Demographic survey shows exile Tibetan exodus to West

Chief Planning Officer of Central Tibetan Administration Kunchok Tsundue during an interview with Tibet Sun on 17 December 2019.

Chief Planning Officer of Central Tibetan Administration Kunchok Tsundue during an interview with Tibet Sun on 17 December 2019. Tibet Sun/Lobsang Wangyal

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.

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