Tibetans protesting in Srinagar. (AFP)
Srinagar, April 1: Nasir Ahmad and Abdullah Butt want to protest the crackdown in Tibet. Not because, like Prakash Karat, they see a parallel with Kashmir but because they are Tibetan.
Butt and Ahmad are two of several hundred “Muslim Tibetans” settled in Kashmir who consider the Dalai Lama their “leader”. They bear surnames like Qazi, Sheikh and Tramboo but their features resemble those of the Tserings and Lamas across the border in Himachal Pradesh.
“We are the children of Tibetan women and Kashmiri traders who had gone to Tibet seven centuries ago and settled down,” Ahmad, 35, said.
Many, like Ahmad’s grandfather Barkatullah Shakulli, had fled to Kashmir after the Chinese crackdown of 1959. Some 250 such families now live in Srinagar.
“We are too small a community to take to the streets but we have sent a memorandum to the UN condemning the violence by China in Tibet,’’ said Butt, vice-president of the Tibetan Muslim Youth Federation here.
Butt and Ahmad said their ancestors had fled because of Chinese persecution that ended centuries of complete religious and cultural freedom granted by a Buddhist Tibet.
“Our forefathers followed Shariat laws,’’ Ahmad said. “We think it is time to reciprocate. We consider the Dalai Lama our leader. We want to convey to our Buddhist brothers in Tibet that we are with them in their hour of grief.”
Unlike other Tibetan refugees, the Kashmiri Tibetans are Indian citizens. “We vote in elections here. In 1959, the Centre had agreed that we were basically Indians, and the Chinese let us return after an agreement," Ahmad said.
Photographs with the Kashmiri Tibetans show their forefathers wearing the dastaar (Kashmiri turban) and drinking tea from samovars, proving they had held on to some of their traditions.
Now they feel an identity crisis. They are called “Tibetans” despite their Kashmiri descent because of their features. They speak Tibetan at home though most are fluent in Kashmiri, too. Article 370 blocks them from government jobs or buying land.
“Yet most of us will stay here even if Tibet becomes free. But we want all the rights other Kashmiris enjoy,’’ Ahmad said.