This Al Jazeera documentary was a thoroughly good piece on Mustang and was presented by a (Hong Kong-ese?) journalist who previously covered the one-China policy.
It’s surprising however that Thapa was unaware of the government’s legislative crackdown on Tibetans exercising their right to identity. Worse still that it takes a Chinese journalist working for an Arab channel to shine a light on Chinese invasion of Nepali sovereignty in Mustang.
It’s also surprising, if not shocking, that Thapa is so dismissive of foreigners interested in the Tibetan struggle? I agree that many people romanticise Tibetan identity – and Nepalis successfully milk that more than any – but the struggle is still profound. Would Thapa, had he lived in Zimbabwe, have said the same about interest in neighbouring Apartheid?
In Thapa’s first line he points to the real issue here: citizenship. Tibetans in Nepal don’t have it, and lose out therefore on all the civil and political rights that are guaranteed to Thapa under the Interim Constitution.
Nepal’s one-Tibet policy
If the words of Steve Chao in a recent Al Jazeera production contains even just a morsel of truth, then I, as a Nepali citizen, am embarrassed. “Any gathering of Tibetans without government approval is now illegal,” he’d said.
At first I dismissed him as yet another foreigner who was only too eager to romanticize all things Tibetan and vilify any supposed detractors to the Tibetan cause. After all, why would a nation such as ours, for whom freedom of speech, democracy, and sovereignty have been a constant struggle, even contemplate denying the same rights to another cohort? But before I could finish my thought to defend the case of Nepal by commenting under the YouTube video titled, ‘Mustang: Kingdom Under Siege,’ I recalled a blog post written by a young ethnically Tibetan/politically Nepali girl just weeks before.
It was hard to tell from her writing whether she was disappointed or disgusted or perhaps a healthy dose of both. After all, I too would be upset if an innocent gathering had been rudely interrupted by the Nepal Police (most likely taking a cue) simply because it was organized for and attended primarily by Tibetans. From her blog, it was evident that the community had just gathered to wear bakkhus, eat shefalay and listen to traditional music: Basically to celebrate their Tibetan heritage. The post indicated that it was a harmless effort to preserve and promote a unique culture, a sentiment we in multi-cultural Nepal not only encourage but also prioritize.
Unfortunately, our national security forces cut the evening short by barging in and demanding they immediately stop the event. Maybe Chao did have a point in that broadcast.
Mainstream media, both in Nepal and around the world, either offer idyllic pictures of ancient Tibet or ruffle feathers with stories of Tibetan dissenters breaking into UN compounds. What we are carefully shielded from is the absurdity that the Tibetan community is forced to endure either as refugees or citizens, a minor distinction since both deserve equal access to basic human rights. In the case of Nepal, the Tibetans as legal residents must be provided with the same rights as that of any other Nepali. And one particularly important facet of such a provision would have to include the right to assemble.
What is democratic about Nepal if a particular group is ostracized, systematically targeted, and then exclusively denied the right to gather? Whether the assembly is impromptu or strategically organized, so long as they are not breaking any laws, they should not only be spared harassment from authorities, but could even be granted assistance to carry forth with their programs. If the traffic police ostensibly lend a helping hand to banda organizers when they divert pedestrians and vehicles to clear the path for various protests, how does it make obstruct to crash a non-violent gathering elsewhere?
“Nepal is a small impoverished country sandwiched between China and India…” or so goes every introductory sentence on our country. We cannot deny our history or our current state – insurgency and instability have been a long-running theme. But we have also made some progress. Did we not get an extensive makeover when the constitutional monarchy was christened a federal democratic republic?
Just the change in official name implies that sought to embody a tolerant society, hungry to practice democracy and eager to extend rights. Even just a few years ago I would not have imagined Nepal managing to pull its tail out from between its legs. Indeed in 2008, the Beijing Olympics was just a few months shy of the 50 year anniversary of the Tibetan uprising and the crackdown on Tibetan protestors in Kathmandu in support of the demonstrators in the capital of their homeland, Lhasa you will remember, was highlighted in international media. It was not a shining moment for Nepal (Police). It also happened to be when the then freshly selected Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav arrived in Washington DC to address a small crowd.
Madeshi politics was unknown to my European colleague who had wanted to attend the small talk with me. He asked the then Foreign Minister what the “Naya” Nepal stance on Tibet would be as opposed to the archaic one. My friend innocently questioned the provocative attack on Tibetan protestors across Kathmandu and I had to stifle my laughter. March 2008: Weren’t we more self-involved than ever at that point? Still patting ourselves on our backs for wrapping up an insurgency and electing a new Constituent Assembly, all the while trying to make sense of the rise of ethnic politics? We didn’t have time to deal with Tibet and China, we were too preoccupied with our internal atrocities and easily caved to the whims of China.
But, it’s 2011 today and I dare say we have made some progress. In recent months and in light of our even more recent political achievements, perhaps we as Nepalis – ethnically Tibetan or otherwise – can begin to challenge Nepal’s discrimination of the very people group we historically agreed to shelter. Shamelessly deporting Tibetans who have risked their lives to cross over the Chinese border into the supposed safety of Nepal is bad enough. But what is this nonsensical banning of Tibetans from congregating about?
I understand China has emerged as an economic giant, but does that mean Nepal is to cower like a mouse and scuttle to the corner to dance to the tune of the awkwardly phrased one-party democracy?
We are a sovereign state and it puzzles my generation – who were taught to value democracy to witness our government deny the same to Tibetans in Nepal. Of course, there is too much at stake to openly challenge the One-China policy – even the global hegemony, the US hasn’t dared, but must that stop us from granting Tibetan-Nepalis the same rights as non-Tibetan Nepalis when on our own soil?
When was it ever against the law for a community, and a marginalized community at that to congregate and express themselves? Let them get together and gather, let them strategize and organize, let them perform and protest, just let them be.
The Khampa warriors have long since put down their weapons and the Tibetan people have resolved to peaceful protest to fuel the dream of a Free Tibet. Can we stop getting in their way