Expectation from Chithue/Sikyong candidates

The preliminary election of Sikyong (President) and Chithues (members of the Tibetan Parliament) is on 3 January 2021. It is an important responsibility of each and every Tibetan voter to know the candidate and evaluate the candidate’s written or undeclared manifesto and cast their vote without any pressure or influence from any quarter, including family members. As a concerned Tibetan, I would like to offer some suggestions. This is a shorter and timely revised version of my earlier article about ten years ago.

What is the advice of the Dalai Lama especially concerning Tibetan unity?

Every Tibetan agrees that the most important quality in a candidate is that the candidate should follow the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and work for unity of all the Tibetans. But practice is more important than precept. The Communist Chinese government always tries to use even our trivial differences against us to create disunity among us. In order to overcome such occurrences, we need to understand the sensitivity and complexity of our regional- and sectarian-based society. And then we should work for the unity of all the Tibetan people from the three provinces of Tibet, the religious traditions, and political approaches.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama always emphasises oneness of our nation and our people. Unity can be achieved if everyone from Sikyong to an ordinary Tibetan sincerely follow the advice of HH the Dalai Lama. In order to achieve genuine unity, we need to patiently hear divergent views of people. Then explain factual and provide factual information to the few misinformed people and win their trust. Encourage critics to participate in the Tibetan democracy rather than engaging in damaging gossip. Unfounded, baseless, and negative comments with ill intentions to damage a promising candidate and ruin their career must be challenged unitedly. Constructive suggestions are always welcome in a democracy.

Recently more and more Tibetan regional organisations or groups are emerging, especially in the West. If they are working for the preservation of the local folk culture of their region, or doing research in their local history or trying to help the needy people, I must admire them. But if their goal is sowing the seeds of poisonous regionalism, it should be discouraged. Personally I have always chosen in joining national organisations such as Tibetan Youth Congress. I believe the Chitues should encourage Tibetans to join more neutral organisations such as TYC, TWA, SFT, ex-students organisation of a large school, ex SFF organisation.

Similarly we need to create better religious harmony by paying equal respect to all the Tibetan religious traditions, especially among the four major Tibetan Buddhist traditions and Bon. We need more Tibetan non-sectarian Dharma Centers and Shedra or Study Centers in the West. Mere ritual or meditation programs are less important than developing the mind through study. Encourage everyone to participate in the teachings of Lamas, Khenpos, and Geshes, especially those based on the Nalanda tradition. The Sunday teachings and children’s programs in various places in the West are encouraged to participate in such Dharma sessions to understand the basic principle of Buddhism about mind training.

Are we understanding our current political stand?

Concerning our political approach, we have Tibetans pursuing the Middle-Way Approach and also people pursuing Rangzen (independence). We need to understand each thoroughly. Rangzen is our birthright, which is desired by many Tibetans. But the Tibetan Administration is pursuing Umey Lam (Middle-Way Approach). The main goal of Umey Lam was just to save the very identity of the Tibetan people, which is at the verge of extinction in Chinese-occupied Tibet.

His Holiness gave us the choice, and the majority of the Tibetan people chose the Middle-way Approach. His Holiness had said that the ultimate decision lies with the Tibetan people. In view of these, our immediate goal should be to pursue Umey Lam perhaps more rigorously by continuing the present contacts with the Chinese leadership. But if no result is achieved within a specific given time, we have to rethink our approach seriously. If the Chinese leadership plays the ill-conceived game of delaying tactics, we should change to the Rangzen approach.

Currently we have numerous media avenues — print, website, and social media forums. We should discourage any damaging words freely used in these forums. The Chitues should encourage our media persons to provide more unbiased, positive, and accurate news and views about these approaches in their forums. Generally we need to share more success stories and positive or constructive suggestions. Negative views make our common enemy happy (Communist Chinese government). If there is truth which is going to affect our common cause, it should come out in the open and the contributor must reveal his or her identity, especially in the important matter like Chitue or Sikyong election.

What timely reforms do we need in the Tibetan Administration/Charter?

Five-year terms for Sikyong and Chitue are pretty long for us. We need a four-year term. Chithues should introduce a private bill for limiting the term. With a shorter term, more people will avail the opportunity to serve our people.  Several countries already follow this system. In this case a Sikyong would serve only a maximum of eight years.

I expressed my view ten years ago that the Tibetan Parliament should realize that the number of Tibetans in the Western countries is multiplying every year. As such, we need at least five Chitues for North America (one each in east coast, mid-region and west coast in the United States, one in Toronto, and another in west Canada. We also need more Chitue seats for the growing Tibetan population in Europe, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and other countries. We definitely need to increase the Chitue seats in the West and elsewhere when the population increases.

The Tibetan Administration needs to have a well-established Office of Tibet with numerous branches like a mini government, especially in large countries such as the United States. The person who holds the posts in Office of Tibet is very important. The Sikyong should make sure that the most talented, creative, experienced, and seasoned Tibetan diplomats should be assigned for the Office of Tibet. Kashag should also create a position of Financial Director at the Office of Tibet for raising funds. This person should be specialized in raising funds through numerous sources.

Concerning eligibility to vote, the current system of Tibetan Election requires that a voter must produce an updated valid Green Book in order to be eligible to participate in the election. But it is a pretty complicated process to obtain a Green Book at present. Therefore, concerned Chithue should ensure prompt supply of Green Books to eligible Tibetans living all over the world, and timely collections of Green Book contributions. Encourage contributions even from small numbers of people living in small towns, which is neglected now. Our administration focuses only on the Tibetans living in larger cities. Currently a large number of Tibetans are disfranchised due to the unavailability of Green Books. I brought up this issue with a few Representatives, but no one took action. The result is very few registered voters in the West.

What are the stability prospects for the mushrooming Tibetan population in the West?

In our society, we have a tendency of copying others. When someone did well in sweater-selling business in India, many followed it. Similarly when someone succeeded in woolen carpet business in Nepal, many followed it. When someone was earning well in baby-sitting in the US, even some highly-educated Tibetan ladies chose the profession. Recently many, especially women, opt for nursing and many men choose housekeeping. I am not discouraging these professions as all professions are honorable. My point is that we need diversity in our professions. More Tibetans pursue higher studies. They need right information and counselling. The Office of Tibet needs a Career Counselling Department in their complex for those who plan to pursue higher studies such as law, engineering, medicine, information technology, communication, journalism, and other services such as teaching, nursing, real estate, etc.

The new Tibetan immigrants face numerous problems in a new country with vastly different systems such as travel, asylum rules, family reunification, permanent residence, citizenship, school admission, business, health care, insurance, etc. We need a section in the Office of Tibet for organizing regular orientation for new Tibetan immigrants.

Many Tibetans from India, Nepal, and Tibet try their best to go to the United States or other Western countries. Many spend huge amounts of money for obtaining visas to these countries. We need to approach the concerned governments through some Tibet sympathizing congressmen for obtaining more legal immigrant visas. Chitues can organize seminars by inviting immigration attorneys in large cities such as New York, California, Toronto, or other places where large numbers of Tibetans reside. There are various legal immigration programs such as asylum, marriage, adoption, relative petition, religious, business and employment related visas. I am not encouraging the Tibetans in India or Nepal to leave their settlements.

Chitues should encourage Tibetan associations or other organisations to organize seminars on capital arrangement for starting small businesses. Many Tibetans normally look for better jobs, rather than exploring the possibility of starting a small business as even an illiterate Chinese immigrant would do. Building credit scores and understanding various loan programs for starting small business and home ownership are important. Buying or selling residential homes is also somewhat complicated. Information sessions could be arranged by using Tibetan real estate professionals scattered all over the North America for achieving American dreams. Even buying a car is not that simple. Our common people need to know about these choices.

What can we organise Tibet-related events/activities in the West?

I admire the Tibetans living in big cities participating in Tibet-related events or activities, sacrificing their working hours and even risking their jobs. But at many places where fewer Tibetans live in the Western countries, few events take place. The Chitues should encourage the Tibetans living in every corner of the world to observe such events in their respective town or city to create awareness of Tibet and the Tibetan issue. In this regard, Tibet awareness can be developed even among the colleagues at your work places.

The Chitues in the Western countries should try their best to contact as many state and national representatives as possible and garner their support for the Tibetan cause. They should mobilize support from professional groups. They should try to organize seminars and seek advice from politicians, lawyers, academicians, scholars, journalists, etc, and also from former CTA members, TYC, TWA, spiritual masters, youth leaders, intellectuals, etc.

Many Western people admire Tibetan values such as honesty, hard work, trustworthiness, etc. Individual Chitues should appeal to Tibetans in the West during gatherings to share Tibetan values in their work places, neighborhoods, schools, colleges/universities, etc. Encourage Tibetans to get involved in their community activities with their Western friends, such as joining parents associations, and eventually get elected to local civic posts and then gradually in the state and finally at the national level. Over the years more and more Tibetans are becoming naturalized citizens of their host countries.

It is important to win the hearts of the pro-democracy Chinese activists and others who are sympathetic to the Tibetans. Chitues should try to organize frequent interaction with them to build friendly relations by organizing inter-community seminars on various areas such as health, culture, Buddhism, and democracy.

Can we establish TCV-style Tibetan Private schools in the West?

Tibetans should explore the possibility of starting private Tibetan schools in the West. TCV-style schools with some deviation according to the legal aspect of the host countries are needed, especially at the places where a large number of Tibetans live. Starting a charter school is also not that complicated in the United States.

Some Tibetans have been running schools in Tibet. We should encourage individuals to open more schools in all the regions of Tibet. Also Chitues should encourage Tibetan parents in Tibet through various channels to try to send their children to TCV for their education if possible. It does not matter whether the educated youths remain in exile or return to Tibet after completion of their education.

Why is preserving and promoting Tibetan Language in the West important?

Language is the backbone of a nation. The Communist Chinese government is thoroughly destroying our language for a final extinction. We Tibetans in the West are neglecting our language, especially the parents. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has always put stress on speaking Tibetan language at home in the West. But I see many parents prefer speaking English with their children at home. Since parents are the best teacher to teach their children to speak Tibetan, Chitues should advise the parents from time to time to make sure that they speak Tibetan at home. Chitues should also encourage Tibetan associations, TYC or TWA or NGOs, to organise frequent Tibetan-language competitions both for spoken and written Tibetan. Rewards should be given to the particpants as well as the winners.  

The Chitues should also approach the Department of Education at Dharamshala or elsewhere and try to acquire or produce more learning materials in order to learn and improve the Tibetan language for youths, bringing more interesting reading materials, audio and video CDs for youth in the West for learning Tibetan.

The Office of Tibet organizes a summer program for the Tibetan children at TCV, Dharamshala, and Sarah every year over the last couple of years. The children learn numerous aspects of Tibet and the Tibetans. The program should be enhanced and for a longer period for more Tibetan children living in the Western countries. I sent my son for a Tibetan-language beginner course with great hardship, but the school did not provide a beginner Tibetan language program for him. Thus my son had to return to the States after wasting lots of money.

What world-renowned Tibetan Institutes in India do we need in the West?

Thanks to ex-TIPA artistes and many other talented Tibetan artistes, a large number of children in the West learn and take interest in Tibetan music and dances or other performing arts. Many groups, such as Chaksampa, are doing praiseworthy jobs. The Tibetan Administration should explore the possibility of establishing a Mobile-TIPA in the West like the Chinese community has in New York. They reach many states and major cities for life shows. This will help promote our rich cultural tradition and also arouse the awareness of our cause. Encourage all the Tibetan associations to arrange Tibetan music and dance classes for youths seeking help from ex-TIPA artistes and other talented volunteers.

Tibetan Institute of Medical Astro Instute at Dharamshala has become popular over the years, and people from all over the world consult our doctors. Moreover, the government of India has also given official recognition to the Tibetan medicine as Sowa Rigpa. At present Tibetan medicines can legally be used as food supplements in the United States. The Chitues from North America should approach political circles as well as bureaucratic authorities and seek due approval for a Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute in North America.

More and more Tibetans are getting old in the West. Persons who were 45 when they immigrated to US in 1993 are now senior citizens. We need senior homes designed to the spiritually-rooted Tibetan elders, such as a facility having living quarters, dining hall, recreation center, park, Buddhist shrine and stupa. Going round a stupa is good from spiritual as well as from health point of view as a physical exercise. Chithues should ask the Tibetan Administration to explore the possibility of establishing simple senior living facilities by seeking financial assistance from foundations and using their own Social Security and savings.

We need to establish a unified organisation of the former members of Special Frontier Force, Establishment 22, in India as well as in the West. Founding such organisations has several advantages. The personnel of this organisation are well trained in various fields such as leadership, physical fitness exercise, rock climbing, mountaineering, swimming, guerilla warfare, sports, security service, driving, etc. They are generally physically fit, hard working, and disciplined, to mobilize in an emergency relief work such as flood, earthquake, fire, etc. Most of them have become successful wherever they have settled after their discharge from SFF. Some of them became great community leaders, settlement heads, and Chitues. Who knows if a situation arises to fight for our independence, especially if the Chinese regime refuse to accept our Middle-Way Approach, we will be able to utilize the services of these compatriots again. I am not advocating for a military campaign now.

Older Tibetans should be encouraged to write about their lives, especially those Tibetans like me who were born, lived, and experienced their lives in independent Tibet. After the Chinese occupation, many changes have taken place in Tibet. Many Tibetans who were born and lived in Tibet after the Chinese occupation have not seen the traditional life of independent Tibet. People like me saw torture and persecution of parents and other Tibetans by the Communist Chinese regime and escaped Tibet at an early age, then experienced the hardship of a refugee life.  

We have plenty of literature on Tibetan history, but most of them mainly give the details of happenings in Yarlung Tsangpo valley or U (central) region of Tibet, and do not cover or lack local history such as my birthplace or your birthplace. We have numerous oral histories of various regions of Tibet but most of them are not put in writing. This kind of life story of an individual will be of great help to Tibetan historians. I changed my profession several times such as military, teaching, school administration, office staff, restaurant management, youth leadership, broadcasting journalism, management, translation, US postal service, real estate, sales, and business owner. I want to share the basic requirements of those jobs, and hope that would be helpful to those who need the information.

Can we preserve our identity by establishing Tibet Towns in the West?

The most exciting and visionary idea for a Chithue and Sikyong should be to explore the possibility of establishing Tibet Towns in large countries such as United States, Canada, Australia, France, and other countries where large number of Tibetans reside. The Tibetan Administration or Tibetan entrepreneurs could buy a large tract of land over several hundreds or even a thousand acres of land, not far away from a large city. There are vacant lands for sale for a few thousand dollars an acre in some parts of the United States. Same should be in Australia or Canada or other big countries. The land thus procured could be divided into plots of a quarter of an acre or even less and then sold among desirous persons. Architectural designers, developers, builders, realtors could be convened for a feasibility study.

The infrastructure in the Tibet town should be generally self-reliant and self-employing Tibetan community, having numerous facilities such as a Palace for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a Rimey (non-sectarian) Tibetan Monastery, schools, child care centers, medical clinics, libraries, culture centers, entertainment units, sports facilities, restaurants, guest houses, handicraft centers, gift stores, grocery stores, gas stations, laundry, and parks.

In fact, I had submitted a gist of such an idea to Mr Tashi Wangdu, the former representative of HH the Dalai Lama in the US, when he visited North Carolina in 2007 to explore the possibility of a future visit of HH the Dalai Lama to some of the large universities. During that time, we had a dinner with the small Tibetan community and our supporters at an Indian restaurant, during which I presented the idea to Representative Tashi Wangdu la. He appreciated my idea. At that time there was talk about immigration of a large number of Tibetans from Nepal, and he said that he would be convening a meeting of the Tibetan associations in the US, and he would invite me during the meeting and I could share my idea during the meeting. But the meeting never took place and talk of an immigration program was also not materialized, perhaps due to the Nepal government’s refusal to grant exit permits to the Tibetan refugees.

Conclusion

The above-mentioned points are some of my ideas for inclusion in the Manifesto of a Chitue or Sikyong candidate, whether written or in thought. I know some of the candidates have announced elaborate programs, whereas others have not disclosed yet. My warmest greetings to all the enthusiastic candidates as well as passive candidates. Tashi Delek!

Ngawang Choechen
North Carolina, US

17 December 2020

Profile

The contributor holds M.A, B.Ed, and Diploma in Tibetan Language from Panjab University, Chandigarh. Has served in Special Frontier Force. Later served as an English Teacher in schools in India including TCV Senior School, Dharamshala. Also served as headmaster and Principal of Tibetan High schools in Nepal. Worked in the Office of Central Executive Committee of TYC, Dharamshala. Has served as President of Regional TYC, Kathmandu, and also New York & New Jersey. While in Nepal, worked as a Radio journalist for Voice of Tibet, Norway. After immigration to the United States, he served as an Executive Director of New York Tibetan Alliance in New York, and also Tibetan-American Foundation of Minnesota. Currently he is a realtor and owns a Tibetan gift shop in North Carolina. He can be reached at [email protected]

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