Dehradun, Uttarakhand: When 76-year-old Ngawang fled Tibet, and entered India in 1959, he had no inkling that he would never return to his motherland. The thought of languishing in exile through the rest of his life was almost revolting. He has been living in India as a refugee for over 60 years now. Painful memories have faded but love for the motherland remains deeply rooted.
Donning a mask and a thick Jacket with a cap, basking in the morning sunlight, he sits on a bench at the Dekyiling Tibetan settlement in Dehradun. Reminiscing about the past, he speaks in broken Hindi, ”I served in the Indian Army for around 4 years. I used to think that one day Tibet will be free and I will return to my land. Everything is fine in India, but I left my mother and sister in Tibet. My brother told me that the Chinese are aware that I served in the Indian Army, I will be put behind bars if I return. Now I will never see my family again.”
In 1959, an uprising against the Chinese rule erupted in Tibet. Large scale rebellion engulfed the Tibetan capital Lhasa, but it failed as the People’s Republic of China brutally crushed the revolt. In March 1959, 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetans, fled Tibet and took refuge in India. He was given political asylum and a Tibetan Government in exile was set up in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. Around 100,000 Tibetans followed the Dalai Lama into exile.
6 Decades have passed. A lot has changed. Now three generations of Tibetan refugees live in India. The first generation refugees fled Tibet and settled in India, the second generation refugees were born and brought up in India. The third generation comprises the small children who only have a vague idea of the past. Despite being eligible for Indian Citizenship, the majority of the second and third generation of refugees have chosen not to opt for it. The young educated Tibetan refugees are now paying the price for their statelessness.
NO JOBS DESPITE GOOD DEGREES
28-year-old Tenzin was born and brought up in India. She has a Masters degree in Commerce, but despite that there is a dearth of jobs. She has no other option but to work at the Tibetan Market in Dehradun, a favourite spot for shopping lovers looking for the latest trend at a reasonable price, run by Tibetan refugees.
”I tried hard to find a job in accordance with my qualifications and skills but without an Indian citizenship, it’s an impossible task. When nothing worked out, I decided to carry on with the family profession to make a living. India is also like my country, I have only heard about the picturesque beauty of Tibet from my parents.”
Tenzin is not alone. Majority of the well-educated Tibetan refugees are reeling under a similar plight. They have seen their elders in immense pain, yearning for their motherland, but they long for a suitable job. According to the Second Tibetan Demographic Survey, over 17 per cent of the total workforce population is unemployed or underemployed. Either running a small business or working with the Tibetan Government are the only two available options of employment.
30-Year-old Tenzin Wangmo travels to the Indian state of Gujarat every year to sell winter jackets . With Coronavirus Pandemic raging in the country, She couldn’t travel this year. She could only set up a small stall at the refugee settlement, incurring heavy losses. ”What else should we do.
We don’t have an Indian citizenship, we only have a registration certificate which is not enough to get a job. The job opportunities for the Tibetan youth in India are almost nil. Despite a college degree, I can only run a small business here. It is easier to find a well paying job abroad.”
CITIZENSHIP HURDLE FOR JOB SEEKERS
Growing discontent among the Younger Tibetan refugees has become a grave issue for the Tibetan Government in exile. The deep dilemma haunts the Tibetans in exile in India. Without the Indian citizenship, well educated youth are forced to do petty jobs to earn a living and if they take up the Indian Citizenship then the real fight for a free Tibet would take a backseat. There is an eerie calm on the surface but the tension is simmering inside.
Mr Norbu, Tibetan Settlement officer, a Joint Secretary rank officer of the Central Tibetan Government says, ”If the Tibetan refugees in exile take up the Indian Citizenship, then our common cause for Tibet will vanish. Young Tibetan refugees in India, despite a good college degree aren’t eligible for any of the Indian Government jobs. Most of the Private companies require Indian Citizenship. There are very limited jobs in the Central Tibetan Government. Many are now migrating to other countries.”
Tibetans are considered as one of the most successful refugee communities across the world. Earlier, it was a battle for survival but now they want a better lifestyle.
There is a palpable shift in the focus of the young Tibetan refugees, from a quest for motherland to a successful life in India or abroad.
The Tibetan refugees in India have dropped by 44 per cent over the last seven years according to the Indian Government data. The population has reduced to around 85,000 from 150,000 in 2011.
WHY YOUNG TIBETANS ARE MIGRATING
Moving to other countries is now the way forward for many young Tibetan refugees. Facing too many challenges to secure a bright future in India, now more and more Tibetan youths are migrating to Countries like Canada, France, UK and US. 36-year-old Tenzin who looks after the management at the Tibetan settlement, has a younger brother who migrated to France a few years back. He says other than better employment opportunities, there is another reason why the young Tibetans prefer to move out of India.
”Tibetan refugees abroad find it easier to protest without too many restrictions imposed. Here in India, we have to submit an application for every protest and take clearance from all the concerned authorities. It is a tedious process. Here we only get small circles and less time for protest. While in other countries, everyone can unite and carry out a protest. There is comparatively greater freedom of speech in other countries than in India.”
Tenzin says, ”There is a visible gap between the older and the younger generation. Our parents thought that they would return to Tibet soon but it has been 60 years, now there is a fear in the community that we won’t be able to go back, so the focus has shifted to a better source of employment. So there is now a lack of attention towards the Tibetan cause.”
CAN’T BUY PROPERTY IN INDIA WITHOUT CITIZENSHIP
Not just the Young, but some of the older Tibetan refugees believe that statelessness has also hit them. Tibetan refugees are not considered refugees under the Indian law, but foreigners.
58-Year-old Pema Gelek was born in Bhutan and moved to India in 1980. He once chose to remain a refugee but now it hurts him. Like majority of the refugees, he too has no links now in Tibet.”Citizenship woes have added to my misery. Since I don’t have an Indian Citizenship, I can’t buy any property in India. I pay all my taxes, yet I can’t have anything in my name. I didn’t take the Citizenship as that would end a lot of benefits I get from the Tibetan Government in Exile and also some conditions put forth by the Indian Government.”
Despite being born and brought up in India, many lament the lack of awareness about the Tibetan Cause. Many even face identity issues.
Tsamchoe speaks Hindi fluently and often prefers Indian food over Tibetan. ”It feels really bad when people who come to my shop just assume me for someone from any of the North-Eastern states of India or Nepal. They often have no idea about why we Tibetans are living in exile. I have to explain it to them that our country is under Chinese rule. It really hurts sometimes.”
While the first generation Tibetan refugees are striving hard to preserve their culture and the Tibetan cause in exile, the second generation born and brought up in India strive for a better living, almost impossible without an Indian Citizenship. A deep dilemma engulfs the community.
A constant pressure to preserve their Tibetan identity, dearth of Job opportunities despite good degrees, no property rights and staying loyal to the Tibetan cause, has frustrated the young generation of Tibetan refugees living in India. The question remains, how to pass on the spirit of free Tibet onto the younger generations when the priorities have shifted, struggles and aspirations have evolved. Many wonder if it’s time to let go of the past.
Story first published: Friday, December 4, 2020, 8:18 [IST]