Tibetan Swaraj

In the bustling streets of Mcleod Ganj, an old pola went about making announcements on the microphone for a special prayer gathering the next morning. The occasion, he said, was because “Tibet-China Negotiations have started.” It’s strange that in our struggle, the common people’s role is reduced to tsampa-throwing rituals and saying prayers. The third delegation has been able to get themselves invited by China after a long wait. We are still in the process of confidence-building and negotiations are a far horizon — if at all they’re coming. China has again refused to give official recognition to our delegation, calling them “overseas Tibetan compatriots”.

And yet, we seem to be focusing all our concentration on this; discouraging — even outlawing — alternative ways of expressing freedom struggle. At the time of the Chinese invasion, there was no political awareness among the general Tibetan populace. State and public had almost no relationship except for tax collection. The aristocrats in Lhasa loved partying — mostly at their desks with mahjong tiles. The majority of the population of Tibet lived in villages with no idea whatsoever what was happening in Lhasa or being done to the country itself by China. In my previous column I wrote critically about our Members of the Parliament and, as if to prove me right, many MPs acted disastrously ridiculous during the September parliamentary session. I made another trip to the parliament. Except for the new interior décor, and the parliament now facing east — a symbolic gesture to face Tibet — nothing has changed.

As if Dharamsala had a fit of sorts, for about two weeks the usual Hindi soap operas on the TV suffered miserable negligence. Bhagsu cable was entertaining the 6,000-odd Dharamsala Tibetans with more dramatic scenes; many of our MPs were seen thumping away at their chests in the gorilla-style, speaking and gesticulating most animatedly in the parliament. Some were seen swearing that they were not afraid of anybody except for one or two or three people. The protestations were neither supported by facts or figures, nor by any reason. And while voting was being done, one just couldn’t help but feel pity that they looked around to check if their clan leader’s hand had gone up or not. Live coverage makes it absolutely clear how the parliament has fallen into factions and it was there for all see. This parliament made decisions, many decisions.

The only consolation was those few MPs who patiently listened to everybody and made their own statements, loaded with researched and updated information. They are our only thinking representatives. Now let the video recording travel to the refugee camps, release the bomb, and let the public see how their MPs perform and posture in parliament. The video recording has become a bridge between the MPs and public at large. It has brought transparency and created a new interest in the people about our political affairs. I see our toddler democracy wrapped in a long chupa, totter around, trip and pick itself up again. The Gandhian idea of Swaraj is what both His Holiness and our Kalon Tripa have in mind for a future Tibet. Democracy by polity, self-sufficient economy, and self-reliant in education, skills and resources: a Tibetan Swaraj. Tourism may be an industry, a source of national income, but not in the rampant capitalistic consumerist manner, which has left many cultural hubs in the world decimated. Developing our economy, opening our country to modern changes, we must remain alert to the attacks of globalization. For that we have our cousin Bhutan to ask for their experience, how they have been quietly entering into the 21st century at their own pace. I have great admiration for the restrained development this extended Tibetan civilization has been maintaining. Our Kashag is finding the organic farm difficult to explain to the urea-hardened Tibetan farmers; unspoilt Bhutan has been most successful in the experiment.

Is Swaraj then idealistic, as many critics doubt? This is an ideal Tibet we can build, and I believe it is possible. For that we have to engage our people from the grassroots. I have always spoken for public engagement for community-building, as this was and still is our weak point. Such a wonderful vision of Tibet can neither be achieved with western aid nor by Indian support. We have to build it ourselves. “Swaraj” is a process where one learns to free oneself. A community of people of such independence and high moral standards will have achieved Swaraj. This freedom soars far above the more mundane political independence.

September saw Mrs. Wager coming to Dharamsala again. At 83, the inji amala continues to help the Tibetans. She was calling it her last visit, but she left with another very long list of “things to do”. It was in those years of the early 60s and 70s when we needed foreign aid. Today, there isn’t a single Tibetan in exile who is going hungry or bare-shouldered. In fact, our community has been called the most successful refugee community in the world. We may have become better off, our standards of living in general improved, but we have weakened and we are losing the sense of struggle and work.

And still there are many Tibetans who hide their TV sets and change into humble pajamas when their sponsors come to visit them. It pains me beyond measure to write this, but this truth has to come out. We have fallen into dependency on these jindags. The good hearts of these foreigners have become our weak points. Jindagism is what we have to fight against. This is basically a mentality of dependency, the easy and short-cut path to a comfortable life. It saves sweat and dirtying your hands. Mrs. Wager on her last visit to Orissa Tibetan Refugee camp two years back said to me there had only been one Tibetan who said to her that the person no longer needed her support, and thanked her. Tibetans by nature I consider hard-working and enterprising. I have seen extremely skillful Tibetan entrepreneurship in carpet industries, the hospitality industries and travel and tourism. Senge Himalayan Ceramics in Delhi produces Tibetan crockery. I wish somebody would start to manufacture thermos flasks and replace the necessary but evil “Made In China” flasks from our community.

Now, Swaraj asks each members of the community to take up responsibility. We have a very high level of religious and cultural Swaraj, even from Tibet. We were self-subsistent in our nomadic-agricultural economy. Now in the political field, we were found wanting. Our clannish-tribal groupism and aristocrat-run fiefdoms of the 1950s left us no path to political Swaraj. With the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and democracy as the fabric of our civil society, we have the biggest challenge to move forward into strengthening the community in political awareness. Unless we have not achieved this internal Swaraj, we may end up losing whatever we may gain — Rangzen or Autonomy. There is much more for the public to do before taking on China. With this internal Swaraj, China would be easy to handle.

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