As in previous years, the Tibetans are not celebrating their New Year’s Day this year too which falls this month.
2.Tibetans in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR),Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan as well as the Tibetan diaspora abroad, including in India, are observing their New Year’s Day as a day of mourning and prayers in memory of 99 Tibetans who have so far committed self-immolation ( 80 of them fatal) in the Tibetan areas of China to demand their freedom and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Lhasa.
3.Their hopes that the advent of a new Chinese leadership headed by Mr.Xi Jinping could mark a relaxation of the suppression in the Tibetan areas and a willingness to address the grievances of the Tibetans have been belied so far.
4.Since Xi took over as the Party General Secretary from Mr.Hu Jintao in November last year, the Party has shown no inclination to re-consider its policies of suppression and forcible integration of the Tibetans which has driven many young Tibetan monks and others to take the desperate step of self-immolation to draw the attention of the international community to their plight.
4.Instead of recognizing the continuing self-immolations as an expression of desperation and anguish, the Chinese have been projecting them as part of a conspiracy against Beijing mounted by His Holiness and the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) and other external organizations such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.
5.Instead of sympathising with the relatives and friends of those who committed self-immolation, they have been rounding them up and prosecuting them on a charge of instigating the self-immolations. Eight of them have already been sentenced after sham trials to various terms of imprisonment, including one of suspended death sentence.
6. In the face of this wave of suppression to put down the self-immolations, the Tibetans in India observed five days of solidarity with the Tibetan struggle for freedom. They observed a day of prayers on February 1 at New Delhi that was attended by about 1000 people including many Indian opposition leaders.
7.Lobsang Sangay, Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, has said the convictions were unfortunate because “repression is the cause” of the self-immolations.
8.Sangay said it was unfortunate that the Chinese government had resorted to “sham” trials that had “no basis or legal process.”
9.He said he had asked Tibetans around the world not to celebrate the Lunar New Year this month out of respect for those who have died from the self-immolations.
10.“As a form of condolences and solidarity to all those Tibetans inside Tibet … I have asked Tibetans not to celebrate, not to organize any festivals, but to wear traditional dress and go to monasteries and pray for all those who have died and continue to suffer in Tibet,” he said.
11.It was gratifying to note the greater public interest in the Tibetan cause in New Delhi this year, but it has to spread to other parts of India, which are hardly aware of the continuing tragedy in Tibet.
(The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. Twitter: @SORBONNE75)