Published: 09th October 2019
Tibetan students forget protests during Xi's Chennai visit after cops ask them to sign 'no-protest' letter
All Tibetan students across the city were required to pay a visit to various police stations and sign a letter promising the police that they would not disrupt the 'peace' in the city
Tibetan students have always found Tamil Nadu to be a place where their 'Free Tibet' protests have found a certain degree of acceptance, and if nothing, very little resistance.
Not this time. This was the big one. What with Indian PM Narendra Modi spending a couple of days in Chennai with the Chinese President Xi Jinping and all, they couldn't afford the usual black flags, sloganeering and protests that form a slender corner of democracy, god forbid.
Two days ago the Chennai police arrested eight Tibetian activists who were planning to hold a protest against the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping's visit to the state. Jinping arrives on October 11 and will spend a couple of days in Mamallapuram holding bilateral non-political talks with Modi, amidst a plethora of cultural pizazz and whatnot. The arrested included Tenzin Norbu, a Tibetan assistant professor working at Hindustan College, according to a report in India Today, besides the others who were activists and also students in the city.
No protest: The letter that the students had to sign and submit to the police
The activists had only planned to wave black flags at an area that was 50 kms away from the venue where Xi and Modi would be meeting. Yet, the police arrested the group and charged them. News reports said that Tenzin was remanded after he was booked under Section 7(1)(a) of The Criminal Law Amendment Act read with Section 4 of The Foreigners Act (obstruction, intent to use violence and loitering).
To make matters worse, acting on intelligence reports, the Greater Chennai Police has been conducting searches in hostels in the city but they did not stop there. Every Tibetan student leader in the city was asked to appear at the police station and sign a document stating that they will not indulge in any form of protest to disrupt the 'peace and public tranquility' in the city. "I've been in touch with the students in Chennai and they've told us that they were all required to go to the police station and sign a letter assuring the police they will not hold any protest or indulge in 'unlawful activities'. They are also supposed to go to the station every day till the visit happens," one of the students based in Dharamshala said.
The Tibetan Students' Association of Madras (TSAM) members were also asked to sign the letter and appear at the Selaiyur Police Station, a copy of which found its way on to social media. The President and cabinet members of TSAM are also amongst those who have been arrested in the city.
A couple of students we reached out to had switched off their phones as well. Another student in the city said he had also been asked to go to the station and sign the letter but had requested the police to not make it mandatory for them to visit every day. "The police advised us against organizing any protests and wanted us to assure them in writing that we won't. We were asked to go twice to the station so far. We also told them that we have exams and so would be more concerned with that. So we told them that we won't be able to go to the station every day since we have to study," a student from TSAM said.
Clamping Down: Protests in Chennai by Tibetan residents happened every now and then and the police did not stop them from doing so
He said that the police believed them when they said they need to study but warned them of consequences if they organise any protests. "We came to an understanding with the police," he added. Many social activists have condemned the fact that the Tibetan students were forced to sign the letter and visit the police, but the powers are all focused on the coming of the Chinese premier and his Indian counterpart-in-arms.
Ironically, the Tibetan community has always been vibrant in the city and they have in the past organised demonstrations to seek freedom for Tibet, which is why the arrests and the demand for all Tibetan students to go to the police have come as a shock.
It may be recalled that in 2012, over 100 students blocked Gemini flyover on Chennai's arterial Anna Salai to demand intervention in the increase of self-immolation protests inside Tibet. "A similar thing happened back in 2012 though they failed to preempt us," said a student-activist who used to live in Chennai and is currently based abroad.
And yet, the voices have been silenced for now. The flags tucked away. Fear has that effect on people.