Wearing t-shirts and yellow bandanas with “Stop Genocide”, “Thank you India” and “I love Tibet” written on them, Tibetan activists marched from Delhi Gate to a red tent on the west side of Jantar Mantar carrying a white torch. This was the first stop of the torch in India on its world tour to raise awareness for the Tibetan freedom movement.
At the encampment, applause from a waiting group of older, first generation Tibetan immigrants greeted the mostly young marchers. They paused in front of the tent, set up at Jantar Mantar four months ago.
Passang, a 61-year-old woman who left Tibet with her family when she was nine years old, stood up when they arrived and joined their protests. “What do we want?” shouted one marcher. “We want freedom,” protesters screamed in response.
“People of the world,” he called. Passang, tears running down her face, pumped her fist in the air and yelled with the rest: “Support us.”
Khiren Rijiju, an MP from Arunachal Pradesh, later echoed their cry. “It is the moral duty of everyone in India to stand up and support the Tibetan people,” he said, speaking to supporters in front of posters of the Dalai Lama and Mahatma Gandhi. “This Olympics being organised in Beijing has lost the true spirit of the Olympics.”
On March 10, the Tibetan torch left Olympia, Greece, and has traveled to four continents, echoing the official Olympic torch’s route. While officials in Beijing hoped to use the Olympics to draw attention to China’s development, the extra interest has also highlighted the controversy over Tibet.
China claims Tibet as its own, but activists support an independent state and say Beijing has a history of using violence to put down independence movements.
“I feel the games are so pure and competition is so pure,” said former cricket player and MP Kirti Azad. “It’s unfortunate that the Olympic Games have been sullied by the blood of the Tibetan people.”
Azad, who has long been involved in the movement for an independent Tibet, also called on Indians. “I feel that we should fight for the cause.”
Passang said she hopes they will succeed. Her children have only ever seen pictures of her childhood home and heard her descriptions. “If we get our freedom, we must go.”