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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?"

At home in an alien land

March 23, 2009

Rajesh Deol in McLeodgunj
Deccan Herald
March 22, 2009

For the individual Tibetan, however, at least for
the older generation of Tibetans who had fled
their homeland in 1959 with the Dalai Lama their
nation's long struggle for freedom has manifested
in personal pain and nostalgia of a lost Shangri-La.

"Fifty years is a long period in an individual’s
life but not a long time in a nation’s history,"
proclaimed Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister
of Tibetan government-in-exile on March 10, the
day when 1.30 lakh-strong Tibetan community in
India was commemorating its 50th year in exile.
The Rinpoche said the Tibetans were ready for another 100 years of struggle.

For the individual Tibetan, however, -- at least
for the older generation of Tibetans who had fled
their homeland in 1959 with the Dalai Lama —
their nation’s long struggle for freedom has
manifested in personal pain and nostalgia of a
lost Shangri-La. When nearly 80,000 Tibetans were
fleeing from the brutal Chinese crackdown 50
years ago, little did they realise their
homecoming might not be possible in their life-time.

"Initially, we would always be hopeful that one
day we will return to Tibet. But after 50 years
in exile, I am less optimistic,” says 84-year old
Kuncha as he trudges down the narrow lane in
McLeodgunj, a small Himalayan town established by
the British, which Tibetans lovingly call “Little
Lhasa.” Kuncha has made a “small hut” for himself
on the hill-side with his wife, Tsering Choeden,
and though they say they are “happy” in their new
home, memories of Tibet make them sad.

A group of young Tibetan school children carrying
Tibetan flags have enthusiastically assembled at
the main temple at McLeodgunj at the start of a
procession to commemorate Tibetan Uprising. “We
have come to hold prayers so that Tibet gets
freedom at the earliest. We have not seen it but
our grandparents say it is beautiful,” says a
class eight student, Tenzin Tsephel in chaste
Hindi. Others join him in chorus, “Long live Dalai Lama.”

As everything else in life, nearly 20,000-strong
(12,000 according to Tibetan officials) Tibetan
community in Dharamshala and McLeodgunj has moved
on from the early days of exile when, as an old
Tibetan saying goes, “except the sky and earth,
everything else was unfamiliar.” From simple
peasants, nomads, craftsmen and petty business
people who left their homeland, the Tibetans have
become a lively and thriving refugee community over the years.

The Tibetan spiritual leader  Dalai Lama
justifies his decision to flee to India on the
same premise saying , “It was the best decision.
This way we have been able to keep Tibetan
culture and Tibetan Buddhism flourishing.”

At preset in India, Nepal and Bhutan, there are
49 Tibetan settlements, 223 monasteries, 77
educational institutions where modern education
is blended with  traditional Tibetan study of
scriptures, 54 community health centres and
hospitals and 14 aged people’s homes.

Home alone

But it is McLeodgunj which has become a
quintessential Tibetan town with offices of
Tibetan government-in-exile, residence of the
Dalai Lama, Tibetan monasteries and temples and
hotels, restaurants and business establishments
run by Tibetans dotting the landscape.

Although the town is on the international tourist
map now with a steady stream of foreign visitors
who have become adherents of Tibetan Buddhism,
its haphazard development has put severe pressure on civil amenities.

"Roads are a big problem. There is congestion and
over crowding," says Thubten Samphel, spokesman
of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

"Tibetans are nobody’s political constituency.
They do not have any political pressure group.
That is why the common infrastructural problems
get hardly addressed to," says Ram Swaroop, a
Congress leader and founder of Indo-Tibetan
Friendship Society. The Society takes up
occasional cleanliness drives and organises
medical camps but filth and stink are constant
companions of anybody visiting McLeodgunj.
Tibetans, barring a minuscule minority, have
consciously not taken Indian citizenship. Samphel
explains, “If we take Indian citizenship, it
sends a wrong message to the repressed and
struggling Tibetans inside Tibet that we have given up on Tibetan struggle.”

The exile government gets about $20 million in
aid, mostly donations from foreign patrons, every
year but it is not enough for the welfare of an
ever increasing refugee community.

"One big responsibility is giving shelter to new
refugees and financially helping them to settle
down," says Samphel adding that the in-exile
government did not encourage new refugees but
still their upkeep was his government’s responsibility.

The Gu-Chu-Sum Movement of Tibet is engaged in
providing food, shelter, financial help and
psychological support to former prisoners who
arrive in India with nowhere to stay and having no jobs and little education.

"At present, there are 70 former political
prisoners in our main premises," says Phuntsok
Wangchuk, general secretary for the movement who
himself was jailed for five years in China for
his pro-Tibetan writings in his school magazine.

The younger generations of Tibetans who bear no
baggage of the country’s bloody history and were
born in exile, pose challenge for the mandarins
of the exile community. "Unemployment is a big
concern among youngsters. Some of them turn to
drugs in frustration. There are limited avenues
for them in Tibetan administration and as
teachers in Tibetan schools, but we are exploring
avenues in NGOs and Indian companies," says Samphel.

Some of the youngsters turn to petty crimes which
has often pitched them against the local Indian
community. However, barring a few occasions
tensions between locals and Tibetans have not become serious.
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