In the midst of a buzzing crowd of tourists, who were busy taking selfies in front of the Eiffel tower, stood Tenpa Dhargye - a Tibetan who ran a solo protest for nearly a month.
From the first day of the Tibetan New Year (Losar) on 12 February 2021 up until 10 March 2021, the Tibetan Uprising Day, Tenpa stood at Parvis des Droits de l’Homme in front of the Eiffel Tower. He was surrounded by posters detailing information about Tibet and distributed leaflets printed both in English and French. Also present were photos and information about the recently deceased Tenzin Nyima. He was joined by other people, including other Tibetans, who would sometimes spend all day with Tenpa to protest in solidarity.
Free Tibet: Why are you here today?
Tenpa Dhargye: I am Tibetan in my blood and bones. I have a responsibility. When I see the continuing human rights abuses inside Tibet, I feel that I can not just stay idle. I need to do something. That is why I started this protest.
How did you feel on the first day of your solo protest?
The weather was cold and rainy on the first day, and I was worried and a bit nervous the days before wondering if everything would go as planned. But once I took the first step, and now that I am here, standing day by day, I feel immensely fortunate to have this opportunity and freedom to stand in solidarity with the spirit of Tibetans inside Tibet who continue to resist the Chinese occupation.
How else have you protested for Tibet in the past?
I decided to go on a hunger strike until death, with or without the authorisation of the Indian government, in a campaign against the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The campaign was organised by the Tibetan Youth Congress. When the campaign first started, there were 9 of us. With time, many more joined in.
After 18 days and 18 nights with no food and water, I could not walk, move or talk. I only had my feelings. But then the Indian police forcefully stopped our campaign. It was around midnight when they took us away. I tried to ask them to stop but I was not able to talk. Others were not allowed to come to the hospital either. So it ended with us being hospitalised.
Next year, Beijing will host the Olympics again [the Winter Olympics this time]. What do you think or feel about that?
It does not matter whether they host the Olympics or not. It is not about just campaigning today, or for a particular event. We will continue to protest for our cause at every opportunity possible.
What do you hope to gain or see happen from this solo protest in Paris?
I hope for human rights to be restored inside Tibet, and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. It is just as much the responsibility of the Tibetan public to mobilise protests or awareness campaigns, alongside the efforts of the Tibetan government in exile (the Central Tibetan Administration). I believe that with joint efforts our hopes can materialise into the future we want.
What can the wider public or even the French government do to help the Tibetan cause?
The French government and its people continue to support Tibetans by granting us asylum. It is an undeniable fact that there is no country in this world that does not face the challenges of trade and economy -- every country has to think about the welfare of its people. But France is a powerful country and it has the potential to do more.
It seems that many Tibetans came through to join your campaign this time? How many have joined you since the beginning?
I cannot give the exact number, but I can say 5 to 15 people can come through at any given day to show their solidarity. Some stay with me all day and talk to me or just spend time here all day with me to their support and solidarity.
Yeshi is a young Tibetan from Rennes who joined Tenpa Dhargye a week ago after learning about his protest from Tenpa Dhargye’s sibling.
Free Tibet: Yeshi, you have joined Tenpa Dhargye after seeing his solo protest. How did you feel when you first learned about Tenpa doing a solo protest?
Yeshi: I am usually not the kind of person who enjoys standing up in front of everyone. But I learned about Tenpa’s protest through his sibling who was my schoolmate and I decided to join him. It’s been a week now.
I am actually not from Paris. I live and work in Rennes and had already booked my return ticket. I could have well enjoyed the new year.
But after I heard about Tenpa, I felt like I must do something as a Tibetan. It does not matter whether you are born inside or outside Tibet, it is our responsibility to do what is in our capability for freedom in Tibet. Everyone has their own capacity and skills and I think we should make a consistent effort to do anything we can, no matter how big or small. It is not only on 10th March that I join protests, I also participate wherever and whenever I can. I used to stand in front of everyone and shout slogans during protests when I was in India in school, or in Delhi. Although sometimes it is hard because I want to do something but I don’t know how to do it or who to ask. So joining Tenpa came as a perfect opportunity and I hope to discuss and learn more about how I can campaign in the future.