Tenzin Tsundue: The ‘Tibetan Bhagat Singh’


Hours before Chinese President Xi Jinping was to visit Sabarmati Ashram during his India trip last month, Tenzin Tsundue was whisked away from inside the premises of the museum, once a residence of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The writer and activist had been hiding there overnight to stage a demonstration in Jinping’s presence, a mode of protest he has mastered over the years with his repeated performances.

In 2002, he waved a banner reading “Free Tibet: China, Get out of Tibet” from the scaffolding of a building in Mumbai where Chinese president Zhu Rongji was speaking at a meeting. In 2005, he staged the one-man stunt again, this time in Bangalore. At the time when Wen Jiabao was addressing a conference, Tsundue stood with a banner reading “Free Tibet” on the balcony of a 200-feet tower. He had sneaked into the building the previous night, even before the police had made the security ring around the building, and emerged from hiding to wave the flag to the visting Chinese premier. He was arrested on both the occasions.

Tsundue spent three days in the custody of Gujarat police after they thwarted his plans of a rerun this year. Soon after he was out he put up the following post on Facebook:

Gandhi was too transparent to hide behind. I was found out hiding behind his statue hours before I was to protest Xi Jinping at the Sabarmati Ashram on 17th September, but I did spend an entire night in the Ashram.

Later, he said in reply to my message:

I was this close. Anyway freedom struggle is a long story.

Anybody who has met Tsundue once will vouch for the fact that he is no ordinary man. I was lucky to get to know him and spend some time with him several times this year. During my stay in Dharamsala in March this year, I chatted with him in the garden of his house, which he and his neighbours call “Ashram”, participated at a protest march led by him and also walked around with him in Dharamsala town, meeting a wide range of people. A local Himachali doctor whom we met during the walk had exclaimed, “Ye to tibbatti Bhagat Singh hain (He is the Tibetan Bhagat Singh.)”

I met Tsundue again in Calcutta in August this year. He was transiting in the city while on a speaking tour that took him through the length and breadth of the country.

I put together my interactions with Tsundue in an article which was published in the Fountain Ink’s September issue. The story contains a Q&A with Tsundue in which he speaks of his views on the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan freedom movement, his literary work, his life’s journey and how his life is dedicated entirely to the struggle for complete independence of Tibet.

Some excerpts:

On making a living “peddling poetry”,

I am a poetry-peddler. I peddle poetry, just like the drug peddler peddles drugs. Only that poetry is much more potent.

On food,

My relationship with food is functional. I am detached from taste and I eat only when I am hungry.

On the struggle for freedom,

We are holding on to the dream we are born into. Freedom struggle for me is the meaning of my life.

On freedom struggle now and after the Dalai Lama,

Observance of non-violence during the lifetime of His Holiness not only reflects the principled nature of the Tibetans, but a mark of respect for His Holiness… I think the true voice of the Tibetan people will emerge after His Holiness the Dalai Lama…

In future when His Holiness will not be there, the Tibetans will start to think and act on their own. Some expression will be different from how it’s been going on now. Therefore, China must think realistically and grab the opportunity now when the Dalai Lama is here. It will be wrong on their part to think that the Tibetan movement will die after the Dalai Lama.

To read the whole story, please click here.



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