It’s a dramatic twist in the 50-year history of a freedom struggle. Two years ago, no Tibetan would have spoken out against the Dalai Lama’s ‘Middle Way’ — his 22-year-old policy of accepting Chinese suzerainty over Tibet in exchange of ‘meaningful autonomy’. It was discussed heatedly within drawing rooms but was never struck down in public.
Then came the March 2008 riots in Lhasa and the Beijing Olympics. The events — one standing for proof of indigenous resentment, the other marking a failure to raise the stakes — pumped adrenaline into the debate.
Now the split within the community is as wide as the valley in front of Dharamshala. Notwithstanding the Dalai Lama’s considered line, a large section of young Tibetans are asking for a renewed call of outright independence.
This dilemma is at the heart of The Sun Behind the Clouds, a film by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam that is premiering in India this week. The 50-year-old filmmakers have stitched together 80 minutes of footage from Tibet, Beijing, India and the US — some of them recorded under the threat of reprisal — to draw an indelible timeline that’s threaded by the 1,000-km march from Dharamshala to the Chinese border that a group of Tibetans undertook last year.
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is seen torn between the pragmatic (welcoming the economic development brought in by the Chinese), the political (heeding the wishes of his people) and the spiritual (the Buddhist view of national boundaries being notional).
For many Tibetans, the time for such debates has passed. “There’s a growing sense of urgency,” says Sonam. “We have been living under a false hope of resolution all these years… Now, for the first time, Tibetans are speaking up — even against the Dalai Lama.” Such a shift should interest all those who like their neighbours to be friendly.