08 March, 2009


Sushma Joshi
The Kathmandu Post, 02/27/2009
I laughed out loud when I read this news story: China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage lodged a protest when the auction house Christie sold two bronze sculptures—the head of a rat and a rabbit—at US$36 million.

According to an AP report: “"Christie's obstinately went on with the auction of the Summer Palace relics, going against the spirit of relevant international conventions and the international common understanding that cultural relics should be returned to their country of origin," the administration said in a statement.”

China, which has flouted every law in the international lawbooks, from human rights to environment, from labor standards to media freedom, from ethical standards of treatment of prisoners to copyright, is now evoking international law to shame Western pirates! Isn’t that ironic? But now we know. Even China, it appears, is willing to quote international law when expedient.

China gets furious when Yves St. Laurent makes a pile of cash selling stolen Chinese art—but China doesn’t get upset when it makes a pile of cash pirating Western art. All the Mona Lisa on tea-trays—shouldn’t China be paying a royalty to Bill Gates for that? I heard he owns the rights to that image.

Our own Maoists seem to have learnt this pick-and-choose method of following laws from our neighbour: one day they cite international human rights laws, the next day they apologize for beating up or killing people. Even a child knows the limitations of “sorry”—sorry is okay for scrawling on walls with crayons or breaking a glass. “Sorry” is not adequate for assault or murder. (And while we are on the topic of terminology, lets get clear on “martyr”—a martyr is someone who voluntarily sacrifices his/ her life or freedom to further a cause or belief. A person murdered by criminals, or one who loses his life in a road accident caused by inadequate traffic and road maintenance management, cannot be termed a martyr.)

Chinese Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Hu Zhengyue flew in to Nepal, shook hands with Prachanda, offered a 400 MW electricity project in Jajarkot, told him to keep the Tibetans under control, then flew off again. How insulting! Does the minister think Nepalis are so easily bought? The least he could have done is offered us a couple of new highways, a solar power manufacturing factory, and at least a 1000 MW electricity plant. And if the Chinese are so filthy rich, why don’t they just throw in a solar powered car for each of Nepal’s 30 million citizens? And add a special pirated DVD containing the oeuvre of Chinese cinema for each? Now we’re talking.

There is a lot of buzz around the new relationship with China—a new version of the 1950 treaty, and special economic processing zones that China may invest in. But do we really want to follow that model of creating incredibly repressive work environments in which people are locked in and forced to work for hours to create more and more cheap clothing for the Western world? Is this really the way forward for Nepal? Does Nepal always have to follow China, or can David lead Goliath?

The Tibetans living in Nepal are Nepali citizens, whether the 1991 Constitution recognizes them as such or not. Those who came in 1959 have lived here for around fifty years, and know more about Nepal’s history than many living Nepali youth. Those who were born here, despite Nepal’s unwillingness to recognize them, are Nepali nationals, born and raised here, speaking the language and knowing no other country. Tibetans have enriched Nepal’s cultural and religious landscapes, strengthened our economy and trade, influenced our arts, revived our architecture, sung our songs and made our films. They are our citizens and have as much right to be in Nepal and to enjoy the rights of every Nepali citizen—including the right to free assembly and protest.

The Nepali state forces Tibetans to face humiliation in their lives—making it difficult for them to travel, buy property, or access basic services which require proof of citizenship. Despite all this, Tibetans have thrived in Nepal, and some have settled down roots. For many, though, Nepal remains a hostile country and unfortunately migration from Tibetan communities are on the rise, as with other communities in Nepal. If we are to make this a hospitable country, the new Nepali Constitution must give Tibetans legal recognition as naturalized citizens, as other democratic countries do. And it must give them equal rights to those of all other ethnic and religious groups. We can’t undo China’s stupidity in decimating and applying genocidal policies to one of its most potent cultural groups. What we can do is embrace our own, and perhaps, through that, show them the way.

There was a joke that circulated in Nepal during the Eighties. When it rained in Russia, the joke went, the Communists in Nepal would open up their umbrellas. Let it not be said that when repression starts in China, the Nepali Maoists follow suit. The Nepali politicians are accountable to their own constituency of 30 million Nepali citizens, which include Tibetans-- not to China. And this means that our government should be thinking about ways in which to include Tibetan communities into the Nepali nation—not about how to repress their freedom of speech.

But it is not just Nepali citizens who will be watching what happens on March 10th, the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan people's peaceful uprising in Lhasa, but also the world. Let it not be said that our country, which has pledged to follow democratic norms, got swayed by a paltry bribe.

Nepal to China: no deal with Tibet till you give us a factory that makes cheap, pirated versions of Summer Palace rat and rabbit heads that we can sell to the international market. Then maybe we’ll help you to hang Yves St. Laurent.

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