Tibetans in India, dwindling in numbers, battle to see a future past an growing older Dalai Lama1 hour in the past
Tsering Dawa is that rarest of issues in Dharamshala, a brand new arrival.
Since 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled to India, this small metropolis within the foothills of the Himalayas has been the non secular and political coronary heart of the Tibetan exile group. Tens of hundreds have made the troublesome journey right here from Chinese language-controlled Tibet, risking arrest and even demise to flee Beijing’s more and more stifling controls.
In recent times nonetheless, the movement of refugees has change into a trickle, as pervasive surveillance and heavier policing have made getting out of Tibet more durable than ever. When Mr. Dawa arrived in Dharamshala in March, 2021, he was certainly one of only a handful to make it that yr, his look so shocking that some suspected him of being a Chinese language spy.
Sitting in his small, one-bedroom residence beneath a smiling portrait of the Dalai Lama, Mr. Dawa admitted to being barely underwhelmed by Dharamshala, the city extra backpacker haven than twin to the bustling Tibetan capital of Lhasa. However, he mentioned there was a “sense of freedom” that he by no means felt in Tibet itself, an openness and vibrancy that made up for any materials shortcomings.
However the Tibetan exile group right here is dwindling and in flux, The Globe and Mail discovered throughout a go to to Dharamshala in December and interviews with greater than 20 folks, from authorities officers and elected lawmakers to activists and up to date arrivals.
There are deep-seated political disagreements over the best way ahead, significantly what’s going to occur following the demise of the Dalai Lama, now 87 and pulling again from some public engagements owing to weakening well being.
A 90-minute flight from New Delhi, Dharamshala sits on the level the place the plains of Himachal Pradesh meet the Himalayas, which loom, gray and snow-capped, over town’s small airport.
Nearly all of the native Tibetan group dwell within the suburb of McLeod Ganj, a former hill station the place the British colonial elite used to come back to flee the Indian summer time warmth.
As guests proceed up the winding street via a pine forest from Dharamshala correct to McLeod Ganj, gray and white buildings give approach to the brilliant yellows, reds and greens of conventional Tibetan structure.
Some vacationers skip the drive solely, taking a brand new cable automobile from the valley to a cease close to the Dalai Lama’s temple, surrounded by a maze of outlets promoting mass-produced, supposedly Tibetan souvenirs.
Tibetans got here to Dharamshala in waves. Many fled with the Dalai Lama in 1959, when the Folks’s Liberation Military finalized Beijing’s annexation of Tibet that had begun eight years earlier. Extra got here within the Nineteen Eighties, throughout a interval of relative openness when China allowed Tibetans to journey to India to worship and meet with relations. Others fled later repression, till growing controls made doing so ever tougher.
“Our dad and mom who got here in 1959, they by no means anticipated to dwell, not to mention die in India,” mentioned Penpa Tsering, present Sikyong, or president, of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the government-in-exile. “They at all times thought they’d return to Tibet.”
When the Dalai Lama first fled, he known as for Tibet’s independence, renouncing an earlier settlement recognizing Chinese language sovereignty as made underneath duress, given PLA troops had been on the time already occupying the plateau. As China struggled with a number of disasters within the early many years of Communist rule, there did appear to be an opportunity Tibet would have the ability to break free, however by the late Seventies, with Mao Zedong lifeless and his successors repairing ties with the West, the Dalai Lama modified tack.
In 1979 – based mostly on a remark by Chinese language chief Deng Xiaoping that when it got here to Tibet “besides independence, all different points could be resolved via negotiations” – the Dalai Lama put ahead what is named the Center Means method, renouncing independence in favour of “real autonomy” throughout the Folks’s Republic of China.
This got here to look prescient, as inside 5 years, Mr. Deng endorsed simply such an association for Hong Kong, when he proposed the mannequin of “one nation, two methods,” underneath which the then-British colony would change into a part of China however retain restricted democracy and political freedoms.
A number of rounds of talks between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and senior Chinese language officers went nowhere nonetheless, and the 2 sides haven’t met since 2010. China continues to label the Dalai Lama “a harmful separatist” and blame him for all unrest inside Tibet, regardless of every part that he says about not supporting independence.
In the meantime, Hong Kong has reworked from a possible mannequin to a warning of how Beijing’s guarantees can’t be trusted, after town’s democratic freedoms have solely declined in additional than 20 years of Chinese language rule.
“Now we have seen how autonomy works underneath the Chinese language Communist Occasion,” mentioned Lhagyari Namgyal Dolkar, a member of the Tibetan exile parliament. “I concern that our motion has been stalled on this challenge for a very long time.”
At 36, Ms. Dolkar is certainly one of a brand new technology of Tibetan politicians and activists who’re making an attempt to adapt to a robust, more and more assertive China, at the same time as older figures throughout the exile group proceed to talk of dialogue and even the potential collapse of the Communist system.
“We’re speaking about full independence for Tibet as a result of we perceive the China of at present,” Ms. Dolkar mentioned. “The older technology appear to have no hope or willpower to suppose we’ll have the ability to problem the Chinese language Communist Occasion.”
Within the crowded Dharamshala headquarters of College students for a Free Tibet (SFT), a pro-independence group, director Rinzin Choedon mentioned the Center Means grates for a lot of Tibetans because it legitimizes what they see because the theft of their land.
“Once I was in class, a classmate defined it to me merely: He took my pen, and after I requested for it again, he gave me simply the cap, saying ‘That is the Center Means,’” she mentioned. “However what’s ours is ours, they haven’t any proper to it.”
Each Ms. Dolkar and Ms. Choedon pushed again in interviews in opposition to any suggestion there was a break up within the Tibetan group on this challenge, saying debate is proof of a wholesome democracy.
However additionally they expressed frustration at how fealty to the Dalai Lama is typically used to try to suppress such concepts, even because the non secular chief has mentioned it’s as much as particular person Tibetans to determine whether or not they help independence.
CTA officers and older members of the exile group argue that with independence being a whole non-starter for Beijing, Tibetans should compromise within the hopes of reaching any kind of decision.
“The Center Means method is outlined by optimism, not defeatism,” mentioned Dawa Tsering, director of the Tibet Coverage Institute, a CTA suppose tank, and former chief consultant for the Dalai Lama.
“Now we have to suppose rationally. Plenty of individuals are stirring for independence, but it surely’s not like this stance would bear extra outcomes. It’s about rationality, about attending to the negotiating desk.”
When Penpa Tsering grew to become Sikyong in Might, 2021, he vowed to uphold the Center Means method, whereas reaching out to the worldwide group to assist push China to renew talks with the Dalai Lama, constructing on the work of his predecessor, Lobsang Sangay.
“After we do that lobbying, now we’ve modified the tactic a bit bit as a result of China just isn’t responding … since 2010 there was no traction,” Mr. Tsering mentioned, including that a part of the issue has been that the worldwide group typically repeats China’s line on Tibet, legitimizing the unlawful annexation of what was previously a sovereign nation. Why would Beijing meet with the Dalai Lama or the CTA, he mentioned, if its management over Tibet is already acknowledged by the remainder of the world?
“The Chinese language management is aware of that they haven’t any legitimacy to rule over Tibet they usually’re making an attempt to hunt that legitimacy from the worldwide group,” Mr. Tsering mentioned.
“If there may be anyone who can provide legitimacy to the Chinese language authorities, will probably be His Holiness the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan folks, after reaching an settlement with the Chinese language on the way forward for Tibet.”
In Might, 2022, Mr. Tsering visited Canada, the place he addressed a parliamentary committee. This earned the ire of the Chinese language embassy in Ottawa, which accused him of selling “Tibetan independence.”
“We don’t acknowledge the so-called ‘Tibetan government-in-exile’ in any respect and the Chinese language Central Authorities won’t ever negotiate with such an unlawful group,” the embassy mentioned. “Solely the Chinese language Central Authorities and the Folks’s Authorities of the Tibet Autonomous Area are the representatives of the Tibetan folks, and nobody else has the proper to take action.”
Ottawa largely endorses this line, with the Division of World Affairs saying Canada “acknowledges Tibet as an integral a part of the Folks’s Republic of China with a definite cultural identification,” whereas criticizing Beijing’s restrictions on Tibetan tradition, faith and language.
Washington follows the same coverage, however a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is pushing to vary this. In December, they launched a invoice to the Senate reaffirming Tibetans’ proper to self-determination and calling on China to renew dialogue with the Dalai Lama.
“This laws makes clear that america views the Tibet-China battle as unresolved and that the folks of Tibet deserve a say in how they’re ruled,” Senator Jeff Merkley mentioned in a press release. “It sends a transparent message to the Folks’s Republic of China: We count on significant negotiations over Tibet’s standing and don’t view present Chinese language authorities actions as assembly these expectations.”
Specifically, U.S. lawmakers have known as on Washington to reject Beijing’s claims – not supported by historical past or archaeology – that Tibet has been a part of China since time immemorial. Endorsing such an assertion is just too far even for the pragmatic Dalai Lama, however Chinese language officers regard any suggestion in any other case by Tibetan figures as tantamount to separatism, making dialogue more and more unattainable.
Mr. Tsering mentioned that Beijing’s present coverage is to “look forward to His Holiness to die.” Not solely will China search to regulate recognition of the following, fifteenth Dalai Lama – a 2007 legislation requires authorities approval for all reincarnations, together with when the sixteenth Dalai Lama will likely be born – there isn’t a determine within the Tibetan group who has the kind of worldwide affect and cachet of the present Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of the crucial recognizable folks on the planet.
Tenzin Lekshay, the CTA’s head of worldwide relations, mentioned this technique might probably backfire on Beijing nonetheless, as help for the Center Means method might wane after the Dalai Lama dies, each amongst Tibetans and the worldwide group. Nations such because the U.S. that endorsed the Center Means out of respect for the Dalai Lama’s want for dialogue might transfer towards supporting self-determination, as is already the pattern amongst youthful Tibetans.
“We would not have the ability to inform what the following technology will do,” Mr. Lekshay mentioned.
That technology will likely be extra worldwide, and extra dispersed than ever earlier than, a change that brings its personal challenges for the CTA and the broader exile group.
From a excessive of round 150,000 within the late 2000s, the inhabitants of Tibetans in India has been halved prior to now decade. The quantity residing in Dharamshala is even smaller – round 9,000 – mentioned Kunchok Migmar, the native CTA settlement officer, in comparison with 20,000 in 2010.
Strolling round McLeod Ganj, there may be typically little to differentiate the hill station from many others throughout the nation, with most companies run by and catering to Indians, not Tibetans.
Aside from the CTA itself, there are few employers for the exile group, and lots of younger folks specifically have moved to larger cities or overseas searching for work. Even in comparison with different Tibetan settlements, Dharamshala can really feel very out of the best way, the isolation that allowed it to be a distinctly Tibetan group now driving folks to depart.
“We want younger Tibetans would keep in India and assist enhance the group, however we can’t pressure folks to dwell right here,” Mr. Migmar mentioned.
Even Mr. Dawa, the latest arrival, who spent years and a big amount of cash making it to India – he requested that his precise route not be shared as it could be unknown to the Chinese language authorities – is planning to maneuver to Australia within the close to future, having fulfilled his want to see the Dalai Lama in particular person and share his story of oppression with the exile authorities.
Contained in the quiet, green-roofed headquarters of the CTA, Mr. Tsering mentioned his administration is “studying to satisfy new challenges underneath new circumstances.” Extra CTA features are being moved on-line, and the Sikyong mentioned he hoped to do away with the system by which exiles vote for representatives based mostly on the areas of Tibet their households hail from, moderately than the place they now dwell. “Dispersal is a problem, but it surely’s additionally a chance,” he mentioned. “Numerous youthful individuals are shifting out of the settlements to Indian cities or to Europe, North America, Australia, and so forth., they usually’re turning into residents of these international locations. They communicate the language, and due to that, they will foyer these international locations on behalf of Tibet.”
For years, folks have speculated over what’s going to occur when the Dalai Lama dies, the morbid deal with his well being equalled solely by that which preceded the passing of Queen Elizabeth. His demise will seemingly hasten the transformation of Dharamshala from centre of the exile group to simply certainly one of many Tibetan settlements in India and world wide, and whoever is Sikyong when at this level should face the problem.
It doesn’t matter what occurs, Mr. Tsering mentioned, “we’ve to maintain hope alive.”
“If we lose our hope, then the trigger itself will die a pure demise.”
With experiences from Tenzin Dharpo