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Not made in China

Around the world in 54 weeks. Destination: Mumbai

columns Updated: Jan 30, 2011 00:29 IST
Tithiya Sharma

He’s a warrior with a message of peace, a patriot barred from his homeland, a refugee in a country he was born in and an idealist living in a world disenchanted by anything without a price tag.

If you know of Tenzin Tsundue, it’s probably because you watched him steal the visiting Chinese Prime Minister’s media thunder in 2005. Tsundue unfurled a ‘Free Tibet’ banner sitting high up on the ledge of a building screaming “Wen Jiabao, you cannot silence us”.

Yes, you can’t silence the determined dissenter, but you can restrict his movements, throw him jail and make an example out of him to frighten others with lofty ideas of freedom, justice and righteousness.

Some estimates claim that almost a million Tibetans have perished in the struggle for a free Tibet. The next obvious question is… What does this one man hope to accomplish? With global icons at the helm of affairs, what can Tsundue really do?

He hopes to keep the “idea of a free Tibet alive”. Reminding the world that whether living under Chinese rule or in exile, the Tibetan people are still hoping, waiting and yearning.

In an era of armchair activism where people assume they’ve done their bit by wearing t-shirts with clichéd slogans and ‘sharing’ news about the horrors of war and exploitation in their virtual lives, Tsundue goes the extra mile.

When he’s not dangling precariously from towers, Tsundue is writing poetry about his life and his people’s struggle. He travels to every part of India with a Tibetan population- inspiring and binding them together in a peaceful resistance against “colonial China”.

He’s also open to spending time in jail- most recently in 2008, after being arrested by the Chinese border police for attempting to reach Tibet. Tsundue along with his compatriots wanted to stage a protest against the Olympics and human rights violations and the political propaganda that’s controlling Chinese citizens.

Tsundue says, “There can be no freedom for Tibet, till the Chinese people are free. Unless there is democracy and dignity for the Chinese citizens, there will be none for Tibetans. The only way to deal with a bully like China is through compassion, empowerment and support of it’s people.”

Tsundue was born in a tent besides a road, his mother, along with other Tibet refugee labourers, were constructing in Himachal Pradesh. His family was eventually settled in a refugee camp in Tamil Nadu, where he attended a Tibetan school and eventually went to a local university.

“Even though India has an over cautious stance where it comes to the Tibet issue, the country has given us a home. It has allowed us to continue in our way of life, to keep our cultural identity and to me that is the most valued support”, he stresses.

Tsundue’s brand of activism and his past endeavours require him to register with the police in Dharamshala each time he plans to travel and also upon his return. He must carry that ‘permission slip’ with him at all times. He feels no resentment and expects no special treatment. “Everything I endure is nothing new to any refugee anywhere, there is no room for ego here”.

Recounting his darkest hour in a prison cell, fearing being locked away and forgotten for a lifetime, Tsundue says that something remarkable happened. “I realised that there is joy in the simple things in life- a few moments in the sun outside my cell, a cup of hot water and a steamed bun for breakfast and the idea of a free Tibet.” Inside that jail cell, Tsundue had been released. Now, he carries that sense of calm with him always. He’s content with a Spartan existence, earning sustenance from his published work. Almost fearful of getting too comfortable, lest it distract him from his life’s mission.

He may have spent his entire life in exile, but Tenzin Tsundue was ‘Made in Tibet’.