By Lobsang Wangyal
KOH PHA NGAN, Thailand, 21 December 2017
Since a while ago, I have been asking Indian filmmakers to make a documentary that would give the people of India an update on the current Tibetan situation. Most documentary films on Tibet are made by Westerners. Many people in India are now fast changing the storyline, and now there are many who say “India-China border”, rather than the old way of “India-Tibet border”.
There is nothing wrong with that politically or even geographically. But Indians have always used “Indo-Tibet border”. As time changes, things also change. That’s the reality.
Except for use in Delhi as political leverage against China, the Tibetan situation is drifting away from the memories of the common Indian people, and the Tibetan issue is losing its sheen in the Indian psyche.
Mountains to Manhattan retells and rekindles old interest in the fight of India’s old chelas against the modern giant of China. The book touches on the realities of the exile Tibetans — that the movement for a free Tibet is still strong and vibrant, even though many second- and third-generation Tibetans move to the West for better opportunities.
Protagonist Tenla’s life is the reflection of the lives of many in exile. There are struggles, confusions, dilemmas, and yet hope. The dream to go to the West among the younger generation Tibetans in India and Nepal is as real as Tenla’s. They make it real by paying lakhs to agents to set up their papers for a visa. Tibetans move to the West in thousands every year using every means they can, to where the grass is greener. It’s for their career, their families, and the future of their children. The Tibetan communities in the Western countries have added to the strength of the Tibetan freedom movement, rather than the opposite.
The Tibetans moving to the West is not because India has not been treating Tibetans well for the last sixty years. India has provided for Tibetans well in the best way that it could. It goes without saying that there’s no other country that has done what India has done for Tibetans. But there are some troubles nevertheless, such as in some places the locals are changing their attitude towards Tibetans.
As examples: The locals in Arunachal Pradesh have even been calling for Tibetans to leave. Lives of Tibetans in Ladakh have not been as favourable as would be expected with the local population, even though they share the same heritage. Tibetans experience harassment and cannot run businesses.
There were many instances of Tibetan livelihood being threatened in other areas as well. In the past, Tibetan shops have been set on fire by locals in Manali and Chauntra.
Bureaucracy of India is something everybody in India is unanimous in detesting. Tibetans had to go to court to have years-old Indian law implemented by the officials. As told in the book, Tibetans finally began to get their citizenship and passport rights. Passport was granted to Tibetans only after an order by the Delhi High Court. Even after that, many more cases had to be filed in order to have other formalities sorted out for obtaining a passport.
Following the Delhi High Court order, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) directed all the passport-issuing authorities to issue passports to all Tibetans who fulfilled the conditions (born In India between 1950 and 1987, and their children). But the implementation of the details is not clear at all: How and where to surrender the Identity Certificate (IC, the “Yellow Book” issued in place of a passport), and the procedures to surrender the Registration Certificate (RC).
There are still many cases going on in the courts, and there will be more before everything is how it should be. With this illogical and irresponsible way of managing affairs, one wonders if India would really be able to become what it aspires to be, and would it be able to challenge China, as it would like to claim.
It is true that, barring some local intimidation and cumbersome bureaucracy, India has provided for the Tibetans what it has not to many of its own people. Appreciation for the hospitality and generosity of India and its people is strong in each and every Tibetan’s heart. Tibetans have done their best to give back to India by giving their lives safeguarding the national boundaries of India at sub-zero temperatures, and fighting winning wars for India.
It is never easy for someone to understand and write in detail about the nuances of the lives of other people. Mountain to Manhattan by Pinakie Kansabanik shows the author’s in-depth understanding of the Tibetan people, their feelings, and their aspirations. The narrative was so Tibetan that the book gave me a deja vu feeling throughout. At times, the dialogues wobble, in the sense of would a Tibetan say like that. Other than that for the most part, it read good and smooth.
A detail that I wanted to point out is about the Yonchap — the offering to the deities. Yonchap water is not filled to the brim of the bowls, but just below, by the space of one wheat grain. Yon means offering and chap means water. The water is visualised as nectar to be offered in devotion to deities. Since the offering is an everyday affair, offering a simple thing like water doesn’t cause any hardship to the offerer.
This book will fill the void of updates on Tibetan issues. Considering how China is encircling India with their expansion designs, it has become relevant and important for the people of India to remain abreast of the Tibetan cause.
India will not go to war over Tibet. Tibetans have changed their position from fighting for independence to autonomy, to live with China. This has direct bearing on India’s and the international communities’ lack of support for the Tibetan cause. It could be said that it is the Tibetan people’s right to fight for independence, but to do so against the new super power China just isn’t feasible.
The equation is still skewed, and without a solution for the Tibetan cause, India will continue to suffer the constant Chinese pressure.
The Dalai Lama has long advocated making Tibet a buffer zone, and India looked the other way. Now when incidents like Doklam arise, some Indians ask where is the Dalai Lama in such a crisis. The reality is, India has no other choice than to stand behind the Tibetan cause, unless it wants to continue to bear the Chinese intimidation all the time.
It is amply clear that a free Tibet would be good for India, and the book Mountains to Manhattan will help spread that understanding. Well done Pinakie Kansabanik.
Mountains to Manhattan
by Pinakie Kansabanik.
paperback, 364 pp, $8.70 USD
Omji Publishing House, 2017.
Available on Amazon.