May 12

Separatists kill 8 railway workers

Written by Buxi on Monday, May 12th, 2008 at 6:53 pm
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This story just off the wire talks about more violence on the foothills of the Himalayas, resulting from a recent government crack-down on a long simmering separatist movement.

The story, however, is not about China.  It’s instead about a violent separatist movement in democratic India, in which thousands have been killed in recent years.  The original story is here.

As a small thought experiment, I have rewritten part of the text here, replacing Indian details with Chinese details.

Lhasa, China (AP) — Suspected rebels lined up and fatally shot eight railroad workers in China’s insurgency-wracked southwestern region of Tibet, police said Monday.

Sunday’s attack came a day after the Chinese army killed six rebels in a shootout, People’s Liberation Army General Tang Buxi said.

The attack took place in the village of Faiding, where the victims were building homes for rail workers, Buxi told The Associated Press. Faiding is about 200 miles east of the Tibet region capital, Lhasa.

Buxi said authorities suspect the attack was carried out by a faction of the Tibet Youth Congress rebel group. The rebels are fighting for wide regional autonomy.

“Around 10 armed rebels fired indiscriminately on a group of rail construction workers at Faiding village, killing eight of them late Sunday,” he said.

He said the rebels also attacked a railroad station in the area on Saturday night and killed one rail worker.

Tenzin Takla, a spokesman for the rebel group, said in a statement it had ended a nearly two-month cease-fire with the government after its fighters were killed Saturday. However, he did not take responsibility for either of the railway attacks.

Several rebel groups are fighting for autonomy or independence in China’s southwest. The militants say the national government exploits the region’s rich natural resources while doing little for its indigenous people, most of whom are ethnically closer to people in nearby Nepal and India than to the rest of China.

The purpose of this thought experiment is not to suggest a total equivalency between China and India, nor Tibet and Assam.  But there are clearly similarities here.

And the lingering question in my mind is why the Western press and the Western public at large are not demanding freedom for these “oppressed” peoples of India, nor calling for “restraint” from the Indian government.

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4 Responses to “Separatists kill 8 railway workers”

  1. Michelle Says:

    A very interesting thought experiment indeed. Thanks for this.

  2. FOARP Says:

    This is largely because:

    1) India is a democratic country.

    2) The Indian government has on many occasions met with the separatists.

    3) The Indian government does not prevent information gathering in this area.

    4) There is not a large population of Assamese exiles.

  3. MatthewTan Says:

    FOARP Says:

    1) India is a democratic country.
    — So, “democratic” press and “democratic governments” from “democratic countries” are naturally biased towards “non-democratic” China.

    2) The Indian government has on many occasions met with the separatists.
    — So have China, since 1979. Are you in the loop?

    3) The Indian government does not prevent information gathering in this area.
    — Haha…! See my answer to (1).

    Now information gathering has been possible for serious academics for decades. But the Western press has yet to earn trust. Not to forget, many non-Western newspaper reporters have been invited to Tibet between March 14, 2008 and March 14, 2009. Examples, India’s The Hindu newspaper, Singapore’s Lian He Zaobao, and newspaper reporters from Korean, Nepal, etc.

    4) There is not a large population of Assamese exiles.
    — That is true. But bear in mind not all exiles left Tibet because of Chinese “oppression”.

    Some of the reasons given by Tom Grunfeld: all kinds of rumours (that they could not practise Buddhism, that they had to marry Han Chinese), famines during the 1959-1962 period, etc.

    Today, many simply went for a religious pilgrimage to receive “pure” Tibetan Buddhist teachings or blessings from the Dalai Lama. Some went to receive English education.

    Now, the Assamese chose to fight rather than to run away – the option taken by the Dalai Lama and his followers.

    More bombings:


    Ban condemns multiple terrorist attacks in north-east India

    30 October 2008 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has strongly condemned the terrorist attacks that struck the north-eastern Indian state of Assam today, reportedly killing at least 60 people and wounding several hundred more, and occurring on the same day that the United Nations chief was on an official visit to the country. […]

    According to media reports, at least nine blasts rocked four towns in Assam, including three in the state capital, Guwahati.

    Today’s bombings are the latest in a series of attacks in cities across the vast South Asian nation in recent months, including in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Jaipur and Delhi.

    More bombings for 2008

  4. Otto Kerner Says:

    I can think of an additional five good reasons (with some overlap) why people are less concerned about Assamese and other northeastern Indian secessionist movements:

    1) Due to historical facts and facts-on-the-ground, the idea of an independent or autonomousTibet strikes people as a much more workable idea than the idea of an independent Assam (I’m not sure if increased autonomy is something that the Assamese rebels are at all interested in).

    2) Tibet is a much more significant cultural entity than Assam is, and tends to be see as part of the world’s cultural heritage, the future of which meirts international attention. 西藏不只是一个地域,就是世界文化大域, which is not something that is equally true of Assam.

    3) India is a functioning multipolar, enthusiastically multicultural nation. One can argue about functional it really is, but it certainly doesn’t want for multiculturalness. Regional cultures within India such as Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, etc. are extremely vibrant and are often represented by local parties based on their sense of shared local identity. On the other hand, China is in practice dominated by one ethnic group and one culture. Now, it may or may not be true that Tibet would actually fare better if it were now part of India instead of being part of China (One notes that the Tibet-related region of Sikkim, now a state of India, is losing most of its distinctive character. On the other hand, the repopulation of Sikkim by Nepalese people mostly occurred in the 19th century, rather than under the Republic of India), but it’s obvious why that might be the assumption.

    4) I don’t know much about how the Indian political system works in Assam, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Assamese already have a much better deal than the Tibetans do in terms of local autonomy.

    5) When was the last time a band of armed Tibetans in Tibet lined up and executed civilian workers? When was the last time Tibetans set off bombs causing 84 deaths and 470 injuries? It’s natural for outsiders to be less sympathetic to those who resort to violence. Yes, I remember the chaotic mob violence that occurred in Lhasa in March of 2008, but the stories mentioned above are referring to organised paramilitary groups and terrorist bombings.

    That said, in addition to good reasons why someone might pay more attention to TIbet than to Assam, I’m sure there are also bad reasons. It would be nice if the Western media and Western publics would pay more attention to issues like the Assam issue or the Basque issue — but that doesn’t mean they ought to pay any less attention to the Tibet issue.

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