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05 April, 2008

Human Rights violations in Tibet

As a minority region, it’s Tibet’s lot to suffer under Han domination when there is a powerful and essentially non-democratic regime in China. When I visited China in 1988, I sought permission to visit Tibet or some other autonomous region, but Xinhua, which handles travel arrangements of visiting journalists, pleaded inability to do so.

Western news agency accounts of Tibet developments may not all be correct. But experience does not allow me to reject them in toto as suspect material. I was on a short assignment at IPS Third World news agency’s headquarters in Rome in 1980 when the Solidarity movement was raging in Poland. I was inclined to dismiss the Western agency reports which I read daily in the Rome edition of the International Herald Tribune. I decided to go to Poland for a week and report on developments for my agency (UNI) so that the Indian public may have a non-Western account. M. R. Sivaramakrishnan, who was Indian Ambassador in Warsaw at the time, helped me to get a visa quickly. On arrival in Warsaw I found that the Western agency accounts of commodity shortages and Solidarity’s popularity were substantially correct.

The Editor of the Polish Workers’ Party’s theoretical journal invited me to dinner. The meal consisted of one large boiled potato, nothing else. My host said his wife could find nothing more than some potatoes in the market that day. I still cherish the memory of that dinner. It was a satisfying meal, partly if not wholly because of the utter frankness of the host and the extreme graciousness of the hostess. The Minister for Trade Unions, whom I met, was also devastatingly frank. “If we were a bourgeois democracy, they (Solidarity) will be ruling, and we will be in the opposition, but we are not a bourgeois democracy,” he told me.

Lenin’s party, on seizing power, preserved the Czar’s empire under the label of ‘union of soviet, socialist republics’. The USSR Constitution said the country was a union of republics, each of which had the right to secede. This was the position for seven decades. When a republic decided in the 1980s to exercise the secession option, the Soviet government said there was no law in place to deal with the issues to be sorted out when a republic leaves the union. A law was then enacted and the process of disintegration of the USSR began.

Mao’s party, which established the People’s Republic, conceived it as the successor of not just Kuomintang China but of all previous empires. The British, taking advantage of the weakness of the empire, had dealt with Tibet as if it were an independent entity.

The Indian government, successor of the British colonial regime, conceded that Tibet is part of China. It did so in exchange for a vacuous Chinese declaration of faith in peaceful coexistence, without securing from China an assurance with regard to the border. As a result, vast tracts, including a whole Indian State, remain territories “which we claim as ours and they claim as theirs”. The contrast between the specious internationalism of these words of CPI (M) leader E.M.S. Namboodiripad and the nationalist (chauvinistic?) response of Chinese netizens to Western reports on Tibet cannot be missed. (See report “China's Missing Voice Rises Up from the Internet”, circulated by NAM, a respected alternative media institution, at

Politics apart, there is enough material in the public domain to conclude that massive human rights violations are taking place in Tibet.

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