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‘China violently crushing protests by Tibetan nomads’

New Delhi: China has been “violently crushing” all peaceful protests by Tibetan nomads demanding return of their pastoral land and their nomadic way of life in the Tibetan plateau, a Tibetan rights activist said here on Saturday.

Tsering Tsomo, a Tibetan nomad and head of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), said the population of Tibetan nomads has come down “by hundreds of thousands” over the years since the Chinese government launched in 2003 its policy of forcing the nomads to give up grazing livestock in the grasslands and live in concrete urban housing blocks.

“Civil society does not exist in China; no one can peacefully petition the government. Any kind of peaceful demonstration and request is violently crushed,” Tsomo said at a media event to release a report on the “disappearing nomads of Tibet” at the Foreign Correspondents Club.

Tsomo, who has grown up in Himachal Pradesh, said the Chinese government, after forcing the nomads to leave the pastoral grasslands, has instead set up chemical factories and industries which let off toxic effluents into the pristine waters of the many rivers that originate there, thus polluting them.

The report, “Wasted Lives: China’s campaign to end Tibetan nomadic lifeways”, gives voice to the Tibetan nomads who are forced to live “wasted lives” in concrete barracks on the outskirts of cities, and rendered unfit to merge into the Chinese society due to lack of skills or even knowing the Chinese language.

The in-depth report has been brought out by the TCHRD, which has the Dalai Lama as its patron, and NGO League for Pastoral Peoples.

It makes a case for giving the Tibetan pasture lands, which is of the size of western Europe, back to the nomads and allowing them their mobility in order to preserve the ecology.

“We want the Chinese government to cease their policy of excluding the nomads from the Tibetan plateau. We want stewardship of our land back, as we are the ones who know best how to use it,” said Tsomo.

According to the report’s author Gabriel Lafitte, a journalist who has spent 20 years in Tibet researching the subject, the pasture lands are full of rich deposits of gold, silver, copper, lead and other precious metals.

He says hundreds of mines, most of them illegal, run by people from the Chinese mainland have sprung up in the pastoral lands from where the Tibetan nomads have been evicted.

The Chinese in 2003 launched the policy of “sedentarisation” or to forcefully make the nomads lead a sedentary life, in the mistaken belief that grazing of grasslands was leading to overgrazing and was environmentally harmful.

Forcing the nomads to leave their pastoral way of life has instead led to rapid ecological degradation of the grasslands, said Lafitte, as the yaks and sheep by constant nibbling of the grass would strengthen the roots and thus prevent soil erosion.

“The Tibetan nomads have a deeper understanding of the ecology of the grasslands. If the nomads are allowed mobility then they can make the drylands productive,” he said.

Around 22 of the over 140 Tibetans who immolated themselves in Tibet demanding independence were nomads, he added.

Ilse Kohler-Rollefson, of the Germany-based NGO League for Pastoral Peoples, said consumption of meat and dairy products was set to double by 2050 in the world.

She said nomadic pastoralists work on the principle of sustainability.

“The number of their flock of sheep and goat adjusts naturally to availability of grassland. So the term overgrazing does not exist,” she said, terming the Chinese policy of keeping animals and nomads out of their pastoral land “totally wrong”.

She said China like India was a signatory to the UN convention on biological diversity, and thus has a legal obligation to support pastoralists.