Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago. Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings. Tibet has been amalgamated in China as the Tibet Autonomous Region. It is autonomous only in name; the Chinese government exercises total and unbridled control. The locals have no say.
As the Tibetans are highly religious by nature, the Chinese have methodically targeted their places of worship and learning with a vengeance. Over 6,000 monasteries have been destroyed or ransacked. Damage done to Tibet’s relics, heritage and architecture has been truly horrendous; and beyond redemption. Even though TAR has an ethnic Tibetan as the chairman, he is only a titular figure. He is subordinate to the branch secretary of the Communist Party of China (the real power wielder) and he is always a Han Chinese.
Wu Yingjie, a hard-nosed Han Chinese from Eastern China, is the current appointee. There is minimal interaction between the Chinese and the natives. The Chinese behave like the rulers and treat the natives with disdain. The Hans from mainland China occupy all senior government posts in Tibet and are running prosperous businesses. They enjoy a much higher standard of living and strut around like rulers, demonstrating all the trappings of an occupation force.
On the other hand, the Tibetans are treated with suspicion and have been condemned to menial jobs. Their condition is worse than that of the slaves. All janitors, sweepers, load carriers and labourers are Tibetans. Some manage public toilets to make a living. Many peddle in local stones and other produce.It is sad to see a once-proud community degraded to the status of bonded labour.
The Tibetans abhor the Chinese and the Chinese know it. The Chinese sense of insecurity is evident from the fact that Google, Facebook, WhatsApp and such other social media have been banned in Tibet.
Every street and building in Tibet is embellished with innumerable Chinese flags, as if to constantly remind the locals that Tibet is under the Chinese rule. Similarly, billboards read ‘Welcome to China’s Tibet’. Every house is mandated to fly the Chinese flag on the roof-top. Non-compliance is construed as an act of defiance of the State authority and is dealt with harshly. Punishment may include imprisonment for anti-national proclivity.
Tibetans are denied passports. They can visit the mainland China, but cannot travel abroad. They are captives in their own country. China does not want them to interact with the world, lest their atrocities get exposed. Foreign visitors are not welcome in Tibet. Every tourist bus is accompanied by a policeman during travel in Tibet. He ensures that the permitted route is diligently followed. No deviations are allowed. Contact with the locals is discouraged. Military areas, police posts and even armed guards cannot be photographed.
Tibetans who speak with foreigners or foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons outside the country, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent through cell phones, email, or the internet were subject to harassment or detention under “crimes of undermining social stability and inciting separatism.” During the year authorities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas sought to strengthen control over electronic media and to punish individuals for the ill-defined crime of “creating and spreading of rumours.”
On papers, Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are official languages in the TAR, and both languages appeared on some, but not all, public and commercial signs. Inside official buildings and businesses, including banks, post offices, and hospitals, signage in Tibetan was frequently lacking, and in many instances forms and documents were available only in Mandarin. Mandarin was used for most official communications and was the predominant language of instruction in public as well as government schools in many Tibetan areas. Private printing businesses need special government approval to print in the Tibetan language, but it was often difficult to obtain approval.
The Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP) has the highest illiteracy rate (above 30 percent) in Sichuan Province, compared with a national rate. Despite the illiteracy problem, in 2016 the Chinese government ordered the destruction of much of Larung Gar, the largest Tibetan Buddhist education center in Sichuan. The government also ordered the destruction of Yachen Gar, another Tibetan Buddhist education center in Kardze Prefecture. However, China’s Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law states, “schools and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the medium of instruction.” Despite guarantees of cultural and linguistic rights, in reality they are not in use.
China’s prestigious universities provided no instruction in Tibetan or other ethnic minority languages, although classes teaching the Tibetan language were available at a small number of universities. “Nationalities” universities, established to serve ethnic minority students and ethnic Chinese students interested in ethnic minority subjects, offered Tibetan language instruction only in courses focused on the study of the Tibetan language or culture. Mandarin is being used in courses for jobs that required technical skills and qualifications. The government says it supports bilingual education. In practice, though, bilingual education now generally means using Chinese as the main language of instruction, while a minority language is taught as a separate subject.
In Tibet informally organized courses promoting the study of the Tibetan language now deemed “illegal associations and writers, singers, and artists promoting Tibetan national identity have frequently been arrested and handed long jail terms by Chinese authorities.
More than a hundred Tibetans detained by Chinese police in Sichuan’s Kardze prefecture since August 2021 have been denied proper food, clothing, and medical care, leaving many in poor health, for raising their voice for their language rights. Many were members of a local group promoting the use of the Tibetan language.
Some Tibetan parents worry that their native language and culture are dying but nevertheless tell their children to prioritize Chinese studies, in part because the national university entrance exam is administered only in Chinese.
Condemning Chines laws, former Central Tibetan Administration’s Information Secretary T.G. Arya stated that “What China could not achieve through the many years of occupation and repression, now they are trying to achieve it through repressive law. The law aims to achieve complete sinicization of the Tibetan plateau through ethnic cleansing. China finds Tibetan language, religion and culture as the main barrier to achieving complete control over the land.” Chinese government’s claims of preserving Tibet’s language and culture are a complete farce. Despite 70 years of occupation, China has not been able to crush the Tibetan spirit for independence. On the contrary, grave atrocities committed through political and religious repression have strengthened their resolve further.
Recently, Penpa Tsering, the new leader of Tibetan Government in exile slammed Beijing for destroying Tibet’s identity and also called on the US and other democratic forces to unite to counter Beijing. Penpa also said that ‘more and more Chinese are moving into Tibet. The majority community is completely overwhelming over minority community and destroying its identity, amounting to cultural genocide. He added that China is the only country who is spending most of its money on repressive measures against the minorities.