India Tightens New Delhi’s Tibetan Districts on Eve of Summit

March 28, 2012

NEW DELHI — With President Hu Jintao of China arriving here for a diplomatic summit meeting, the Indian authorities sought on Wednesday to prevent Tibetans from staging anti-China protests, as paramilitary officers closed down the city’s Tibetan neighborhoods. Tibetan activists said more than 250 people were jailed.

The crackdown comes as the Indian authorities have increased security for the annual summit meeting, of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, a grouping known as BRICS. It also came as a Tibetan man died on Wednesday morning after setting himself afire earlier this week in New Delhi. The man, Jamphel Yeshi, was protesting Mr. Hu’s visit and joined a list of more than two dozen Tibetans who have set themselves on fire in the past year in acts of protest.

For decades, India, the world’s most populous democracy, has provided a home for Tibetan refugees, including the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader. But as host of the BRICS meeting, Indian officials want to avoid any episodes that might embarrass the visiting leaders, including any further protests against Mr. Hu. This week, the police in New Delhi have invoked a special legal provision so that they can tightly restrict public gatherings in the area surrounding the summit meeting.

Tibetan activists said more than 250 Tibetans had been jailed under preventive custody. Reached on his cellphone, Tenzin Norsang, joint secretary of the Tibetan Youth Congress, said he was being held in a local jail, along with about 100 other Tibetans. He said an additional 156 Tibetans, including 23 women, were being detained at the city’s main jail. One police official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that 151 people had been arrested on Tuesday with still others en route to the jailhouse on Wednesday afternoon.

“Indian police are doing what we want,” Mr. Norsang said on Wednesday afternoon, before his cellphone went dead. “Either let us condemn Hu Jintao’s visit or detain us.”

In 2005, Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan writer and prominent advocate of Tibetan independence, climbed a building in Bangalore and unfurled a “Free Tibet” banner during a visit by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China. Mr. Tsundue was arrested Tuesday night while participating at a forum held at the India Habitat Centre, one of the city’s premier cultural venues. One of four speakers participating in a discussion organized by the Tibetan Women’s Association, Mr. Tsundue praised India and warned of an impending Chinese collapse.

“India gives us our strength, our confidence — India is our guru,” he said, according to a statement released by the association, which then detailed how he was suddenly detained during a tea break. About 10 police officers appeared, shoved away organizers who tried to intervene, the statement said, and “Tsundue was dragged to his feet and forced out the back door.”

Rajan Bhagat, a spokesman for the New Delhi police, said that Mr. Tsundue was being held in preventive custody. “He has a history of creating nuisances,” Mr. Bhagat said. “That’s why preventative security measures were taken.”

Meanwhile, in the Tibetan neighborhood known as Majnu ka Tila, many Tibetans found themselves living under de facto house arrest. Shops were closed as paramilitary officers wielding metal nightsticks and machine guns patrolled the sidewalks. Police officers sat in the shade or strolled through the alleyways.

“What can we do?” asked Sonam Thoghal, 43, the owner of a small clothing shop. “We are just refugees. We are very upset about it. But we have to go by the law. The police are walking through all the lanes here. If they see four or five people gathering together, they say they will take them to the police station if they do not split up.”

Mr. Yeshi, the Tibetan protester who died Wednesday morning, had lived in this neighborhood. He was among the hundreds of Tibetans who rode buses to the center of the city to participate in a march to protest Mr. Hu’s visit to India.

When the procession reached Jantar Mantar, an 18th-century astronomical complex that has become a famous protest site, Mr. Yeshi set himself on fire. Startling photographs of him running, engulfed in flames, quickly circled around the world.

Kelsang Dolma, one of the protesters, had sat beside Mr. Yeshi on the bus, with her infant son. “He said, ‘You are very strong because you are carrying a little boy,’ ” she recalled.

On Wednesday afternoon, people outside a Buddhist monastery in the Tibetan neighborhood lit candles in memory of the Tibetans who have died lighting themselves on fire and are regarded as martyrs.

Some people crowded around a photocopy of a letter handwritten in Tibetan and discovered in the Mr. Yeshi’s room.

“The fact that Tibetan people are setting themselves on fire in this 21st century is to let the world know about their suffering, and to tell the world about the denial of basic human rights,” the letter said, according to a translation.

By midafternoon, a montage of the newest martyr joined the photographs of other “martyrs”: a smiling Mr. Yeshi surrounded by images of him in flames.

In a Tibetan region of western China on Wednesday, a monk from the embattled Kirti Monastery in the town of Ngaba, known in Chinese as Aba, died by self-immolation, according to monks at Kirti’s sister monastery in Dharamsala, the Indian town that is home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile government.

At least 30 people in Tibetan areas of China have self-immolated since March 2011.

Nikhila Gill and Sruthi Gottipati contributed reporting from New Delhi, and Edward Wong from Beijing.

Source: NYTimes


  1. Poor people, they should stop these protests, because they may lead nowhere. China does not give freedom to Tibet.


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