Independence should be the ideal dream for every Tibetan: Tenzin Tsundue

Tibetan activist Tenzin Tsundue, Dharamshala, on December 22, 2021. Photo: TPI/Yangchen Dolma

Interviews and Recap
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Tibet Post International (TPI) conducted an exclusive interview with renowned Tibetan poet, writer, and activist Tenzin Tsundue. Talking about the ideal dream of every Tibetan, he said that independence is the ultimate goal, which alone can keep the power of dreams alive, and if required, we are also willing to wait a thousand years. The Middle Way Approach should therefore only be seen as a survival tactic.

In an exclusive interview with TPI recently, renowned Tibetan activist Tenzin Tsundue (Tsundue) talks about the great history of Tibet, the fact that Tibet was an independent country until China illegally occupied it, the struggle of Tibetans in Tibet and in exile, the Middle Way Approach and non-violence, etc. Below is the transcript (edited to make it shorter) of the interview for the readers.

TPI: How do you explain the title of your latest book, <<Nowhere to Call Home>>?

Tenzin Tsundue: We have freedom in India, Europe, and America but no home. The idea of home requires freedom, and the people in exile and our homeland have neither. Our struggle is to seek either home or freedom. Nang, a Tibetan word that appears on the cover of the book, means much more than freedom and the English word 'home'.

TPI: What has been your experience been as a holder of the Registration Certificate (RC) and preservation of Tibetan identity?

Tsundue: Tibetans living inside Tibet insist on our Tibetan identity despite the Chinese government's insistence on calling them all Chinese due to their Chinese citizenship. However, they will never be able to shed away their physical identity. For those in exile, it is applicable for us to seek Indian citizenship. According to the Indian constitution, those born in India before 1987 are national citizens of India, but we are not seeking a passport because we insist on our Tibetan identity. I have three documents and I am still not a citizen. I don't have a passport and this situation is a choice for the national struggle.

TPI: Do you think it has become a "choice" for young Tibetans, particularly to take the nationality of another country? How does this affect the Tibetan freedom movement, positively or negatively?

Tsundue: Citizenship rules are different in India, Europe, and America. India has a single citizenship rule, so Tibetans legally lose claim over Tibet if they take up Indian citizenship. In many other countries, people can hold dual citizenship, like in USA, they can still have legal claims over Tibet and be American. This is the legal perspective on the issue. Statistically, there is only a tiny minority taking citizenship in India. I don't see this as a betrayal or a loss of determination to continue the fight for Tibet. They can continue to contribute to the Tibetan cause, but in different ways. I trust all Tibetans, whether in Tibet, Beijing, India, or foreign countries. All are doing everything within our limits to serve the cause.

TPI: You have written that you are a follower of Gandhi. Can Non-violence bring the solution to the Tibetan cause?

Tsundue: I believe in Gandhi and I try to put his ideas into practice. I believe that independence is the fundamental right of every human being. Non-violence is the most powerful method, philosophy and way of being, and our culture is essentially based on non-violence. To achieve independence, it is not enough to drive out the enemies and raise the flag; if that were enough, many countries have done it and continue to suffer. The freedom we seek brings us peace of mind now and in the future. The obstacles that stand in our way are opportunities to become better human beings. The freedom movement is embedded in much of our culture. I can't say that all Tibetans should be like that. My father fought the Chinese as part of the Armed Resistance (Chushi Gangdruk/Tibetan guerrilla group) and then came to India. There are several ways of looking at this. Since the 1970s, Tibetans have mainly led the non-violent movement, and that is how we have maintained the movement. That is how we maintain our freedom today and the independence of our nation in the future.

TPI: Can Non-violence be a weak point in terms of Administration and protection of a country?

Tsundue: When Buddhism came to Tibet, Tibet had one of the strongest and largest military powers in Asia (under the 33rd king, Songtsen Gampo) - the Tibetans were one of the most brutal warriors, and they saw this as victory and glory, they even invaded China as far as Xian (the capital of China at the time). But when Buddhism took the time to settle in people's minds, it changed the perspective of glory and victory, which is not about killing people and occupying land, but about eliminating your anger and overcoming greed. The movement is not external, but spiritual and internal. These processes require more courage. It's easy to kill people and occupy land, as China is still doing today. Buddhism didn't just settle in Tibet, it never left. Tibetans have understood that this is the very nature of civilisation, even if it is foreign. We are the best guardians of Buddhism in the world, and it is our warrior culture. We suffer and we are ready to die to protect this culture. This is what characterises Tibetan civilisation today, the warrior culture.

Violence is to satisfy one's greed and anger, and non-violence is to bring peace and harmony to the mind of the enemy, who comes to kill you. This is why His Holiness Dalai Lama says China is not our enemy, which is a very high spiritual statement if someone understands it deeply. China's violence teaches us to be more compassionate, not only towards ourselves, but also towards the enemy, which changes the definition of self and enemy. This is why His Holiness is the most influential teacher in the entire Tibetan civilization.

TPI: What do you think of China's increasing attempts to present itself as the guardian of Buddhism in the world by organising conferences?

Tsundue: These actions are to usurp the position of non-violence and appropriate it as 'theirs' and then attempt to push India aside and make themselves the champions of Buddhism in the world. Therefore, they spend so much time and money on diplomacy. Buddhism originated in India, and though China has been practising Buddhism, it came from India to China. Today, by organising diplomatic conferences, China is trying to capture and become the dominant champion of Buddhism. But when one uses Buddhism as a tool to gain supremacy, the intention is inherently flawed. Buddhism is not to be used as a tool for any political superiority.

TPI: What encourages young Tibetans to write about Tibet?

Tsundue: Writing is essentially a practice and a skill that cannot be imposed force on anyone. It is the culture and habit of writing that prevails. India has inherited the English curriculum from British colonisation; the education system is colonial. It teaches literature but never teaches Indians how to write. No course taught them to write, but how to appreciate British literature. Once you become a fan of British literature, you cannot concentrate on the writings of your own people. This is the fundamental flaw in the English literature course taught in India - which is why I suggest decolonising it by making 50% of the work about writing and the other 50% about reading and critical analysis. This system of education is practised in our Tibetan schools. To train young people in writing and creative writing, we need to decolonise the colonial education system and change the curriculum.

Moreover, almost 90% of the literature written is in the Tibetan language, which should happen because it is our mother tongue. Still, readership is not so much in exile- people are slowly starting to read in the Himalayan region, although many of them share Tibetan language as their mother tongue though in different dialects- Ladakhi, Arunachali, Kinnaur etc- the political situation inside and outside Tibet is also very different, inside Tibet it is difficult to write freely in Tibetan, even among the Chinese it is difficult to write anything other than the government's point of view. They can write, but with some restraint in terms of subject matter and language. Tibetans can therefore be creative in Tibet, using different symbols and narrative techniques, expressing what they say openly and avoiding being noticed by the authorities. This can be seen in the forms of poetry and popular songs, which use traditional cultural references to signify something political. A new challenge has arisen: the Chinese government is forcing Tibetan children to learn the Chinese language. I fear that many Tibetan children are handicapped in writing, reading and speaking Tibetan.

Another challenge arises for young Tibetans born outside Tibet, who did not fight China or flee Tibet, but were born as refugees. This is a unique case where they did not choose to flee Tibet and make China their enemy, but were born without the freedom to belong to a country or culture. They are therefore educated in a foreign language and slowly grow up in a different cultures and languages. They end up being divided into three or four different languages and are good at none of them. My generation has never seen Tibet and grew up in exile. So how can you expect a Tibetan born and educated in a foreign country and language to be good at Tibetan, because they spent half their lives in boarding schools, far from their parents. Psychologically, they grew up with great angst of not having their own choice but were born with this situation. It's very difficult to tell them to write in Tibetan. Only when you are intellectually aware of this situation and you will know how to train yourself in writing and speaking.

TPI: Do you see the situation of the Tibetans as similar to that of the Jews?

Tsundue: The Jews used to say one day in Jerusalem. As Children, we had one dream: the independence of Tibet. Our parents and grandparents had memories of Tibet that we did not. Tibet, for us, was a story, beautiful but painful story, and this instilled nationalism in us, a country where we have been denied to go. This has inspired us to fight for freedom. However, now, with the Middle Way Approach, children are taught the idea of the Middle Way Approach and Autonomy as the most effective policy that His Holiness Dalai Lama gives. I worry about what the third-generation Tibetans' dream will be. Be Chinese by citizenship?, I fear that no one would wants to be Chinese, not even the Chinese themselves, to escape the country to live a better life. Our better life is not in China, but where there is freedom. China's Communist Party wants to be the dominant power holder, to maintain the Party's power domination over people, denying freedom to entire Chinese people and occupied countries.

Jews's case is exemplary. It took those 2,000 years to get their homeland, and we are ready to wait for that long or even longer. But to keep the power of the dream alive, the ideal should be independence, not genuine autonomy. The issue is that the Middle Way Approach should be seen as a survival tactic/policy and not as the ultimate dream of Tibetans. It is a policy because policies continue to change. Those who agree to become Chinese may also become the Chinese government's stooges to rule over Tibet tomorrow. India was also once ruled by Indian stooges working for the British government.