By Tenzin Dharpo
Tibetan woman seated near the storage as another man looks on (screengrab)
DHARAMSHALA, Sept. 4: The merchandise belonging to Tibetan sweater sellers in Dhule, Maharashtra, were destroyed in a fire that ravaged a warehouse in the early hours of Saturday, weeks before the season for ‘winter business’.
On September 1, around 4 AM local time, the warehouse where the goods were kept caught fire after a short circuit sparked flames following a night of heavy rains, according to Phurbu, the head of the market’s administrative body. Speaking to Phayul, the disheartened Tibetan trader from Puruwala Tibetan settlement said she was informed of the mishap when she was in Ludhiana where the goods are initially bought on whole sale.
“The President of the Tibetan Sweater Sellers’ Association came to Dhule to assess the damage. After thorough investigation and cross check with receipts from the whole-sellers at Ludhiana, the damage is estimated to 26519661 INR and the warehouse does not have insurance,” Phurbu told Phayul on enquiry. The Tibetan sweater sellers’ association known officially as the Tibetan Refugee Traders’ Association is a body of Tibetan markets in India selling garments during the mid October-January window every year.
The Dhule Tibetan market is the livelihood of 12 Tibetan household from Puruwala and Dickyiling Tibetan settlements who took loans from whole-sellers like majority of Tibetan traders to fund their annual business that will see them through the whole year’s expense. “95% of the loans are from the Ludhiana lalas (whole sellers) while the rest is from personal savings and from banks,” the head of the Tibetan market explained.
In a video circulating in the social media, Tibetan traders from Dhule are seen crying inconsolably near the warehouse where half burned garments lay strewn in the aftermath of the devastating blaze. A woman was seen saying, “How will I feed my children now?” The administrative body of the Tibetan market plans to submit pleas to the Department of Home of the Central Tibetan Administration and NGO’s for help.
Tibetan refugees in India have been selling garments in Indian cities and towns in the winter when the cold sets in, for decades to sustain their livelihood. The exile Tibetan government rolled out the INR 100 million loan scheme for Tibetan traders in 2017. While the initiative is received as a gesture of the CTA’s intent to help Tibetans, the reach of the scheme is not substantial and the sum considered largely token. Only three households from the fire-ravaged Dhule Tibetan market are covered by the scheme.