Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Torch that Inflames a Stepped-On People Reveals a Hero in its Shadows

The Olympic torch is expected to arrive in India around the end of April. India is home to a huge Tibetan expatriate population along with their spiritual leaders, the Dalai Lama as well as the Karmapa (both contenders). Many Tibetans have been born in India and have never been to Tibet. India, which is tentative in its dealing with China, has tried to walk a fine line between offering refuge to those in need and at the same time curtailing them from voicing dissent with China openly. More on India's tightrope walk in another post.

Many were hoping that one of the reigning stars of Bollywood, Amir Khan- a man who is less conventional than most of the other top actors, would take a stand against the violent crackdown in Tibet by refusing to carry the torch as formerly agreed upon. Well, so far, Khan has said that he will be carrying the torch with a prayer for the Tibetans in his heart. Perhaps, he will still see fit to make a stronger gesture of support than this. Or maybe not.

Meantime another hero has emerged. He is the Captain of the Indian football team- Baichung "The Scorpion" Bhutia. Bhutia hails from the state of Sikkim*. Bhutia is a Buddhist and his refusal to carry the oppressive torch (yes, it is an Olympic torch but it also shines the light brightly on China's actions) is not only symbolic but a much needed shot in the arm for the Tibetan struggle even as the Indian government has prevented any marches or demonstrations against China. The Indians even detained about 100 Tibetans to prevent them from marching to the Chinese border. Bhutia was quick to point out that he was not asked by any group or person to pull out. "I sympathise with the Tibetan cause. This is my way of standing by the people of Tibet and their struggle. I abhor violence in any form. I feel what is happening in Tibet is not right and in my small way I should show my solidarity." Go Baichung!!

[* China used to claim Sikkim but agreed to recognize it as a part of India in return for India recognizing Tibet as a part of China (how long this recognition on China's part lasts will determine how long India will continue to suppress overt anti-China demonstrations within its boundaries). What is surprising is that the Indian government even feels that it needs China's recognition. After all the Sikkimese chose to be part of the Indian union in a referendum in 1975 by a vote of 97.5% in favor! Last I heard, no such referendum had been held in Tibet. India's stance seems to show how keen it is to avoid a direct confrontation with China. In the last such confrontation, fomented by the Chinese, India took a drubbing.]

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