PARIS, France, 20 August 2018
I am writing about the relationship of Tibetans taking Indian citizenship and the shortage of housing for Tibetans who have recently arrived from Tibet.
My argument is essentially that first, Tibetans should be encouraged to take citizenship if that affords them a brighter future than Tibetan refugee camps. And secondly, given that those entitled to Indian citizenship are Tibetans belonging to the first wave of immigration in 1960s, the housing provided by Indian government can be vacated, and given to homeless Tibetans. This, I believe, is the right thing to do, morally and tactically.
In the Tibetan refugee settlements spread across South India, ever since the 1990s large numbers of Tibetan houses are coming vacant as young people move to the West. The settlements are drying up, with a scattering of old people sitting about spinning prayer wheels in the sun. And there is no sign of more recent arrivals from Tibet. In Dharamshala, about 10,000 Tibetans have immigrated to the West. A large number of houses are empty because the children have left — but what is done with these properties? Nothing.
A recent documentary on YouTube had me in tears of anger. A group of Tibetans — destitute, drug-addicted, and deprived of family or home — are sleeping in the cemetery at the edge of McLeod Ganj. They have no running water. They drink from a germ-infested creek flowing beneath the premises. They have no food to eat, no clothes to wear, no home. They used to sleep on the streets of McLeod Ganj, but were exiled to the cemetery by a Tibetan Welfare Office staff member.
Then there is the group of pariahs, often called sanjors (“new arrivals”) in a denigrating tone, who are the most visible refugee minority in the Tibetan diaspora due to their poverty, heavy regional accents, and lack of knowledge of both English and Hindi. I would say Lukar Jam is the most successful and dignified among this particular social group. These people eke out a living selling bread and laphing in the dusty streets, and in the evenings, they return to ramshackle houses rented from Indian landlords. The sanjors are unable to rent from Tibetan landlords in McLeod Ganj because the rent charged is too high!
Tibetan Immigration to the West
It is no secret that many Tibetans in India are working hard to move to the West. Sikyong estimates 50% of the exile population will be settled in the West by 2020. Currently, nearly 40,000 Tibetans have emigrated from the Tibetan refugee camps in India — from Bylakyupee, Hunsur, Dharamshala, Bir, Manali, you name it. Immigration to the West is a goal cherished by old settlement people and new arrivals alike. But there is one crucial difference: The former have their properties leased to them by Indian government. And those properties are empty.
No new arrivals from Tibet
The number of Tibetans arriving from Tibet has dropped significantly in the 2000s. The reasons are multi-faceted, including the tighter restrictions by China on travel in the border areas. However, after conversations with people who have visited Tibet, and with new arrivals in India and the West, the Tibetan sanjor group share a common feeling that they have been let down by exiled Tibetans after escaping the Chinese. A Tibetan comes to India with his family with no job and no money. One would expect CTA to look after them — but far from it. They are basically ignored. A monk Chithue said in March 2018 that CTA doesn’t look after sanjors or new arrivals at all.
Viewed from such prevailing conditions, we cannot pretend that the cold reception we Indian Tibetans give to new arrivals has not deeply disappointed them.
Clashes in the Parliament
It is well-known that our Parliament is a de facto multi-party entity. There is the party of sanjors (comprised of people from Kham, and supported by 95% of the new arrivals) whose key members include the late Karma Choephel, Ogyen Topgyal Rinpoche, Juchen Kunchok, and Monlam Tharchin. This is also the party of Rangzen.
The other is the party of the “old settlers” (comprised of U-Tsang people and Amdowas). They follow the Middle Path, speak in Lhasa dialect, and listen to Hindi songs.
Conflict among the two parties erupts both in Parliament and in society. I don’t need to elucidate further — materials are aplenty on YouTube. But let me give you one example of the tension between the groups. In Switzerland, old settlement people and new arrivals hardly ever mix socially, and view each other with mutual suspicion and contempt. Later, I heard that there had been a number of cases where a settlement person was reported to the Switzerland government by sanjors in acts of revenge.
Now, my warning is — what if this trend of reporting false asylum claims to Western government picks up momentum? This will absolutely blow our exile community to pieces. At the core is the clash of two forces. And there is a deep resentment among the late-comers. A form of apology or reconciliation from the old settlement people to the new arrivals is needed soon if further division is to be stopped.
A way forward: Housing re-allocation
Now, coming back to the key topic of vacant houses in Tibetan settlements: My suggestion is that CTA should reclaim vacant properties, and use them to house homeless people and new arrivals. New arrivals struggle to afford rent when they have no source of income. On the other hand, from Dharamshala to Bylakupee, there are hundreds of vacant properties or empty rooms in larger houses, that are sitting locked up.
The feeling in the air is that the Tibetan movement is dead as of 2018. Tibetans in India are either taking Indian citizenship, or moving abroad to make their lives — and this is a fact, we can’t pretend otherwise. And it’s also in the air, that the Dalai Lama could return to Tibet in three or four years, as an individual, with no mention of Middle-Way Policy blurb whatsoever.
In such an era of confusing and dramatic developments, we can do one sensible thing: Let all Tibetans take Indian citizenship who desire to do so. And CTA should take back their property associated with their prior refugee status, and re-distribute it to Tibetan refugees who are on Yellow Book.
And a question is — why don’t kind-hearted Tibetans invite homeless Tibetans into their homes when they have a room empty because the elder son went to America? During the 2016 refugee crisis in Europe, Injis from France to England welcomed Syrian refugees into their own homes, and sheltered them. Why can’t Tibetans do the same for fellow Tibetans?
If they cannot, why can’t President Lobsang Sangay take a survey of vacant properties in Tibetan settlements, and discuss re-allocation of dwellings with Indian Home Minister Kiren Rijiju?
I believe our Sikyong Lobsang Sangay will read this, and do something. It is deeply troubling how we Tibetans treat our own brothers and sisters.
About the author
Dhundup Tsering is an asylum seeker now in France.