Thoughts on Tibet

Print edition : December 09, 2000

Two recent articles on the subject of Tibet by N. Ram, Editor of Frontline, and a scholarly study on Sino-Indian relations, viewed through the Tibetan prism, by Dr. Subramanian Swamy, are very timely ("Tibet - A Reality Check" and "Sino-Indian rel ations through the Tibet prism," September 15; "Educational take-off in Tibet", September 29). The first of the two articles by Ram is an exhaustive overview of the present situation in Tibet in its historical context, and the report is of Pulitzer Prize quality. The second article deals with the present state of education in Tibet, which is at the "take-off" point.

When His Holiness the Dalai Lama sought political asylum in India as a refugee, in the wake of the armed revolt against China in 1959, it used to be said, jokingly, that Prime Minister Nehru was caught on the horns of a "Dalai Lama". The dilemma arose fr om the fact that the official position of India was that Tibet was considered a part of China, a point that was reaffirmed in the India-China Treaty on Tibet of 1954.

For his part, the Dalai Lama has been waging a political campaign for the "independence" of Tibet from a secure base in Dharmasala, where a large number of his adherents have joined him. This campaign seems to be well-financed. The Dalai Lama has made se veral claims which seem to be highly exaggerated. One claim relates to his stand on Greater Tibet with a population of six million people. Another relates to the Chinese authorities' attempt to "Han-ise" Tibet by the induction of a large number of ethnic Chinese, with a view to their forming a majority in the total population of Tibet. The third relates to a "holocaust" of some one million Tibetans put to death by the Chinese authorities between 1951 and 1979. These statements have been made by the Dala i Lama in such forums as the U.S. Congress in 1987. The Dalai Lama's charismatic personality and his appearance of total sincerity have lent additional credence to his claims and charges. However, all his efforts to internationalise the issue and place i t on the agenda of the United Nations have failed. On the other hand, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama in 1989 has helped him in his political campaign for the independence of Tibet.

What are the facts? The Tibet of the Dalai Lama days was no Shangrila for the Tibetans. It was a theocracy ruling over a poor country, with the agrarian population, mostly serfs, eking out a precarious living from the arid soil. The standard of living wa s very low. Illiteracy was the rule: 95 per cent of the population was illiterate.

The situation in Tibet today is by no means ideal, but it does represent a great improvement. Politically, Tibet is an "autonomous region" of China. Its total population, according to the most recent Census (1990), is 2.196 million. These figures are no doubt the official figures provided by the Government, but I see no reason to question them. They are a far cry from the figure of six million claimed by the Dalai Lama. 95.5 per cent of the population consists of ethnic Tibetans; only 3.7 percent are Ha n Chinese. The agrarian economy is still poor by any standard, but represents a considerable improvement over the last four decades. Education is taking off, although Tibet has still a long way to go. Religious freedom has been guaranteed, as indeed over all of China. The Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 was of course a setback, but this was the case over all of China; thankfully it is well behind us. Today there are some 46,000 resident monks and nuns, and Buddhism "is a strong all-pervasive presence in Tibet."

I began by saying that these articles are timely, giving - as they do - a more reliable picture than has been painted by propagandists of Dharmasala. Among our top leaders, especially the Hindu Right, there is an ambivalent attitude on the subject. Lip s ervice is paid to the indisputable fact that the Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of China. But there is also a great deal of sympathy for the Dalai Lama and his claims. This ambivalence can cost us dearly if it leads to any impairment of our friendly r elations with China.

India is in a very vulnerable position in this regard. We have major ethnic problems in the north-eastern region. In the North-West, we have the longstanding problem of Kashmir. We must recognise that, in spite of its friendship with Pakistan, China has not taken a public position in favour of Pakistan. It has also kept aloof from the separatist politics in the north-eastern region.

Dr. Swamy has made two important points. First, India should not risk giving rise to a situation when a joint China-Pakistan attack may be launched against India. Second, India should do its best to settle all outstanding issues with China, including the border issue. Dr. Swamy has stated that "China has borders with 14 nations and, except for India, it has resolved its disputes with all, including Russia. India has borders with six countries and excluding Bhutan, it has disputes with all five." In fact , "in India that is Bharat", there are border disputes among the constituent States forming the Union of India - vide a recent report about a border dispute between Karnataka and Maharashtra.

It should be clear that India's interests are best served by a policy that lends no support to the political activities of the Dalai Lama and his entourage. We cannot support the claim of the Dalai Lama to an independent Tibet, since by Treaty we recogni se that Tibet is an integral part of China. The pretence of a government-in-exile is also unworthy of support. The Chinese authorities have invited the Dalai Lama to come back to Lhasa, solely in his capacity as a religious leader. If the Dalai Lama acce pts this invitation, that would be a "consummation devoutly to be wished." I doubt if he would, or should, although Dr. Swamy recommends that the Dalai Lama return to Lhasa.

Let the Dalai Lama remain on Indian soil as long as he wishes, or lives. But let us make it clear that he is not heading "a government in exile". Let us take steps to prevent him and his entourage from engaging in anti-Chinese political activities. Let t he Vajpayee government speak with one voice on the subject in all public statements, whatever private views individual Ministers may have. Let us also start on a new round of talks with China, to mend our fences and solve all outstanding problems, includ ing the border issue.

C.V. Narasimhan (former Under-Secretary General of the U.N.) Chennai

Palestinian struggle

I would like to add my pennyworth to Aijaz Ahmad's "Israel's killing fields" (November 24).

The article contains numerous references to sources, most of which present one-sided views from various known and unknown personalities. It seems Aijaz Ahmad is not interested in facts as he had already made up his mind.

The words "Israeli terror" imply that Israelis do not have the right to defend themselves when fired upon. Palestinian gunmen target not only soldiers and policemen but civilians, including women and children. What does the writer expect the Israelis to do? To lie down and die in the cause of Palestine?

In Nehru's time, India's role was biased and totally one-sided. In international forums, India always voted against Israel, regardless of whether Israel was right or wrong. Russia and the Eastern bloc always supported India's stand.

The author has made some wrong statements. Ariel Sharon did not enter Al-Aqsa Mosque, he only visited the Temple Mount. This visit was coordinated with the Waqf, the Muslim religious council (nominated by the Palestinian Authority). The author says that the trouble began the very next day, Friday, when Israeli security forces were massed and then the shooting started and corpses began to mount. The writer does not tell us what kind of provocation the Palestinians made. Why does he not understand that we the Israelis do not take kindly to those who throw stones at us, knife us, or simply shoot us?

A demonstration is a gathering of people, chanting slogans and carrying placards. Stone throwing and destruction of property are actions that form part of a riot, not a demonstration. Israel has preserved and will preserve the sanctity of holy places as long as they are used for prayers and religious teaching.

Sharon did not order the massacres of Sabra and Shattila (Lebanon 1982). His failure was that he did not act quickly to stop the killing done by the Lebanese Christian Phalangist. The figures of the extent of territory handed over or to be handed back ar e wrong. The Embassy of Israel in New Delhi could have given the right statistics.

I feel sorry about the loss of life, including children.(Why are these children not in school? Who sends them as cover for the Palestinian gunmen, police, and other organisations? Why teach children at kindergarten to be in uniform, hold replicas of weap ons and use the Israeli flag as a rug?)

David L.Yarkony Received on e-mail

I had expected this kind of a hysterical response. That is why I took care to quote and cite prestigious Israeli newspapers such as Ha'aretz, eminent award-winning British journalist Robert Fisk, and one of the great intellectuals of our time, Noa m Chomsky, who regards Ariel Sharon a war criminal. And I quoted the French president, Jacques Chirac, criticising Sharon for 'provocation' at the Al-Aqsa.

There are numerous Israelis who are deeply perturbed by the colonial mission of their rulers. It is a pity that Mr.Yarkony is not one of them.

Horseplay in Harappa

I would have preferred to stay away from this controversy about the decipherment of the Harappan script offered by N.S. Rajaram and N. Jha and criticised by Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer ("Horseplay in Harappa", October 13). However, I am forced to wri te this letter as my name is mentioned among the 'revisionists'. I must make it clear that I do not subscribe to the Hindutva ideology or scholarship. In fact, I have opposed it. I strongly object to the manner in which they have grouped me along with ot hers.

My research is apolitical and completely academic, objective, based on scientific principles. I am researching in Indology from 1959 onwards.

I find the mention of my name amongst the Hindutvavadis an insult and a humiliation - because there are some amongst them who are retained by the Hindutvavadis to produce polemical books and pamphlets, letters and so on, and who have no academic backgrou nd or training.

I read Witzel and Farmer's article but have not seen the book by Rajaram and Jha. The latter two authors seem to have committed an unforgivable act of concocting evidence by creating a new seal with a horse on it! I have studied most of the seals and the ir inscriptions and it is true that no such horse seal is in existence. To be ignorant or unsystematic is not a sin but to be dishonest is!

In view of this, the National Book Trust and the translations in 13 other languages must be held at abeyance and the government should not support such unsound projects, to say the least.

I am convinced from what Witzel and Farmer have written about me that they have not read, much less studied, any of my writings - books or articles. No scholar of any repute in his senses would want to 'rewrite' history. But would they permit others the same scientific interest in finding facts and historical truth that they profess themselves?

The short list Witzel and Farmer have provided towards the end of the article of four items will be acceptable, excepting No.2. But they must remember that even some of the so-called established facts need to be questioned in view of the discovery of new data, new points of view and the inadequacies of the earlier facts/formulations, and so on. Scholars must have the courage to question them. Without this no new theories or formulations can be built up. In the natural sciences 'scientific revolutions' t ake place. Something comparable must happen in the humanities, and especially in Indology which has become a completely stagnant pool.

It is correct that 'hard evidence' is the only sound weapon but the self-appointed judges must study and consider evidence presented by others and then only judge them.

Dr. Malati J. Shendge Pune Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer respond:

We understand Malati Shendge's displeasure that our article allies her works with those of ultranationalistic "revisionists" like N.S. Rajaram, K.D. Sethna, or S. Talageri. While we accept Shendge's protests that her research is meant to be apolitical, t here are good reasons for our claims, which we made in full awareness of the nature of her writings.

Shendge's The Civilised Demons (1977) anticipated much of the recent wave of "revisionist" history by linking Harappan and Vedic civilisations in ways hardly less fantastic than those of N.S. Rajaram and his associates. The most typical feature of Shendge's books, which are taken seriously by few Indian or Western Indologists, is her odd identification of Vedic gods with historical persons, which she associates with both Harappan and Vedic cultures. This allows her to make detailed "reconstructio ns" of ancient Indian history that have been used to support one of the core items on the Hindutva agenda - the myth that Indian history has been thoroughly Hindu ever since Harappan times.

While Shendge's views of the Aryans have changed over time - most recently, she has them speaking Sumerian - the fictional links she imagines between Vedic and Harappan civilisations are central to all her works. Thus in The Aryas: Fact without Fancy and Fiction (Abhinav Publications, 1997), just as in her earlier books, Shendge portrays Indra, the chief god of the Rgveda, as the flesh-and-blood hero of the Aryans; the god Varuna becomes the leader of the "Asuras," which Shendge imagines to be an Indus Valley or Harappan clan; the god Vishnu becomes "the young, tall, lanky assistant of Indra"; the divine Rudras and Ashvins are transformed into Indus Valley governmental functionaries; and so on.

A single paragraph is enough to give the flavour of Shendge's works. The following passage from The Aryas tells of the first part of the supposed fall of the "Asuras" - a class of gods or demons in the Rgveda and Avesta, but represented by Shendge as an Indus Valley clan. The suggestion is that the fall occurs in part through Vishnu's spy work:

When the Aryas could not defeat the Asuras in straight fight, they beg for a patch of land and are granted one grudgingly. Erecting temporary sheds, they begin to live there. Vishnu, the young, tall, lanky assistant of Indira, disappears thrice. Where he goes is not known but apparently he makes three exploratory trips under disguise into the Asura territory to collect information on their sensitive points. On its basis a strategy is hatched. The quarrels and jealousies between the Asura chiefs or court iers are used and one is aided against the other. So Indra emerges as a friend of some of them. With their help, he gets access to the Asura weapons and secures a vajra, thunderbolt, from the chief counsellor of the Asuras, Ushanas...

We assume that Shendge's repudiation of the Hindutva "revisionists" is meant in earnest. But her frequent attacks on accepted Indological research - combined with her wholly fictional links between Harappan and Vedic cultures - puts her in very political company nonetheless.

Michael Witzel Cambridge, Massachusetts witzel@fas.harvard.edu Steve Farmer Palo Alto, California india@safarmer.com

* * *

Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer seem to have lost the perspective when they say that "the sign is totally abstract and does not contain a hint of any animistic form" in regard to N.S. Rajaram's second horse. True, as I. Mahadevan asserts, one sees what o ne wants to, but one has to have trained eyes to see properly and "decipher" correctly. It is not an "illusion" as Witzel and Farmer want us to believe because the perspective of view renders illusion to forms. The view of the animal in the seal is from the rear looking down at ca. 15-20 degrees from the horizontal. This view would explain why the turned head looks much thicker than the neck that seems abnormally twisted. The left half of the roof element may signify a leash, which along with the two at hwart bars suggest that the character depicts a domesticated animal. One must realise that there is abstraction in symbolic depiction, whether it is modern art or an ancient Harappan seal.

Dr. S. Sinha-Roy Deputy Director General (retd.) Geological Survey of India Jaipur

Judiciary

This has reference to the article "On charges and response" (November 24). It is indeed distressing to see the revival of the unfortunate controversy relating to proceedings in courts in Madhya Pradesh in an action initiated by Mrs. Mala Anand, wife of D r. Justice A.S. Anand, Chief Justice of India, and her mother. It is common knowledge that, most regrettably, this issue got intertwined with the resignation of Ram Jethmalani from the Union Cabinet. When it became obvious that there was no secretive, an d much less, surreptitious, operation involved and that it was simply a case of a person approaching courts seeking redress, the matter ceased to occupy space in the media.

On the heels of this sprang up the issue of the alleged incorrect age furnished by Justice Anand to the Inner Temple. It was pathetic to see that the allegation in this regard was based on a letter of doubtful authenticity, purpotedly issued by a functio nary whose authority is obviously in question. The Union Law Ministry had promptly and effectively refuted the allegation. The Bar Council of India, which is the apex statutory body governing the legal profession, expressed in a resolution its grave conc ern over the controversy raised, saying that it has the effect of bringing the highest office of the judiciary and the institution into disrepute.

In the wake of all this, we now find yet another report in Frontline adverting once again to the land matter involving Mrs. Mala Anand and her mother, dealt with by courts in Madhya Pradesh. The cause for the article appears to be the letter of Mr . Fali S. Nariman, dated September 12, 2000 addressed to the Hon'ble Chief Justice and his colleague justices of the Supreme Court. Nariman, who had earlier expressed the view that the judgments of the trial court and the High Court in the said case were unexceptionable, which incidentally is also the opinion expressed by three other eminent counsel, was evidently exercised over the manner in which the statements of the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, explaining the circumstances in which the Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court was withdrawn, were reported in a daily. Nariman, while expressing his anguish and calling for action against the Chief Minister, suggested the recalling of the order of withdrawal and hearing of the petition afresh. I t is a different matter that many may not agree with the views expressed by Nariman, as the suggested course of action besides being unprecedented may not serve the purpose, as a doubting mind is not likely to accept determination of one's cause by broth er judges as an unquestionable answer. In any event, the letter of Nariman has served its purpose of proposing a course of action for consideration by those to whom the communication was meant. It is unfortunate that this presumably confidential letter o f Nariman should constitute the cause for the revival of a controversy which had otherwise gained quietus.

It is axiomatic that no functionary in our constitutional framework can remain beyond the realm of accountability. It is nevertheless important that endeavour should always be to ensure that the faith of the common man in courts and the purity of justice dispensed by them is not eroded by undue publicity to unwarranted controversies involving the judiciary.

V.R. Reddy Senior Advocate and former Chairman, Bar Council of India New Delhi

A letter from the Editor


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The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

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