Sanjor vs Shichak

Dear Editor,

After going through an article on Tibet Sun titled “Time for CTA to distribute vacant houses to new-arrival refugees“, I was drawn back to my own days in Dharamshala as a newcomer, and the sense of unwelcome I felt from the Tibetans already settled in the diaspora. I am coming out to write about this so that otherSsanjors would feel empowered to share their experiences. I think the time has come to do bring the case into the open.

Here and there, one comes across references to the “Sanjor vs Shichak” topic in conversations, but the amount of literature on the matter — when compared to other prejudices such as ‘regionalism’ or ‘sectarianism’ — is eerily scant. One might wonder — why? But that’s another point. We do have some materials which will act as a backdrop to my opinion expressed here.

Dharamsala Days, Dharamsala Nights by a British woman is a book detailing the lives of a number of newcomers, or — as they are rather offensively called, ‘Sanjors’ — who wandered around Dharamshala trying to survive day by day. Then there is the brief ‘Sanjor vs Shichak’ on Tumblr. That particular author likened the label ‘Sanjor’ to the banned term ‘Negro’ — in that both strip the subject of their individuality and humanness, and therefore places them outside the social group. Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan filmmaker, writes on the Sanjor phenomenon in Miyul, entitled ‘Sarjor vs Sanjor’. Facebook is another source where, according to my observation, Sanjors discuss their sense of alienation from the wider India-born Tibetans. I hope readers will read through these, and contemplate, before denying the validity of these writings, and by extension, my writing.

Of course, the Sanjor vs Shichak issue isn’t one generally touched on by Tibetan politicians and Lamas. It is mostly taken up by Westerners or Tibetans who are no longer dependent on CTA, and can therefore speak up. That always struck me as a curious fact. I saw no advice by HH Dalai Lama on how to integrate Sanjors into existing Tibetan society.

Even more maddening is a video making the rounds on Facebook condemning Sanjors for migrating to the West in search of dollars. But why isolate Sanjors? All Tibetans — including the Tibetan-born ones — go abroad.

Further, Sanjors do have a strong feeling that CTA is prejudiced against them. CTA has sent Tibetans abroad in 4-5 waves. A group of Tibetans to Switzerland in 1960s, another group to USA in 1990s, another one in 2000s, and the latest one last year to Canada in 2018. But in all of them, Sanjors were excluded. CTA has sent people who are already settled in India, while ignoring newcomers who have no home? The question is — why?

An interesting thing about the Sanjor vs Shichak phenomenon is this: Shichak Tibetans always deny it, and say ‘you are imagining it’ or ‘you are being negative.’ But Western people – whether in Dharamshala or in the West — seem to acknowledge the problem. And they express their shock and sadness. What the heck is one refugee group doing to another?

This question came up during Sikyong’s 5-50 forum, where a student asked “Why are sanjors returning to Tibet?” Sikyong said “many reasons,” and acknowledged CTA might have failed. But in what way? He implied CTA failed to provide jobs and housing. But the question wasn’t only that. The man was talking about the societal discrimination and prejudice, the social environment in Dharamshala and other refugee settlements, that are faced, and continue to be faced by Sanjors. And to that, Sikyong said nothing! Nothing! And we need to hear something about the social attitude of the old settlers.

What do I want out of this write-up? Well, CTA can do a review of whether or not CTA and/or Shichak Tibetans have done injustice to the Sanjors. And secondly, there should be two MPs representing Sanjors in the Parliament so that their suffering could be put to an end. Otherwise, the war of Sanjor vs Shichak will get more and more intense; and I have no doubt in calling this divide worse than Cholkha-choelug case, and more like Blacks vs Whites, and nothing short of a symptom of an apartheid system.

Tenzin Tsering
Paris, France

15 September 2018

Copyright © 2018 Tenzin Tsering

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily that of Tibet Sun