For half a century he has been an inspirational figure and a symbol of hope for Tibetans at home and abroad. From his base in India the 14th Dalai Lama has championed their cause as Tibet’s most high profile exile. But he has modified his stance over the years. In 1979 the spiritual leader dropped his call for complete independence, urging China to give his homeland political autonomy instead.
Many exiled Tibetans would like to go further and but some say their patience with Beijing may not last. Chemi Wangme, a Tibetan born in exile said: “I feel sad, I feel sad that I am still a refugee over here in some other country. I am a Tibetan but I have never seen my land. So in this 50th year I hope that some day there will come a day when I will be able to go back to my country.” Many of those who took part in or lived through campaigns of violence against Chinese rule in the past believe armed struggle is ultimately futile. They seem resigned to their fate and can only hope their dreams will be realised by future generations. Dhanga Phunsok, a former Tibetan pro-independence fighter said: “Independence is not possible while I am alive because I am now 78. But freedom is possible for the younger generation. There is a hope of getting independence in Tibet.” But are younger people willing to be as patient as their elders? Dhanga’s granddaughter is not so sure. “Because many people, they sacrificed till now and I don’t think their sacrifice… their sacrifice to our country will not go to waste. We have to struggle to get our independence. We have to struggle still,” she said. Today it is hard to gage which path the six million who live in Tibet would chose. The Chinese authorities maintain an iron grip on the population and foreign journalists are kept at bay. 50 years on from the failed uprising and there is no sign of Beijing compromising on any kind of self determination.