Friends of Tibet: People's Movement for an Independent Tibet

Heart-of-the-Matter”: Discussions in Dharamshala
(Report by: Friends of Tibet: Dharamshala | April-August 2002)

Heart of the Matter from Friends of Tibet

Heart-of-The-Matter: Regardless of where one may stand on the issue of the 'Middle Way' policy or 'Independence' of Tibet, one fact that every Tibetan must face is that more and more and more Chinese nationals moving into occupied Tibet every day. Time is literally running out for Tibet. What is more, among the many problems confronting the Tibetan people, the lack of open channels of communication between the people inside Tibet and those in exile is a major obstacle. Even in exile, despite the outstanding efforts and achievements of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile as well as various organisations and individuals, there does not seem to be adequate platforms through which to discuss and debate issues of public concerns — most of all to convey a sense of transparency in the functioning of the government. Heart-of-The-Matter, a unique initiative started by Friends of Tibet in Dharamshala in the year 2002 provided an open platform where any and all matters of importance and interest to Tibet and the Tibetan people can be debated and discussed freely and frankly.

Heart-of-the-Matter I (April 11, 2002)
Prof Samdhong Rinpoche on “Middle Way And The Future of Tibet”
Heart of the Matter: Prof Samdhong Rinpoche
Dharamshala, the hillside town in Himachal Pradesh which is also the home for the Dalai Lama and his Government in exile saw a different day on the April 11, 2002. People said that the twin streets of McLeod Ganj was deserted of Tibetans. Suddenly the 'Injis' and 'Indialok' started wondering where have all the Tibetans gone!

A huge gathering of hundreds local Tibetans and Tibetans from nearby settlements in Himachal Pradesh gathered to listen to Ven Prof Samdhong Rinpoche (Kalon Tripa, de facto Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile), with whom a face-to-face conversation remained an impossible task for ordinary masses. The fist 'Heart-of-the-Matter' discussion began exactly at 5.30pm at the Yongling Day School, Dharamshala with Dawa Tsering (ATPD Member and the Director of Yongling Day School) welcoming the speaker and the public. Dawa Gyaltsen, a former members of the Tibetan Army and a social worker then took over the stage to introduce the bi-monthly discussion forum 'Heart-of-The-Matter' initiated by Friends of Tibet. Introducing the theme of the inaugural talk 'Middle Way And The Future of Tibet', he welcomed the Kalon Tripa to talk on the issue.

The talk went for half an hour, where Kalon Tripa summarily said that the Middle Way approach as proposed by His Holiness he Dalai Lama is certainly 'the best choice' to resolve the issue of Tibet. Earlier, he narrated briefly how the concept of Middle Way came into being in the Tibetan polity. Moderator Dawa Gyaltsen then declared the house open for discussion. The question-answer session was one of the most dramatic as well as intellectually stimulating part of the event. The questions asked from the public were thought-provoking and were sincere expressions of concerned Tibetans.

'Heart-of-the-Matter', an open platform launched by Friends of Tibet where any and all matters of importance and interest to Tibet and the Tibetan people can be debated and discussed freely and frankly scheduled to happen twice, every month. The first and third Saturdays of every month in Dharamshala is marked for this close to free and frank discussions. The amount of participation received is a clear sign of the success of such a discussion forum. ◼

Heart-of-the-Matter II (April 20, 2002)
TT Karma Choephel on “Independence Is Achievable”
Heart of the Matter: Karma Choephel
McLeod Ganj buzzed again like in the late 1990s resembling the Referendum time. People in the streets, across the neighbour's windows, on the way home, on the Lingkhor Road, all talk about one thing 'Rangzen' or Independence. Ever since the first session of the 'Heart-of-The-Matter' organised by Friends of Tibet, the business of selling videos of the first discussion too has gained a good momentum in the himalayan town. The local Tibetan TV channel relayed the video recording of the previous 'Heart-of-The-Matter' where Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, the Kalon Tripa spoke on the 'Middle Way And The Future of Tibet'.

As if the 'Independence' stand is the twin child with 'Middle Way' approach, the second session of 'Heart-of-The-Matter' was about it. The Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies (ATPD) Member TT Karma Choephel said 'Independence Is Achievable' because it is something which "Tibetan people had but and eventually lost." We are not asking for something which was never ours. He said that the middle way approach has weakened the Tibetan freedom struggle in exile.

The talk lasted for about forty minutes and it was followed by a interesting question and answer session. About fifteen participants got the opportunity to ask questions to the speaker, some even made strong statements in support for his independence stand.

One question from a Tibetan youth perhaps summarised the debate. He asked, "the 20,000 members of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), the Gu-Chu-Sum Movement of Tibet (9-10-3), which represents the aspirations of the Tibetans in Tibet and the National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT) ask for independence for Tibet, then doesn't the Tibetan parliament hear the call for the people if they so represent the voices of the people and make decisions in the name of the Tibetan people inside and in exile?" For this question he received an up roaring clapping. ◼

Heart-of-the-Matter III (May 04, 2002)
Hortsang Jigme on “Return To Tibet To Resolve The Issue”
Heart of the Matter: Hortsang Jigme
The third 'Heart-of-The-Matter' churned enough curiosity and concerns that the gathering did not disperse even long after the end of the discussion! People lingered around the Yongling Day School in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh in small groups, discussing, debating. Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies (ATPD) member Hortsang Jigme was terse, illustrative where necessary and while proposing the ambitious idea of 'Return to Tibet To Resolve The Issue'. From his vast experience of life inside Chinese occupied-Tibet, he shared a wealth of information and created almost a scare in the crowd while illustrating how dangerously the Tibetan people are living in an occupied land.

Hortsang Jigme is one of the popular personalities among the recently arrived Tibetans. His writings and his strong political opinions quickly promoted him into a prominent youth. He is now an ATPD Member and representative of the younger generation of Tibetans. His main concern was that time is running out for Tibet and we must do something during the lifetime of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama. In his own words, he says "why do we keep talking 'Genuine Autonomy' and 'Independence' Instead, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans in exile must return to occupied-Tibet and do whatever we need to do from the land we cherish to live and die."

Studying the danger of flooding Tibet with Chinese settlers, he gave the example of 'Nag Golmud' which was a desert ten years back. Now it is a city housing 4,300,000 Chinese settlers attracted by job opportunities in the field of mining. Golmud is now a railway junction, and from here a railway line is being laid to reach to Lhasa, capital of Tibet. According to Hortsang Jigme, "in the next ten years if this trend of 'development' continues, one may have to search for one Tibetan lost in one thousand Chinese settlers."

Hortsang Jigme has been pursued over and again by enthusiasts and concerned Tibetans with questions and doubts. It is learned that one monk even requested him to write a book on this proposal. At a time when the freedom struggle does not seem to be seeing any action, Hortsang Jigme's proposal 'Return to Tibet To Resolve The Issue' seems to be attracting attention from scholars as well as general public. "For China, Tibet is a land of opportunity," Jigme said. "Every year, millions of Chinese are losing jobs, and more number of youngsters are graduating from innumerable universities and colleges, and for them Tibet like any other minority land such as Mongolia and East Turkistan is a land of job opportunities and a source of income." He concluded. ◼

Heart-of-the-Matter IV (August 03, 2002)
Kalon Thupten Lugrig on “Chinese Language In Tibetan Schools”
Heart of the Matter: Thupten Lugrig
Discussion Theme: Once again, the Tibetan Government-in-Exil has introduced the Chinese language in Tibetan schools in India. Chinese language was first introduced in a Tibetan school in Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh in October 1992 to be discontinued later. The 13th Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies (ATPD) passed a bill reintroducing Chinese as an optional language in Tibetan schools which comes under the Department of Education (DoE). Result — mixed reactions. For some it was a well-thought strategy while others saw it as a sign of appeasement. Some said it was the wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama while some felt that such crucial decisions have to undergo the usual democratic process before being implemented.

Dharamshala looked washed in yesterday's sudden burst of monsoon shower. McLeod Ganj like a snail inching up a rock, precariously perched on the mountain ridge, dizzy in the ubiquitous fog. In this a vehicle went around McLeod Ganj with a huge loud-speaker perched on its head inviting people for the fourth 'Heart-of-The-Matter' discussion organised by the Friends of Tibet on the introduction of 'Chinese Language In Tibetan Schools' to be held at the Staff Mess Hall, Gangkyi at lower Dharamshala. We couldn't risk a wash out by doing it at our usual venue — the open ground at the Yongling School at McLeod Ganj where hundreds of people had come from different corners of Dharamshala.

Unlike the gloomy atmosphere prevailing outside, the one in the hall was a bright one with lots of laughter and clapping. Thupten Lugrig, Kalon (Tibetan Minister) for Education and Religion led the session with a half-an-hour talk on the subject. The lecture was followed by a medley of questions and answers which went on for a couple of more hours. In his talk, the Kalon narrated history of Chinese language education in Tibetan schools and presented the ongoing process of implementation.

How It Began? "It began way back in July 1992 as a part time course in Central School for Tibetans (CST), Dalhousie after a discussion with Mr Dutta, the then Secretary of the Central Tibetan School Administration (CTSA). The programme even received sanction by the Indian Government. The salary of the teacher (Rs 1,500) too was paid by the school administration. However, this programme didn't see many years of practice, and in 1998 it had to be discontinued. The reasons were just practical and has no political bearings whatsoever. The teacher appointed had no required degree to teach the language as per the CTSA rule."

Now What? "Later the Department of Education (DoE) proposed to offer this course in DoE-run schools in India, but only as an optional subject. Present scenario, DoE has not been able to implement the programme due to various social, situational and circumstantial problems — even basic facilities. The plan is still there with DoE and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile is now working on the various ways of implementing it."

Why Chinese Language? "Language is knowledge and knowledge of any language is an addition to a person's education. We all believe and work towards the Independence of Tibet and one day we all will be returning to Tibet, but we will have to keep our relationship with our Chinese neighbours. So even in the long run knowing Chinese language will be useful. The Tibetans inside Tibet, whether they like it or not they have to learn the language, but in exile there is no opportunity, DoE is offering that for the Tibetan children in India. We see the Chinese as our enemy, but the language in itself is not our enemy. In fact, with the knowledge of this language we will be able to know what they are saying without a translator's help!"

Will It Not Harm The Tibetan Culture? "In the past, so many years we have suffered gross neglect and degradation of the Tibetan culture and language, but if we analyse, we will not come across one Tibetan who will say 'because I learned Chinese.' It was all because of our own failures — society's attitude, parents' neglect and an individual's lack of responsibilities. Over that we have fallen for many attractions from all over the world.

Conclusion: Kalon Thupten Lungrig made great a impression not only as the newly-appointed young Kalon with ready answers for all the questions but also with his easy manner with which he led the whole discussion with humour and light satire. He dealt with the issue in a much larger scale and made incisive comments on Tibetan education in exile. The issues and concerns he raised during the discussion period regarding complaints that our education level is falling, that our teachers are not up to mark, he said that the government can't do much without people's cooperation and support. The best of our teachers — whether graduated from college or monasteries run away abroad and we are left no choice but to make do with what is left. The parents are more concerned about making money than doing their bit for their children's education, after saying 'bye-bye' to their children, sending them to boarding schools, as if the nomads had sent their cattle in the mountains for grazing!

"Together, we can clear our exile community of these difficulties and complaints, and prepare ourselves for making a future Tibet," concluded Thupten Lungrig. This last episode of the 'Heart-of-the-Matter' discussion was one that of a Heart-to-Heart talk and sharing concerns. ◼


Friends of Tibet

Friends of Tibet, PO Box 16674, Mumbai 400050, India.
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Friends of Tibet is a people's movement to keep alive the issue of Tibet through direct action. Our activities are aimed at ending China's occupation of Tibet and the suffering of the Tibetan people. Friends of Tibet supports the continued struggle of the Tibetan people for independence. Friends of Tibet is also one of the principal organisers of World Tibet Day around the world.

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