Young Exiled Tibetan Activists in India Question Dalai Lama's Non-Violent Approach

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has reiterated his commitment to a non-violent approach to achieve his goal of autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule. The Tibetan spiritual leader's stand on non-violence comes amid China's crackdown on anti-government protests in Tibet. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi there is a growing sense of impatience among many younger Tibetan exiles with that strategy.

For nearly five decades, the 72-year-old Dalai Lama has campaigned around the world to preserve the rights and culture of Tibet, the mountainous Himalayan region, which he fled in 1959 - eight years after it came under Chinese control.

His strategy rests on what he calls "the Middle Way" - non-violence and dialogue with the Chinese to win more political autonomy for Tibet.

Even after protests led by Buddhist monks turned violent on the streets of Tibet last week, the Dalai Lama said he will never change course, preferring to step down, rather than see the Tibetan movement engulfed in violence.

"If things become out of control, then my only option is completely resign, completely resign," he said.

The Dalai Lama is deeply revered by his people. But the large, exile Tibetan community based in India is becoming increasingly impatient with his pacifist approach. They say it has done little to end what they say is repression and human rights violations in Tibet by the Chinese.

Many of these young activists are now calling for more action, instead of just diplomacy.

Their restlessness is evident in the streets of Dharamsala - the hill town in northern India where the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile is based. Since the violence in Tibet erupted, hundreds of young Tibetans and Buddhist monks and nuns have marched daily up and down the hill slopes. Many have painted their faces with Tibetan flags and smeared their chests with red paint.

The Tibetan Women's Association is one of the five Tibetan exile groups spearheading street protests in India. Its President, B. Tsering, says her association stands for non-violence. But she says the mood is changing among many younger activists in the wake of the recent protests in Tibet.

"They are kind of frustrated, that is for sure….they want to push China more you know….if they won't respond to this reasonable proposal put forward by His Holiness, people will definitely reconsider their own stand….then our only chance of resolving Tibetan issue through very amicable way will be lost," she said.

Many Tibetan exiles are also unhappy that the Dalai Lama shifted the focus of his campaign in 2001 from independence for Tibet, to autonomy under Chinese rule.

The Dalai Lama wants Beijing to protect Tibet's ancient culture and civilization, but says Tibetans and Chinese must learn to live side by side.

However, younger activists chant slogans for a Free Tibet.

Tenzing Norsang of the Tibetan Youth Congress says his organization wants to fight for independence for Tibet.

"Independence is our birthright….There is no reason why should we surrender Tibetan independence…..historically we are independent, culture we are different from China, so there is no sort of any connection that we are part of China," he said.

The Dalai Lama's exiled Tibetan administration says asking for complete freedom is simply not practical.

His aides admit that there is growing frustration among young activists. But they attribute their restlessness to "young blood," and steadfastly stand by the Middle Path chosen by the Dalai Lama.

The prime minister of the exiled Tibetan administration, Sandhong Rinpoche, questions whether violence can help in countering China's might. On the other hand, he says the Dalai Lama's non-violent approach has won his cause international sympathy and given him great moral authority.

"If we have not committed to non-violent approach, the Tibet issue might have completely disappeared from the world scenario," he said. "Today by and large the huge number of international community is behind us. They are supporting the Tibet cause very solidly. Therefore it has achieved great deal, we are still able to stand up against such a giant like China, and this is not a small achievement."

The months ahead could be crucial. Young Tibetans do not want to lose the opportunity provided by the Beijing Olympic Games in August to focus more international attention on their cause, and feel this may be the last chance to fight for their homeland.

But the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile says the five decades spent campaigning for more freedom for Tibet is a short span in the life of a nation - and only peaceful protests and dialogue will ultimately achieve results.