One of the monks I sponsor makes sure to send me some packets of incense in time for September second each year. Like many of the Tibetan lamas at Sera Je Monastery in South India, Lobsang has an interest in Tibetan history. Since 2011, Lobsang has included photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama taken during one of his lecture appearances at Sera Je each year.
2011 was a big year for the exile community of Tibetans in India and elsewhere. The Dalai Lama officially stepped down from all political duties. There was also the launch of a renewed campaign for autonomy for the Tibetan homeland.
International governments have had to be very careful regarding Tibetan foreign policy because every statement they make or every appearance by the Dalai Lama in their countries is followed up by negative responses from Beijing.
The Communist Chinese “People’s Liberation Army” asserted Chinese authority in Tibet in October of 1950. The technologically and numerically superior PLA overwhelmed the less advanced Tibetan defenses to begin Chinese occupation of Tibet.
From 1951 until 1959, the Chinese kept a tight rein on traditional Tibetan structure. Some modernization was implemented, including running water and electrification of the population centers. Chinese educational rules and methods were also put in place. “Land reform” was instituted as well. PLA agitators arbitrarily picked out landlords for public humiliation, torture, and killing.
U.S. CIA sponsored Tibetan guerrillas ambushed PLA convoys throughout 1956 to 1957. Overseas, another CIA front organization, “American Society for a Free Asia”, pushed a campaign of Tibetan, anti-communist resistance. Several Tibetan agents and commandos undertook ill-planned parachute returns to Tibet. Nearly all of them were likely captured and killed. Even though the operatives were lost, several thousand rank and file Tibetans participated in the anti-Chinese rebellion. The PLA retaliated with their own commando raids and aerial bombing of monasteries and Tibetan outposts.
The Chinese actions and subsequent martial governing of the capital in Lhasa led to the Lhasa Uprising. Common, unarmed Tibetan nationals formed a human shield ring around the Dalai Lama’s palace. During the turmoil, the Dalai Lama was urged to flee his country in 1959. The leader made his way to India and was officially granted assylum. A government-in-exile was formed in the hill-station city of Dharamsala, India. India also began accepting the diaspora of Tibetan refugees.
1965 was the year the Tibet Autonomous Region was formed from one of three former Tibetan provinces. The land that had been administered by the Dalai Lama government from 1910 until 1959 came under the control of a regional committee of the Chinese Communist Party. The official head of the autonomous region was a figurehead ethnic Tibetan.
Ever since the Chinese occupation began, several human rights organizations, including “Human Rights Watch” have kept track of severe human rights violations in the Tibetan homeland.
Since 1991, the Dalai Lama has planned and worked towards creating a framework for democratic rule in Tibet and for the government-in-exile. At first he enabled the formation of a constitutional assembly that, in turn, authored the current constitution. As part of the reforms, the Dalai Lama introduced the “Charter for Tibetans in Exile”. The charter expanded the Tibetan People’s Deputies (Parliament). It also directed that the executive Cabinet be appointed by civilians.
In 2000, the Dalai Lama required exile Tibetans to directly elect the Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister). The following year, 80-percent of the exile community elected professor Samdhong Rinpoche as the first Kalon Tripa by direct vote.
During this period, the Dalai Lama has also advocated for the “Middle Way” form of government that will acknowledge Beijing’s authority, but will also allow Tibetans to have a voice in the day to day operations of their region. Ever since the Dalai Lama’s retirement from government, there has been no real progress for the “Middle Way” policies.
There remains a large, vocal segment of the exile community who call for Tibetans to achieve full independence. They say that the Chinese regime will never agree to any form of actual autonomy or the peaceful return of exiles to Tibet. The pro-independence advocates believe any positive outcome will take exceptional skill and patience on both sides. There needs to be a major domestic policy shift by Beijing.
Since the Dalai Lama’s authority was transfered to a constitutional leader, His Holiness has continued his life as an “ordinary” citizen. He has continued to advocate for the peaceful conversion of Tibet’s rule to a democratic form of autonomous administration.
It’s interesting to note that the transformation to democratic administration from theocratic rule of the government-in-exile was achieved without an armed struggle. Each year, on Tibetan Democracy Day, Tibetans and world citizens are encouraged to contribute to the success of full Tibetan democracy.