International protests over China’s harsh treatment of Tibet focused on the Olympic torch runs in London, Paris and San Francisco a couple weeks ago, but the relays were free of trouble at subsequent stops. Until last Thursday, the 17th. While stops for the torch in Kazakhstan, Russia, Argentina, Tanzania, Oman, and Pakistan may not have been disrupted, the large Tibetan community in India, and that country’s sympathies for their mostly nonviolent cause, provided a ripe opportunity for renewed protesting.
Anticipating trouble when the torch arrived from Pakistan early in the morning of the 17th, Indian authorities cut the route of the relay down to a very carefully controlled, heavily policed, zone in Central New Delhi. Each of the 70 bearers had only a few seconds to carry the torch before handing it on to the next runner.
Some 15,000 police officers kept crowds, supporters, and protesters far from the scene. The runners could only wave to the media—and a few hundred chosen members of the public—as they carried the torch through the central city. The Center was closed to traffic and pedestrians, probably the tightest security in memory. Chinese and Indian security people jogged along with the torch to prevent any disruptions.
But thousands of Tibetans carried out their own protest elsewhere in the city, far from the torch. They began at the site where Mohandas Gandhi had been cremated, lit a torch of their own, and put on a show of traditional Tibetan dancing.
Protests also occurred elsewhere in India on Thursday, particularly in Ladakh, where about 5,000 Tibetans and sympathetic Ladakhis protested, shouted, and marched to show their opposition to the Chinese repression of Tibet. The protesters chanted “Free Tibet,” and “Down with China” as they marched through Leh, the principle town in Ladakh. Another news source, closer to the scene of the Ladakhi protests, estimated that over 15,000 people participated in Leh.
The protesters, who gathered at the Polo Ground in that city, expressed their affection and sympathies for the Tibetans, whose Buddhist beliefs many of the Ladakhis share. They requested that an international fact-finding commission should be sent to Tibet, to investigate the scale of the abuses that have been reported there. They demanded that the press should have open access to Tibet, and they urged that the Chinese government engage in a dialog with the Dalai Lama.
Ladakhi Muslims, many of whom are from the Kargil area, also expressed their support and sympathy with the Buddhist grief over the situation. Leh was shut down for the day by a general strike organized by the Buddhists.