Dalai Lama turns 85 in 61st year in exile

Lhamo Dhondup was born on 6 July 1935 in Taktser of Tibet, from where he fled to India in 1959 but was denied the right to seek freedom for his people from Chinese occupation

Tibet, located to the north of India, has been under Chinese occupation since May 1950. Tibet is a hilly area at an altitude of about 16,000–17,000 feet from the sea level. Being an extension of the Himalayas, it is cold here throughout the year. As cold as the world has been to the Tibetan cry for freedom! Taktser, an area in Tibet, is where Lhamo Dhondup (or Thondup) was born on 6 July 1935, 85 years ago. Lhamo Dhondup is the 14th Dalai Lama of Buddhists. When Lhamo Dhondup was 6 years old, the 13th Dalai Lama Thubatein Gyatso declared him the successor.

There is a special reason behind declaring him the Dalai Lama at such a young age. It is said that in 1937 when the religious leaders of Tibet saw him, they found in him an incarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso. After this, the religious leaders gave spiritual instruction to the young boy.

The relations between the Dalai Lama and China have never been good. From 1357 to 1419, there was a religious leader in Tibet named J Sikhampa. He started a school in Tibet in 1409 AD, named the Jelag School. Gedun Drupa was a promising student in this school. Gedun later became the first Dalai Lama.

Lama means “guru” in Buddhism. Buddhists consider the Dalai Lama their guru. They obey everything he says. In the 1630s, battles between Buddhists and Tibetans began over leadership. Eventually, the fifth leader in the order managed to unite Tibet.

The 13th Dalai Lama declared Tibet independent in 1912. China did not raise any objection immediately. But after about 40 years when the communist government was formed in China, Mao Zedong-led forces attacked Tibet, which lacked the resources needed to raise an army or defend itself.

China considers the Dalai Lama a separatist. Whenever the Tibetan spiritual head visits a country, China issues an official statement, objecting to the visit. China would object whenever the Dalai Lama went to the US. However, in 2010, the then US President Barack Obama met the Tibetan guru despite opposition from China.

In 1956, the then Prime Minister of China Zhao En-lai visited India. The Dalai Lama accompanied him. Both met the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru turned a deaf ear to their call for independence of Tibet. India’s first prime minister told them they should leave the demand for independence of Tibet and seek autonomy instead. Thereafter, India relegated India to a footnote in geographical studies.

A few years after his visit to India, the Chinese government called the Dalai Lama to Beijing under the condition that he would come alone. No soldier, bodyguard or his supporters were supposed to accompany him. The Dalai Lama’s Australian friend Henrich Harrer advised him that if he went to Beijing alone, he would be captured and incarcerated for life.

In March 1959, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet disguised as a soldier and came to India. It took him 14 days to come to India. The spiritual leader of Tibetans crossed Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh to India. In April 1959, India gave him shelter officially. India granted him asylum when he was barely 23 years of age.

Meanwhile, India’s independence in 1947 and the formation of the communist government in China two years later led to a dispute between the two countries over the boundaries that separated one from the other.

In 1957, a newspaper in China reported that the world’s highest highway was ready between Xinjiang and Tibet. The road to this highway passed through Aksai Chin, which was entirely a part of India.

Nehru shot a letter to Zhao En-lai, protesting against the construction. Zhao told Nehru that the boundaries set by the British Empire were not acceptable to China. In 1959, India announced it was giving the Dalai Lama shelter. This turned China livid.

During the war between India and China in 1962, it was learnt that the Chinese had penetrated into Indian areas for territory or trade. China put a condition to return Indian PoWs. New Delhi had to agree to a new trade agreement proposal from Beijing. India refused. It said until the People’s Liberation Army returned to their 1954 positions, there would be no agreement.

On 13 September 1962, China proposed the agreement again. If India was ready to sign the deal, the PLA would retreat by 20 km. The Nehru government agreed to this, and yet China attacked.

After the 1962 war, Swedish journalist Bertil Linter wrote in The Chinese War with India China’s condition was very bad. There was a famine that had killed three to four crore people. Mao Zedong discovered a new external enemy in India, and the Dalai Lama was a factor.

Since 1962, India has behaved in a strange manner on the issue of Tibet. It did not challenge China’s claim over Tibet. It has a soft corner for Tibetans, though. Nevertheless, as and when a Chinese delegation visits India, the local police launch a crackdown of Tibetan activists. The uneasy relations with China notwithstanding, it made the Dalai Lama agree to the precondition of not indulging in anti-China activism on Indian soil.

Finally, some three years ago, the Dalai Lama gave up too. He said Tibetans were no longer looking for independence from China. The little sympathy of the Indian people he used to enjoy was lost.

Since the 15 June skirmish between Indian and Chinese troops that led to at least 70 casualties on both sides of the Line of Actual Control, India seems to have changed its China policy finally, with the Narendra Modi government taking a series of economic steps against Beijing like the ban on 59 Chinese apps, which has far-reaching financial implications for the communist state, and strengthening Indian defence with deployments of soldiers and procurement of sophisticated war machines from the US, Israel, France and other countries.

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