The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) is pleased to present an exclusive preview of Dhi Lhaden’s new book titled ‘The Art of Passive Resistance’, now translated into English.
Dhi Lhaden is a Tibetan monk, intellectual and writer born in 1980 at Dida Village in Pema (Ch: Baima) County, Golog (Ch: Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Qinghai Province), in the Tibetan province of Amdo. Originally named as Lhaden (popularly called Dhi Lhaden), he is also known by his ordained name, Thubten Lobsang Lhundup. At 11, he was admitted to his local monastery and four years later joined Serthar Buddhist Institute in Serta County, Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Sichuan Province). At 28, he went to Lhasa for further studies at Drepung and Sera Monastery but had to cut his studies short.
Since 2008, he has been visiting various places in Tibet to experience and record the observations of fellow Tibetans.
This latest book, originally titled Tungol Trimtug (‘Resistance Through Cooperation With Law’) is Lhaden’s second, published and translated by TCHRD. Di Lhaden’s first book titled Tsesok Le Trun Pe Kecha (‘Words Uttered With Life at Risk’) was published in March 2011 by TCHRD. This book was released on the third anniversary of 2008 Mass Uprising in Tibet and the 16th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Dhi Lhaden’s “The Art of Passive Resistance” and its original Tibetan version will be released on 29 June 2015.
Below are excerpts from the book:
The chain that chokes the precious human life is the mistaken notion that there is a higher authority above oneself, be it a government, nation, feudal lords or priests.
In democracy, the laws have universal value in that they are meant to protect the rights and freedoms of all citizens. They are universal in the sense that they are applied equally to all individuals without any discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity, caste or gender. Democracy requires the law to reign in the possible excesses that the citizens might commit. If the laws fail to protect and promote rights and freedoms of citizens, they should be discarded. If the laws promote the interest of a few ruling elites, it should be disobeyed. So when we say that laws and freedom are not necessarily mutually exclusive, it means the laws help secure freedom and rights. Therefore, laws that serve the interest of a particular ruling class, a particular political party, or a particular tradition at the expense of the freedom and rights of the citizens cannot be considered just.
As far as political freedom is concerned, every person should have the freedom to be a member of any political organization, freedom to vote and freedom to equal entitlement of legal benefits. Political freedoms also include the rights of citizens to criticize and protest, including publication of literatures against corrupt and ineffective governments and government officials. Without such freedoms and rights, governments and government officials would remain unaccountable and the democratic rights of citizens would be undermined. As far as spiritual freedom is concerned, everyone should have the freedom of religious belief. This includes freedom of citizens to express (and not express) belief in any kind of religion, prophet and religious leader; freedom of religious institutions to propound their religious ideas within the country; and most importantly freedom of the religious community to practice religious rituals and appoint their own religious leaders and officials in accordance with the fundamental tenets of their religions, without any arbitrary interference from secular authorities.
The constitution of tyrannical regimes might proclaim citizens’ right to protest, assembly, free speech, and to ‘criticize government officials’. But such proclamations are mere facade aimed at either manipulating the people or showing a positive image to the international community. This fact is corroborated by our experience of arrests and torture, under various pretexts, every time we tried to exercise these so-called rights.
In history, struggle for equal rights and opportunities began with ‘small’ incidents. In the US, it was the refusal of Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, to vacate her seat for a white person on 1 December 1955. For this act of resistance, Rosa Parks was imprisoned for fourteen days, but it sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The US Supreme court eventually declared that the Montgomery law on segregated buses was unconstitutional. Similarly, in 1960, the Greensboro sit-ins, started by black students, in Greensboro, North Carolina, led to the Woolworth department store chain reversing its policy of racial segregation in the Southern US. Tibetans also face similar kind of racial discrimination today.
When Tibetans visit Chinese cities, Chinese look down upon them by raising their eyebrows, murmuring among themselves and covering their noses, saying ‘these are minority people.’ There have been many incidents of taxis, hotels, and shops refusing service to people wearing traditional Tibetan robes. This scourge of racism has even spread to Tibetan cities like Lhasa, as documented in the writings of authors such as Drong Yonten and me. Aren’t these racial discriminations similar to the ones faced by African-Americans during Martin King’s era? Wouldn’t such racial discrimination spark a Tibetan version of Montgomery Bus Boycott and Greensboro sit-ins? To avoid such incidents, equality must be ensured between the Tibetans and Chinese, rather than Chinese people occupying all political power and Tibetans serving as mere subjects. Equality between the Tibetans and Chinese is the best way to ensure social stability and harmony. Today a few Tibetans bemoan their fate of being born as Tibetans. Some Tibetans are incensed by such lamentations, but I personally sympathize with them, because their lamentations are caused by the hardships and sufferings of their lived experience as an oppressed people.
Democracy and Rule of Law
Rule of law differentiates democracy from tyranny. One of the indispensable attributes of democracy is rule of law. Tyranny allows the supreme reign of rule of men over rule of law. Democracy requires that no one, be it an individual or organization, is above and beyond the law. In democracy, the ultimate authority lays with the constitution- a set of written laws, not with some powerful men or a ruling political party. In democracy, all are equal before the law: from the most powerful president to the ordinary citizen. In democracy, constitution and laws are created not to serve the interest of a few powerful men or a particular political party; every citizen, through their representatives, has a stake. No absolute and infallible political party, ideology and leaders can exist in a democracy based on rule of law. Citizens must assume their own responsibilities to run the country. There cannot be an absolute, near-divine, infallible political party or leaders who lead the citizens by their noses.
In democracies, people elect political leaders including presidents and prime ministers. The people, through their elected representatives, frame laws and constitution. The people have the power to impeach presidents and prime ministers; the people, for their own interest, can amend the laws and constitution of the nation. Since the people make their own laws, it is their primary responsibility to respect and abide by these laws.
Laws are absolutely required if human beings want their rights and security to be protected. But there is no guarantee that laws can secure human rights and welfare. It depends upon many circumstances whether laws can be legitimate or not. For instance, there could be laws and constitution propping up a tyrannical regime; they do this by granting absolute power to one particular religious, political, cultural or ethnic community. Under such tyrannical regimes, there shall be no equality and democracy given the fact that one political group monopolizes all power. Such tyrannical regimes trampling upon the rights of the majority of citizens continue to exist everywhere.
The reason we pursue democracy is because it is the only form of government, the only iron fortress, that truly protects fundamental human rights to freedom, equality and justice. Only in democracy, founded on the rule of law, citizens can hope to gain these rights. Other forms of government cannot guarantee these rights. This is the reason we have chosen democracy out of all systems of political governance. Every human being on this planet cherishes and fights for democracy and the rule of law. He or she knows that no system of political governance exists other than democracy that can ensure our fundamental human rights and freedoms.
In short, democracy is not just paying a mere lip service to the rule of law. There should be a genuine implementation of the rule of law, which is equal treatment of all citizens, irrespective of their caste, class, color, gender, ethnicity and political beliefs. A real democracy allows citizens to participate freely in national affairs through various means such as voting, petitions and starting socio-political organizations. Citizens also have the rights to assembly and free speech, which includes right to criticize their governments through mass demonstrations, and publication and dissemination of critical literature.
Since the whole universe cherishes democracy, all political regimes claim themselves to be democratic. But what we are looking for is a genuine democracy founded on the rule of law that protects human equality and freedom. Democracy as a form of political governance first flourished in the European continent and then spread to North America. In fact Europe is the only continent filled with democratic countries. Asia and Africa remain far behind when it comes to democracy and other scientific advancements.
Fortunately, our continent is now being flooded with rays of democracy, somewhat like the proverbial light dispelling the darkness. Beginning with the toppling of Indonesian military dictatorship in 2010, we have now seen the fall of dictatorships in Middle Eastern nations such as Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Even Burma and Bhutan have started walking the path of democratic reforms. Other dictatorial regimes are now being threatened by waves of democratic protests. These momentous changes give us new hope and belief. In our own neighborhood, we see a rise of national consciousness and yearning for democracy and human rights among the youth. All these developments indicate the rise of a new sun of democracy in the foreseeable future. As I wrote in my previous work, “At a time when the whole world is walking the great path of democracy, dictatorial regimes cannot remain in denial and hiding; they too have to follow this path. How soon they do that depends on the courage and determination of the people.”
Characteristics of Democracy
- In democracy the public elects the leaders of the nation. However, election of leaders does not necessarily result in a genuinely democratic form of government. We could have dictatorships, in which leaders are being elected through a façade of public voting. Or we could have authoritarian regimes elected by the people, who are still enslaved by customs and traditions. Under such regimes, real democracy cannot exist since people literally worship their leaders.
- The second characteristic of democracy is that it should have a legislative assembly. But having a legislative assembly does not necessarily guarantee a genuine form of democratic government. Members of the legislative assembly might serve a dictatorship; fear and opportunities for making money and career might lure them to become the lackeys of dictatorship.
- Another indispensable characteristic of democracy is a written constitution. But simply having a written constitution does not necessarily make a country democratic. Tyrannical regimes too write constitution to impress and manipulate the opinion of the world community. Such tyrannical regimes do not practice what they preach in their constitutions. They are like the proverbial ‘butchers holding the holy Buddhist text.’
- As Montesquieu advocated, there must be separation of powers between the three organs of the government: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. However, having these three pillars of government is not enough. There is after all the danger that these three organs of government might be in cahoots with each other to form a dictatorship. Or these three organs of government might literally worship one supreme authoritarian ruler.
- The final and most important characteristic of democracy is that the will of the people should reign supreme. Democracy requires safeguards for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens. These include the right to free expression, right to assembly, right to publish and disseminate literature and so on.
In societies that we live in, we have some semblance of the first four characteristics of democracy. What is lacking absolutely is the final characteristic- that the will of the people should hold supreme. As far as we are concerned, we do not even possess an iota of civil and political rights. As a result, we cannot claim to have genuine democracy. Values such as peace, freedom, equality and democracy are universally cherished. Most people on this planet today have access to them, but not Tibetans. We live in a country that has just began reluctantly to give some attention to these values.
Non-violence: The Path to Justice
So what strategies or methods of non-violence are available? Scholars usually say that there are more than 200 of them, but depending upon the creativity of each and every individual, there could be more. During Indian independence struggle and the civil rights movement in the US, people engaged in various forms of non-violent protest such as quitting their official jobs, boycotting schools/colleges, cafes, restaurants, bars, shops and so on. These strategies proved very effective. As far as Tibetan people are concerned, we have protested, distributed leaflets, published and disseminated books; burned the Chinese Red Flag; boycotted the Tibetan New Year, farming, Chinese products; produced music CDs and DVDs; conducted life long prayers and rituals for the Dalai Lama; and committed self-immolations. These are not the ultimate strategies of non-violence. People might come up with new and original strategies based on new circumstances. If one asks the question what makes a path non-violent, we can say that it needs to have the following features:
According to religion, any act that does not harm others is considered non-violent. As Buddhism states, “Harming others is not an act of virtue, it is not an act of non-violence.” Such a definition of non-violence is broadly accepted by all world religions, notwithstanding some subtle differences. This is the reason we see religion’s influence on the core idea of non-violence propagated by Gandhi, Martin King and Dalai Lama. Non-violence, in short, means any act of protest or demonstration aimed at fully regaining one’s rights from the oppressor, without causing any damage to human lives and property. Non-violence is not aimed at annihilating an enemy. Gandhi said that non-violence means not running away like wolves from the tyrants, but confronting them. He said that non-violence is all about resisting evil by using courage and determination: “I contemplate a mental and, therefore, a moral opposition to immoralities. I seek entirely to blunt the edge of the tyrant’s sword, not by putting up against it a sharper-edged weapon, but by disappointing his expectation that I would be offering physical resistance.”
Moreover, Gandhi said that non-violence accords with the precepts of religion and is the highest form of moral principle. It needs to be stressed that Gandhi did not condemn violent form of resistance. He claimed that violent resistance has the power to put pressure on colonial regimes. He only expressed his differences with violent resistance, stating that the day people of India chose violence he would resign from his position and retire into the wilderness. Eventually, his non-violent resistance against the British helped India regain her independence. Martin King also advised his followers not to poison the non-violent struggle with violence. He told them to strengthen their character by raising the armory of non-violence inside their hearts so that they could defeat the enemy of violence outside. As we know, through his non-violent struggle, Martin King helped African Americans regain their civil rights. Thanks to his efforts, today an African-American has become the President of the United States.
As we can learn from the examples of the above exponents of non-violent struggle, if we fight the battles without abiding by the principles of non-violence, we will lose our much-needed allies. The road to freedom will become messy. It seems that character and purity of soul form the true basis of a genuinely non-violent struggle. A violent resistance will be suicidal. It will be like the proverbial ‘eggs smashed on the rocks.’ We would moreover be branded as terrorists and bandits. This, as I said before, might alienate our allies.