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Tibetans in India Urge Strong Tactics Against China

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Nowhere are events in Tibet being followed more closely than in India. It's thought that about 100,000 Tibetans live there. They include the Dalai Lama, who's based in the north Indian town of Dharamsala, along with his government, in exile. Pressure on the Dalai Lama seems to be building from all sides. It's coming from China, which is now accusing him and his followers of planning suicide attacks, and it says it's discovered weapons hidden in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.

The Dalai Lama's administration strongly denies those allegations, and it's coming from Tibetan exile activists who want the Dalai Lama to take a harder line in pursuing the Tibetan cause.

NPR's South Asia correspondent Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES: An elderly Tibetan woman says her morning prayers. Suddenly she stops and points to the picture on the wall beside her. The picture shows a Tibetan man, a political prisoner, it says, in a Chinese jail. The woman shakes her head sadly and returns to her prayers.

This is a small Tibetan enclave in New Delhi, a warren of dark and narrow alleys. Anger radiates from the walls. There are close-up photographs of bloodied corpses reportedly shot during the Chinese security forces' recent crackdown in Tibet. There are signs calling for a boycott of Chinese-made products. There are posters announcing protests.

Not far away, Kumchuk Yangpo(ph) is sipping tea in a cafe. He's an activist with the Tibetan Youth Congress. It's not easy work. He's been detained by Indian police many times for staging protests, although never for long. He's severed relations with his family, who are still in Tibet, so as not to put them at risk of reprisals from the Chinese authorities. And he has a dilemma.

Mr. KUMCHUK YANGPO (Tibetan Youth Congress): I totally disagree with Dalai Lama.

REEVES: Yangpo reveres the Dalai Lama as his spiritual leader. Like everyone, he calls him His Holiness. Yet, he says, he and many other Tibetans fundamentally disagree with the Dalai Lama's political approach to the Tibetan issue. The Dalai Lama wants the Olympic Games to go ahead. Yangpo wants the world to boycott them. The Dalai Lama accepts Tibet as an autonomous region within China. Yangpo believes in pursuing nothing less than full independence.

Mr. YANGPO: His Holiness is too - for my personally, his holiness is too soft for political issues, very soft, very peaceful. For a situation like this we, have to take action to the China government.

(Soundbite of chanting)

REEVES: A couple of hundred Tibetans sit beneath a canopy in a street in the middle of New Delhi. This is the latest in a series of peaceful protests by Tibetans in the city in the last few weeks. Among the demonstrators is Renstin Wangbo(ph). She also says she believes there should be an international boycott of the Beijing Olympics. But, she explains, the Dalai Lama is considered a god by Tibetans, so she won't even discuss the fact that she disagrees with him.

Ms. RENSTIN WANGBO: I can't say anything about this. Whatever he has decided, I think he has done the best. So we are on that way.

Unidentified Woman: The China torch comes to India on April 17th.

REEVES: Tibetan activists in India are now focusing on the arrival in New Delhi in a few weeks of the Olympic torch now touring the world. They've already scored one success. The captain of India's soccer team has just declined an invitation to carry the torch through the city, saying his decision's out of sympathy for the Tibetan cause.

Bhumo Tsering(ph) is president of the Tibetan Women's Association, based in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile.

Ms. BHUMO TSERING (Tibetan Women's Association): Since we will be under very severe surveillance by the Indian government and the Indian authorities, we are making a request to the Indian citizens to please speak up for Tibet, you know, when the torch comes here. It's a torch of shame.

REEVES: Kumchuk Yangpo has a more radical idea. He says the plan is to prevent the Olympic torch from being carried through New Delhi. But that's all he'll say.

Phillip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.