Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tibetan New Year

This is not something most Indians (who are not Tibetans) celebrate. Neither for that matter, do I! However I was struck by some reportage on this which symbolises the different viewpoints, or rather ideologies of the journalistic profession. Nothing new, of course, but amusing all the same (to put the mildest possible spin to it). In case it is not obvious, note the delicious irony of the phrase 'Democratic Reform' - what Democracy are we talking about?

Here is a report from the Hindu, dutifully reproduced word for word from Xinhua.

LHASA: Like the 22-year-old Tibetan herdsman Tashi, Tibetans across China are celebrating the 50th Tibetan new year after the Democratic Reform with their old traditions. ... ... Like many others, he offered a donation in front of the Buddha figures. His family bought clothes and a cellphone as gifts for him. Before the Vajra Dance, the lamas of the monastery chanted the sutra for seven days, praying for a favourable year for the people, said Dradul (40), head of the monastery.

And here is the crux of the report

“We have better days and more money now. We now buy more things and more expensive stuff in the new year shopping,” said a woman named Kelsang Drolma in her Tibetan clothes among the crowds in a market in Shangri-La County of Deqen Tibetan Autonomous Region, Yunnan Province. The province has launched a residential project, providing tents for 1,00,000 herdsmen households by April 20. It plans to spend 18 billion yuan (about $2.6 billion) to improve the living conditions of the herdsmen households in 29 counties in the next four years.

Here, in contrast, is a report from Edward Wong of the New York Times titled "Tibetans Greet New Year in Opposition"

A few weeks ahead of the 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule, and a year after a crackdown on renewed ethnic unrest in this area, Tibetans are quietly but irrepressibly seething. Monks, nomads and merchants have turned the joyous Losar holiday into a dirge, memorializing Tibetans who died in last year’s conflict and pining for the return of the exiled Dalai Lama.

An informal grass-roots boycott is under way. Tibetans are forsaking dancing and dinner parties for vigils with yak-butter candles and the chanting of prayers. The Losar campaign signifies the discontent that many of China’s six million Tibetans still feel toward domination by the ethnic Han Chinese. They are resisting pressure by Chinese officials to celebrate and forget.

“It’s a conscious awakening of an entire people,” said Woeser, a popular Tibetan blogger.

Tibetans here and in other towns, including in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, say government officials have handed out money to Tibetans to entice them to hold exuberant new year parties. On Wednesday, state-run television showed Tibetans in Lhasa dancing, shooting off fireworks and feasting in their homes.

At the same time, the government has drawn a curtain across Tibet. Officials have shut down access to many Tibetan regions to foreigners and sent armed guards to patrol the streets.

The government has stepped up security across Tibet. Here, more than 300 security officers with riot shields were seen training in the stadium on Wednesday afternoon. On Monday night, a unit of officers marched in formation along a cordoned-off road.

Chinese officials are wary of the boycott’s mushrooming into larger protests, and of Tibetans taking to the streets next month, which marks the 50th anniversary of the uprising that led to the Dalai Lama’s flight from Lhasa. Most Tibetans revere the Dalai Lama, who advocates autonomy, but not secession, for Tibet.

And so it goes....

Who is right? Who indeed.

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