Protests Reflect Two Approaches: Solemn and Furious
Thursday, March 20, 2008
DHARMSALA, India, March 19 -- This tiny Himalayan town, host to the Tibetan government-in-exile, is the scene of two distinct kinds of protests this week -- protests illustrating the divergent ideologies that have come to dominate exiles' politics since unrest broke out in their homeland nine days ago.
In the first kind, solemn, peaceful marchers hold candlelight vigils and pray for an end to the Chinese crackdown. In the other, Tibetans furiously call for the death of Chinese President Hu Jintao and parade alongside bare-chested actors playing victims of Chinese torture.
The two groups have been marching up and down the streets of Dharmsala, jamming narrow alleyways. But Wednesday, for a few moments, the stoic marchers and full-throated, sloganeering youths came face to face at a traffic circle outside the town's main temple -- literally the Dalai Lama's doorstep.
At first, it was unclear which group would yield. But the youths stopped where they were and fell silent for five minutes, letting the peaceful protesters proceed, before resuming their death chants.
"Things are coming to the boil on the streets. Emotions are running very high," said Tenzin Taklha, a senior aide to the Dalai Lama. "We can't blame them. There is a deep sense of frustration and resentment among the Tibetan people now. But the presence of his holiness Dalai Lama amongst us acts as a strong restraint."
The uprising in Tibet has thrown into stark relief the impatience of some Tibetans with the path of moderation followed by the Dalai Lama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who has said he does not support Tibetan independence from China. Younger Tibetans, in particular, are growing increasingly edgy about what they see as Tibetan passivity, even if they remain bound by their devotion to and respect for the Dalai Lama.
Protesters who favor a more aggressive approach have been agitating for years, but they say this time is different because of the severity of the situation. Dharmsala is plastered with grisly pictures of monks' corpses in Tibet -- victims, exiles say, of the Chinese crackdown. The images have been enlarged and put onto placards, which people carry through the streets.
"It is difficult for me to control my group this time. They are very, very angry. Information is no longer as tightly controlled as before," said Dhondup, a 26-year-old protester who, like many Tibetans, uses only one name.
On Wednesday, Dhondup was leading a group of activists shouting "Shame on China!" and "China, get out of Tibet!"
"Because of cellphones, satellite TV and Internet, we can see everything, every day. And the anger is rising," he said. "How can we contain our emotions and continue to wait for the Chinese to come around?"
In another example of the friction between the cautious approach of the Dalai Lama and the emotional urgency displayed by the activists, five Tibetan nonprofit organizations have been pressing to lead a controversial march to Lhasa to join protesters there.
The Tibetan spiritual leader called representatives from the groups for a meeting Wednesday morning and appealed to them to halt their march.