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India’s Tibetan Community Speaks On Their Displacement And Border Dispute With China

Tibetan Spiritual leader Dalai Lama celebrated his 85th birthday on July 6.

GANGTOK, July 8: Tibetan Spiritual leader Dalai Lama celebrated his 85th birthday on July 6 and given the border dispute with China, India jumped the wagon with proposals for Bharat Ratna for the 14th Dalai Lama. He has been staying in the country, and running a Tibetan government in exile since 1959. Globally, Tibetan population of 60 lakhs would be gifted with a privilege unlike any they have earned in 61 years. India may be acting at the behest of denting China’s ambition for the Tibetan community, the gift from India goes back to the night of March 7, 1959 when India accepted Dalai lama ‘enthusiastically’, which most Tibetans refer as the ‘biggest gift from India’.

Sikkim was then nestled as a small kingdom, south of Tibet, still sovereign under the Namgyal Dynasty as country. The ties of Sikkim with Tibet perhaps is unlike any, and the same resonates till today. People in Sikkim, irrespective of their faith or their community, have an affinity to the Dalai Lama, with great pride referred by the biggest acclaim of His Holiness.

When you are at the heart of the State Capital in Gangtok at MG Marg, take a detour upwards from the City’s Square and you will find a street termed as ‘Tibet Road’. The name was never changed as it embarks on the historical exchanges between the two kingdoms. Walk into the living room of an average Sikkimese, and you will see a portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama hanging by the wall. He is an embodiment of God to many Sikkimese, and perhaps Bharat Ratna amplifies a voice that has been quelled for 61 years.

Dalai Lama is perhaps also an embodiment of compassion and his fellow Tibetans resonate the same; they preach non violence, most are monks and even if they aren’t, they have been one of us, all these years.

On the occasion of his 85th birthday, the members of the Tibetan Youth Congress in Sikkim claim, “Perhaps the border dispute in Galwan has made India realize what we have been saying to India for 60 years, to never trust the Chinese. For all these years, our brothers in Tibet have been struggling, revolting and one concern raised against the Chinese government will lead to end of our family. We don’t have Freedom of Speech, Expression, Movement or Religion. They are frustrated as they cannot resort to violence and perhaps it is time now for India to show the World, the Tibetan struggle and what it feels like to have a neighbor like China.”

The Boycott China movement has been a resonating call of the Tibetans in exile for years; India is merely adapting to it now. Tibet, being free, is beneficial for India as it shares most of its borders with Tibet and not China, technically. Tibet is peaceful and once the wheels start moving, even economically viable neighbor. Border issues with China also exist in Hong Kong, and the same has been gaining grounds for almost a year now. Similarly, Southern Mongolia and Taiwan have their own struggle with China over the borders. Undoubtedly China has dented the world, with COVID-19 and also the global economic crisis that has followed. With China being a member of the United Nations, many such protests have gone unheard or perhaps the world opted to look away from what was happening in the ‘Roof of the World’.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, center, arrives at Tezpur, Assam in India. (via Business Insider)

On the night of March 7, 1959, Dalai Lama had left Lhasa and is yet to return back. Generations of Tibetans have tried their hand at fulfilling the promises of their forefathers, taking the Dalai Lama back to his palace in Lhasa in their lifetime.

When he left Lhasa, he was unsure then if he would be allowed in India or not. He had sent a few letters, one of them was also to Bhutan, but the reply was awaited. But just before he was reaching the Tibetan Border with India, he received a confirmatory invitation that Indian government is enthusiastically waiting for his welcome and so it was. So where he is that is epicenter of the Tibetan movement. From all the other countries, His Holiness knew India would give him the best healthcare and education to the Tibetans filled with compassion because India and Tibet’s culture, belief, roots, and spirituality are similar. All calculations led to India; we are thankful to our forefathers who brought religion from India, who brought the alphabets to Tibet drawn from Sanskrit language. We could have gone to Mongolia or even China, but we got all of that from India“, stated former Tibetan Youth Congress President Chung Chung.

Ever since 1959, the Tibetan government in exile functions from Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, fondly referred as the ‘Second Lhasa’ or even the ‘First Capital of Tibetan Freedom Struggle’. Tibetan settlements across the globe functions from there with the headquarters of Tibetan Youth Congress and Tibetan Women Association, among many other associations and NGOs functioning from there.

They have parliamentary exchange programmes with the Indian Government as well with the Governments across the world, bills being passed, taking support and lobbying. Tibetans from foreign countries also come to Dharamshala. Our parliament has been instrumented from the Indian Parliament, and it’s quite similar. We have replicated the Indian Constitution into our Parliament. From the government part, they are doing as much as possible. Lhasa has been overshadowed now; where we are in Dharamshala that is our epicenter now”, stated TYC President Tenzin Palber.

India has not merely allowed Tibetans to stay; they have voting rights and in a place like Sikkim, where they reached before Sikkim became part of India, they are also recognized as holders of Sikkim Subject, the ancestral document recognizing them as Indian citizens.

“Our forefathers just as every Sikkimese had Sikkim Subject; 90% of Tibetans today have Certificate of Identification, the subsequent recognized document to the Sikkim Subject. We guarded the erstwhile Chogyal during the time of the 1974 agitation. We have a municipal councilor in Pema Wongda, who is a representative of the Tibetan people in the Gangtok municipality. With the recognition being substantially new, dating back to just a few years ago, we are yet to reap the benefit of that recognition, but for the coming generation of Tibetans, it will serve. The former Sikkim Democratic Front Party in government, they were looking for our demands and our representative, hence the councilor position was recognized. He has been the bridge to the government and people. We do have a Representative Officer here in Gangtok, who takes all our queries to the Tibetan Government in Exile as well,” stated Chung Chung.

In the past and even today, some of the recognized schools in Sikkim, such as Tashi Namgyal Academy, Paljor Namgyal Girls Senior Secondary School and Enchey School, had and still have Tibetan language as one of the important subjects of learning.

Jawaharlal Nehru with members of Chogyal family (via HT)

“All of which were ascertained in the erstwhile Chogyal regime, when Sikkim was still a country. In the heart of the town, there is the presence of Tibetan Private School which teaches in Tibetan, English, Nepali and Hindi and caters not merely to the Tibetan population but also students from other communities. Indian Government has allowed Civil Services Examination to the Tibetan Refugees and Residential Certificate holders can also apply. We are eligible even for bank jobs; it has existed for decades now”, shared Palber.

Most Tibetans in Sikkim are sentimental to the core about being Sikkimese, partly because if we take the Sikkim Subject document into account, they get equal rights just as anyone in Sikkim. Before 1959, there was a lot of exchange between Sikkimese and the Tibetans.

“Even in Tibet, when the Chogyal used to visit, there was a place called Dhoktapa, which had a sound Sikkimese population inside Tibet. It served as the Sikkimese town and is not very far from the current existing border in Southern Tibet, maybe an overnight travel on foot. The relation between Sikkim and Tibet was so good in the past that the town was given as gift to Chogyal. After Tibet was occupied by the Chinese, those Dhoktapas were also displaced and had to come to Sikkim and that makes the most of us, as well. Tibet did have a sound population of Tamangs and Gurungs from the Nepali Buddhist community; they exist both as Tibetans Indians today”, stated Chundi.

On the terminology of ‘refugee‘ being used, many Tibetans feel they are part of India now.

“The struggle was of our forefathers, they are the ones who have seen Tibet; for us, it is Shangrila, a place we have never seen. If you go to the fundamental right, we were born in India and we are citizens here now. Still our country is our country, even if we have not seen it. Home is home, freedom is freedom, our place is our place. Sikkim has never dented such efforts of ours. We can openly be ourselves here in Sikkim, carry out work and businesses. Sikkim has blessed us, always. But when we term the border as China border, we are showing or exhibiting a wrong message to the world; whereas it is Tibetan Border. There is an existence of Indo-Tibetan Border Police and not Indo China Border Police, for a reason”, shared Chung Chung.

On the existing border dispute in Tibetan Autonomous Region under China, the Tibetans in Sikkim “Don’t just see Galwan, but see other neighbouring countries of India as well. China has been investing, giving them the platform to wage war against India. Pakistan is facing the issues of encroachment, Nepal is and so is Bhutan now. It is the right time for India to raise its voice against China. The boycotting of apps gives us the advantage. We have been crying since 1959 and have done so much. Foot rallies, protest, Bharat Jagao Yatra, hunger strike for 48 days in Jantar Mantar in 1998 where the first-ever self immolation took place, we wrote with our blood, we went for Tawang Yatra with RSS, yet our voice was not being heard, that China can never be trusted”, said Palber.

On their identity as Tibetans in refuge, another Tibetan youth added, “I feel proud to call myself as a Tibetan, there was some shame among our people years ago, but that doesn’t exist. If Tibet was free, that shame would dissipate, the fear of being refugee dissipates. China has been tactical from COVID-19, economic crisis and now border disputes. In 1949 when China started invading Tibet, India was freshly out of its own struggle, so India didn’t get time to stand on its feet and help Tibet, but now India is a much stronger country and having Tibet as your neighbor will harbor the teachings of the Great 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, that compassion, inevitably wins over all struggles”. 

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