Dharamshala — “We also feel that they must stop the self-immolation and I think that we need more Tibetans to carry out the Tibet movement, inside and outside,” asserts Deputy Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE), Acharya Yeshi Phuntsok.
TPI reporter Lavania Saraf met with the Deputy Speaker of the TPiE to ask about how the Tibet issue is gaining momentum, the emotional nature of the absence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the despair of the Tibetan community, and the innumerable cases of self-immolation. The immensely earnest, dedicated, and perceptive man expressed his views on a few of the most significant questions for the Tibetan community in the present era and his answers proved to provide the most insightful, sagacious, and profound approach to the Tibet movement.
TPI: Since India has been hosting the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile for almost sixty years, what do you think is the role of Indians or maybe even other countries, the international community in the Tibetan struggle?
In general, I think we have about four or five different Tibet support groups in India. The first support group starts from the 1960s when Tibet had just been occupied by China. Jai Prakash Nariyan organized and guided the Save Himalaya & Save Tibet Convention, in Kolkata. From there, the Tibet Support group came to be and now we’re called the International Tibet Support Group. The Indo-Tibetan Friendship Association particularly began back then in the 1960s, and now they have several branches in the Indian states, they have their own executive member, a national convention, regional meetings, and they passed a resolution and particularly what they came to organize was the mobilization of the Tibet issue in the Indian community. The second Tibet Support Group, which is very large in number, called the Bharat Tibbat Sahyog Manch. Conceptually, most of its members were from the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) Ideologist, who believed in the survival of culture and tradition. In 1996-97, I was able to meet with various members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). They started the Tibetan movement from 1960s and worked together with the NGO’s and the Tibetan community.
On May 5th, 1999 finally they felt they needed a constructive name and then on the same day in 1999, and this was the day when Bharat Tibbat Sahyog Manch was established and started. Later, they developed several regional and district associations and groups. The Bharat Tibbat Sahyog Manch had its own executive, regional, central levels and they also have a youth wing and a woman’s wing, as does the Indo-Tibet Friendship Association.
Then we have the individuals, who according to their own capabilities have support groups like in Nagpur, we have Mr Arvind Nikose who organizes a number of activities in that area, and has his own Tibet Support Group.
TPI: In the past, between 10-20 years the Tibetan movement has been very strong. How has the Tibetan struggle changed in the last few decades in your eyes?
In the movement for the Tibetan cause, the numbers have increased and not decreased. As I already mentioned, we have a number of Tibet Support Groups but the activities may not be similar, but different. Not only demonstrations and protests but there have been different mechanisms, and different methods. From my experience, these days many people come and visit Dharamshala and interact with Tibetan leaders and visit Tibetan culture centers to get the eyes witness and the visibility, and they try to understand the structures and the system through literature and by meeting new people. Compared to many years ago, I think the numbers of people who form a part of the movement has increased.
Now, we have many supporters and many support groups international and global. There are too many activities, demonstrations etc. in front of the Chinese Embassy, in front of the United Nations office and the movement also uses different mechanisms, different methods and not only demonstrations in such and such place but through the different ways, they try to demonstrate in front of the Chinese leaders. Some activities we aren’t able to visualize but they exist therefore I think the Tibetan movement has strengthened from before. There are many people who are also trying to research on the Tibet issue, the inside Tibet, the outside Tibet settlements, Tibetan communities, how they are able to survive, how they are carrying on the Tibet movement etc. Earlier there was less people but more visibility but now you can get all the information on social media about all the activities, all the events, even the various individuals working for the Tibet cause, its all visible on social media. Earlier, we just waited for the news magazines.The individuals and the activities, it is up to them how much they will organize because they are initiating and giving their sympathy to the cause of Tibet. If there is any lagging of the Tibet movement, international or global, that is the complete responsibility of the Tibetan community itself. We have no right to blame the Tibet supporters. We can only blame ourselves. If each support group’s activity is minimized, then it is not their fault but that of the Tibetan community.
Therefore, if we won’t approach rightly and if we don’t make use of the platform, then we can say that there is minimal or less activity. From my experience, these days I’m getting a lot of invitations. Lucknow University, they just invited me to celebrate Shivaji Maharaj, the ideologist concept: Swaraj, Swadharam, Swabhasha. I was the special guest and the Chief Minister was the chief guest, while the governor presided over it. Thousands of universities and professors had gathered there. We should be able to reach out like this and even if it is being represented by one Tibetan, thousands of people can visualize you, recognize you and you can speak to them about the Tibet issue in their own language and they become happier. In the last few months, I was able to attend a number of conferences in Haryana and Karnal where the Inter-Religious Conference was organized by our supports, Mr. Indresh two governors had been invited there, religious leaders were there, the Haryana Chief Minister also attended the conference there. They officially invited me and I went as the representative of the Tibetan Parliament in exile. The same thing in Maharashtra, I attended a Buddhist Convention there. So, if we are being able to reach there, then we are getting a platform. Even here, the Divya Himachal, a popular Hindi newspaper organized a Himachal state football tournament on the 11th of June. Tibet will not be able to attend any program, it will the fault of our community. If we do not get a platform, then of course, we have to find it. These days we do not have to find it because it exists there, which means it has increased. For many years we tried to get a platform and requested associations but these days we need not request, they invite us.
Two days back, American Universities and delegations from their universities visited the Parliament. More than twenty-five students came from America to Dharamshala. The Students for Free Tibet organized for fourteen of fifteen Indian university students, who came and visited Parliament, and we received them. Even the Sanskar Bharati, one of RSS’s basic ideologist, also came to the parliament. So this means that our strength is increasing. I never knew these people but they came to show sympathy to get to know more about the Tibet issue. So every month or fifteen days, we have been able to receive Non-Tibetans who visit the Parliament.
TPI: What are your views on His Holiness The Dalai Lama stepping down from political duties?
It is completely His Holiness, the Dalai Lama’s thought and because it is His Holiness’ decision for the devolution of political powers. From the 60’s he has been saying that you must try to carry on the Tibet movement and the Tibet system. He questioned that if I am no more, how can you carry on the Tibet movement? So he already mentioned in the 1960s and 1970s and later on in 2011 that he really felt he had to pass on the political powers and functions, which had to lie with the Tibetan community and his blessings, suggestions, ideas are always there. I am grateful for all this and the vision that he has given to us and such a vision has set an example for the universe. I think China should think about how to resolve Tibet’s issues.
TPI: Your thoughts on the 150 cases of self-immolation that has taken place in Tibet since 2009?
This is very sad news. This is very sad for the Tibetan community because people are giving their lives for Tibet’s cause and not for any individual motivations. For the past few centuries, there have been many freedom movements. In India as well, the British left after two hundred years and a number of people in the end lost their lives. The entire freedom movement has caused peoples' lives to be lost.The self-immolation in the Tibetan community is very large and it is unfortunate that still many people are not thinking about the cause of Tibet, even though Tibetans in Tibet are suffering. So, it is very sad. We also feel that they must stop the self-immolation and I think that we need more Tibetans to carry out the Tibet movement, inside and outside. The international community supports Tibet but still no fruitful result has come up, hence it is unfortunate. Our movement is one of non-violence and peaceful and how much the responsible individuals think of the movement and us, I don’t know.
TPI: Do you believe that international cooperation can help to change the Chinese policy of restricting basic freedoms in Tibet?
Of course, why not. In Buddhism, we always say that we are interdependent and the universal is dependent. China without the rest of the world would not have been able to develop and without the rest of the world, they will not become strong economically. So, the universal pressures and the universal support is important for our cause. Therefore, if China needs the international community, it must listen to its voice also. Not only for Tibetans, but also for the fifty-five minorities in China who must be going through the same problem under the Chinese communist regime. We are lucky that His Holiness is such a great leader and that the relation between India and Tibet is based historically and that we have been able to establish the Tibetans in exile community here. Therefore, our voice can be heard globally but the other fifty-five minorities in China are not able to reach out their voices globally.
His Holiness always expresses that we are not anti-Chinese because the general population are innocent and unable to survive by their self. There are a number of Buddhist practitioners who came to take blessings from His Holiness, and a number of Chinese disciples as well. We are not happy with the present Chinese regime. We have conflict with the present Chinese communist regime. Therefore, we are against the current Chinese government policy, and that’s the reason why we are in exile. We are not asking the world to become Pro-Tibet and we are not asking them to become Anti-Chinese. In reality, if they wanted to do something for the cause of Tibet, they must try and understand how Tibet gained independence, from the 127 BC to 1959, when Tibet was occupied. For more than 2000 years, Tibet was completely independent. Tibet had the four necessary elements to be a nation, territory, population, government, and sovereignty. That’s why it is important to first go through the in depth Tibetan history and then understand the systems of the Tibetan culture and tradition. When you understand the history of Tibet, and present Tibet you can see how Tibet has suffered and is suffering under torture and dictation. We believe that even if the Tibetans are not in a prison, it still is very much like a prison. That’s why I say to believe in the Tibetans.
Then they can come to the Tibetans in exile and then they cannot only see the outside visibility but the inner workings of the Tibetan community. We are not asking the, for independence, but we are asking the Chinese government and the world for self-government, self-rule, self-determination and then an autonomous region, the entire historical region of Tibet. This is really the past, the present, and the future of Tibet, if people really care to realize and support the facts in reality using rationality. I try and appeal to the Non-Tibetans. Something I have always told the Tibetans is that we are not a diaspora, we are in exile, we are not refugees. There are thousands of refugees but they have a problem with their own government. The Chinese government is not our government therefore there are people giving their lives and self immolating. The people believe the exiled government and His Holiness. Still, the larger population is inside Tibet. Even in the past 15 to 60 years, under such depression, domination, and pressure but they won’t give up because our culture, tradition, religion is entirely different. So it is important for the Non-Tibetans to realize the facts and when they understand the reality and speak then I think supporters will come up and activities will come up. If we were not able to speak in front of the Non-Tibetans or the world then they can find it easy to understand.
TPI: Should there be more cultural and educational exchanges between Tibetan and Indian learning centers like schools, universities etc.
The Tibet Support Groups do help with and organize all this and then we have a Tibet Museum, we have a Tibet House and the Library of Tibet Work and Archive (LTWA).Then there are the individual culture centers. Culture exchange is very important. It is not a new thing for India and Tibet historically. I always mention that the human lineage, the lineage of the Tibetans is basically from India, from the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Then the Kauravas were exiled in Tibet and from there the human race of the Tibetans began. Once people can understand the real history, then the lineage of His Magistrate, from Magadha, some popular families, their children were not recognized by themselves, was thrown out from the home and then crossed borders into Western Tibet and at that time the people were trying to search for the king. The twelve people asked him who he was and the Tibetans felt that he had been given by God. Nyatri Tsangpo means the people brought him in their arms. Later on he was crowned the title of His Magistrate, the King. From their the lineage of the magistrate is also linked with India. So these are the things I hope we can teach the Indian community and then of course we have trade between India and Tibet. Today, China is claiming that the Bumla, which is the border trade between India and Tibet, Nathula is the border trade between India and Tibet. The birth place of the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister, continuously celebration the history and the trade between India and Tibet. Especially now, since so many Tibetans are here it should make the cultural exchange easier.
TPI: What kind of problems do you foresee in the future once His Holiness is no more?
We are not thinking that the Tibet issue can be resolved within the presence of His Holiness, we are only hoping. I think it will be emotional, even for the Tibet issue because now His Holiness is not only the Tibetan leader but he is also a universal religious leader. I think he has followers all over the world, even the non-Buddhist practitioners. His Holiness has a huge number of disciples. So I think there are several supporters of the Tibet issue, but how long will resolving the issue take, nobody knows.
TPI: Practically, what have you done for the Tibet Cause? I don’t mean seeking help from third parties or other governments? Can you give me 1-10.
Passing out in 1989 and since started working for the cause of Tibet and for almost 30 years now, I have been working for the Tibetan community. It is my responsibility. Each and every Tibetan has a responsibility for the cause of Tibet. If we cannot do it then how can the non-Tibetans do anything and how can the support for Tibet be increased. From my school/college level, my work has included a number of activities to organize myself. Since the 1990s, worked for the Tibet cause and for the Tibetan Community. Even in an academic way, I was school headmaster and the school administration and was there for eight years. For a brief period, I carried out the duties as the Executive Programmer for the Tibetan Parliament and Policy Center and then later in 2006, I was elected as the Parliament member for two terms and now this is my third term. Then I involved myself in work with many associations and other NGO’s as well. I was able to establish and organize the support group, Bharat Tibbat Sahyog Manch and then walked in the Peace March from Nice to Geneva, which was 700 kilometers and 49 days, with the European Tibetan Support Groups in 2000. Then, I was able to speak in the United Nations Human Rights Convention on August 3rd.
Additionally, I have attended so many seminars, so many conferences. Then I met with the Indian political parties, Indian leaders, Indian think-tanks and tried to make the Tibet issue known in the general Indian public and among non-Tibetans. The most important thing I did in Delhi in the past ten years, was speaking to the Indian intellectuals, the think tanks etc. The think tanks are very important for the cause of Tibet because they are the mind of the government, they are the ones who speak if any issues or crisis comes up. In the media or even in seminars and conferences, the think tanks are the most useful. This includes my meetings with more than 250 think tanks and intellectuals and I am also a member of a number of institutions. These are the few things I could carry on for the cause of Tibet. I am not only a member of the Tibetan society, they also involved me so they can get some of my inputs. And I’ve given a lot of workshops and training among the Tibetan community.
TPI: What advice do you have for the new generation of Tibetans trying to keep the struggle for freedom alive? How can they stand up and be on their feet?
This is very important for the younger generation, I think. I myself am born in India and I received all my education because of the government of India and His Holiness’s blessing, therefore I was able to study in India up till Acharya from the school level. Now, for the past thirty years I have been serving the cause of Tibet. Each and every Tibetan has responsibilities. The generations keep changing. We are now the third generation serving for the cause of Tibet. There is no retirement for the moment but age will always go up. I think every Tibetan has to be ready to do something for the cause of Tibet no matter which system they are involved in; they do not have to be a part of the Central Tibetan Administration but in any platform. Being a Tibetan you must first know the past history of Tibet and then the present situation inside and outside Tibet, and then the future visions of Tibet. If you do not know your cause then how can you as the younger generations and the Tibet supporters therefore you must first be aware of your own cause.
Then, when you are able to speak, you are able to express and the support of the people will increase. I think self-resistance is very important. Without yourself, if you cannot survive then what can you do for the cause of Tibet? Therefore you have to survive the struggle through your different ways of life. You must try and get support rationally, and not emotionally. You, yourself should become rational and not emotional. For the Tibetans, it is your responsibility. For the Non-Tibetans, I say as a human being you must do something for a good cause. I don’t only mean for the cause of Tibet but wherever there is suffering, vision and motivation are very important. Everything is not easy to get but a solution is always there.