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Feature - We are all mountain people

China's occupation of Tibet and suppression of Tibetan culture continues, with the outside world paying little attention


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In Dharmsala I interviewed Ugyen Tsewag, an information officer at the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD). Founded in January 1996, the TCHRD is independent of the Tibetan Government in Exile. It is the first Tibetan non-government organization to be formed with the objective to "highlight the human rights situation in Tibet and to promote principles of democracy in the Tibetan community."

Tsewag stated: "When we ask refugees if they have suffered from basic human rights they say, 'No.' But when we ask them if they suffered from forced labour, beatings, or injustice they say 'Yes.' They don't understand that everything inflicted on them by the Chinese is a violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

On Dec. 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the newly formed United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Following this historic act, the Assembly called upon member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read, and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without discrimination based on the political status of countries or territories."

Article 26 states: Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial, or religious groups. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Tse-tung labelled Tibetan culture, tradition and society as "backward." Tibetan teachers were ordered to leave their jobs and they were replaced with Chinese teachers. The government used schooling as a tool to spread Communist ideology and to increase China's control over Tibet. The government-controlled curriculum quickly began to wipe out Tibetan history, language, and culture. Tibetan students were told that Tibet was an inferior country. Tibetan values, achievements, and the Dalai Lama were constantly degraded, while China maintained it was the humanitarian saviour of the Tibetan people.

The Tibetan Government in Exile estimates that from 1984 to 1994 approximately 9,000 children were sent unaccompanied by their parents to India and Nepal in hopes that their children would receive a Tibetan education.

Testimonials from children (whose names cannot be released) indicate that Chinese students were provided with better books and better desks than Tibetans, and there were even cases of Chinese teachers resorting to brutal forms of punishment.