CHENNAI, India, 7 February 2014
Despite more than 50 long years of struggle on the world stage for the freedom of the Tibetan people and nation, few people see us Tibetans with our true identity. There are constant incidents of local Indians confusing us other peoples, with questions like, “Are you from Manipur?”, “Are you from Nepal?”.
At one point while working in Sutherland Global Services, a BPO company based in Chennai, my colleague asked me. “Are you from Nagaland?” I replied “No, I am not from Nagaland. I am from Tibet”. He then asked in a different tone, “Which state is that in India?” In dead shock I asked him, “How many states are there in India that start their name with ‘T’ besides Tamil Nadu?” (The decision on Telangana was yet to come then.) He couldn’t come out with a reply. I asked him then. “Have you ever heard about a country called ‘Tibet’?” He replied “No”. Having not been able to think of any state called “Tibet”, he asked me again “then where is it?”
I was so disheartened that my host country, that gave me everything I am having right now, didn’t even have an inkling of an idea about my own country.
My thinking is that it is important to take responsibility to explain about Tibet to whomever you are with, to establish your Tibetan identity wherever you are.
Through the web I showed my colleague where Tibet is, and photos of our leader, His Holiness Dalai Lama. The moment he saw His Holiness’ pictures he said “Oh this is your leader; I have heard a lot about him”. Then my mind began to question, how come this guy had never heard about Tibet, when he has heard about His Holiness the Dalai Lama?!
I used to tell my colleagues the tragic stories about Tibet and the problem between Tibet and Chinese Communist government. But little did they care except for a few sympathetic words they would offer me.
Indians would often ask me about my family and when I told them I haven’t seen my family for more than a decade they would look at each other’s faces in disbelief.
During my 18-month stint in Sutherland Global Service, I have made a mark about the existence of not only Tibet but its struggle for national survival. People there would now believe that any person joining the company with the name “Tenzin” would be a Tibetan. I can’t make a mark in the company to garner their support in our cause against China, but I could at least make them feel that there is an identity called “Tibetan” which is struggling to retain its past glory.
However, in Quscient Technology where I worked for a short stint, they know well about Tibet and even had a Tibetan student who had worked there before.
When I replied to an interviewer’s query, that I am from Tibet, she said “Oh you are from Tibet, tell me something about your journey to India” — clearly knowing about Tibet quite well. Though it was an interview to assess my speaking level and pronunciation in English, I really loved the opportunity to talk about my journey to India. I told the whole story, and later was told to wait for another interview, the final to decide my employment. I was really happy that I was able to tell something about a Tibetan boy’s journey to India before even I took the floor in the office.
Our identity and struggle for freedom is the chief reason why there are so many associations and branches of Tibetan Youth Congress or Tibetan Women’s Association in India and elsewhere. We must individually take responsibility in parallel with our personal and professional lives to retain the identity of Tibet, not only depending on HH the Dalai Lama and the Government in exile. In particular, TYC, TWA, and other organisations of Tibet, including TSAM in Chennai, have extra responsibility in working towards our goal.
Lately I have been a bit disheartened to see the dwindling nature and structure of Tibetan student’s activism in the colleges. Everyone is so concerned with their private lives that students won’t even come for the rare meetings held to chalk out activities for Tibet-identity related events.
During my college years at Madras Christian College in Chennai, I spent as much time with Tibetan Student Association, Madras (TSAM) as being a student. I pursued under-graduate and post-graduate studies along with my involvement with TSAM as member, Public Relations Officer, and President. I learned about political science from college, while I got practice by working in the association.
TSAM was founded in 1993 by young Tibetan college students in Chennai — the most prominent of whom was Mr Tenzin Tsundue, then a young English department student from Loyola College.
At one point, a meeting of TSAM had much smaller attendance than formerly, and a sad statement by one of the absent students was: “What difference will it make if I don’t attend?”
Membership in TSAM, and most probably any other organisation, is voluntary. However, you should always owe allegiance to our struggle wherever you are. When you are in Chennai, you work under TSAM as its member because it represents Tibetan identity in Chennai. I feel that by refusing to join the association in TSAM (or anywhere else, be it Chandigarh, Delhi or Baroda) you are shying away from responsibility.
If we remember, New Delhi and Chandigarh were once the centres of young student activism. Bangalore has a history of once being the hotspot for student activities. Students took pride in joining the Tibetan student associations to protect their identity in those days.
Even more, as I went through the old records and books that were piled in the Tibetan Pavilion Library at Auroville, I was deeply surprised to see a very beautifully-printed magazine of TSAM filled with photos of academic as well as political-social activities by then student leaders, Dhardon Sharling, Wangdue, and Chodhar, and industrious works put up by its founders. I have no hesitation in admitting that regardless of what our first generations of Tibetan Diasporas have in their mind, the responsibility for the future struggle of Tibet is thrown to us, and therefore their hopes lie in us.
I once heard (don’t know if true or not), that the late Dr Dawa Norbu, a well-known professor of International Studies in JNU and a prolific writer, used to learn each word from a book keeping in mind the Chinese enemy. Each word learned is like another Chinese eliminated from Tibet. I think we must have that determination and consistency from the heart and brain of each one of us.
The clock is still ticking from the moment Tibet was invaded and Dalai Lama was exiled. We can’t afford to waste our resources and energies in just Facebooking, playing with modern gadgets, and roaming around … or paying lakhs of rupees to unknown sources to get a way out to abroad. I am totally not against these movements of our people to foreign countries, but we must have a sense of presence of nationalism which is clearly lacking these days.
It is important for the families in exile to teach and cultivate a sense of Tibetanism or Tibetan nationalism while coping with their professional lives.
We came to India in 1959, not to settle in India or America or Europe, but with a firm promise and determination to go back and claim our motherland. This mustn’t be forgotten. The responsibility of national struggle lies in every person who has Tibetan blood, wherever you are. His Holiness can’t do it by himself.
I don’t give a damn about any other country’s policy towards Tibet, as no country will act without national interest in their mind. Let us bring back the lost glorious revolutionary activism of past young bloods. We need to wake up; study like you may not see your books or colleges tomorrow, and energise yourself with the blood of Tibetan nationalism. I know that the world has become too small and distracting for us to fight the Chinese imperialism — but if we don’t fight, who will?
About the author
Tenzin P Pamnor is an M Phil Research Scholar, Political Science Department, at Madras Christian College. He was the President of Tibetan Students Association, Madras (TSAM) between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013.