Tsultrim Chokden and the Melancholic Tale

By Lhundup Gyatso Zotsang / Nov. 9, 2015

In light of how a gang of three local Gaddis (Indian tribes residing in Dharmsala, north India)
Following Tsultrim Chokden's death, local Tibetans in
Dharamshala held candle light vigil,
calling for justice for the deceased. 
murdered an innocent Tibetan youth for fun at McLeod Ganj around midnight of October 31, it patently dawned upon me how fragile and precarious life is for someone to live without a country. I was tossing and turning all that night as if all my sense of sleep had also been murdered by those local hoodlums. Well, being a Tibetan refugee I also underwent all possible hardships such as facing the demise of my dearest parents all alone against all my hopes that one good day I would be bale to meet them. Having said that, never did I feel so broken in consciousness like this time. I am sure Tsultrim’s tragic demise in addition to the fact that his mother has been looking forward to his return by counting days on her fingers has amplified the pains in all hearts of Tibetans beyond expression. Nevertheless, what baffles me most, as a matter of fact, is that do the Tibetan refugees really deserve such transgressions from our long-time-friend Indians? Let’s jot down some facts.

 After dinned at Lhasa Restaurant, Tsultrim Chokden, in his late 20s, accompanied his female compatriot to her home at Amdo Village. When they were walking past the Tibetan Settlement Office on Bhagsu Road, three Indian guys came behind on a bike and started harassing the girl by passing dirty comments. But Tsultrim Chokden managed to shield her there with some verbal arguments against the Indians. However, only after few meters ahead of Green Hotel, the three Indians came again on bike and stabbed Tsultrim repeatedly while he was defending her. The girl had tried to intervene but was kicked into the tunnel. The three Indians then fled the scene on bike. And on the way to hospital, Tsultrim succumbed to death. (phayul, 31/11/2015)

Tsultrim, like me, fled Chinese oppression in Tibet in 2003 in quest of a better education and a better life. He spent six years studying Buddhism at Depung Monastic Institution in southern India. He moved to McLeod Ganj in 2009 and embarked upon another journey of learnings with a plan in mind. He, facing against all kind of challenges including daily financial restraints which is common to all new comers from Tibet, strived for computer studies and english language at different centres like British Council in Delhi and Norling Kunphenling School etc. He had also obtained the certificates as well.(tibettimes, 31/11/2015) Nevertheless, the ultimate goal of his mission was not completed there with these certificates yet. Around the end of 2014, he applied for the permit documents at Chinese Embassy to allow him go back to Tibet and meet his ageing mother who is dying to see her son after years of separation. The paper permits, according to his friends, will be coming to him by this December and thus he would be able to go to see his mother by January next year. But, when Tsultrim was eventually one step away to accomplish what he had struggled for years against all difficulties, a gang of three Gaddi morons annihilated all his being for nothing but to entertain their mood! Imagine, dear readers, how would you feel if this had happened to you and how would you react if you were in the shoe of his mother in Tibet.

This dehumanized brutality by those three Gaddi hooligans over someone who has done nothing plainly demonstrates twofold calls; a) an urgent call for greater attentions and social security for the newly arrived Tibetans in particular and all Tibetan refugees in general by the Indian government and Tibetan leaders; b) that insufficient care from the host leaders for Tibetan refugees is reinforcing the feelings amongst the locals that Tibetans are merely visitors and thus getting more courage to take advantage of the fact that Tibetans are of without any legal protections whatsoever. Therefore, now is the right time bring up this issue, in honour of Tsultrim whose last act in his life was a genuine altruistic defence for his friend, for either a top-down or bottom-up measure to achieve a genuine security for Tibetans legally, socially and politically. Or we would be back to the yesteryears where Tibetans had often been victims whatsoever.

The first worst communal tension that everyone remembers still today erupted on April 22, 1994 when a Tibetan was accused of killing an Indian boy in a blind fight over a cricket match on television between Pakistan and India. What triggered the fight between them was that the Tibetan guy cheered for the Pakistani team and thus the Indian boy lost temper at the Tibetan. It was not a communal issue to begin with in fact, but there was tinder for the spark. Next day, the locals went berserk and stormed the compound of the Tibetan government-in-exile, smashed windows, set fires and destroyed furnitures. Then they looted Tibetan shops and beat up refugees” (Penny-Dimri 1994, 281). Fortunately, Tibetans didn’t and had never fought back against the Indians, rather they remained committed to their non-violent approach to life, remaining locked inside their homes throughout the violence (Diehl 2002, 121). However, the escalation of that communal tension brought so much fear to Tibetans that even The Dalai Lama suggested to move the Tibetan government-in-exile to Southern India immediately. However, local Indian businessmen feared Dharamsala would become a ghost town overnight if the Dalai Lama left McLeod Ganj and so they beseeched the Dalai Lama to stay back.( Lydia Talen, Layers of Home, 2014)

The hostility in Dharamsala didn’t end there. In 2013, a Tibetan man in his 30s was thrown off from a third story building by a half dozen local Gaddis in altercation which rendered his lower body part paralyzed for life. But the culprits are roaming free with heads held high as if they had done an awesome job. No justice had ever been executed for the poor Tibetan man. (Mila Rangzen, Is Dharamshala Safe for Tibetans, 2014) In 2005, a ghastly case revealed that an elderly Tibetan nun was rapped by an Indian named Ricky (phayul, 22/04/2005). It had been an unprecedented wave of shock to Tibetan consciences since rapping a nun is twofold crimes; a) religiously it’s a horrifying destruction and insult against all the spiritual values existing in being a nun; b) rape is considered as the most inhuman crime according to any law. But no justice had ever been carried out. Again in 2012, a Tibetan woman on a late night bus alone, as she was nearing her destination, lower Dharamsala, got brutally assaulted, rapped, robbed and dumped to the roadside by the Gaddi bus driver together with the bus conductor. She was hospitalized for weeks at Tibetan Delek Hospital (Mila Rangzen, 2014). When I was at McLeod two years back, two Tibetan tenants (two girls newly arrived from Tibet) were renting the room next to mine at Amdo Village. One morning I was awakened by an ear-piercing scream followed by the sound of someone crying aloud. I jumped off the bed and run out to check. To my utter surprise, our landlord was beating and slapping one of the girls living next to mine! I rushed in my shorts to stop him. The reason for her beating was that a single drop of toothpaste dripped unknowingly on the balcony floor which angered the landlord, “she made my balcony dirty!” shouting at the poor Tibetan girl. In fact, there are too many such hard-to-forget cases to write where Tibetans being bullied, mocked, alienated, harassed, abused and ostracised by the local to the end of human patience. But the matter we need to prioritize here is to urger the leaders for an adequate protection and security which the Tibetan refugees apparently deserve. 

If we take a look at the relationship between India and Tibet from historical context, Tibetans had done more contributions to India than any other refugees on its soil. Let’s take today’s economic status of Dharamsala for an instance. Dharamsala situated in the foothills of the Dhauladhar, was once a sleepy British occupied hill station often haunted by wild animals, became a ghost town overnight following the 7.8 earthquake in 1905. It’s only after Dalai Lama followed by Tibetans moved to Dharamsala in 1960 that some sort of life came back to the ghost town. Particularly, Dalai Lama’s 1990 Nobel Peace Prize generated huge interest in the West about Tibetan culture and brought the never-ending western tourists to Dharamsala since then. This transition helped the local Gaddis alleviate their economic restrains and have a proper livelihood (Chander Suta Dogra, Tibetans in Exile, 2010). As a result, once what had been known as a ghost town had transformed into one of the top tourist destinations in India and once starving local Gaddis into millionaires! Same thing in many other parts of India where Tibetan communities are the backbone to the livelihood of concerned locals, let alone the other benefits even from the Dalai Lama as an individual.

For the victory and glory to India as a whole, Tibetans (SFF, Special Frontier Force or Establishment 22) had shed their blood in the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh as well as during the operation blue star in 1984 followed by the Kargil conflict in 1999. In the lead up to the SFF’s deployment for the Bangladesh War of Liberation, Indra Gandhi wired a message to the Tibetan fighters, “We cannot compel you to fight a war for us but the fact is that General A A K Niazi (the Pakistani Army Commander in East Pakistan) is treating the people of East Pakistan very badly. India has to do something about it. In a way, it is similar to the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans in Tibet, we are facing a similar situation. It would be appreciated if you could help us fight the war for liberating the people of Bangladesh.” On the request of a woman whose father had played a significant role in betraying the Tibetan cause, three thousand SFF Tibetan commandos went to fight and brought the victory in nine months. During the conflict, SFF lost 56 Tibetans and 190 were wounded. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, personally called the SFF leaders to thank for the unprecedented contribution in its creation. Later, keeping in mind his mother’s attachment to SFF, Rajiv Gandhi also called upon the Tibetan fighters to manage his security during the part of his tenure as a prime minister. Similarly, India’s Tibetan troops in SFF have been playing major role in guarding the border for the last 45 years following Sino-Indian war of 1962. Also Tibetans have formed the majority of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) whose mandate was border patrol in the harsh glacier areas (Tashi Dhundup, not their own wars, 2008).
It’s also Tibetan refugees who helped India construct the world’s highest stretch of metalled road running from Manali to Ladhak and hundreds of kilometres long highways in Masumari, Bir, Kullu and so on (Tenzin Tsondu, my kind of exile, 2001). All these were carried out during the black and starving years when India was in great need of any possible help.

Putting all these into consideration, I honestly think it’s a huge wrong both morally and socially that the Indian government as well as the concerned communities are giving the space for some local hooligans who continued making the lives and well-being of Tibetans refugees precarious and harder. Having said that, I know how grateful the Tibetan refugees are for India for its kind unwavering hospitality since 1950s. But to provide an equal respect and proper security for the lives of Tibetan refugees is an undeniable duty for both Indian government and the concerned communities. Therefore, in honour to Tsultrim Choken, this issue should be on the table of leaders and on the top agenda of parliaments to be discussed, investigated, concerned and dialogued for a resolution which would promise a colourful future for all.

NOTE: The writer is a Tibet born Tibetan currently studying Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University, Sweden. He can be reached at  dup4tibet@gmail.com 

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