Indians call me “ching chong”, the Chinese arrested me when I walked into Tibet, beat me up in jail and threw me out and said “Get out of here, you bloody Indian.” Who am I? I am born and brought up in India and speak four Indian languages, love Bollywood, have more Indian friends than those of my tribe. Who am I?
My identity card is called Registration Certificate. It says you are a foreigner, and your nationality is Tibetan. But for India there is no Tibet, it’s only China, although we have Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Legally, no one is a refugee in India, there’s no refugee law prevalent here, but India is home to the largest number of refugees, from Parsis to Burmese, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankan Tamils and Tibetans. My friend, Sopa, from our refugee camp in Kollegal, Karnataka, fought in the Kargil War. Two soldiers on either side of him were shot in their heads, and when the survivors were being decorated in Delhi, Indian soldiers were photographed with the President, while medals for Tibetans were pinned by an officer in the top-floor room.
Rooms. We love rooms, bigger the better. That’s what we live in, because home is a sacred dream reserved for some distant future, but, inevitably coming, because our Dalai Lama says so. Even our exile government staff live in rooms. When her boyfriend moves in, they set up a kitchen against one of the walls. Other walls are for books, clothes, a TV set and of course a door and a window. When she gets pregnant it becomes home, and then we all join the house-warming party. Our rooms are decorated with protest slogans and photos of bullet-ridden martyrs. We live in India, but our hearts are in Tibet. We are neither here nor there.
I grew up imagining homeland, a glorious return, but realize home is here where the struggle is. The struggle is the home. Tibetans make an annual pilgrimage. It’s not to Bodh Gaya or Banares, it’s to the local police station to seek an extension to stay in India for another year, a must for all Tibetans above 18, whether you came from Tibet in 1959, are born in India, or a celebrity escapee from Tibet in recent years. No exception. No one is above the law. Show your face and get the privilege.
Lobsang got a job as a waiter in Sweden. Excited, he packed for a two-year stint. At the last moment, just before his flight, the Delhi emigration officer said he has no clearance from the local police station. At 2 am, he had masala chai for 60 rupees at the airport and came back to Dharamsala.
Go anywhere, be a tourist in Kerala or Rajasthan, pretend that you are a native in the North East. We were promised a dreamland from childhood. Our people in Tibet fight Chinese guns with their prayers and militant hope to change Chinese minds with Buddhism. As an activist, I try Gandhi. Dalai Lama is too complicated; I keep my guru in my heart, but work with Gandhi from my head.
In 2008, when protests against the Beijing Olympics raged in India, I was arrested in Kullu. The reason? I hadn’t registered my departure from Dharamsala. I was locked up for 11 days, with extended detention for 14 days in Dharamsala, watched over by two policemen.
Now even the Commonwealth Games are over, the World Cup is here, and still I have to appear for court cases the police have no interest in pursuing. After the recent high court ruling, Tibetans born in India are eligible for Indian citizenship. My Indian university friend recently pleaded with me to get rid of all my court cases and legal hassles. I said: “I am Indian, perhaps more Indian than you. Why do I need a certificate?”