By Vijay Kranti
(Part of the ‘My journey through the Tibetan mindscape’ series)
My innumerable travels as a writer, journalist or as a photographer to many beautiful, interesting or less chartered exotic places over past half a century gave me one serious lesson. And this lesson is “What you find ‘wonderful’ and ‘interesting’ at a place you visit as a tourist may not be really that great for those who are destined to live there permanently.” Tibet turned out to be the perfect example of this observation when I travelled through most of its length and breadth over my few visits during past few years.
Frankly speaking, these visits were more a result of my occupational ‘stealing’ rather than normal visits. “Stealing ” Yes, it was because the Beijing government has put a complete ban on independent travel of foreign journalists to Tibet. But being a member of the professional tribe who loves to do everything that is ‘prohibited’, I found my own ways (‘legal’ ways of course) of travelling to Tibet. My journeys surely took me to many parts of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which China wants the world to believe is ‘The Tibet.’ But I could also manage to travel to almost all those regions of Tibet which were parts of original Tibet at the time of its occupation in 1951 but were further usurped by the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) by breaking the Kham and Amdo provinces of Tibet and integrating them into the adjoining Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu.
That’s why I always prefer to call these visits as my ‘On the Spot Investigation Tours’ or just my ‘Photo Expeditions’. “Investigation?” Yes, because I had two points to investigate about Tibet. One was that I wanted to counter check if whatever claims my Tibetan refugee friends have been making and telling me for nearly three decades about the internal situation of Tibet were correct and that I was not being taken for a ride. The other was that I wanted to see firsthand how the Tibetans are living under a colonial regime.
Interestingly, one of the testimonies, and a bold one, came a few days before I was going to start my first journey to Tibet from Nepal. It came from a Tibetan whom I met in Kathmandu. He was waiting to go back to his home in Tibet after leaving his only son with a Tibetan refugee relative, settled in Nepal. The relative too was also leaving for India with this man’s five years old child to drop him at a school run by Dalai Lama’s ‘government-in-exile’ at Dharamshala, India. The little boy was smuggled out of Tibet a month ago with the help of a Nepalese agent who charged more than 2000 Yuan for the service. The sad father was not sure if he would ever meet his son again in life. But he didn’t appeared to be worried or sad about this.
In his late twenties, this young father was in tears as he explained through his English speaking relative what made him take this extreme step of sending the child away from the family. As it turned out, the child had been earlier admitted to the local school, run by the Chinese government in his village. “On one of his very early days in the school he gave us the biggest shock of our life,” said the young man. I could see his shock through his popped up eyes and wrinkled forehead.
“As he entered home after finishing his school for the day, he angrily pointed at the Dalai Lama’s picture in the family altar and said – He is a traitor. My teacher says he is the enemy of our motherland. Throw out his photo! We were shocked to discover what kind of education he was going to get from his Chinese school. Both of us could not imagine such kind of words from our own child’s mouth”, said the young man wiping his tears with the flowing arm of his Tibetan Chhuba (gown). “So, we decided that he was not going to be educated in a Chinese school like this. We made up our mind to send him to a Tibetan school in India or Nepal.”
The family called their relative in Kathmandu to seek his advice and the idea of smuggling the child to Nepal looked the best option, though a risky one. They sold some precious part of their land to arrange the deal with a Nepalese trader.
His story reminded me of an incident in Gangtok many years ago in 1993 where I had gone to photograph a three week long Kalachakra public teaching by the Dalai Lama. Quite a good number of Tibetans from across the border too had come to attend the teachings. On an evening one of my friends who worked among the private staff of Dalai Lama told me about a very interesting problem that he and his colleagues were facing since the Kalachakra teaching began. He described how difficult it was for him and his colleagues to handle many Tibetan parents who wanted to leave their children behind for education and further upbringing just because they did not see any future for the child back home in Tibet under the Chinese rule. “We come across anywhere between three hundred to five hundred such cases every year when either the child has been smuggled out of Tibet or the parents wanted to leave the child under the care of Dalai Lama,” he told me.
As a father myself, it is impossible for me to imagine abandoning one’s child like this. But since this guy in Kathmandu looked determined about leaving the child, I asked the young man, “but what about the little boy? Can he live without you and his mother?” His response was, “from now onwards Gyalwa Rinpoche (Dalai Lama) is his father and mother.”
On the last count when I was going through statistics of such children who had crossed the border to become ‘Dalai Lama’s Children’, the number had already crossed count of 2000.
(Views expressed are his own)
The author is a senior Indian journalist, photographer and a keen Tibet watcher for over four decades. He visited Tibet many times on his self assigned learning and photo-expeditions. He was one of the first ever Indian journalist who could visit Tibet without Chinese patronization or control. This piece is part of a series of his memoirs with Tibet and Tibetan people.