News and Views on Tibet

138 shops gutted in fire at Delhi Tibetan Market, 12 Crore worth goods charred

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By Tenzin Dharpo

DHARAMSHALA, Nov. 8: The erstwhile Tibetan refugee market in the shadows of the majestic Red Fort (Lal Qila) in the Indian capital of Delhi now stands charred beyond recognition as Tibetan refugee sweater sellers are still in shock and disbelief. The once busy Tibetan market where refugee traders sold garments and earned their livelihood was ravaged gutting the 138 shops. In the temporary market, now only ash and ravaged hope of the victims stand.

A fire broke out around wee hours of Tuesday resulting in the collapse of temporary structures and the burning of goods in them, mostly readymade winter garments. Sonam Topgyal, the leader of the market association confirmed to Phayul that the fire has burned through the entirety of the commodities stocked for sale. “Approximately 12 crore worth of goods have been incinerated to ash. Furthermore, the preparation of the market itself incurred a lot of cost. We have shifted to this market after the previous one was no longer available for lease.”

Although no loss of lives have been reported, the loss of commodities which the refugee Tibetan traders take on loan from Indian wholesalers is a cause of worry for many. Majority of the Tibetan traders are given goods in advance without payment by Indian wholesalers on goodwill.

A committee from the Tibetan administration including Education Minister Ngodup Tsering, Secretary of Delhi Bureau office, Tsewang Gyalpo and the Settlement Officer of Samyeling Tibetan settlement in Delhi earlier today met with the victims. “The authorities have urged us to not lose hope and look forward on how to deal with the issue. Our grievance along with a detailed report will be submitted to the Kashag, pending remedial measures,” Topgyal said.

As of now, no aid or assurance of help has come forth for the bereaved traders. With winter season beginning, the prospects for these traders do not seem promising. “Even though such tragedy has befallen us, all of us still hope to conduct business this season and hopefully turn around just to come even and pay our debts. We can only cry for help but time is of the essence here and we hope assistance from CTA or the Indian government will reach us soon,” lamented the optimistic leader of the Tibetan market.

The Lal- Qila Tibetan market which began in 1968 is among the oldest Tibetan markets in India. Tibetan families from various pockets of India such as Bylakuppe, Dharamshala, Orissa and Delhi hold stalls at Lal-Qila market for the average four months seasonal winter business. Identical markets have popped up in numerous cities everywhere in India over the last few decades forming a major income source for the refugee communities in India. According to Tibetan Sweater Sellers’ Association, there are currently 146 registered markets in India today.

Family run small scale businesses of the Tibetan refugees are heavily reliant on unpredictable factors. A few years ago, the cold of winter would mean sale of winter garments but now the erratic seasons coupled with fluctuating sale patterns and unidentifiable factors indicate the hand-to mouth traders now face a stark reality even when sale seasons go without devastating mishaps.

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