Sunday, February 16, 2014

China takes India for a ride, not pilgrimage

The Panchsheel Agreement of 1954 between India and China was supposed to be the bedrock of an ‘eternal’ friendship between the two nations; the accord guaranteed that the nations would mutually respect each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty; that they would not aggress each other or interfere in each other's internal affairs. It also spoke of equality and mutual benefit in bilateral relations and peaceful co-existence. Nice words.
The Agreement lapsed in April 1962 and 6 months later, India and China fought a bitter war over Tibet, which was the main object of the Agreement (‘On Trade and Intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India’).
The unique objective of the agreement was to regulate trade and pilgrimage from India to Tibet and verse-versa.
Article III says: “The High Contracting Patties agree that pilgrimage by religious believers of the two countries shall be carried on ‘in accordance with custom’:
(1) Pilgrims from India of Lamaist, Hindu and Buddhists faiths may visit Kang Rinpoche [Mt. Kailash] and [Lake] Manasarovar in Tibet Region of China
(2) Pilgrims from Tibet Region of China of Lamaist and Buddhist faiths may visit Banaras, Sarnath, Gaya and Sanchi in India.
(3) Pilgrims customarily visiting Lhasa may continue to do so
The Agreement further specifies some points of entry into Tibet: “Traders and pilgrims of both countries may travel by the following passes and route: Shipki-la pass, Mana pass, Niti pass, Kungri Bingri pass, Darma pass, and Lipulekh pass. Apart from the first one located in Himachal Pradesh, the others passes lie in today’s Uttarakhand.
Even more interesting, Article IV mentions: “Also, the customary route leading to Tashigong along the valley of the Indus River may continue to be traversed in accordance with custom.”
This is the customary Ladakh road via Demchok, which was for centuries used by the India pilgrims to visit Western Tibet and the Kailash area.
It is today closed, and Beijing adamantly refuses to reopen it.
Sixty years ago, it was also agreed that “diplomatic personnel, officials and nationals of the two countries shall hold passports issued by their own respective countries and visaed by the other party”.
It means that for an Indian pilgrim to go on the Kailash-Manasarovar yatra, he just needed a valid passport and a visa from China.
At the same time, “inhabitants of the border districts of the two countries who cross the border to carry on petty trade or to visit friends and relatives may proceed to the border districts of the other party as they have customarily done heretofore and need not be restricted to the passes and route specified [mentioned] above and shall not be required to hold passports, visas or permits.”
It is how the relations between the Himalayan region and Tibet had worked for centuries; that was great. India and Tibet were neighbours and friends. However after the Chinese invasion in 1950, the number of passes started to shrink.
Today the situation has drastically changed for the worse, though diplomats of both China and India still profess to be friends.
On February 12, 2014, a communique of the Press Information Bureau (PIB) reported that the issue was mentioned in the Parliament.
Preneet Kaur, the Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs announced in the Lok Sabha that her Ministry had fixed the dates and modalities of the Kailash Manasarovar Yatra-2014. It will be organized from 8 June to 9 September. Some 18 batches, each with a maximum of 60 Yatris, will leave for the Holy Mountain. The last date to file an online application is 5 March 2014 and the deadline to submit an application is 10 March 2014.
What is shocking is the ridiculously small number of ‘yatris’ allowed to cross over to Tibet (through one of the most treacherous routes, the Lipulekh pass, near the trijunction between India, Tibet and Nepal).
PTI gives the details of the Kailash Manasarovar yatra organized by the Ministry of External Affairs over the last 3 years. In 2011, 761 yatris travelled to Tibet in 16 batches; in 2012, 774 in 16 batches and last year only 53 in 1 batch (the pilgrimage had to be cancelled due to bad weather).
The fact that this difficult route has been selected shows that China is not interested to let Hindu pilgrims visit the abode of Lord Shiva. It is not the case for Chinese pilgrims.
Xinhua recently published a piece on the holy mountain, which explains: “There is an old Tibetan saying that Buddhists should take a ritual walk around lake in the year of goat, while around mountain in the year of horse. According to legend, Sakyamuni was born in the Year of Horse, therefore, taking one round of ritual walk around the mountain in the horse year is equivalent to 13 rounds, which is highly efficacious and meritorious.”
2014 is a horse year. Xinhua promotes the ritual walks around the Mt. Kang Rinpoche, (the Tibetan name of the Kailash) “as one of the holy mountains in Ngari Prefecture of Tibet”.
The mouthpiece of the Communist Party tells its readers: “It is firmly believed as the center of the whole world by Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, native Bonism and ancient Jainism. Every year, believers from India, Nepal and other countries travel thousands of miles to Ngari for praying in the Mt. Kang Rinpoche.”
You may not believe it, but the Communist newspaper further ads: “the 2014 Horse Year will be a grand festival for the Buddhist, whose long-cherished wish of the whole life is nothing but a pilgrimage to the Mt. Kang Rinpoche. They believe that one circle around the mountain could wash away all the sins of the life, ten circles will save themselves from the pain of hell, while one hundred circles will make them go to heaven and become Buddha.”
The Chinese yatris will get a bonus: the local authorities will provide them ‘religious knowledge about ritual walk around mountain’ and the Tibet Biodiversity Image Survey Tibet (TBIS), some information on the biological diversity of the area.
While the Chinese pilgrims will enjoy the Chinese-built infrastructure on the Tibetan plateau, the Indian yatris will slog along on the perilous Lipulekh route. Mrs. Kaur stated in the Lok Sabha: “the main route of the yatra on the Indian side was badly affected last year, which forced the Yatra-2013 to be cancelled after the first batch.”
What is worse is that the Chinese government does not want to provide any alternate route. Mrs. Kaur admitted: “The Government of India has been discussing with the Government of China the issue of opening additional routes to Kailash-Manasarovar. The Chinese side has been citing difficulty in opening alternate routes on the ground that it would involve travel over longer distances on their side through difficult terrain, with poor road conditions and lack of proper infrastructure for accommodation and communication.”
Why is Beijing refusing to open the Demchok road in Ladakh or the Nathu-la in Sikkim? Has Delhi strongly taken up the issue with Beijing?
Xinhua reported that during the 17th meeting of Special Representatives on the border issue, National Security Advisor Shivsharkar Menon and his Chinese counterpart State Councilor Yang Jiechi “had in-depth exchanges of views on the China-India border problem, bilateral relations and international and regional issues of mutual interest”.
Xinhua asserted that “China and India have agreed to make common efforts to seek an early achievement of a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable framework for solving the border problem.”
What about the facilities for pilgrims which existed 60 years ago?
Though Xinhua stated that the two countries will join hands to ensure a successful ‘China India Year of Friendly Exchanges’ to promote friendship between the people of the two countries, this does not translate into any concrete improvements for the Indian yatris.
So why pretend that China and India are strategic cooperative partners and “the strengthening of bilateral relations to promote common development conforms to the common interests of the two countries and their people.” It is just empty words.
Common men in India would like to circumambulate Mt. Kailash and take a holy dip in the Manasarovar and Beijing today does not allow them to do so.

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