My grandfather was worked to death in a road gang for the crime of resisting the Chinese communists who invaded his country, Tibet. A Buddhist monk who I am proud to call my friend suffered three years of unimaginable torture for taking part in a nonviolent demonstration for Tibetan independence.
Given my deep personal involvement in the Tibetan freedom movement, I would perhaps be expected to take offense at the Nov. 15 “Bear Bones” cartoon, which portrays a Tibetan freedom activist with nothing but the most superficial understanding of “the trendiest cause around.” I do not, simply because I know this is not accurate: in Dartmouth’s chapter of Students for a Free Tibet, there are people who understand the tragic complexities of this issue and care deeply about the human suffering that it represents. While we have fun, we are not jumping on the bandwagon of the latest trend. We in SFT work to raise awareness of the Tibetan people’s struggle for self-determination, as well as on political action and cultural events like organizing the visit of the monks who made the sand mandala last week.
Since Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, more and more people in the West have become aware of Tibet’s plight. And for some people, this awareness may indeed be only as superficial as the vague moral outrage of Berenson’s character, who only knows that Tibet is “not free” and that “these monks should be allowed to build their sand castles if they want to.” To someone like this, I offer my encouragement because the first step to becoming part of the solution is to understand the problem.
China invaded Tibet in 1950, claiming it was “liberating” the Tibetan people. In the decades that followed, 1.2 million Tibetans died and over 6,000 monasteries were destroyed in China’s efforts to eradicate the Tibetan identity. Over 110,000 Tibetans have fled to India as refugees, including much of my family. Thousands more remain in prison in Tibet for nonviolently advocating their right to self-determination. Ethnic Chinese colonists are encouraged by the Chinese government to move to Tibet and are given preference in business, education and health care by a system of institutionalized discrimination. As a result, the Tibetan population is being marginalized and outnumbered in their own land. A friend of my mother’s who recently left Tibet gave me a firsthand description of the atmosphere of terror created by the omnipresent soldiers and surveillance. In fact, if this were Tibet, Berenson would be imprisoned and probably tortured for writing the words “Free Tibet,” as would I for writing this column and you for simply possessing a copy of it.
But we are not in Tibet, nor in China, where the government also represses dissent and abuses its people. It can be so easy to take for granted the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but the truth is that we enjoy freedoms that Tibetans and Chinese only dream of. It seems only right that we should want to help others realize these freedoms as well. Tibetans are Buddhists and are devoted to nonviolence, and in a world where terrorism and violence get so much attention, this makes world support even more vital for Tibet. So to anyone feeling like Berenson’s character, who wants to help but is a little unsure where to start, I’d like to suggest becoming a part of Students for a Free Tibet right here at Dartmouth. In this organization, there are people who realize that with knowledge, concern and dedication, we have the power to advance the cause of a people who cry out simply for the freedom they deserve.