A report by human rights experts of the United Nations on the eve of the International Language Day on February 21 has unmasked the real nature of oppression on Tibetans practised by the Communist Party of China now in the form of forced assimilation of Tibetan identity into the dominant Han Chinese identity.
Interestingly, February 21 often is observed solemnly by communist-minded individuals and groups in different parts of the world, projecting the language movement in Bangladesh as a token of anti-imperialist movement.
This report by UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on the right to education Farida Shaheed and Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Alexandra Xanthaki should make them rethink about the true face of the Communist Party of China.
The report by U. N. human rights experts, released in Geneva on February 6, 2023, says about a million Tibetan children have been separated from their families by the Chinese authorities and placed in government-run boarding schools.
“We are alarmed by what appears to be a policy of forced assimilation of the Tibetan identity into the dominant Han-Chinese majority through a series of oppressive actions against Tibetan educational, religious, and linguistic institutions,”the experts say in their report.
The Chinese rulers in Tibet are using the residential schooling system as a ploy to assimilate Tibetan people culturally, religiously and linguistically with the Han identity. “We are very disturbed that in recent years the residential school system for Tibetan children appears to act s a mandatory large-scale programme intended to assimilate Tibetans into majority Han culture, contrary to international human rights standards,”the experts have said in a statement.
In these residential schools, the educational content and the environment are built around the majority Han culture, with contexts in textbooks reflecting almost solely the experiences Han students face in the course of their lives. Tibetan children are forced to complete a “compulsory education”curriculum in Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua, standard Chinese) without access to learning relevant to the Tibetan tradition and culture. These schools do not provide much study in the language, history and culture of the Tibetans.
“As a result, Tibetan children are losing their facility with their native language and the ability to communicate easily with their parents and grandparents in the Tibetan language,”leading to their assimilation with the Han Chinese identity and the erosion of their own identity.
The report of the experts indicates that the promotion of these residential schools in Tibet is a part of a Chinese conspiracy to destroy the Tibetan identity and culture. Such residential schools have mushroomed in and outside the Tibet Autonomous Region, with the large majority of Tibetan children studying in them; and their numbers are
increasing. At the national level in China, the share of students studying in boarding schools is much lower, at 20 percent.
“The increase in the number of boarding Tibetan students is achieved by the closure of rural schools in areas populated by Tibetans, and their replacement by township or county-level schools which almost exclusively use Putonghua in teaching and communication, and usually require children to board,”the experts have said in their statement. “Many of these residential schools are situated far from the family homes of the students boarding them.” According to the U.N. experts, these policies run contrary to the prohibition of discrimination and the rights to education, linguistic and cultural rights, freedom of religion and belief and other rights of the Tibetan people.
By contrast, when more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees entered India in the wake of Chinese invasion of Tibet, then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had set up a chain of Tibetan schools in areas of settlement of these refugees, fully aided by the Government of India, so that the children of these refugees could be taught their language, culture and tradition. Some of these schools are still functioning.
The communist rulers of China are keen to destroy the culture and language of the Tibetans and the Tibetan way of life because they think that is the only way Tibetans can be weaned away from their deep faith in Buddhism, observers feel. For the intolerant rulers of China, religious belief of any kind is like a red rag to a bull.
Buddhism, as scholarly articles have underscored, is inseparable from the Tibetan language, culture and way of life. Former Director Anukul Chandra Banerjee of Gangtok – based Namgyal Institute of Tibetology in the Indian state of Sikkim writes in his article titled ‘Buddhism – Its Impact on the Tibetan Life and Culture’: “Almost the whole of the Tibetan language developed for the Buddhist literature. Buddhist literary terms became the literary terms of the Tibetan language itself. Gradually the Tibetan language was transformed into a language totally based on Buddhist literary terms, Tibetanized. Today, without taking the Buddhist terms as base it would be difficult to construct even a single sentence in Tibetan. There are few literally works in Tibetan that are not influenced by Buddhist ideas.”
The influence of Buddhism on the Tibetan way of life goes back to the 7th century when king Songtsen Gampo introduced Buddhism in Tibet. The code of law that he had formed for his country was based on the important and essential Buddhist moral disciplines. “These laws were not only meant for disciplining the physical conduct of the people but also for shaping their mental attitudes,”writes Anukul Chandra Banerjee. From the 7th century till the middle of the present century (the 20th century), the same law has been the law of the land in Tibet.”
It is also a part of history that king Songtsen Gampo had sent his emissary Thonmi Sambhota from Tibet to the Buddhist university of Nalanda in India to borrow a script for the Tibetan language so that the Buddhist teachings could be codified and preserved in the form of religious texts. Thus, almost the whole of the Tibetan language had developed for Buddhist literature.
Indeed, the mark of Buddhism on the Tibetan way of life is found from the birth to the death of an individual. When a child is born, his parents celebrate his birth by making
offerings to the Buddha and monks and distributing food to the poor. Lamas are invited to perform religious services in houses where a child is born. The second child of the family is usually sent to the monastery to become a monk. When death occurs in a family, a prayer service by monks for seven weeks is arranged.
When the Chinese army invaded Tibet in 1950, they found Buddhism to be the force unifying all Tibetans and the Dalai Lama was the symbol of this unity. The Chinese rulers systematically dismantled the Buddhist religion by victimizing the monks. A large number of monasteries in Tibet were completely destroyed. The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, along with a large number of Tibetans. Till recently, about 150 monks in Tibet have courted death by self-immolation in protest against the attack on their religion.
Scholars have noted the Chinese contempt for non-Chinese culture. “To the Chinese government, Tibetan Buddhism is a threat to its rule and a challenge to its goal of colonizing Tibet,”writes the website of Free Tibet, an organization of Tibetan refugees. “Undermining and eliminating the unique practices of Tibetan Buddhism is central to the policy of the Chinese government of eradicating Tibetan resistance to its rule. Every single aspect of Tibetan Buddhism is subject to intrusive state interference.”
A scholar like American anthropologist Melvyn C. Goldstein has debunked the Chinese propaganda of ruthless exploitation in the name of religion prevailing in Tibet before the Chinese invasion. His studies have found that there were in-built mechanisms in the Tibetan society under which the common people were taken care of by the aristocracy. This had lent stability to the Tibetan system, prevailing undisturbed for centuries before the Chinese invasion. Having failed to wean the Tibetan people away from the Buddhist religious faith after more than 70 years of illegal occupation of Tibet, mandarins of the CPC have floated the laughable idea of Buddhism with Chinese characteristics. The real intention behind this idea, say observers, is to interfere in the process of choice of the next Dalai Lama and foist on the Tibetan people a Dalai Lama of its own choice; the way Beijing has installed a puppet Panchen Lama on the second most important holy seat of the Tibetan Buddhist order.