“I look at myself in a full length mirror, not once but twice and I see a void… Nothing, not a thing. Am I really invisible? Exiledom is a process of being made less a person than a non-person.”
-Gullerino Crabera Infante (a Tibetan refugee)
My intrigue and admiration for Tibetan people started with my interaction with a few of them at a sweater bazar (http://promenadeforyou.blogspot.in/2013/03/tibetans-in-exile.html). From then on, any news concerning the refugees from Tibet or Indian confrontations with China or His Holiness Dalai Lama’s peace plans has always caught my attention, almost instinctively. I read and followed many sites and books on the issue but one of the amazing works of note is by Ms/ Mrs (I’m not sure) Honey Oberoi Vahali. She is an Associate Professor at Department of Psychology, Delhi University. She has compiled and analyzed stories that date back to at least 3-5 decades back when the very lovely people of Tibet had to flee from their homes, leaving their hearts behind. The book, LIVES IN EXILE: Exploring the Inner world of Tibetan Refugees, is a heart wrenching collection of real stories of people who have faced severe inhumanities and troubles and who, despite all the wrath didn’t succumb to death. Instead, they gathered courage and fought for their rights. One cannot ignore noticing that they are still fighting for their cause but peacefully and this makes their fight special.
It amazes me how, after the extreme level of difficulties, torture and inhuman behavior these people had to face; they have still chosen the path of non-violence and peace. Buddhism is a very strong religion, I must say. It teaches you to forgive and be at peace with your body and soul, because unless that happens; you will never be able to forgive your own tormentors. While reading the book, I came across stories of ladies, who were raped repeatedly and not allowed to have a bath or change clothes for 11 years! (How long is that? Ever wondered?) Every month when they had menstrual bleeding, they let their blood flow to ground and kept wearing the same clothes, didn’t wash and kept living in filth and dirt. I came across stories of men who were paraded naked and were given electric shocks but the unity of Tibetan people didn’t give way. These people were fighting for a bigger cause, for freedom from exile, for freedom of life. When His Holiness seeked refuge in India, many Tibetans followed. Indian government allotted places in Manali, Dharamsala and Mcleodganj to them and they started re-building their lives here. But when life is harsh and struggle-some, God is bound to take more merciless decisions. Initially people were kind and helpful but with time, the sense of having helped for much longer than expected has peeped in. Troubles have started brewing in the lush green and peaceful valley of Himachal and Tibetans have nostalgically started feeling uprooted once again. When you live in a place for more than 4 decades, when you have seen your children growing and getting married at a place, you make it your home, another home. The Tibetans still struggle for food, to keep hunger at bay, to educate their children but for them, life is here.
While the old Tibetans, who have faced the cruelties first-hand, are still in turmoil inside, they say the younger generations have become materialistic. They are more interested in mobiles, bikes and brands and less interested in knowing about the struggles of their forefathers. Although many young and active volunteers like Tenzin Tsundae, and people from TYC (Tibetan Youth Congress) have come up with foundations and charities which work extensively for the cause of freedom from exile, the more common ones still look detached. This hurts the elderly who still have nightmares about getting raped, about being paraded naked, about being tortured by inserting things into their vagina/ anus, about their nails being chipped by bamboo fine sticks and about being hungry for ages. Those who have seen the nightmarish days have set up schools and institutes (Norbulingkar Institute, Tibetan Children Villages, TIPA, etc.) to protect their heritage, arts and culture.
Mcleodganj, a small hamlet in Himachal Pradesh is a savior of sorts. It is home to 3 sets of uprooted people- Gaddis (refugee Muslims), Tibetans (people from Tibet/Lhasa) and the local Dharamsala people (from Sind). I feel proud of the fact that we have provided homes to the uprooted but the recent news of upheavals in the valley, about clashes between local people and refugees, pains me enormously. Although I understand that where 3 sets of cultures and people mix, languages mix, co-existence becomes tough but at the same time, I believe that sheltering and helping is the best form of mankind. If we lose hope and heart, lives will go haywire. I am not a Tibetan, neither do I live in any of the places around their settlements but I feel very strongly for the people who have lost their homes, their parents, their children and their lives. Physical torments heal with time but what remains are the scratches on heart and mind. Psychological wounds never heal, their pain subsides but when the pain is excruciating even after decades, it calls for help, it calls for fight; fight for freedom from the clutches of foreign powers. As children from young times, we have seen none of it; no wars, no fights for freedom, no impoverishment, no tortures but education has opened me up to a plethora of dark realities in existence.
Sometimes I wonder, if even in 21st century we have a scope of world war 3 (Ukraine and Russia), scope for slavery and exile; then what worth is education? When we seem to touch the highest pinnacles of technology, these sinful mishappenings pull us back and throw us on the ground. It’s high time for a reality check! I and you will never experience what people have had; neither can we ever wash away the permanent markers of agony. We cannot understand what hanging between namelessness and homelessness means. I don’t know how I could help but I’m sure I’ll find ways. Till I find the right channels I can at least spread the word and do something meaningful of my education and life.
As I wrap this up, I would quote the voice of a hurt, wounded lady from the refugee camp-
“The one who keeps hoping in the face of a hopeless situation suffers much more than the one who no longer hopes…”