Tenzin Tsundue, Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 (JJ Photo/Khalid Jaleel)

Tenzin Tsundue, Activist for Tibetan Independence Speaks at Jamia

Final year students in the Master of Arts in Convergent Journalism program in the AJK Mass Communication Research Center at Jamia, organized an exhibition titled “Road to Tibet.” The exhibition comprised of photos, documentaries and panel discussions.

It was a two-day event starting on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011, and was held at the M.F. Hussain Gallery in Jamia.

(L-R) Vijay Simha, Vijay Kranti, Tenzin Tsundue, F.B. Khan, Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 (JJ Photo/Khalid Jaleel)

The event was held to exhibit the work done by students of Convergent Journalism in an attempt to understand the life of the Tibetan community living in exile in the city of Bylakuppe, Karnataka. Refugees from Tibet have settled in Bylakuppe since their exile from Tibet in 1959, as a result of the Chinese takeover of Tibet.

And as a part of this exhibition, a panel discussion titled “Tibetans in Exile: What lies ahead?” was also conducted on Friday, the second day of the exhibit.

Speakers on the panel were: Vijay Kranti, a veteran photojournalist who has covered the Tibetan community for 30 years; Vijay Simha, the deputy editor of Tehelka; and the keynote speaker, Tenzin Tsundue, a published author, poet and an activist for the Tibetan struggle for independence.

Kranti, among other things, talked about the destruction of the Tibetan culture in Tibet controlled China, as opposed to the conservation and protection of Tibetan culture in India through the efforts and wisdom of the Dalai Lama and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Kranti claimed that India has become the “largest reservoir of Tibetan culture in the world,” which includes Tibet.

Simha — when asked for his advice on how should journalists cover such conflict ridden issues — replied that there is no substitute for hard work. One has to spend a lot of time researching the issue, which involves a lot of traveling. He emphasized the need for field work by stating: “use your legs, before you use your mind.”

Tenzin Tsundue, Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 (JJ Photo/Khalid Jaleel)

Tsundue (pronounced SUN-doo) talked about his life as a Tibetan growing up in India and the current condition of the Tibetan community in exile all over the world, especially in India.

In his description of Tibetans living in exile, he cited a figure of 120,000 Tibetans living in India. And even though, there is such a considerable size of Tibetan population living in India for over 50 years now, there is still widespread ignorance of their existence and their struggle, he remarked.

To support his claim, he related a personal anecdote of him traveling in a train where he engages a group of fellow passengers in a conversation. And during this conversation he introduces himself to the group as a Tibetan. But sadly, no one knew who or what was a Tibetan.

He further went on to say: though he was born and raised in India, like most Tibetans of his generation, his legal status remains as a “foreigner” and not even as a refugee because India does not have such a legal designation for a resident.

And because of such a precarious legal standing, their civil rights are restricted, leaving them open to routine harassment by the Indian authorities.

To give an example, he pulled out a piece of paper and said, whenever he has to leave his town of Dharamshala in Himachal Pardesh, he has to seek permission from his local police station and get this official letter allowing him to travel out of town.

However, he did mention that this was not the case for all Tibetans living in India; he just happened to be a special case. And in most cases as far as the Tibetan community was concerned, the Indian government held a general attitude of indifference. But what made him a special case is something he did not elaborate on.

Kranti, however, did mention later in the discussion that Tsundue was no “ordinary man.” He has been arrested twice for his activism.

Tenzin Tsundue protesting across from Chinese Premiere Wen Jiabao's hotel room in Bangalore in 2005. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

According to a New York Times article titled “The Restless Children of the Dalai Lama” dated Dec. 18, 2005: Tsundue in January 2002, climbed 14 floors of scaffolding attached to a Mumbai five-star hotel while the premier of China, Zhu Rongji, was inside. He tied a 20-foot banner with the words “Free Tibet: China, Get Out” and then unfurled the Tibetan national flag and shouted pro-Tibet slogans before he was arrested by the police.

Then again in April 2005, he pulled off a similar one-man protest while the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao was addressing a conference at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. He stood on the balcony of a 200-foot-high tower with a red banner that read “Free Tibet.”

One of the most significant piece of information that got mentioned in the discussion, was the existence of a functioning democratically-elected Tibetan government in exile.

According to Tsundue, the Tibetan parliament comprises of 44 elected representatives from all the Tibetan communities, with the capital at Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. In addition, the government is made up of eight ministers, which also includes the prime minister.

Scenes from the Event

1. Pictures (Link to picture album on Flickr for more pictures.)

Click on an image to enlarge.

2. Video (Link to Video)
Watch excerpts of the panel discussion.

About Khalid Jaleel

Khalid Jaleel is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science. He can be reached via email at: khalidj [at] jamiajournal.com

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