Dalai Lama’s birthday offers rare reason for Tibetans to celebrate
Tibetan leader no closer to achieving greater political freedom from China
Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama interacts with chief minister of India’s Karnataka state K Siddaramaiah (left) during the Dalai Lama’s 78th birthday celebrations at Bylakuppe, about 213 km (132 miles) south of Bangalore, last weekend. Photograph: Reuters
At the same time, there was evidence of just how difficult the Tibetan situation remains. As monks were offering prayers to mark the Dalai Lama’s birthday, Chinese security forces opened fire, shooting one monk in the head, and at least six other people were badly injured during the incident in Kandze, in the Tibetan part of Sichuan province.
The Dalai Lama was at a Tibetan university in Bylakuppe, India, and he said the 150,000 Tibetans living abroad represented “six million Tibetans [in China] who have no freedom or opportunity to express what they feel”.
After more than half a century in exile, the venerated figure, who won the Nobel Peace prize in 1989, is unchallenged as religious leader but he appears to be further away than ever from achieving greater political freedoms for his Himalayan home.
Tibet has been firmly under Beijing’s command since the People’s Liberation Army marched into the overwhelmingly Buddhist Himalayan region in 1950, and Beijing claims it freed the Tibetan serfs from what was effectively a theocracy until the god-king Dalai Lama fled into exile in India after a failed uprising in 1959.
Beijing accuses him of seeking to separate Tibet from China, labelling him a dangerous “splittist”, agitating for independence. The Chinese government says it is bringing prosperity to a traditionally impoverished area.
The Dalai Lama says he does not want independence, but more autonomy for Tibetans within China. He handed over political power in 2011 to Harvard law scholar Lobsang Sangay, but retains the more significant role of spiritual leader.
Yu Zhengsheng, China’s leading official in charge of religious groups and ethnic minorities, yesterday vowed to step up the fight against the Dalai Lama.
“For the sake of national unity and the development of stability in Tibetan regions, we must take a clear-cut stand and deepen the struggle against the Dalai clique,” Mr Yu said as he visited a Tibetan part of the western province of Gansu.
The Tibetan government in exile is based in Dharamsala in northern India, a strange place as its mountainous setting gives it a Tibetan feel at times but it is still very much an Indian town.
In March 2008, violent protests focused on Han Chinese settlers left 22 dead, according to the government, although Tibetan rights groups say the figure was far higher. Officials blamed protest activity across the plateau on separatists loyal to the Dalai Lama.
Security has been high since then, but a recent fresh wave of appalling protests, with 120 Tibetans self-immolating since February 2009, has seen controls stepped still further.
Beijing says it has done much to lift the enclave out of isolation, which Tibetans believe is destroying the indigenous culture. There are reports from witnesses of a massive building programme in Lhasa around the Jokhang Temple, Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest site, and the Potala Palace, probably the most famous symbol, has been completely reconditioned.
While Beijing is keeping a hardline message in public, there are occasional hints at an easing in relations.