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Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Exiles question Dalai Lama's non-violence

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Dharamsala

Protesting monks in Dharamsala
There is a palpable sense of anger in Dharamsala

"Long live the Dalai Lama, Death to Hu Jintao... Tibet is for Tibetans. We want justice. We want freedom."

It's now a regular chant that can be heard every day in the streets of Dharamsala, this northern Indian hill town from where the Tibetan government-in-exile operates.

Hundreds of protesters take part, including monks dressed in bright maroon and saffron robes and school children, many with painted faces.

The daily flag-waving march ends at the Dalai temple - the office and residence of Tibetan spiritual leader Tenzin Gyatso, better known as the Dalai Lama.

'No headway'

As China battles the biggest Tibetan uprising in two decades, the thousands of exiles living in Dharamsala think their time has come to return home.

"We will not back down," says Sangye, a 28-year-old Tibetan who fled his homeland five years ago with a prayer on his lips and a photograph of the Tibetan leader because he wanted to see the Dalai Lama.

President of Tibetan Women's Association, B Tsering
Violence grabs the eyeballs. The situation in Tibet has been breaking news for the last few days because of violence
Tibetan Womens' Association President B Tsering

Sangye and his friends have been participating in the protest march every day for the past week. The protests start early in the day - Dharamsala is a small place - and the slogans can be heard from everywhere. They go on until after the sunset.

Television pictures of protesters taking to the streets in Lhasa and other Tibetan towns have galvanised people here.

At the same time, pictures of dead monks clandestinely shot on mobile phone cameras and sent to Dharamsala are causing immense discontent.

Tibet has been under China's control for almost half a century now, and earlier uprisings against Beijing have been unsuccessful.

So what makes the Tibetans believe that this time they may succeed?

Because, many Tibetans say, in these times of openness and globalisation, China too is changing. It is no longer isolated from the world and it wants global acceptance.

And as China prepares to host the Olympics in a few months, the global spotlight remains focused on Beijing making it, these Tibetan exiles believe, more vulnerable to pressure.

Time running out

However, many here fear this may also be their last chance to fight for their homeland.

In the past few years, China has settled hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese into Tibet. The process has been quickened by the newly-opened rail link to Lhasa.

Dalai Lama, 16/03/08
The Dalai Lama says he does not control the Tibetan people

"Maybe China's grand strategy is to flood Tibet with an influx of ethnic Han Chinese. In Lhasa, two-thirds of the 300,000 population is already Chinese," says Tenzin Taklha, senior aide to the Dalai Lama.

"Rumour has it that after the Olympics, China will settle one million Han Chinese into Tibet. Before we become an insignificant minority in our own home, we appeal to the international community to help out."

But some Tibetans appear to have given up on appealing to the outside world.

Although most people I spoke to in Dharamsala say they believe in the policy of non-violence, there is a growing sense of anger and resentment among many Tibetans, young and old, and a feeling that there is a need to change the rules of engagement with China.

B Tsering is the president of Tibetan Women's Association, one of five NGOs spearheading street protests in India.

'Acrimonious'

She says violent monks in Tibet at the start of last week's protests were actually Chinese soldiers in disguise. But she admits that some Tibetans may have participated in violence later.

"We are not all holy, spiritual people, we are just ordinary folks. We are not all like the Dalai Lama. He genuinely and sincerely believes in non-violence, but sometimes the ordinary people get frustrated and angry."

Protest in Dharamsala
Protests have taken place on a daily basis

The frustration is not without reason, Mr Taklha says.

"We have had six rounds of talks with China since September 2002, but there's not been much headway. The last one in June-July 2007 was quite acrimonious."

Most Tibetans here feel China is just buying time. And many believe the time is not on the Dalai Lama's side. He is 72 now, so how much longer will be around? they ask?

So they feel this is as good a time as any to make a pitch for what is rightfully theirs. And some feel if some violence serves their cause, then so be it.

"Violence grabs the eyeballs. The situation in Tibet has been breaking news for the last few days because of violence. The international community and media are paying us attention only because of the violence," Ms Tsering says.

She says that her association stands for non-violence, but other Tibetans may not respect that position much longer.

And this realisation is causing distress to the Tibetan leader.

Disappointment

"I received a call from Tibet - they said please don't ask us to stop," the Dalai Lama said referring to the protestors.

He has conceded the demand. But he has reiterated his support for the policy of non-violence and the middle path.

Buddhist nuns and monks in Dharamsala, 16/03/08
Dharamsala is home to many Buddhist nuns and monks

"Independence for Tibetans is out of the question. Tibetans and Chinese have to live side by side," he told a press conference in Dharamsala on Tuesday.

The Dalai Lama is a man who has been at the door of disappointment many times.

But as many Buddhist monks here tell me, their religion teaches them to be optimistic.

"The Dalai Lama thinks the issue will not end with him. Tibetan civilization is thousands of years old. He thinks the nation, the people and the struggle would live on," says Mr Taklha.

But many here, including some senior members of the government-in-exile, are getting tired of the slow pace.

As the speaker of the Tibetan parliament in exile, TT Karma Chophel, puts it: "It's not working. Many people feel a change in the approach is called for. We have no hope that China will ever do anything for Tibetans."


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