By Lobsang Wangyal
McLEOD GANJ, India, 31 March 2018
Under the blue sky of a warm and sunny spring day, guests arrived at Tsuglakhang temple to rousing music from the artistes of the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts. They came to attend the “Thank You India” event in the heart of the Tibetan Diaspora in McLeod Ganj.
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, India’s Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma, members of Indian Parliament Shanta Kumar and Satyavrat Chaturvedi, BJP leader Ram Madhav, and Himachal Pradesh food minister Kishan Kapoor were guests at the event. All the officials of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) attended the function, as well as exile Tibetans, supporters, and school children, numbering a few thousand.
The event was held to thank the people and government of India for hosting about 90,000 exile Tibetan people for the last 60 years.
It was a low-key affair about which Sangay remarked that the point was not the size of the event or who attends. The low-key tone was matched by a wrinkled backdrop and a badly-functioning sound system. The Dalai Lama’s speech couldn’t be heard properly by the audience.
It was on this day in 1959 that the Dalai Lama set foot in India as a refugee. In his speech at the event he said, “I fled Tibet under difficult circumstances. At the time, we had no idea what would happen in the next 40 to 50 years. But today, we are commemorating 60 years in exile. Now we could see to a certain extent what would happen in the near future,” the Dalai Lama said, without elaborating.
The Dalai Lama presented an Ashok chakra to the Culture Minister of India Mahesh Sharma as a memento of gratitude for India’s help.
He said that India and Tibet have a teacher and disciple relationship. Tibetans call India “the land of Noble ones” and look upon India with reverence, exemplifying the strong bond between Tibet and India.
During the ceremonies the Dalai Lama embraced Naren Chandra Das who was one of the five Indian soldiers who escorted the Dalai Lama on his arrival in Arunachal Pradesh after his escape from Tibet in 1959. Das, now 80, was then serving in the Assam Rifles regiment. The Dalai Lama is 82.
The Government of India had recently issued an advisory directing its leaders and officials to stay away from the event being organised by the Central Tibetan Administration, citing a “sensitive time” of relations between India and China. But in a U-turn the Government of India sent the Culture Minister as their representative to the event.
Minister Sharma in a carefully thought-out speech said that India supports the Dalai Lama’s wish to return to Tibet. “When it’s an issue of relations between India and Tibet, there is no need for a thank you. The word refugee is painful, you are our friends and guests in India.
“There is no doubt that we Indians are committed to serve the Tibetans.”
Ram Madhav, General Secretary of the ruling BJP, said that India has always welcomed different communities with open hands and an open heart.
“We know the life of a refugee is very tough… We hosted many people in trouble. India always welcomes those in difficulty with open arms and an open heart.
“Friends, we don’t want to use the word refugee [for you]. This is your land. At the most, you are in exile and Tibet is waiting for you.”
But he clarified India’s stand on Tibet by saying, “From Jawaharlal Nehru to Prime Minister Modi, the Government in India have followed one-China policy.”
President of CTA Lobsang Sangay in a forceful speech said, “It’s been 60 years since China’s illegal invasion and occupation of Tibet. Sixty years of destruction of Tibetan civilisation, culture and identity. Sixty years of killing, torture and arbitrary arrests. Thousands and thousands of Tibetans have been killed, and have died for the cause of Tibet. Many have burned themselves alive. Sixty years of China’s mass exploitation of our precious natural resources.
He said that China’s claim of turning Tibet into a “socialist paradise” is only propaganda, and the actual situation is very different.
Sangay explained that weeks before the Dalai Lama’s flight to India, the Dalai Lama had three dreams. The first one was of bloodshed. And soon after, during the invasion of Tibet and the occupation by Chinar, as many as a million Tibetans died.
The Dalai Lama’s second dream was about meeting people wearing white clothing. Indeed, after arriving in India, the Dalai Lama met Indians wearing white clothing. He also met with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajendra Prasad wearing white kurta.
In his third dream the Dalai Lama was in a room in the Potala Palace, filled with light, reunited with Tibetans in their country Tibet.
Sangay said that the first two dreams came true by karmic design, and the third dream will also come true. “We, the Tibetan people, with the support of our friends in India and around the world, must rededicate ourselves and strengthen our efforts to make His Holiness’ dream, his return to the Potala Palace, a reality,” Sangay added.