Tibetan refugees find home away from home

Kathmandu, May 27:

The Tibetan refugees, who left their homeland following a failed uprising against the Chinese invasion around half a century ago for greener pastures, are now well settled here. They came here with few material possessions save some flour and dry meat. Over the years, though they found success in all walks of life, they are still afraid to reveal their true ethnic identity for growing fear of persecution.

Each refugee has a fascinating tale to narrate. Kamlote, 78, who has taken Nepali citizenship, is one of them. He lives in Swoyambhu, which is predominantly a Buddhist dominated locality.

Kamlote looks back in wonder to that historic night when he, like thousands of others, fled Tibet, leaving his near and dear ones to an uncertain future.

“I was around 28. That night chilly wind was blowing. My mother handed me a packet of flour of dry meat of Yak. I had around 500 Yuan on me. I left my home around 3 in the morning. My three siblings were still deep in slumber. I sneaked into Solukhumbu district in Nepal via the border at Dumshi Hewang along with three my friends,” he reminisces.

It took him a good 21 days of arduous travel to reach Kathmandu. Since then, he has moved back and forth to various refugee camps in Himachal Pradesh in India and Tanahun, Hiletar and Chhorepatan in Nepal to eke out an existence. Later, he got married to a Tibetan, who had a Nepali citizenship. The move helped him get his bearing right amid a deep-seated feeling of being uprooted.

Kamlote is an epitome of a Tibetan refugee, who has been struggling to come to terms with his life after abandoning his motherland. Nepal has evolved into one of main refuges for the displaced folks. A majority of them has adapted to the Nepali way of life as well.

Since the Chinese took over Tibet, the latter has made rapid strides in all spheres. Despite the all-round growth and prosperity, Tibetans continue to trickle into Nepal with unflinching regularity.

Degi Dolkhar explains. “I could never imagine such big houses in my dreams. I even own one now. I came to Nepal because the Chinese police never allowed us to put a portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We were ordered to adorn our walls with Mao Tse Tung’s pictures,” he says.

Kamlote agrees. “The Chinese police don’t allow us to stay in the monastery. They claim that they will provide us with better education. But those who have taken up that tempting offer have never been seen again. Nepal is tolerant to our religious belief and culture,” he reasons.

Having lived here for so long, many have opted for Nepali citizenship. Perhaps, it’s easier for them to stay here and fight for Free Tibet cause. Namge, who came here for better education facilities and a secured future, is married to a local Rita Subba, and subsequently acquired a Nepali citizenship. Many others have opted for Angikrit — a temporary citizenship.

Jhyam Paling, who was born in Kuti, Tibet, narrates a heart wrenching tale. He left Kham at the age of 20, abandoning his wife and child. Since then, life has been a roller-coaster ride for him. Initially, he reached Assam in north-eastern India and entered Nepal via Mustang. He now lives in a makeshift camp Swoyambhu. “If I get an opportunity to go back, then I shall look for my family,” he says.

Tashi Funchoo, too, left behind his family at the tender age of 12. He now lives in Jawlakhel in Lalitpur. He says that he is happy to be here since he can practice his religion sans any social sanction and educate his children as well.

“But, I’m highly confused as and when I think about my identity. I’m a nowhere man. I had been to Kodarai around 25 years ago to get a glimpse of Khasa,” he reminisces.

While, Tshering Norbu —now a Jawlakhel resident — has been Nepal for the past 50 years. Though he has a means of livelihood — he runs a restaurant — he still does not have a citizenship card.

“I’m living without an identity card, which is one of the most important things that a human being needs,” he regrets.

“Nine thousand and forty eight Tibetans entered Nepal in 2048 BS. While, in 2058 BS that figure went up to 15,000. Last year, as many as 1,660 came to our country via various routes. Most of them were aged between 15 and 30,” says Dr Ram Bahadur Chettri, a research scholar.

Namge came here in 2053 BS at the age of four. He made his way to Samdyling Monastery in Boudha. His mother urged fellow travellers to take care of the toddler son that he could get a glimpse of his Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Namge, now a young and energetic youth, vows to liberate Tibet from the clutches of China. He has comrade-in-arms — all members of the Tibetan Youth Congress — to realise the cherished dream.

“Unfortunately, the number of Tibetans, who support the Free Tibet cause, is only 20 per cent. The rest are all in favour of His Holiness Dalai Lama’s policy of an autonomous state with religious and cultural freedom,” says Nawang Gyasto.

Though it has been 50 years since the failed uprising took place, the Tibetan refugees continue to seek shelter in neighbouring countries Nepal, India and Bhutan in large numbers.

Incidentally, there is no official figure available about the exact number of Tibetan refugees in Nepal. Guesstimate suggests that it would be more than two lakhs. Many of them have relocated to India to pursue their cherished goal — a meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

How do the refugees plan to sustain the Free Tibet movement? According to Chiniya Lama Ganesh Vajra, the Tibetans raise funds from countries, which run offices, opened by the representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to help the cause. At a conservative estimate, there are 15 such offices around the world.

“Our government has no concern about where the funds come from and what is objective of building so many monasteries,” adds Dr Chettri.

An armed force of the Khampas, led by Wangdi Lama, tried to attack Tibet via Mustang in 2031 BS. But the vigilant Nepali Army thwarted the move. Perhaps, this incident made the government, which has adopted One China Policy, wake up to the Tibetan refugees’ aspirations. Undaunted, the Tibetans continue to take on the establishment with renewed fervour for the sake of Free Tibet.