A Nation-state: Disappearing or disappeared?

SAIL Event Memorial by Jaibatruka Mohanta, SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai.


Some men arrive. They force their way into a family’s home, rich or poor, house, hovel or hut, in a city or in a village, anywhere. They come at any time of the day or night, usually in plain clothes, sometimes in uniform, always carrying weapons. Giving no reasons, producing no arrest warrant, frequently without saying who they are or on whose authority they are acting, they drag off one or more members of the family towards a car, using violence in the process if necessary. – International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances 30th August

Some human stories are unheard simply because people disappear by forces which guard the majority.

UN Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances was observed by SVKMs Pravin Gandhi College of Law’s, Society of International Law and its Affairs (“SAIL”). It was an initiative taken to spread awareness about the gross violation of human rights in the twenty-first century when we claim to be advanced in technological senses, more than we were ever before. The shadows of lakhs of people disappear into thin air with their voices never to be heard again. Law enforcement authorities remain where they are, the courts of satiating their hunger for evidence on paper, the investigative agencies lowering their voices and human rights being murdered at broad day light for reasons – best known to serve …..???

About the Freedom Fighter of the twenty-first century ….

From home you have reached
the Horizon here.
From here to another
here you go.

The guest for the day was Mr. Tenzin Tsundue. He is a poet, writer and Tibetan activist, fighting for the liberation of Tibet from the clutches of China. With his immense struggle through his journey and to voice his dissent against the Chinese occupation, Mr. Tenzin wears a red band on his head throughout, he says that it will be removed the day Tibet is an independent nation. His unique style and poise earned him the title of being India’s 50 most stylish people, by the Indian edition of the international fashion magazine Elle in 2002.

The young soul is the winner of the first-ever Outlook-Picador Award for Non-Fiction in 2011. He is the acclaimed writer of four books to date which have gained wide popularity and translated into several languages: Crossing the Border (1999), Kora (2002), Semshook (2007) and Tsen-göl (2012). He joined Friends of Tibet a movement to keep alive the issue of Tibet through direct action in 1999 and lives in Dharamshala, North India.

He narrated the story of his parents ….

Hope is a good thing and it must always be alive, the writings of this writer is full of hope, and can be reflected through his poems.

This Losar
when you attend your Morning Mass,
say an extra prayer
that the next Losar
we can celebrate back in Lhasa.[2]

The talk began with Mr. Tenzin’s experience of being a victim of enforced disappearance and his observations regarding the same. He started the session by greeting everyone “Tashi delek” which translates to “namaste” in Hindi.

In the year 1959 fearing persecution by the People’s Republic of China his parents were forced to leave their home country and reached India. On reaching India they worked as mountain road construction labourers. A lot of Tibetans lost their lives in the first few months because of the summer heat, and the monsoon deteriorated their health further. Life went on and Mr. Tenzin was born somewhere between life and struggle, in a makeshift tent alongside a road. His date of birth is not confirmed and various records exists at various offices. In spite of all these he completed his schooling in Dharamshala and further studied in Mumbai University, Bombay.

In India, Tibetans have worked as mountain road construction labourers in places like Masumari, Bir, Kullu and Manali. The world’s largest stretch of metalled road, running hundreds of kilometres from Manali to Ladakh, was built by Tibetans.[3] People from a different land built a road which almost touched their Motherland but could not walk into their adobe of happiness. As they settled in various places in India, the trees which they planted with the hope that, by the time it grows they shall leave their mark and pave their way back home. Reality is the trees have now started to bear fruits and the wait seems to redefine itself every Losar.

Continues his struggle to himself educated ……

Upon completing his degree from Mumbai University like every aspiring graduate high in spirits and to conquer the world of his dreams, carved his way. During his discourse, he posed a question to the audience “What is independence and what it means to be independent?” The answer to this was silence, to which he replied, that “this is independence”, “the fact that you need not know what being independent means is independence as it is of greater value to Tibetans who are fighting for it so that the coming generations value it, not aspire to have it”.

Tibetans still hope that their journey will end in Lhasa, the question is when?

From Ladakh
Tibet is just a gaze away.
They said
from that black knoll
at Dumtse it’s Tibet.
For the first time,
I saw my country.[4]

After completing college when usually students become recognized by various institutions pertaining to their skills and job, our speaker at the age of twenty-two had accidently crossed the border and thus reached Tibet while travelling in Ladakh. At first, curiosity got the best of him, he walked for five whole days only to realize that there weren’t any Tibetans in the vicinity and eventually got arrested by the Chinese authorities who suspected him to be an agent sent by the Indian government. Thus at a mere age of twenty-two while wandering at Ladakh he disappeared and what remained was interrogation and torture by the authorities. He was neither produced before any officer, let alone authority or court nor was his family informed about his whereabouts, absolutely nothing. Human rights became a shadow which was seen by all but voiced by none as always.

This narrative’s objective is to bring to light the statelessness of the Tibetans, the enforced disappearances that take place and how it feels to live with ‘no identity’ in a world continuing to define itself by some means or the other and that eventually how all the other independent nations have chosen silence over even talking about the issue …..

He continued to explain how this issue has not been recognised by common people and is not considered to be that big of a concern but there are people like him who have faced the issue and have undergone through the severity of the same. At the age of 22 he accidently crossed the borders while travelling in Ladakh – the quest to his unseen homeland.

After three horrifying months of constant interrogation and torture he was sent back to India as they couldn’t find an iota of guilt on his part. The cross-border policy then stated that anyone who is found not guilty has to be released after three months. In those three months voices from the outer world were shunned and places which never exist even in our worse dreams had become a reality. How can we as humans build places which are so closed and dark, that even our shadows disappear. Let alone human rights, human conscience is by far absent within us.

On his return to India, the Indian authorities were in shock and dwelled upon the presumption that he has been brain-washed and sent as a spy back to India. Everyone refrained from communicating with him, his own family members did not respond to him. It was at this point that he decided that he would do something for Tibet, for the liberation of Tibet.

A state disappearing in the 21st century and we!

Thirty-nine years in exile.
Yet no nation supports us.
Not a single bloody nation!

We are refugees here.
People of a lost country.
Citizen to no nation.[5]

Mr. Tenzin got himself completely involved in Tibet’s independence movement henceforth. He started writing poems, spread the awareness about what it is to be an independent nation and what loss the people of Tibet are undergoing without even realizing about it. His courageous step was when in January 2002 he climbed the scaffolding outside the hotel where the PRC Premier Zhu Rongji was staying in Mumbai and displayed a banner with the words “Free Tibet: China, Get Out” along with a Tibetan flag while shouting pro-Tibetan chants and eventually being arrested by the Indian police. A similar one-man protest was repeated when the.PRC Premier Wen Jiabao was visiting the southern city of Bangalore. Standing at the balcony of a 200 foot high-tower at the Indian Institute of Science, he unfurled a red banner that read “Free Tibet” while shouting “Wen Jiabao, you cannot silence us“. These acts of his, led the Indian police to order a travel ban and he was ordered not to leave the town of Dharamshala, when the Chinese President Hu Jintao visited India in November 2006.

Truth and peaceful dissent is something which is not acknowledged by many.. Peacefully living and letting others live while all can enjoy the benefits of Mother Nature is a virtue which was not nurtured into us sadly. Vices of acquiring somehow have successfully intruded the minds of a few governments.

Mother Nature has endowed Tibet with abundance of richness only to be harnessed by the current day intruders. The Tibetan Plateau has earned the name of “the third pole” of the world, as only the Arctic and Antarctic have more ice than the glacial highlands of the Tibetan plateau. With the richness of the Buddhist culture and some iconic monasteries signifying the craftsmanship of the people. Alongside Tibet has huge reserves of copper, lithium, gold and silver. The mineral resources had not been touched in the past as the Tibetans didn’t mine the land because it was against their religious practice to disturb the ground. However, the scenario has undergone a change with China mining on an enormous scale.

Our speaker while discussing the size of Tibet said that for most of the world Tibet is actually a small part above the Himalayan range and the fact remains that it is believed by almost the entire world. Whereas the truth amazed all of us, the actual geographical area of Tibet is 2.5 million sq. km. To get a fair idea of this, the geographical area of India is 3.287 million sq. km. Thus it is not a small part as we all have been believing over the years.

In relation to the territorial demarcation of Tibet The Simla Accord, or the Convention Between Great Britain, China, and Tibet, in Simla was a treaty concerning the status of Tibet negotiated by representatives of the Republic of ChinaTibet and the United Kingdom in Simla in 1913 and 1914. This was also known as the Anglo-Tibetan Declaration – 3July 1914.[6]

However what is being followed or was followed is far from what was there in this convention. China over the centuries has conquered its neighbouring states in a gradual process. For instance Manchuria’s existence today remains in Manchurian dishes. Mongolia on the other hand, Outer Mongolia was not completely free due to economic dependence on China, henceforth Inner Mongolia fell helpless. These acts have crushed the integrity of various states like Manchuria, leading which today the Manchurians have completely forgotten who they are and a transformation to Chinese has undergone.

For India what does it imply? The Chinese have always been a difficult neighbour. The Tibetans are indeed fighting a losing battle, with the world completely brushing this battle under the carpet every morning. Tomorrow for India, this may lead to a cancerous wound, having a 3,500 km permanent border with China. Virtue or vice, a call to be taken.

Youngest Political Prisoner, humanity or just mere humanness?

In current day Tibet a lot of young souls simply disappear once the dusk happens to be never seen again. Tibet as an issue has always been neglected. Mr. Tenzin said “we see people mentioning the “Indo-Pak”, “Indo-China” border issues but the issue of “Indo-Tibet”, “Tibet-China” have become those chapters at the end of our history books which is never turned and touched in today’s era”.

He shared another significant incident which most of us had definitely heard and read about but in the course of our lives we have easily forgotten this child. The shackles of our virtues have fallen to such depth that a child of six years was made a political prisoner.

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was born on April 25, 1989 at Lhari County, Tibet. On 14 May, 1995 he was declared as the 11th Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama. Three days after the declaration, i.e. on 17 May, 1995 he was taken into what the PRC government described as protective custody and has never appeared in the public eye ever since that fateful day. The anticipation is that, Chinese authorities may use the individual they have selected as Panchen Lama to serve their political interests. Capturing a six year old boy and never to be seen again, claiming that he is safe. No international organization has been allowed or international press to meet the disappeared child, human rights and all else have fallen silent and now the issue has been long forgotten. On the contrary Gyaltsen Norbu, has been Chosen by Beijing as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama when he was six, the son of two communist party members. The Chinese are now using their established Pension Lama as a tool to attract the Tibetans towards this acts.

Apart from these, Tibetan resistance to China, the cries fall on deaf ears, with the international community being a mere spectator to the principles on which their territories have gained independence. It’s been sixty years since the People’s Republic of China has been maintaining control and power over the Tibetan plateau. In addition, democracy is an illusion.

In context to the present-day Tibetan living in India and their status, he said, that they have to carry several documents in place of a passport and are given the status of foreigners living in India, not refugees so as to maintain good relations keeping in mind the military prowess of China. There were initiatives in the past like UN General Assembly Resolution 1723 (XVI), 1961, Five Point Peace Plan[7], Strasbourg Proposal[8], German Bundestag Resolution[9], Bonn, June 19, 1996, etc.[10]

The resolutions no doubt had great intentions and are a great part of history but the potential they carry to liberate Tibet is very less. Tibet though is potentially independent but has disappeared under the shade of the Chinese power. 

Therefore, Mr. Tenzin has rightly stated that enforced disappearances does not only connote to disappearing of humans but in a wider spectrum at times regions, territories and even states at times disappear. The screams become a shadow at places where even sun-light struggles to lighten up a place.

The way ahead ….

We as individuals must think that as individuals where are we heading? Depriving people of their homeland is it justified?

A nation which not only preached peace but practised it, did neither have capitalist interests nor socialist ideology for its subjects. All it did was it wanted to have a place of its own and preserve whatever was given to it. Every four years when the Olympics happen, eyes of Tibetans get moist, with the hope that, in the coming four years Tibet will also have its place in the opening ceremony, with its flag being held high during the parade.

What was the mistake that this nation did? Maybe, practising peace instead of developing a military and artillery unit. We all know that weapons however, sophisticated they are, is designed to kill and kill fellow humans for greed and ego. The world economy largely depends on the trade of ammunitions. The propaganda of hatred though not being spread overtly, however covertly it is creeping into the minds of people. It is easier to spread hatred for vendetta very much unknown.

There are organizations like the United Nations, which is established for the sole purpose to maintain peace and preserve the rights of individuals. Nation-states from all over the world have their representations, the People’s Republic of China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, which very much depicts the fact that why the question of Tibet cannot be raised at such organizations. Organizations like these are established to foster peace or to fulfil objectives of a few nations. When the voices of millions of Tibetans can fall in deaf ears, their cries simply ignored by all nations, as addressing the issue will not benefit any country, rather will create political and diplomatic differences between a few countries. The Tibetans with their peaceful protest want to speak to the conscience of the Chinese, and the conscience of the nation states at large. The ten letter word, is it even there? Or what is left is just a perception that we as nations want peace, but bow to never have it.

The generation of people who had fled from Tibet due to the oppression are now about to breathe their last. They wish that the last breath is where they played as children, heard stories from their grand-parents, ran at length along the country-side and prayed with the monks at the monasteries. As independent nation-states we must if not support their cause, at least acknowledge them instead of closing our eyes and believing what is shown.

Where all nation-states are trying to forget the issue of Tibet and the People’s Republic of China continues to erase Tibet from the world’s map. A few people continue their tryst for an independent nation-state.

Question and Answer session: –

  1. What is the treatment given to a person when disappeared?

Tenzin Tsundue (TT): Other than the physical torture, the fear of not being recognized and remembered is the biggest immediate concern. Lack of legal support is also one of the factors. The strategy is to undermine the person to a level that his moral stance is completely destroyed and one would do anything to survive and be free again. They would be willing to give any information for survival. Since there is no way to escape and it is known to them. Trying not to go mad is also one of the concerns in that period. Freedom becomes a fantasy, the prisoners are banned to talk to anyone and it mentally traumatizes them in every manner possible.  

  • What is the media doing to help this?

Media has very little exposure until there is concrete proof media can’t point fingers and it can only keep asking questions but can’t seek answers since the data has been reserved and is almost always unavailable.

International tribunal of peoples, in 1989- 1992, shared that 730 graves were found, but the government refused to accept that they were of the disappeared people. 8000 people in Kashmir have disappeared, leaving other people linked to them are helpless especially women are called half widows and are denied the rights of a widow.

  • What can be done about this issue?

An organization –International Commission on Missing People (ICMA): – records of all the numbers of disappeared people and then they will file and fight for them. But such acts aren’t encouraged. The government itself doesn’t co-operate and help in proving the disappearance such initiatives also stand helpless. But one should not be disheartened, there should be more involvement of people to create awareness and seek justice for these people.

More and more civil societies should come ahead along with the NGO, Media, one should not rely on the government.

  • Is this disappearance as a result of the military or the Government? 

Tenzin Tsundue (TT): The military is governed by the government in most countries except few countries hence it’s the orders of the government are abided by the military.

  • How to go about gathering such a data?

Ideally through RTI, but this tool has been diluted.

But by working in collaboration and pressuring the state to disclose the truth can prove to be helpful.

What matters is, empathy that we as people living a secure life can have but one should extend the same emotion of empathy to help such people. As people pursuing law, we should take up the challenge of bringing justice to such victims. And should never forget how significant freedom is.

  • Situation of people living in China including the invaded regions?

Tenzin Tsundue (TT): There are people all over from China living under the “Autonomous Tibet”. Chinese mindsets have been moulded to oblige to their authority, prior it was the king to whom people paid their obligation whereas now it is the government to whom they pay attention.

“Communism is not just practiced by the government but even accepted by the subjects”. And therefore, the products from China are very cheap because labour laws are not well established. Laborers who attempt to strike are curbed at the very first instance in China and such acts are regulated by the labour union of the government.

  • How does the Tibetan Government work inside?

Tenzin Tsundue (TT): The Central Tibetan Administration works from Dharamshala, 2nd September is Tibetan Democracy Day. There are elections held once in every 5 years and there is a parliament. Voting takes place on a single day, it starts from Australia and moves towards the West.

There are three presidencies, 10 representatives from each and hence a total of 30 representatives. The presence of 2 Buddhist sets and 1 pre- Buddhist set is also there (2 in Europe and 1 in Australia).

The judiciary takes care and decides the problem of the dismissed representatives and other issues which crop up from time to time.

Also, every person has to contribute 57 rupees to run the government.

  • What is the aspiration of the youth?

Tenzin Tsundue (TT): The Tibetans want autonomy within China and that China respects the self -governance of the Tibetan people. It gives the authority and takes away the Chinese finance, defence and foreign policy. Demand for autonomy is a strategic move. Although the movement of freedom and autonomy goes unreported from media since there isn’t an element of violence in it, but collective voices raised will change the scenario and help achieve freedom for Tibet.  

The government along with Dalai Lama wants self-governance within the framework of China. But the youth along with me wish for and want an independent country.

Endnotes: –

[1] Tsundue Tenzin, Kora stories and poems, Horizon.

[2] Tsundue Tenzin, Kora stories and poems, Losar Greeting.

[3] Tsundue Tenzin, Kora stories and poems, My Kind of Exile.

[4] Tsundue Tenzin, Kora stories and poems, A Personal Reconnaissance.

[5] Tsundue Tenzin, Kora stories and poems, My Tibetanness.

[6] https://tibet.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/political-treaties-of-tibet…pdf

[7] https://www.dalailama.com/messages/tibet/five-point-peace-plan

[8] https://www.dalailama.com/messages/tibet/strasbourg-proposal-1988

[9] https://tibet.net/german-parliament-adopts-tibet-resolution/

[10] https://www.tibetjustice.org/materials/un/un5.html

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