Friday, March 16, 2007

What does 10th March mean to me...

(This blog post is lifted entirely from Aqua's blog (with her prior permission) and can be read at )

In the Quiet Land, no one can hear
what is silenced by murder and covered up with fear.
But, despite what is forced, freedom's a sound
that liars can't fake and no shouting can drown.
- Aung San Suu Kyi

Tomorrow is March 10th – the Tibetan National Uprising Day! On this day, 48 years ago, 300,000 Tibetans surrounded the Dalai Lama’s Norbulingkha Place in Lhasa, in order to protect him from an anticipated abduction or assassination plot by the Chinese. Tibetans risked their lives and came out to the streets to protect their beloved leader and to assert Tibet’s independence from China. China’s military response in the following days resulted in the uprising being crushed and the "wiping out" of 87,000 Tibetans within seven months. The Dalai Lama escaped to India and some 80,000 Tibetans followed him into exile.

Ever since then, March 10th has come to symbolize the Tibetan struggle for Freedom, and is a reminder of that eventful day in history, which changed the course of Tibet’s future, and of the lives of so many Tibetans and the Dalai Lama. Rallies and peace marches are held every year on March 10th by Tibetans living in exile all over the world.

However, not every Tibetan born in exile will perhaps remember the March 10th rallies with much misty eyed nostalgia and fondness. Atleast not me! As a rebel kid growing up in Darjeeling, it was one of the many crosses I had to bear, along with the tag of a refugee next to my name. I desperately wanted to fit in with the crowd back then, and if having a Tibetan accent while speaking Nepali wasn’t bad enough, on the 10th of March every day we had to march through the town carrying banners crying “Free Tibet” and “Chinese stop mass massacre in Tibet”. We got special permission to miss school on that day and we would be allowed to wear our school’s special uniform. Being a prim and propah Loreto girl, I didn’t quite look forward to shouting myself hoarse on a topic I had scarce interest in.

While we marched on Mall Road with our banners and placards, we would occasionally hear the locals commenting on us. “Tibet ma paani pardai cha, anta eyta Darjeeling ma chaata odhdai cha”, they would say. Translated this means that ‘it is raining in Tibet and the Tibetans are carrying umbrellas in Darjeeling’. In my heart of hearts I agreed with them. Though it did hurt, somewhere. Perhaps it hurt the Tibetan in me who didn’t want to surface, just as yet. I remember one particular March 10th processesion, where the group of us LC girls debated more on the pronunciation of the world ‘massacre’. We tut-tutted about the way it was being pronounced, raising our eyebrows at this trivial issue rather than concentrating on the rally or giving any thought as to the reason why we were saying it in the first place and the context as it affected us. Tibet and its assorted problems were a world away, and it sounds terrible to say this, but it didn’t really affect me then. Then.

After a few years, March 10th rallies in Darjeeling started fading out. It would of course be held every year, albeit at a smaller scale, and I was no longer forced to attend them. My mother however would unfailingly participate every year, and come home charged with the spirit of ‘rangzen’. I always wondered why she bothered going in the first place. Indifference had turned to cynicism. The whole world knew that nothing would come out of these rallies anyway. There was no hope of China returning Tibet to Tibetans and “rangzen” (Tibetan for Freedom) seemed an impossible dream.

The writer Pico Iyer, born in England to Indian parents, has said that his "Indianness" is asserting itself within him as he gets older. My mother used to say the same thing to me, that as we grow older, our roots inside us grow stronger and stronger. “You will grow more and more Tibetan as you grow older, whether you like it or not”, she had said ominously to me, when I was younger. It turns out that she was right after all. As I pile on the pounds and years, I find that I am growing more and more ‘Tibetan’ by the day. I now ask more questions to my father about Tibet and Buddhism, I love hearing stories about their lives in Tibet, and I now understand my parents better than I ever did before in my life.

My mother used to talk about how she and my grandparents crossed over into India, how they had to leave everything they owned behind and travel on the mountainous passes to India with just one horse between the three of them. My father however, would never talk about his days in Tibet or how he came to India. I knew just vaguely that he had left his family behind in Lhasa and escaped to Kalimpong in the Himalayan foothills in India. He doesn’t like to draw attention to himself and he is one of the most self-effacing and mild mannered people I know.

When I visited Darjeeling last winter, we got to talking about Tibet and about 10th March 1959. I never knew that my father was one of the thousands of Tibetans, who surrounded the Norbulingkha Place on that fateful day, in a desperate bid to protect the Dalai Lama from the clutches of the Chinese. This piece of information amazed me, and made me realize how little I knew of my father as a person, and his history. My father was only a young lad of 14 then. He was part of a voluntary group who had decided to protect the Dalai Lama and prevent him from visiting the Chinese camp. When the Chinese started shelling and bombing the Palace and the city, the crowds broke up, and my father and his group knew then, that they could not return home. They decided to follow the Dalai Lama Lama into exile to India. My father, leaving his parents and sisters behind in Lhasa, escaped to India. My thoughts instantly turned to his family, and to his mother especially. She would have worried for his safety. Now a mother myself, I could not imagine not knowing the whereabouts of my child, and whether she was safe or not. ‘It was a nation in turmoil’, he said. ‘The same thing was happening to all families, not just to us. There was no time to wallow in self pity’.

Hearing this story from my father had a profound impact on it. From being a mere incident in history, it became one with which I had a personal linkage to. It suddenly became very real. I made a mental note to myself to become more aware of Tibetan issues and to participate in future March 10 rallies, not because I have to, but because I want to. Because Tibetans inside Tibet need us to raise our voices for them. We owe it to them, and to all the people who have fought for Tibetan freedom.

Out of Exile…into the streets, is the new war cry of Tibetans the world over this year. March 10th has gained momentum and this is an opportunity for all Tibetans to show China and the world that we have not forgotten our homeland; that the Tibetan cause lives on; that we sincerely believe that Tibet belongs to Tibetans; that Tibetans have a right to govern their own country as they seem fit, and not be slowly annihilated by China. There is cultural and human genocide going on in Tibet, and as the Dalai Lama says, time is running out. If we don’t protest now, it will be too late.

So I am going to be there at the peace rally in Bangalore tomorrow, so show my commitment to the Tibetan cause; to honor my father’s sacrifice; and to contribute in my own humble way to the Tibetan Movement.

I was talking to P the other day about how my blog posts on Tibet hardly get any comments. I post a cartoon or a silly joke, and I have people posting comments. But whenever I write about Tibet, all I get is stony silence. I guess the blog world pretty much mirrors the real life scenario where the Tibet’s cause is swept under the carpet. “This does not mean you should stop writing on Tibet”, P said.

And I wont!

Read more on the history and events leading up to March 10th here.
The March 10 website.
Watch videos of Tibetans speak about what March 10 here.
US Speaker Nancy Pelosi's statement released the following statement today on Tibetan National Uprising Day. Read it here. It is very heartening to read and is a testimonial to the fact that Tibet has not been forgotten after all.

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