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The Dalai Lama

The Ides of March 1959


When the exile continues, you can’t even wish away history…
INDIRA PARTHASARATHY | Issue Dated: December 5, 2010
Tags : Holiness |Dalai Lama |Chinese |CIA |Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru |

His Holiness The Dalai Lama is one of the most enduring symbols of peace in our world, but imagine him as a 24-year old with a rifle slung over his shoulder. It was 1959, and as the Chinese military thrust itself on the Tibetan lands and people, and showed increasing impatience with the 14th Dalai Lama – the spiritual and political leader of Tibet – he had no option but to make his escape to a neighbouring country that he hoped would give him refuge.
Five years into the Seventeen Point Agreement signed in 1951 – the one that affirmed Chinese sovereignty over the Himalayan plateau, and later claimed to be signed under duress by the exiled Tibetan government – the friction between communist China and the traditionally feudal society of Tibet had spilled into a full scale uprising. Starting from the eastern reaches of the state, significantly Amdo and Kham, the resistance rippled through Tibet and came to a head in the capital city of Lhasa, not without some overt and covert help from the CIA. In the midst of ruthless chaos unleashed as the Chinese military hunkered down on the dissidents, came a worryingly strange injunction requiring the Dalai Lama to attend – unaccompanied by his security personnel – a theatrical performance at the Chinese army headquarters in Lhasa. Fearing abduction/assassination attempts on the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans picketed outside his summer palace on March 10, 1959, to restrain any movement of their beloved leader. Chinese troops and artillery packed into Lhasa, and as the rumble of tanks rolling into the city permeated his heavily guarded palace walls, His Holiness made the painful decision on 15th March of leading the struggle for his people from exile.
On the dark, stormy night of 17th March, the Dalai Lama dressed as a soldier, and with an entourage of 38 people comprising family, well-wishers and high-ranking officials, sneaked out on horses. Through bone-chilling weather and treacherous terrains of the Himalayas, and across the swirling Brahmaputra, the group slipped past the gauntlet of the Red Army. Meanwhile upon receipt of the news, the incensed Chinese razed the palace down and left nearly 80, 000 more civilians dead back in Lhasa.
The 15-day long epic journey paid off when The Kundun (‘The Presence’, as His Holiness is referred to) crossed Khenzimana Pass to enter the Indian border safely on 31 March, and rested in the Towang Monastery in Arunachal Pradesh. Shortly, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, announced the decision to grant asylum to the Dalai Lama, at the obvious risk of jilting Indo-China relations.
While the Chinese instated the Panchen Lama as the acting head of the region, His Holiness the Dalai Lama set up Government of Tibet in Exile in Dharamshala, in Himachal Pradesh; many Tibetans have since followed in the footsteps of their God-king to what is now known as Little Lhasa. The world waits for the Dalai Lama to lead them back home. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017