Friday, March 21, 2008

Tibet Unrest - Ginger and herb people

My very first impression of Tibetans was from my childhood days when every year in winters, a group of "Potlus" as they were called by locals, use to descend in our village bringing with them an assortment of Himalayan herbs and much sought after ginger. In my childhood naïveté, for long time I related potlus with ginger. And that they looked very unlike us, with their squinty eyes, red skin and strange clothes (or robes), coupled with the fact that ginger tasted rather strange and pungent, it created an impression on me that Potlus were somewhat more than us, like some sort of mystical people who knew the source of strangest of herbs which nobody else did.

When I was in my junior school, for first time in my Aunt's Reader's Digest magazine, I read a story of a Tibetan who was jailed by Chinese and kept in a labor camp under extreme conditions. Though then I couldn't understand nuances of political background of story, but moved by the torture and details in story, I could sense that Tibetans must be wronged and persecuted people forcing them to roam like nomads. Moved by the story, I wrote a "letter of mercy" to "Chinese consular in India" and posted it on address which was give at the bottom of story. I never told it to anybody and my instincts warned me that I would never get any reply and one day I might be picked by Chinese secret police and sent to labor camp as well. With Chinese, either you were with them or against them. They were bad people, as I thought then.

People in Exile: But that was long time back. Since then I have read bit of history and traveled little more. Now I know that ginger is not after all mystical and that Tibetans don’t just sell ginger. They also sell sweaters, woolens, shawls and stones in numerous Tibetan markets found in many Indian cities. And when they are not doing any trade to keep the bread coming, they spend life as monks, meditating and rotating prayer wheels. Regardless of what they do for living, they have always appeared to be as mystical as the majestic mountains where they now live (or once lived). Many years ago, when I visited McLeodgunj for first time I was fascinated by little town which looked remotely Indian or even Himachali. It appeared as if an entire people had been uprooted en-mass from some foreign land and planted on top of a Dhauladar Mountain. McLeodgunj is about 45 mins , almost vertically steep road trip away from Dharmsala town in Kangara Valley. In fact during winters and rainy season when the clouds are low, a stranger to valley would not even know that there was a town little further up inhabited by people who were once driven out of their homeland in upper Himalaya by marauding Chinese. That was about 60 years back. Since then Tibetans have nestled almost incognito in lower Himalayan foothills of Kangra, setting up a replica of their Tibetan culture and way of life . A new generation of them has been born there with nothing but just emotional links with people back home in homeland Tibet. Since occupying Tibet in 1950 , it is alleged that Chinese have killed around 1.2 million Tibetans. That is staggering 1200,000 people. Chinese have meddled into Tibetan’s religious affairs, imposed Chinese language and like all conquerors, have taught a new generation of Tibetans a different version of their past and history. China being an autocratic communist country, an iron veil has been put on Tibet so that outer world would never exactly know what Chinese do in Tibet. The recent unrest in Tibet has sparked major violence there and there have been demonstration worldwide. The new generation of Tibetan youth feel that Dalai Lama's path of non-violence struggle against Chinese would not work and they have to become more aggressive or else remnants of their culture in homeland would be wiped out. Chinese quite predictably, have unleashed armed troops in Tibet and shut down all communication channels.

Only Profit matters in Capitalist Economy: One would have thought that there would be widespread international condemnation of this and Unites Nation would take a notice. But everybody is silent. Prakash karat, major leader of Indian Communist Party , said that it is an internal matter of China. Same Prakash karat who can bring parliament to halt if a single Muslim is killed in Gujarat, is silent on what is happening in Tibet. What bloody double standards. This is the time that Tibetans would realize that regardless of Unites Nation, Human right Groups and world is ruled by only one power. Power of Money. Chinese are economic superpower. Americans and Europeans can not offend China. India is in a strange position. It can only offer some spiritual solace but can not afford to spoil relationship with Chinese. In Capitalist society, only economic gains matter. Profits drive people and nations. If Silence on Tibet is the price to pay, it is a small price. Few thousand more Tibetans would be murdered and China would in couple of month's time would showcase its glowing progress and power during Olympics and everything would be forgotten.

And I wonder if some impressions could stay just the same. Impression of a mild, gentle Potlu selling ginger.......

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