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10 Point Similarities between Indian and Tibetan Freedom Movement By Tenzin Lekshay

Happy 67th INDIAN Independence Day

Happy 67th INDIAN Independence Day

Yesterday, 67th Indian independence day was observed in all over India as well as in abroad. As a Tibetan, I would like to wish and congratulate this great nation for their triumph in cherishing freedom from the clutches of Great Britain. It is on this joyous moment that makes worth of all the bloods and sweats of thousands of Indian freedom fighters. I salute them for their unwavering courage, determination, and the dream of swaraj that makes them immortal in the historical chapter of Indian freedom movement. At this present moment, we, Tibetans are living in such traumatic era of foreign invasion, which resembles that of India during the British rule. Over the last six decades, thousands of Tibetans sacrificed their lives for the noble cause of attaining the sacred freedom, and continue to do so. As Subhash Chandra Bose rightly said, “Freedom is not given, it is taken”. So far, while observing China’s iron fist control over Tibet, it is obvious that they will not let it go easily, despite the fact that the truth is not in their favor. They continue to distort the Tibetan history and adopt policies that annihilate every bits of the existence of tibetan culture and identity.

Soon after India became independent in 1947, sun sets upon Tibet with the brutal Chinese occupation that resulted in the dead of 1.2 million Tibetans and the destruction of around 6,000 monasteries inside Tibet. The dark cloud of merciless oppression continues to shadow over Tibet. But the question remains as of how long China can prosecute, torture and exploit our father land. India, our guru achieved purna swaraj after 200 years of foreign subjugation, our day will come sooner or later as Nelson Mandela said, “Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.”

Since there are discussions on whether Tibetan freedom struggle resembles that of India, the comparative studies between the two can be done by taking into consideration of the similarities in their natures. 

1) Giant and powerful:

When India was ruled by the British raj, it was generally believed that sun never sets upon the later. Great Britain at that time, was the hegemonic state with her influence stretched all over the world, leaving only few pockets for others. In 19th and early 20th Century, her majesty’s rule was at the height of its power in terms of economic, military and political influence. Likewise, China as Napoleon once warned that the China was a sleeping dragon and when he wakes, will shake the world. Soon after People’s Republic of China (PRC) was declared in 1949, Tibet became her soft target to push forward their expansionism towards other Asian countries. At present, PRC is the second largest economic giant, with the huge military stock up. China’s diplomatic influence reaches far and wide.

2) Expansionism and Exploitation:

It was a well known fact that the Britain’s mission to colonize India was to exploit the abundant resources, and expand further into every corners of south asian countries. British India adopted systematic exploitation of India’s resources and thus became one of the foremost suppliers of raw materials to the Great Britain during the First World War. Not only that, India remained as the largest market for the British empire. In Tibet, one of the main objectives of occupying Tibet was to exploit Tibet’s rich resources. Environment Section of the Central Tibetan Administration based in Dharamshala, India recorded that Tibet has deposits of about 132 different minerals, which accounted significant share in the world’s reserves of gold, chromite, copper, borax and iron. Secondly, when Mao Tsetung declared invading Tibet, he pointed out conquering Tibet’s five fingers, indicating Ladakh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and NEFA (present day Arunachal Pradesh). 

3) Victimization and Prejudice:

British Raj at the peak of their power, became arrogant enough to victimize the people of the colonized nations. In India, the commonly known slogans like “Dogs and Indian’s are not allowed” show the gross humiliating sides the British India, who believed in superiority of Caucasian race. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru wrote “India as a nation and Indians as individuals were subjected to insult, humiliation, and contemptuous treatment. The English were an imperial race, we were told, with the god-given right to govern us and keep us in subjection.” Similarly, in PRC, Han majority are considered as the privileged despite the fact that China has 55 ethnic minorities. Inside Tibet, Tibetans are being discriminated in their own homeland, and are considered stranger without much benefit on education system, healthcare and workforce. However, Han immigrants in Tibet are provided with incentives like tax subsidies. 

4) Divide and Rule:

When British Raj colonized India, divide and rule strategy was implemented so to make the divided India weak. Such divisions were either created to contend the rival forces like French or to make the India trapped in their petty conflict. Similarly, when Tibet was occupied by PRC, Tibet was divided into one region and four provinces, of which three of the provinces were incorporated with the mainland China. As British Raj had its authoritative commands in England, Tibet policies are all designed and executed from Beijing, China.

5) Sacrifices and Struggle:

In India, many sacrificed their lives for freedom, as Rabindranath Tagore opined “We gain freedom when we have paid the full price.” Many martyrs were born in India, like Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru, Rani Lashmi Bhai, and Subhash Chandra Bose. Though India as a territory was vast, the freedom struggle emerged from all corners of India. In Tibet, many Tibetans died fighting the Chinese aggressors, many were tortured, starved and imprisoned for the sake of freedom. Since 2009, 120 Tibetans self immolated themselves by sacrificing their precious lives in demanding freedom. In spite of China’s hard-line policies inside Tibet, Tibetan are showing great resiliance in their freedom struggle.

6) Leadership and Visions:

Many great Indian leaders who advocated freedom had inspired all the Indians to be united against the British tyranny.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

  Amongst them, the most prominent one was Mahatma Gandhi, who was considered the apostle of peace and nonviolence. With the far sighted approach in their freedom struggle, the leaders formed Indian National Congress, which ultimately became the voice of India in attaining freedom. Likewise, Tibetan freedom struggle was led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who believes that Ahimsa should be the guiding principle in regaining freedom. His Holiness the Dalai Lama established Central Tibetan Administration, catering the needs of the Tibetans in pursuing freedom movement and is recognized as the voice of the voiceless Tibetans inside Tibet.

7) Language and cultural degeneration:

In India, one of the British legacy is the English language. English as a language became one of the main languages in India, considering its dominance in the educational curriculums, administrations, and the civil societies. Though Hindi is known as the official language, english has been predominantly used in all over India and is regarded as the secondary Official language. Inside Tibet, Chinese language has become an active language, which is commonly used as the medium of instruction in the educational system, mode of communications in the administrations as well as within the public. Despite the richness of aged old Tibetan language, the Chinese government voluntarily neglects the importance of Tibetan language. Such negligence in language has negatively impact the very existence of the Tibetan characters, which is deemed as the essence of Tibetan identity.

8) History and its lesson:

During the British rule, or even before that, India as a nation was not unified, simply because of disintegration. Even though, India as a whole has so much of commonalities within each states, along with the rich and old civilization, India became a victim of colonization. For centuries, India was divided into princely states, who often fought amongst one another to expand their territorial powers and influences. In such a fragile situation, it proof advantages to the British India to colonize India. Even in Tibet, despite having old civilizations with common religion, language and tradition, Tibet as a whole remained disintegrated for hundreds of years. Since 17th Century, Central Tibet was ruled by the Dalai Lama administration, but the eastern and northeastern part of Tibet was ruled by chieftain and warlords of Tibetan origins. In such a situation, Tibet became an easy prey for China.

9) Principles and Approaches:

Though Neta ji’s INA contributed immensely in the Indian freedom struggle, Babu’s Ahimsa and nonviolent movement stormed the British India to leave India. For Mahatma Gandhi, the truth is invincible as it challenged the British might . He said “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” Similarly, the Tibetan freedom struggle is based on the principle of non violence and truth. It is commonly believed that truth will ultimately triumph, regardless of a powerful counterpart.

10) Guru, Chela and its destiny:

For centuries, India and Tibet remained culturally and physically closed to each other. As a neighbor, many of Indian cultures were adopted by the Tibetans, mainly Buddhism and Script. Since Buddhism flourished in Tibet, Tibetans considered themselves as CHELA (student) and India as GURU (teacher). Both Guru and Chela were either colonized or is currently under the foreign invasion. India remained under British rule, and was declared Independent in 1947. But in 1949, PRC started invading Tibet and took ten years to occupy Tibet. So, the fate of Guru and Chela are considered to be similar as both lived under the foreign tyranny. Hopefully, like Guru, may freedom be restored in Tibet.

In conclusion, it is important to quote an excerpt of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s letter to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1950, “The tragedy of Tibet is that the Tibetans put faith in us; they chose to be guided by us and we have been unable to get them out of the meshes of Chinese diplomacy or Chinese malevolence.” Needless to say, India (our GURU) must rise up to seek freedom for Tibet (CHELA), not just for the sake of Tibet but for the sake of India as well.


Tenzin Lekshay is currently working as the Media Coordinator of Bureau of His Holiness the  Dalai Lama, New Delhi.  He worked as the Coordinator of India-Tibet Coordination Office based in Delhi. This article is a personal view and does not necessarily regarded as the view of the organization he belongs. This article was originally published at 



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