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By Sagar Sethi

Almost half a century ago the sea of red consumed the inner peace in Tibet. During this invasion a rally of Buddhist monks were clapping. In October 1949, the forty thousand Chinese soldiers that blurred the lines separating Tibet from their motherland returned the favour with hand-claps of their own. So, these forty thousand marched across the river Yangtze into the eastern province of Tibet expecting some resistance or rebellion but were instead welcomed with an applause. This moment in history is classic! Not for the act of mutual reciprocity but because the gesture of hand-clapping among the Tibetan Buddhists means among other things to “Go away, I resent you.”


How does remembering a home you can never go back to feel? Not because you ran away from it but because you were forced to. Passang, a Tibetan refugee currently putting up in Majnu ka Tila, says that “China has not only bitten your borders (India), it has eaten away our lives too.” She came to India when she was only eleven and even after so many years she still feels homesick.

In April 1959 the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, the leader of Tibet, himself escaped from his home and reached Tezpur in Assam, India on 18 April 1959. The Buddhism that spread from India to Tibet returned to India as a religion in exile, forced from its homeland.

Much like in India, religion is the be all and end all for the people of Tibet. In fact every time Tibet is mentioned our minds jump to ‘Buddhism’ in a matter of seconds. But what was there before the arrival of Buddhism in the 7th-8th centuries A.D in Tibet? Before their conversion into Buddhism the people of Tibet were mostly accustomed to barbaric traditions and customs. These barbarians painted their faces red with ochre or vermilion and that’s how they got the name “red faced men.”

Pre-Buddhist barbarianism gradually faded as the influence of Buddhism strengthened. These changes converted the red faced men into more peace loving and civilized people. Their purpose in life shifted to inner peace and wisdom. Interestingly, it was the influence of Buddhism that had made the Indian emperor Ashok the Great change his pro war strategy into a more philanthropic one.

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Then why did the People’s Republic of China send an army of forty thousand to liberate the people of Tibet? The question really is liberate them from what – inner peace? Perhaps they feel no need for soft spoken Tibetan Buddhists in a World that can’t stop talking.

The people of Tibet, isolated off the Himalayas with an identity of their own, were robbed of their home just around the time when we Indians gained ours. Less than a week ago, ‘We the people of India’ celebrated sixty eight years of our unity in diversity. This was witnessed by many Tibetan refugees who still long for their independence, their freedom. Their struggle might not concern our status as an independent nation but Tibet does hope that our motto ‘unity in diversity’ turns into a global ethic.

Since the exodus of Tibetian Buddhists from their homes, a lot has been exchanged between Indians and them. We will discuss the character of this cultural symbiosis and the influence it had on Sino-Indian bilateral relations in the series that follow.


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