Hurling abuses, TN cops dragged Tibetan students out of hostels: Poet Tenzin Tsundue

The Tibetan poet, who was detained ahead of President Xi Jinping’s visit, says police told him they had orders from Delhi.
Tibetan poet, writer and activist Tenzin Tsundue.
Tibetan poet, writer and activist Tenzin Tsundue.

CHENNAI: Internationally renowned Tibetan poet, writer and activist Tenzin Tsundue (46) was among those who were detained ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-Chinese President Xi Jinping summit at Mamallapuram. He speaks fluent Tamil besides four other Indian languages. Winner of the Outlook-Picador award in 2001 for non-fiction, Tsundue, a graduate of Chennai’s Loyola College, has never shied away from expressing his dream of a free Tibet through his poems and books.

Kept in Puzhal Prison for 10 days, he discusses his jail experience, China’s domination in Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s importance.

How were you arrested?
I was detained in Puducherry on October 5 and was handed over to Villupuram police. I reached Puzhal prison on October 6 and was released on October 15. The entire police force had my picture and details. They were prepared and claimed they were doing this on instructions of Delhi.

 Did you face any harassment?
The cops were absolutely professional. They were instructed not to abuse their power. My biggest problem was, personally, as an activist for 25 years, I could not protest that day. However, Tamil Nadu police made sure there was a blanket cover and arrested anyone who was remotely looking like Tibetans. 

 How do you feel about the arrest of students?
Students lodged with me said they were pulled from hostel rooms by cops who abused them with vulgar words. These students had no intention to protest and were arrested only because they were Tibetans. Students missed their exams. 

 Do you feel democracy is curtailed?
China has occupied Tibet for 70 years. When the Chinese President is coming to Chennai, there would, of course, be some kind of protest. There should have been some democratic space where Tibetans could at least do a symbolic protest. But, there was nothing. Not even communication. That was undemocratic.

 What is the condition in Tibet?
There is a rigorous freedom struggle going on. We are maintaining the struggle from outside as exiles, but the main struggle is happening inside Tibet. Chinese population in Tibet is 12 million while Tibetans are only six million. Most importantly, China is mining in Tibet and they have built a number of highways and railways to take products from Tibet to make cheap ‘Make in China’ products because the resources from Tibet is free. 

 What resources are they taking?
Most important natural resources are gold and copper. Secondly, Lithium, which is used for batteries. 60 to 70 per cent batteries around the world are made in China and the highest quality of it comes from Tibet. Next, Tibet is a main source of fresh drinking water. Rivers from Tibet flow into Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma(Myanmar) and right up to China.  

 Is there an attack on Tibetan culture?
Tibetan language and culture are in danger. Tibetans are not involved in any violence. They are drawn by Buddhist culture. China sees the biggest danger in unity of Tibetans. Tibetan protests have now taken the form of self-immolation and 150 of them have torched themselves.

 Do you think media coverage globally could be better on these issues?
China does not allow free tourism nor media coverage in Tibet. The only media is Chinese official media and that’s how they run the country. Also, when there is a non-violent movement going on, there is no attention but wherever there is violence, there is so much coverage. 

 Tibetan students were asked to denounce the Dalai Lama. Your thoughts?
It is part of the propaganda. But there are some Tibetan stooges who are being used by Chinese government and some of them are mercenaries. Inside and outside Tibet, everybody knows this. For Tibetans, Dalai Lama is the spiritual and political leader. He is the ultimate leader.

 How relevant is Dalai Lama currently?
When you see the current global situation, he is relevant in the entire world where there are dictators everywhere. He is the most compassionate person and that kind of love and respect he has is holiness. Not just for Tibetans, but he is world peace leader. He believes any kind of human problem can be solved by dialogue.

 How do you feel about Tamil Nadu being your second home?
Tamil Nadu is the first world outside the Tibetan society for me. I did my schooling in Himachal Pradesh in a Tibetan refugee zone. I came here in 1993 for college and there was a complete romance about change, development and growth here in Madras.

 Do you speak Tamil well?
Tamil is very different from my mother tongue. But, I learnt right from the first word that it is ‘Tamizh’ and not ‘Tamil’ and even after 25 years I have not forgotten. I know to read and write.

 What do you think of 100 years of the People’s Republic of China?
In 2049, they are going to celebrate it, but there is so much scope for internal revolution. It may likely happen in five or 10 years. Trade war is the first sign of breaking away from China. That will create social and economic problem inside China, and it will create a political mess. 

 Will free Tibet be a reality?
Yes, it is definitely happening. We continue to dream and work for a free Tibet. When people dream and work for Independence. Our people are everywhere in the world. 

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The New Indian Express