Thousands of Tibetans held protest marches in India on Tuesday chanting "Free Tibet" slogans. A majority among them began a fast for 50 hours, 50 minutes and 50 seconds to mark the completion of five decades of the Tibetan uprising against China. It is also exactly a year after a violent uprising against Beijing ahead of the Olympic Games prompted a massive clampdown in the remote region.
Tibetans shouted slogans for a "Free Tibet" in New Delhi on March 10, 2009
Prayers, vigils and protests were held throughout the day in many parts of the country that is home to 100,000 of the 140,000 Tibetans living in exile worldwide. In Dharamsala, the northern Indian hill town which is home to the Tibetan government-in-exile and headquarters of the spiritual and temporal head, the Dalai Lama, tens of thousands turned up to hear him speak.
Addressing Tibetans at the Tsuglang Khang or main temple, the Dalai Lama said Tibetans were not against the Chinese people but China's leaders had let them down. He said that peaceful Tibetans were being treated like criminals and accused China of repressing Tibetans who had risen up against Chinese policies in March last year.
The Dalai Lama’s address was broadcast live on the Internet to exiles and supporters around the world.
Tibetan settlements in India are located in Karnataka, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and some other states. A lot of the older Tibetan exiles, including ministers and members of parliament, migrated either along with the Dalai Lama in 1959 or later. The majority of the younger Tibetans have been born in India but their passion for the freedom struggle is still fierce.
New generation promises to continue the struggle
Tenzing Tsundue, a firebrand activist who hoisted a Tibetan flag atop a building during Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s visit to Bangalore in 2005 says there is still fire in the belly of many young Tibetans.
"We Tibetan youngsters believe that our parents and grandparents defended and protected His Holiness from the Chinese occupation and also life threats in 1959 and brought him to safety to India. And today we feel it is our responsibility as the new generation to regain the independence of Tibet and get His Holiness back to Tibet and seat him on the golden throne of the Potala."
Having been born and brought up in their adopted home thousands of kilometres from the mountain land of their ancestors, the young Tibetans living as second and third generation refugees hope to make the dream of their parents come true and return to Tibet.
Shibian Raha, the India coordinator for the Students for Free Tibet maintains there will be no let up in their struggle.
"In the past 50 years, Tibetans have taken every opportunity at every turn even in the worst times to stand up to Chinese occupation of their country. I think change for Tibet is coming because even in the worst form of military occupation in Tibet, Tibetans still oppose Chinese rule and are even taking grave risks on their part."
There were protests by Tibetans in other cities around the world on Tuesday including Kathmandu in Nepal. But Chinese media reported that unlike last year, Lhasa was "stable" on the anniversary of the uprising amidst a massive deployment of Chinese troops.