By Lobsang Wangyal
McLEOD GANJ, India, 18 December 2019
The demographic landscape of the Tibetans in exile has drastically changed, with more than half the population shown by survey to have moved from India to Western countries.
After the Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India to set up his government-in-exile, followed by some 80,000 Tibetans from 1959 to 1960 over the Himalayas. A second wave between 1980 and 1990s significantly added to that figure, to become 150,000 Tibetans outside Tibet.
Today, an estimated seven million Tibetans live in Chinese-occupied Tibet, in an area of 2.5 million square kilometres.
According to the CTA demographic survey of 2009, there were 94,203 Tibetans in India, 13,514 in Nepal, 1,298 in Bhutan, and 18,999 in the rest of the world, scattered in 27 countries, mostly Western countries.
Kunchok Tsundue, Chief of the Planning Commission of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), confirming the demographic changes to Tibet Sun, said the number of Tibetans has reduced drastically in India.
Due to the exodus, many schools are now on the verge of closing, and 70% of the cultivable land is lying waste, and the number of Tibetans is likely to further reduce in the coming years, he said.
Tsundue’s office has been conducting the demographic survey for year 2019 for the past year. “We have collected all the data, which needs time to process. After fine-tuning them, we will get the Cabinet’s approval for announcement.”
Searching for better economic opportunities is the main reason for the population movement, followed by educational facilities, explained Tsundue.
“Moving to the West has gained exposure and economic growth, but these are not necessarily useful for the Tibetan movement for a free Tibet, and the education they receive is all Western-value oriented.”
There are constraints and challenges for Tibetans in India, but also great opportunities, he added.
“We have a strong base for the Tibetan movement in India. There are 45 settlements, 65 schools, 220 monasteries in an area of 25,000 acres of land given by the Government of India.”
He argued that mere economic gains are not enough for the Free Tibet movement and to keep the Tibetan culture alive. “All that’s needed for a strong movement could be built in India, and the Tibetan-ness could be retained here, with the environment and the infrastructure that’s already there in India.”
However, he admitted that a lot needs to be done. “CTA need to create better opportunities and programmes to sustain the Tibetan community in India, and at the same time make a strategy for those who are already in the US and Europe.”
“Our fear is the new generation of Tibetans growing up in the West. Weekend language classes and occasional gatherings are not enough to preserve our culture and the Tibetan movement. We have to even think of bigger Tibetan clusters with schools and other facilities, to create that environment, like in India, so that they could be raised as Tibetan in a good sense, who could carry the baton forward.”
Speaking about the data-collection process, Tsundue regretted that many in the Western countries were indifferent to participate, and even those who came forward were half-hearted. “Those who didn’t participate felt that they are now a citizen of another country.”
“We need the data to make the right strategies on different issues. We have a rough idea, but it’s not the complete picture.”
He said the final record would be made public some time in March next year.
Even without exact statistics, it is obvious almost more than half the population from India and Nepal had already moved to the West, especially to the US and European countries. Most of those who moved are from the settlements so there are lots of vacant houses and lands unused. Why don’t Nangsi take away those and allot them to the newly-arrived Tibetans from Tibet, instead of building new houses for them in Bir, Dehra Dun, and even in Bylakuppe settlement?
Simply it is not an issue of scarcity but wise use of already available houses and lands in India and Nepal.
Another thing, lots of unused school buildings in India and Nepal may be used as retirement homes for those who worked for years in CTA and Tibetan schools.
These are just suggestions but it all depends on actual situation on the ground.
Where are the new numbers to support the headline? Disappointed not to find any new data in the article from the latest survey. Eagerly waiting for the new numbers, and then we can talk about the changes since the 2009 data.
I am an American. But because of HH Dalai Lama and HH Karmapa I now have a strong determination to learn the Buddha’s teachings. So my aspiration is clear, to be reborn where the undiluted dharma is still taught. And that would mean to enter a monastery or other institution in India or Tibet or wherever a Nalanda education is still extant.
So for the record: there are Westerners who wish to emigrate (in this life or the next) in the opposite direction.
If India perhaps would give citizenship to Tibetans, and they could be free to own land and get a bank loan and other rights that people living in a country for years have, then perhaps they would feel less of a pull to leave. It’s so difficult living there, being married to my husband. I prefer to stay in India with him and our friends, but I also have no status because he’s in exile. So we are trying to get him to the West. I just want him to be able to be with Tibetans and have his culture, and our culture.
I think it’s a very sad situation. Before the thousand Tibetans were accepted by the US Government, there were hardly any Tibetans who considered migrating to the West. We had resigned ourselves to our fate in India. As the thousand-group Tibetans departed to the US in early nineties, the notion of going to the West gained momentum. Those who had relatives in the West sent money and the families in India were able to install hot water or rebuild their dilapidated houses or even build new ones. This made everybody think that there was money to be made in the West and improve the quality of their lives. The trickle soon became a deluge and so it came to pass that given the chance, most Tibetans would love to go to the West. In the frenzy of immigrating to the West, our monasteries became empty, our schools and in fact whole camps became virtually empty of young people!
I believe there is also an underlying reason behind the exodus. Many fear, that the day HH The Dalai Lama is no more, we will be orphaned, and what might really happen in the aftermath is driving Tibetans to seek a more secure environment for their future as well as their children. India has been our saviour, but their patience might wear thin someday. The relationship between Tibetans and the locals has sometimes shown a growing fatigue against Tibetans and the goodwill is perhaps dissipating among some locals. Besides, India’s policy towards Tibet has been ambivalent to say the least. The fear of the unknown post-Dalai Lama, I believe is what is driving the Tibetans to the West. India’s policy towards the Tibetans can change, since India will work for its own national interest and will not be constrained by Tibetans. These factors have made many Tibetans jittery of remaining in a limbo and opting to leave for greener pastures.
Lately there are lot of discussions about providing shelter and homes to newly-arrived Tibetans. With the dwindling number of these newcomers, it is high time there should be discussion about children that are born outside the purview of settlement and also whose parents are not from Tibet. These are mostly the children of those Tibetan parents who have worked informally or formally for various CTA offices, NGOs, monasteries, and schools. Once retired, these children have no where to go as home. They have neither a home that they can claim or shichak to go back. It’s time that CTA provide for these children if there is ample space in the settlements.
Once my parent retired and moved into retirement home, that’s when I realized we have basically no home. I was able to leave India and start my life in the West, but I am sure there are hundreds of these children still out there in India. A discussion about their welfare would do justice to the service provided by these very individuals who stick with the community during what we call the “dark time”.