REPORTER: Sophie McNeill
The Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala in northern India in 1959 after China invaded Tibet. Today it is home to nearly 30,000 Tibetan refugees. The world thinks of Tibetans as a patient people who preach compassion and non-violence, but there is a deep unease brewing here.
The Exile Brothers are the most popular Tibetan band among Dharamsala's youth.

TENZIN JIGME, THE EXILE BROTHERS, SONG (Translation): I am a Tibetan boy born in exile and I wish to die in Tibet.

Tenzin Jigme sings about a country he has never seen and a fight for independence he is determined never to give up.

TENZIN JIGME (Translation): If a stranger came to your home and kicked you out and was living there happily, what would you do? The Chinese occupied my homeland so I shout for independence. I need a home.

But these young Tibetans are at odds with the man that they worship. Today the Tibetan government in exile, led by the Dalai Lama, pursues autonomy for Tibet rather than independence - it is a policy known as 'the middle path'.

DALAI LAMA (Translation): I have stated time and again that I do not seek Tibet's separation from China, but that I will seek its future within the framework of the Chinese constitution, helping to create conditions for our people to co-exist in harmony and unity as a member of the big family of the Chinese nation.

TENZIN JIGME (Translation): For me, I want independence. I definitely don't want to live under Chinese rule even if they cut off my head, I don't want to.

Dharamsala's Buddhist faithful are making their way to the Dalai Lama's temple. It's a daily ritual for these elderly Tibetans, but there's something about this morning's prayers that attracts a younger crowd. They're here because today is Martyr's Day, when Tibetans honor those who've died in the fight for independence.

TYC PRESIDENT (Translation): Thupten Ngodup used his body as a shining lamp for the Tibetan cause.

In 1997 Thupten Ngodup, a local Dharamsala monk, despaired at the lack of progress towards independence. He took part in a hunger strike in Delhi, and when the authorities tried to break it up, he set himself alight. The Dalai Lama visited Thupten Ngodup in hospital just before his death.

TYC PRESIDENT (Translation): His Holiness told Thupten Ngodup "I am here. Don't be angry and proud with them. I pray that your next life will be meaningful."

Ngodup received a hero's funeral, and his sacrifice had inspired young Tibetan not willing to wait until the next life for freedom.

TYC PRESIDENT (Translation): After the US occupied Iraq the Iraqi people rose up against the US forces. Let us ask ourselves “Can I do this? Can we do this? Do we have to do this? That's what we need to think about.

This is radical rhetoric for a movement famous for non-violence. Tenzin Tsundue is at the forefront of the independence movement – he believes the middle path is a sell-out.

TENZIN TSUNDUE, STUDENTS FOR A FREE TIBET: Today we are trying to fit into the legal framework of the People's Republic of China. This will actually mean we have compromised on everything. Tomorrow there will be no Tibetan national flag, there will be no Tibetan national anthem, no Tibetan currency, no foreign policy.

SAMDHONG RINPOCHE, PRIME MINISTER IN EXILE: I think that is the only possible way open to us. In the current world the nation state has become almost irrelevant and people are looking for more co-operative way. For example the EU - they are gradually forgetting their own sovereignty and trying to come more and more together.

TENZIN TSUNDUE: the symbol of our struggle - the Tibetan national flag.

Tenzin Tsundue grew up in India, the son of Tibetan refugees He's devoted his life to the independence cause.

TENZIN TSUNDUE: I'll show you my photographs of Tibet.

In 1997 Tsundue took the extraordinary step of sneaking into Tibet, he was desperate to see his homeland.

TENZIN TSUNDUE: I was in a prison quite close to here.

Tsundue was arrested and spent three months in a Chinese prison, where he says he was tortured.

TENZIN TSUNDUE: Upon returning to India I met the dalai lama. He was deeply touched that someone born in exile took the risk to go to Tibet.

While inside the Chinese prison, Tsundue met a political prisoner, a man who was jailed for putting up pro-independence posters.

TENZIN TSUNDUE: Today he is still there - 18 years of imprisonment. Although I'm trying to work hard but thinking of him, sometimes I feel that I'm not doing enough. Whatever I'm doing I'm not doing enough.

In 2002 when the then-Chinese premier was in Mumbai, Tsundue unfurled a 'free Tibet' banner right outside his hotel window. And then when Premier Wen Jiabao visited Bangalore last April, Tenzin again evaded security. This is the nerve centre of Students for a Free Tibet, where Tsundue and his friends plan their campaigns. It's a shoestring operation – most are volunteers.

LHADON TETHONG, STUDENTS FOR A FREE TIBET: So this is Seattle, outside the hotel, where Hu Jintao was arriving.

Lhadon Tethong is a Tibetan who grew up in Canada. She organised protests against the Chinese President when he was in America three months ago.

LHADON: This is Washington D.C., in Lafayette Park. This was on the cover of 'USA Today', this picture.

By protesting, these young Tibetans are defying a request from the Dalai Lama.

DALAI LAMA (Translation): The Kashag of the Central Tibetan Administration has made a number of appeals to Tibetans and our international supporters to work toward the creation of a conducive environment for negotiations.

LHADON TETHONG: The most conducive atmosphere for dialogue with thugs like them is one where there is global protests and uproar and the pressure is on and it costs them something. And they have no choice, but to engage in dialogue. That’s a conducive atmosphere for dialogue with these guys. What our leadership is trying genuinely to create is a flawed approach. The premise is all wrong.

REPORTER: It sounds like you're more concerned about upsetting China than highlighting their human rights abuses in Tibet?

SAMDHONG RINPOCHE: What is the use of upsetting the Chinese people? What will you get out of it? Without any result, only a negative result, why should you do it? Only to satisfy your ego. That is silly, just a stupid thing.

TENZIN TSUNDUE: It is for other freedom. And for us it is our duty to do that in free country. Otherwise what are you here for in exile? Go back!

REPORTER: Can you understand why some Tibetans, particularly the younger generation, are very frustrated with the middle path policy?

SAMDHONG RINPOCHE: I don't think they are frustrated. There may be a few people that are frustrated and I never come close to a large number of Tibetan younger generation, who are frustrated with that.

LHADON TETHONG: Oh, we're fine here, suffering in exile, and the Chinese are our brothers and sisters, and we don't hate them, we love them, and it's all going to be OK, and world peace. No! Be honest! I'm fed up.

Lhadon and Tsundue are training a new group of leaders to run their campaigns.

LHADON TETHONG: We want to make Chinese people, especially overseas Chinese, we want them to feel socially stigmatised by Tibet. We want them to feel badly. Every time they leave their home and go out in the public and the rest of the world because people are looking at them saying, "Your occupation of Tibet? Tibet is a black mark on your face."

These young activists have taken a big step by opposing the Dalai Lama's policy?

TENZIN TSUNDUE: His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of the Budda of love and compassion. He is the Buddha who knows the past, present and the future - nobody can and nobody will ever question him.

REPORTER: Are people scared to speak out against the middle path, because they don't want to be accused of being against the Dalai Lama?

LHADON TETHONG: Yeah, absolutely I think so. Tibetans so fiercely respect and follow the word of His Holiness and at the same time have an incredible, wonderful, somewhat warrior-like history.

Most of the world has forgotten this history but these young activists turn to it for inspiration. They've produced a video to honour these Tibetan fighters who battled the Chinese army for nearly 25 years. The 'Khampa warriors', as they were known, were funded by the CIA, but they lost their US backing shortly after President Richard Nixon visited China in 1973.

MAN: If every Tibet could be like these persons, these freedom fighters, then it won't take much to free Tibet.

Lhasang Tsering is a former Khampa warrior who owns a small book shop in Dharamsala. He's advises Tsundue and his friends.

TENZIN TSUNDUE (Translation): We are planning a campaign and I'm going to distribute these pamphlets. Can you check it?

Lhasang was one of the first generation of Tibetans to be born in exile. After leaving high school, he spent two years fighting the Chinese.

REPORTER: Why don’t people know about the armed resistance, why is it missing from a lot of popular knowledge about Tibet?

LHASANG TSERING: Because of playing up to the international image of Tibetans being peaceful and non-violent, and to that extent there is the need to downplay the role of the armed resistance. Somehow I'm not happy with this situation.

Faced with growing international pressure, in 1974 the Dalai Lama called on the Khampa warriors to lay down their arms. Lhasang had tried to persuade the Dalai Lama not to get involved.

LHASANG TSERING: I felt betrayed. I still feel betrayed.

The Tibetan leadership has preached non-violence ever since.

LHASANG TSERING: He said Tibetans have a unique source of power - compassion. When all the Tibetans learn to generate compassion for the Chinese, then we will become more powerful and the Chinese will come and talk to us. I mean, come on. In my view this is not even worthy of a bedtime story for nursery kids.

The Tibetan government in exile believes it has a mandate for the middle path because of a referendum it held in 1997. However only 2200 people inside Tibet were surveyed. Tsundue and his friends are convinced the 6 million Tibetans inside Tibet would not choose to remain part of China. He tells me about an old woman in Tibet who's often interviewed on underground radio.

TENZIN TSUNDUE: And these radio people ask her some cheeky questions - "But your Holiness is asking for genuine autonomy and now you are saying independence, do you not see a contradiction? She says, "I respect the Dalai Lama but Bhod rangzen sun mi ee!"

The Refugee Reception Centre in Dharamsala is full of recent arrivals who've fled Tibet. Tsundue's friend Tsering processes the nearly 3,000 who come here each year.

TSERING: They got scabies. Bitten by the insects. On the way to here.

Hundreds of Tibetan children are sent to India by their parents. It's a sign of what life must be like inside Tibet when parents prefer to let their children embark on a dangerous mission through the Himalayas rather than have them grow up under Chinese occupation. This little boy shows me a drawing of his long journey through the mountains. The Chinese forbid Tibetans from owning photos of the Dalai Lama.

MONK (Translation): If you have his photo, you will definitely be sent to prison. The head lama would face the death sentence or a few months in prison, or the monastery could be closed.

BOY (Translation): There's no place in Tibet where there's no Chinese.

I want to know if they believe in following the middle path.

MONK (Translation): We have to struggle for independence. If we don't struggle, the Chinese won't give us our freedom.

MAN (Translation): They want total independence but they can’t speak out.

OLD MAN (Translation): About 99% of Tibetans in Tibet has wish for independence.

MAN (Translation): I think they wish for complete independence but they can't speak out. If they speak out they will go to jail.

They tell me that people inside Tibet don't really understand or even know about the Dalai Lama's shift in policy.

MONK (Translation): We don’t know anything about politics, people in my area are confused, inside Tibet we hear nothing about the government in exile and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

OLD MAN (Translation): There’s no one to explain what "the middle path approach" is, there is no one to explain it.

REPORTER: If the majority of people inside Tibet support the middle path, then why are there people inside Tibet still risking their lives to call for independence?

SAMDHONG RINPOCHE: I don't know anyone has called for independence and risked their life. There has been so many demonstration and so many people ended up in the jail but no-one can clearly find that their demand for independence.

This is a huge claim for the Prime Minister to make. As president of the ex-political prisoner's association, Monk Ngawang Woeber doesn't appreciate the attempt to rewrite history.

MONK NGAWANG WOEBER (Translation): I don't know what Samdhong Rinpoche thinks, but the Chinese have sent me to prison for advocating independence.

Ngawang keeps track of the number of Tibetan political prisoners currently inside Chinese jails.

MONK NGAWANG WOEBER (Translation): The reason there are political prisoners is because they are struggling for Tibetan independence. They are all shouting for independence.

Ngawang tells me he has proof of recent pro-independence activities. In January this year, a man was arrested in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, for putting up 'free Tibet' posters.

MONK NGAWANG WOEBER (Translation): That's the latest information we have.

SAMDHONG RINPOCHE: Pro-independence is an emotional thing and politics is a reality of life. You cannot live in dream, you shall have to give the results.

LHASANG TSERING: I always give the example of a little girl about to be raped crying for help. What do you do? Look out your window, find it is the local mafia boss with all his goons, and then you become realistic? You become practical? Close your curtains turn on your music and look the other way? This is what people tell me when they tell me to be realistic in the face of Chinese might. And as I see it, opposing wrong is not just a question of winning and losing, it is a moral duty.

Meanwhile, inside Tibet, Tibetans are rapidly being outnumbered by Chinese emigrants. The opening of a new railway last week, which links Beijing to Lhasa for the first time, will only worsen the situation.

LHASANG TSERING: Soon there will be so many Chinese in Tibet, it will become meaningless to hope for a Tibet for Tibetans.

REPORTER: Do you trust China?


REPORTER: Why? After everything that they've done and what they continue to do?

SAMDHONG RINPOCHE: They are human beings. We are human beings. Human beings will have to trust with each other, otherwise humanity will not survive. Unless that Chinese proves they are not trustworthy, until then we will have to trust them.

REPORTER: Don't you think they've proven that, by everything they've done to your people?

SAMDHONG RINPOCHE: They have proved in the past. And in this moment, for the last few years we are dialogue and they have not proved as yet.

TENZIN TSUNDUE: And I think they are going out of their way to appease. They have been listening to China and bring Chinese demand on the Tibetan people.

But it doesn't seem to be working - the Chinese don't even appear to take the middle path seriously.

SUN WEIDONG, CHINESE EMBASSY, NEW DELHI: We cannot see major change from his position and that is why there is little progress in this discussion.

REPORTER: But he says it should remain part of China.

SUN WEIDONG: No, if he can say these words and he can stop all the activities, you know, against China, we are ready.

But the Dalai Lama is powerless to stop these angry young Tibetans. Just a few weeks after I visited the Chinese embassy in Delhi, Tibetan university students protested here against the new railway. Lhasang is calling on the younger generation to take their battle inside Tibet.

LHASANG TSERING: I'm calling upon Tibetans to go inside China and sabotage their economic structure, but I cannot go into details. I call it the strategy of the mosquito. To hurt China's economic infrastructure inside China. The aim will be not to take life, but we will be realistic enough to understand that it is not in our power and our control to the consequences of our every action. If we are about to blow up a bridge and a truck comes along the way, that is not in our hands to decide.

While I've been in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama has been in South America giving talks on peace and religion. Today, everybody has come out to welcome him home.

LHASANG TSERING: Today many people ask "Has the middle way policy divided the Tibetan people?" What I am saying is that it has divided every individual Tibetan between their love and loyalty to His Holiness and their need and desire for freedom.

REPORTER: Are you worried about what might happen when the Dalai Lama is no longer here to unite the Tibetan people?

SAMDHONG RINPOCHE: I do not worry for anything because Buddhist monks do not worry for anything.

But the Tibetan people certainly has something to worry about. This flag represents the homeland they still long for and the younger generation is going to make sure the Dalai Lama doesn't forget it.

TENZIN TSUNDUE: For me independence for Tibet is also my life. I will not be silent.

GEORGE NEGUS: In the foothills of the Himalayas with Tibetans seeking political emancipation, not enlightenment. As India grows closer to China - as it is, of course - it will be interesting to see whether the Dalai Lama will still be allowed to base his government in exile there. Neighbouring Nepal has already come under pressure from Beijing to stop processing Tibetan refugees.

EDITOR: Rowan Tucker-Evans, Sue Bell, David Potts, Wayne Love
SUBTITLING: Lobsang Lungtok, Dhawa Dhondup
PRODUCER: Amos Cohen

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