Tibet turns 50, in India

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,

Mcleodganj (Himachal Pradesh) : Tibetans have come of age – 50 years to be precise – not in their homeland, the ‘Roof of the World’ Tibet, but in India, the home for thousands of them for the last five decades.

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This cosmopolitan township of Mcleodganj, the headquarters of the Tibetan spiritual and temporal head, the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso), nestled at the base of the mighty Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh may just be a tiny dot on a global map but is an important address for powerful countries like China, the United States and host India.

A ‘Little Lhasa’ in its own might, since thousands of Tibetan refugees, including the Dalai Lama, have been residing here for almost five decades, the place is an amalgamation of Tibetans, local Himachalis and foreign nationals coming from Japan to Israel to the US.

The township has been the abode of the Dalai Lama, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner, after he escaped to India in 1959 when a Tibetan uprising against the Chinese might failed. The Tibetan population here is over 10,000 out of the 140,000 Tibetans who live in exile worldwide. A majority of the exiles live in various parts of India.

Tibetan settlements in India are located in Karnataka, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and some other states.

A lot of the older Tibetan exiles, including ministers and members of parliament, are the ones who migrated either

along with the Dalai Lama in 1959 or later. The majority of the younger Tibetans have been born in India.

The Tibetan government-in-exile is not recognized by any country in the world.

Tibetan culture and lifestyle dominate Mcleodganj as does the aura of the Dalai Lama, the most revered among the Tibetan religious leaders. Every time his motorcade passes the congested roads of this township, Tibetans, locals and foreigners line up on both sides to catch a glimpse of the Tibetan guru and seek blessings.

“He is a living god for us. Everyone holds him in great reverence. Even getting a glimpse of him is considered holy,” says Tashi, a young shop-owner on the Temple road that leads to the palace-in-exile of the Dalai Lama.

In the past Mcleodganj has attracted the likes of Hollywood stars Richard Gere, former James Bond star Pierce Brosnan and the powerful US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“The economy of this small town depends on the tourists coming here to see the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan culture. From shops to taxis, everything is dependent on the tourists,” pointed out taxi driver Krishan.

From just a few shops and establishments till late 1980s, Mcleodganj today is a congested place. The tourism boom has led to mindless construction in every nook and corner of the place – occupying every inch of hills and even streams available.

Younger Tibetans, who have seen and have adapted themselves to the Indian way of life despite retaining their Tibetan identity, say that they want to be back in their homeland one day.

“We may not have been born there or even seen that place but we are hopeful of going back one day. We don’t want to be living with the refugee status throughout life even though India has been a great host,” asserted Sonam Tsering, a young Tibetan student.

Though the government-in-exile and the Tibetan non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) and the Students for Free Tibet (SFT) are organising events and protests to mark the 50th year of the Tibetan uprising and their stay in India, most Tibetans now want a drastic shift in policy to take on China’s occupation of their own Tibet.