the whole of the state of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory. And Tawang is only one of the places in it."? Surely, even he knows that had Tibet not been forcibly deprived of its sovereignty, such imperious statements from his Chinese friends would not be forthcoming? Would any Chinese newspaper publish a defence of India's sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh in the manner in which The Hindu and Frontline see fit to blindly defend the Chinese line on Tibet? Or does Mr Ram have a different measure for basic democratic freedoms in different countries?

It is truly unfortunate that Mr Ram should choose to deprive his readership of a balanced perspective on the question of Tibet.

Yours sincerely,
Tenzing Sonam

28 July, 2007

Tenzing Sonam is a Tibetan filmmaker and writer based in New Delhi. His most recent film is the Tibetan feature film, Dreaming Lhasa.


Dipu Shaw said...

I agree to you Sonam.. There is no denying the fact that the Left in India and "their" newspaper The Hindu, have affiliations across the borders of India. This gets reflected in the stories done by the newspaper as well.

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