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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

New script on the prayer flags

March 15, 2009

Gautam Datt, Express Buzz
First Published : 14 Mar 2009 06:48:00 AM IST

The 12-year-old has of late been pacing around McLeodganj?s congested
square. Rabsel has been unusually busy these days. The little suburb of
Dharamshala in the Dhaulagiri Range of the Himalayas overlooking the
picturesque Kangra Valley has been his home only for the last three
years. Today, in his grey sweater and a pair of striking blue trousers, 
Rabsel is preoccupied as the place is abuzz with activities ? as it
always is at this time of the year.

March 10 is the day when the Tibetan government-in-exile remembers the
failed uprising of 1959 against  Chinese rule. Rabsel is too young to
understand the significance of the event, but he is well aware about his
status in his new adopted home. He is one of the most recent members of
the 100,000-strong community of Tibetan refugees in India. In fact,
Rabsel represents a new generation that finds itself at the crossroads.
It is the 50th year of the unrest. And as the third generation of
Tibetan refugees begin their  journey into the future, the community
from the Roof of the World finds itself caught between hope and despair.

Rabsel has stood first in his class ever since he arrived in 2005 with
his younger brother at the Tibetan Culture Village (popularly known as
TCV, a school run by the government-in-exile for the refugees). The two
were smuggled out of Tibet?s Amdo region by their parents with the help
of shepherds so that they could complete their education at Dharamshala.

It?s a crack team

Rabsel?s classmate Gyatso has a similar story to tell. Gyatso and Rabsel
crossed the border in the same year, but from different places ? with
different groups. Unlike Rabsel, who wants to be a scientist, Gyatso?s
first love is football, followed by singing. They have set different
career goals for themselves but have a common desire ? to be back in
their homeland with parents. Ditto, it has been in the case of Rinchen,
16, Tse Wang, 23, and Tenzin Yangdon Kura Amje, 25.

These are the young Tibetans who are growing up in India in the shadow
of a struggle that promises to take them back to their homeland. Rinchen
has come to McLeodganj, the home of the Dalai Lama, from Mussoorie where
he is studying in 9th standard at Tibetan Home School. He attended
several prayer sessions and eagerly awaited the Dalai Lama?s annual
March 10 address. As Rinchen goes around the narrow by-lanes with
classmates, there is another group of youngsters busy pasting posters on
the walls.

Tse Wang is one of them. ?The Dalai Lama is the only leader of
Tibetans?, reads one of the posters pointing to the fact that all is not
well with the struggle. There were strong voices of dissent within the
community. Tse Wang does not represent these jarring notes. He arrived
in India in 1994 when he was just eight. After completing his studies at
TCV, Gopalpur, he went on to complete a degree in Tibetan medicine.
Today, he is in McLeodganj to serve his people.

A strong supporter of the Dalai Lama?s middle-path approach of
reconciliation, Tse Wang is comfortable with the idea of seeking
legitimate autonomy within the Chinese rule. He is a follower of Dr
Khenrip, a well-known practitioner of Tibetan medicine who leads the
movement in support of the middle-path approach. The fact that there was
a need to reinforce the Dalai Lama?s authority through a movement is a
reflection of a divided community. With half a century behind them, the
community is sceptical ? to say the least ? about reconciliation as the
right approach.

Stuck in limbo

No one knows if such a doctrine is going to work with the Chinese. Even
the Dalai Lama appears to be frustrated with the way China has thrown
his proposals out of the window during the last round of talks. Even
after eight rounds of dialogue, Beijing looks at him with suspicion and
doubts his motives.

Perhaps that is the reason that despite the buzz in the air in
McLeodganj, where hundreds have gathered like every year to take part in
a series of programmes for the ?cause?, there is a general sense of
pessimism and apprehension. The crushing blow delivered by the Chinese
government to the violent unrest witnessed last year in Tibet also seems
to have smothered the hopes of refugees.

?It was one of the most defining moments of the struggle,? claims Tenzin
Yangdon Kura Amje, a young office-bearer of the Tibetan Youth Congress.
She was inspired by the courage displayed by the people of Tibet who
came out on the streets of Lhasa last year and stunned the world by
exposing the Chinese claims that all was calm inside Tibet. This is one
of the reasons why Tenzin is in Dharamshala. After studying in various
schools in Mussoorie, she had moved to the US with her family 12 years
ago. Her father had taken up a job as a library clerk in Minnesota,
where she went on to major in biology and English literature.

However, Tenzin didn?t go ahead with her career, instead she returned to
India and joined the TYC as one of the members of its central executive
committee. The TYC has been the aggressive face of the movement. Even
when the Dalai Lama speaks to his followers, the TYC brigade would be
busy organising demonstrations, protests and break-ins at various
locations all over the world to embarrass the Chinese. It might have not
reached anywhere, but the Tibetan movement has got worldwide support.

Chalo Dharamshala

Not surprisingly, Dharamshala is today one of the most sought-after
destinations for Westerners. Watching a procession of monks on March 10
from the sideways is Wando from Brooklyn, New York. He hums the prayer
in Tibetan after the monks. Wando claims to be a supporter of freedom
and has been a regular at McLeodganj.

For Ileria from Barcelona, it is her first visit, but her mother has
been coming here regularly for the last 10 years. Ileria is carrying a
candle while marching along the Tibetans who carry on with their peace
procession.  These are just prayers. No slogans, no anti-China slur.
They just recite.

Dharamshala?s important status on the international tourist circuit,
thanks to the popularity of His Holiness, has meant good business for
the locals who have prospered due to the influx of tourists. But at the
same time they have not been able to merge with the community of refugees.

They often marvel at the amount of money that the young Tibetans have
been spending. They complain that the young refugees are brash and no
more care about the cause. ?All they want is a good life?and they never
shy away from flashing money,? says a Himachali taxi driver in Dharamshala.

There have been several skirmishes between the locals and the refugees
in the past, but they have been settled after intervention of the elders
as both realise they cannot do without each other now. At 50, the
movement is in a state of reflection. The Dalai Lama is now 73 and talks
about his possible successor are gaining ground. The spiritual leader
has declared several times in the past that it is for the people to
decide if they want to keep the institution alive.

The Karmapa Lama, the head of the Karma Kagyu sect ? one of the four
streams of Tibetan Buddhism ? is one of the frontrunners. The Dalai
Lama?s authority as a spiritual leader is complete, but his political
path has invited severe challenges in the past. And even today, there
are many more voices that speak openly against his policy of reconciliation.

Lhasang Tsering is one of his most vocal critics. He calls the Dalai
Lama ?a shepherd who is taking his flock to the wolf?s den so that wolf
can have a feast?. Lhasang Tsering, who lives in Exile House, has been
part of the violent face of the movement. He was one of the members of
the Mustang Warriors that launched guerilla operations inside Tibet.

?I hope I am wrong. However, for me, I do not see anything for the
movement.  I don?t see people making any headway,? he shrugs, talking
about the bleak future he sees for the struggle. ?Tibet is for
Tibetans,? he avers, describing the Chinese as an evil force guilty of
genocide in Tibet. He expresses surprise over how the Dalai Lama expects
Beijing to give autonomy to Tibetans.

The people are staring at the future with a sense of dejection. This
time around, it seems the loud sounds of Rengzen ? the Tibetan word
meaning independence ? in the past have been muted. The random trickling
in of new, young faces from the Roof of the World may help stoke the few
return-to-our-homeland embers left in Dharamshala. But that discrete,
discreet influx alone won?t be sufficient fuel in the long run.

? datt.gautam@gmail.com
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