By Keshav Pariat
SHILLONG: Members of the Tibetan community in Shillong gathered in the city on Sunday evening to take part in a peaceful candlelight march from Jhalupara to Barik Point.
According to the organisers, around 300 people took part.
The event marked 54 years since the Tibetan National Uprising took place in Lhasa, Tibet, protesting Chinese rule, which was violently put down by Chinese forces and resulted in the Dalai Lama fleeing into exile in India.
This year, along with commemorating the uprising, the day was also observed as Tibetan Martyr’s Day. According to the Tibetan Government in Exile, 107 Tibetans have self-immolated – resulting in 90 fatalities – since 2009 to protest the Chinese government’s policies in Tibet.
An official function and prayer session were held on Sunday morning at the Upper Lumparing Tibetan Monastery. Prayers were said for world peace and stability as well as to pay respect to those who have self-immolated.
Songs opened and ended the march and the protesters made use of visual messages for those who saw them pass by, such as “Free the political prisoners” and “We salute the martyrs”.
Among the marchers was Yangchen Dolkar, a member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile. She said that the candlelight protest was to show solidarity with those in Tibet.
On the question of whether the freedom desired by Tibetans means independence, she said, “Freedom is not independence in this case. We mean freedom of religion, expression, to study – basic human rights, but not independence.”
The Chinese government, for its part, routinely accuses the Dalai Lama and the Government in Exile of instigating self-immolations, but Dolkar categorically denied that.
“No one can instigate someone to burn themselves,” she said.
“The Government in Exile has urged the people not to take such steps, but the people who do self-immolate do so because of the extremely harsh policies of the Chinese government.
“This is a drastic step of non-violence as they are not harming anyone else but themselves. They want to let the world know what is happening in Tibet.
“China only shows the developed side of Tibet, but that is all fake. What development they have brought is for themselves, not for Tibetans.
“They have built the world’s highest railway project in Tibet, but there is influx of eight million Chinese people into Tibet, but Tibetans all over the world might only number six million. We are becoming a minority in our land.”
Also at the protest was Namgyal Yemphel, head master of Sambhota Tibetan School, Shillong. Like many refugees, he has never seen his homeland, having been born and brought up in India.
“In a way I am more Indian than Tibetan, but in my inner conscience I have always been moved by the plight of my people and by my nation,” he said.
He described the protest as necessary because, “It is an important day in the history of Tibet, where there is a feeling of absolute dejection, even humiliation, so it is very important to remind the younger generation of what has happened in Tibet and let them feel the pain of being away from home and let them get to know what is happening in Tibet.”
Despite the decades of “harsh” Chinese rule, Yemphel remains positive.
“We are living in hope that there will be a change. If not in my lifetime, then maybe in my daughter’s or her daughter’s.
“But as a nation, it is important to keep the fire burning, to keep our language and culture alive. That is what we are doing.
“We are waiting for a day when we are able to go back to the fatherland that I have heard so much of but have never seen.”