Monday, April 14, 2008

From: Delia Maria

Carry the Torch of Freedom

A question did the rounds on the net recently. Is it justified to disrupt the Olympic torch relay? Being a peace activist and having supported so many peoples' struggles in my city, at first I polled yes. As the countdown to the Delhi torch rally came nearer, sportsmen, Indian officials, Chinese officials, US officials, the Dalai Lama and a host of other stakeholders in the Olympics began to express different views on the event, I began to ponder on the question more seriously.

With a few hours to go before the torch enters my country, my answer changed to no; I decided to support carrying of the torch! I was happy that the Indian government decided not to ban any protests in spite of pressure from the Chinese government. Also, that our government has decided against use of Chinese security along the rally route. Protest is a democratic right of every human being so long as it is done non-violently. Protesters the world over has used every opportunity to highlight their cause. The Tibetan refugees in India and abroad are no different. What better way for them to protest than during the Beijing Olympics which is an international event having massive media coverage and being hosted by the same Chinese government who has exiled them from their land. Many questions arise along with the carrying of the torch and the right to protest.

The question of a Free Tibet now being led mostly by the Dalai Lama and his followers. We all know that Tibetan Buddhism contains elements of feudalism; the large land holdings of the monasteries and the undisputed rule of the Lamas over the peasantry for centuries. Will a free Tibet be democratic? Or will it be like Nepal and Bhutan were till recently? Will theorcratic dictatorship replace Chinese dictatorship? Gandhi had often worried that the white sahib not be replaced with the brown sahib after Indian independence. Buddhism teaches enlightenment and freedom from the samsara of birth and death. What would freedom mean to a people fighting for their homeland within this cosmology? If one needs to be free within as Buddhism teaches, then of what consequence is a homeland, here or anywhere? Of what consequence is an identity, cultural or national? Of what consequence is a self when Buddhism teaches selflessness?

Unfortunately,like all religions, the mass of followers are put in a contradiction, in a divide and a split between this world and the next. In the Tibetan struggle for freedom, why not relegate religion to the private domain and make freedom of the homeland a separate issue. Then the world would not be so shocked to see marooned robed monks throwing stones in public spaces to help their fellowmen's cause. In Sri Lanka and other countries of S.E Asia, we had similar violence of the robed men whilst preaching non-violence and compassion year-in and year-out to their believers. Which takes us next to the question of the Olympics and China. The Olympics does not belong to any government but to the people of the world, especially the sports men and sports women who participate in them with a spirit of brotherhood and healthy competition. From childhood we are drilled with values of free competition which when extended to adulthood meant the free competition of the capitalist market place. We soon discovered that free competition is an abstraction. Domination, corruption, abuse of law, war, are our daily fare. In today's world, if there is any semblance of free competition, any place where at least some rules are observed, it may be sometimes found on the sports field. In spite of the political maneuverings of sports committees, the profit interests of big corporates, the political blunderings of governments, the consumerist attitudes of the general public, the unethical practices of some sportsmen, let the games play on!

I continue to support the Tibetan refugees in their quest for political freedom and their land. Let the protests be creative and non-violent. When the Olympic torch enters India on the 17th April, Tibetans hold your own torch of freedom high. Run with it on a parallel route through the streets of Delhi and on the streets of other Indian cities. Let it carry the message of freedom to the whole world. It will light other torches, those of people who are fighting for freedom everywhere. This country of ours is your home too to live in with freedom and dignity. After all as Buddhism says, the real freedom is being here and now, not in some distant past or unknown future.

Delia Maria Friends of the Gandhi Museum Pune

No comments: