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By Tenzin Tsering (Delhi, India)
In 1960 His Holiness the Dalai Lama declared democracy for Tibetans and subsequently, in 1963 based on the principles of modern democracy the His Holiness promulgated a constitution for a future Tibet, which is named “The Charter of Tibetans in-Exile”. The Charter enshrines freedom of speech, belief, assembly and movement, which are the basic essential foundations of a democratic society. It provides for a system of separation of powers & check and balance between Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. It governs the functioning of three wings of Government and also provides detailed guidelines on the functioning of the Tibetan government in-exile. It also has important provision allowing for the impeachment of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The constitutional provision of freedom of speech and expression is an important right under the Charter of 1963, which widely gives right to the citizens to express their social and political views freely, even those viewed as extreme or fringe. However, right of freedom of speech and expression in Tibetan community is facing serious challenge in recent time, which is evident from the fact that critics are often been viewed as enemy of the State calling them “Anti-Dalai Lama”. I believe such a bigot have no place in liberal democracy. The understanding of freedom of speech within our Tibetan community is very narrow. Recent episode like statement by Penpa Tsering, speaker of the Tibetan Parliament and one of the five candidates for Sikong, that he will not share any platform with individuals who have made derogatory remarks against His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Gaden Monastery abrogate Lukar Jam’s public address, are very unfortunate and such incident are not only undemocratic but will jeopardize our democratic process. Multifaceted opinions are the essences of democracy and every individual have right to propagate its ideology freely in democracy. Let us understand the right of freedom of speech and expression under Indian Constitution and the significant of Right to Information.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND RIGHT TO INFORMATION
Freedom of Expression and the right to seek information are interlinked and fundamental human rights as enshrined Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India. Freedom of Speech & Expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development. Freedom of speech is a basic human right and important essence of democracy. It is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Freedom of speech cannot be effectively exercised without having access to pertinent information and hence, the right to information has also come to be regarded as a fundamental right, essential for the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and meaningful participation in a democratic society. Freedom of expression is a cornerstone upon which the very existence of a democratic society rests. It is indispensable for the formation of public opinion.
Let us first understand the Fundamental Right of Freedom of Speech and Expression enshrined under the Constitution of India-
“Article 19- Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.—(1) All citizens shall have the right-
(a) to freedom of speech and expression;”
Article 19(2)- Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”
The Preamble of the Constitution of India inter alia speaks of liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. It also says that India is a sovereign democratic republic. It cannot be over emphasized that when it comes to democracy, liberty of thought and expression is a cardinal value that is of paramount significance under the Constitutional scheme.
The Freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India, like the right to equality, life and liberty, have been liberally construed by the Supreme Court of India from inception. In the early case of Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras  S.C.R. 594, the Supreme Court stated that freedom of speech lay at the foundation of all democratic organizations. In Bennett Coleman & Co. & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors.,  2 S.C.R. 757, the Supreme Court held that the freedom of speech and of the press is the Ark of the Covenant of Democracy because public criticism is essential to the working of its institutions. Further, in S. Khushboo v. Kanniamal & Anr., (2010) 5 SCC 600 the Supreme Court held that the importance of freedom of speech and expression though not absolute was necessary as we need to tolerate unpopular views. This right requires the free flow of opinions and ideas essential to sustain the collective life of the citizenry. While an informed citizenry is a pre-condition for meaningful governance, the culture of open dialogue is generally of great societal importance.”
Thus, the right of freedom of speech and expression embraces within its scope the freedom of propagation and interchange of ideas, dissemination of information which would aid in the citizen’s understanding of the working of his Government and its various organs in a democracy. Every individual has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.
The freedom of speech and expression as enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution is subject to certain restriction and it is not absolute. The restriction could be imposed by law on the limited ground specified in Article 19(2) of the Constitution, provided that such restriction have to be ‘reasonable’ and cannot be arbitrary, excessive or disproportionate. As Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in one of its recent judgment in Devidas Ramachandra Tuljapurkar Versus State of Maharashtra & Ors, had stated that right of freedom of speech is a right of great value and transcends and with the passage of time and growth of culture, it has to pave the path of ascendancy, but it cannot be put in the compartment of absoluteness.
RIGHT TO DISSENT PART OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH:
Dissent is the quintessence of democracy. Today we favour democracy as the most acceptable form of governance because a citizen has a right to dissent without fear of victimization as long as such dissent does not lead to inhuman or unconstitutional action. Suppression or discouragement of dissent diminishes the essence of democracy. In a democratic society, including our Tibetan community, the need to accept difference of opinion is an essential ingredient of plurality. The multifaceted opinions are the essence of democracy. It reminded me of what Voltaire (Philosopher, Historian and Writer) said “I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It”.
Dissent as a right has been recognized by the Supreme Court of India as one aspect of the right of the freedom of speech guaranteed as a Fundamental Right by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. It had time and again observed that "the restrictions on the freedom of speech must be couched in the narrowest possible terms". In a recent landmark judgment by the Supreme Court of India in Shreya Singhal Vs. Union of India (W P (Criminal) No.167 of 2012), while struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 as unconstitutional, had recognized dissent as one aspect of the right of the freedom of speech guaranteed as a Fundamental Right by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution.
Even, Punjab and Haryana High Court while dealing with fundamental Right of freedom of speech and expression had said “Dissent and criticism often gives way to fertile breeding of an intelligent opinion generating healthy friction between various sections of a polity, and opinions, generated, often clonish of the truth are extremely necessary for an intellectual debate for the growth of a democratic society apart from ensuring accountability by putting the actions of persons in power to swords of dissection. A candid expression of an opinion often spouts another either confrontational or platitudinous, but always enlightening. In any case an intelligible opinion of one does not necessarily mean the conviction of the other. So there is no need to discourage it,”
While expressing his view on dissent as Constitutional rights, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, former judge of Supreme Court of the United States in United States v Schwimmer 279 US 644 (1929) had said “…if there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought- not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate”
RIGHT TO INFORMATION-
"If one does not know, one cannot speak freely". As discussed above, Freedom of Expression and the right to seek information are interlinked and fundamental human rights as enshrined Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India. Right to Information is a mean to awakening the people and give power to the citizen apart from voting right. This empowerment supports participatory democracy by giving citizens the capacity to engage in public debate and to hold governments and its officials accountable. Right to Information has been described as “Information is the currency that every citizen requires to participate in the life and governance of society. The greater the access of the citizen to information, the greater would be the responsiveness of government to community needs”. It is also weapon to tackle and expose corruption and bring greater Administrative efficiency, transparency and public accountability in the functioning of government and its departments.
RIGHT TO INFORMATION AS A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT:-
As early as in 1976, Right to information, was explicitly held to be a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India for the first time by Justice KK Mathew in State of UP v. Raj Narain (1975) 4 SCC 428, wherein it was said that people cannot speak or express themselves unless they know. Therefore, right to information is embedded in Article 19 of the Constitution of India. In the said judgment the Court further held that “(1) In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything, that is done in a public way, by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing. The right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary, when secrecy is claimed for transactions which can, at any rate, have no repercussion on public security (2) To cover with veil secrecy the common routine business, is not in the interest of the public. Such secrecy can seldom be legitimately desired. It is generally desired for the purpose of parties and politics or personal self-interest or bureaucratic routine. The responsibility of officials to explain and to justify their acts is the chief safeguard against oppression and corruption.” This view was followed by the Supreme Court on a number of decisions like S.P. Gupta v. UOI AIR 1982 SC 149, Secy., Ministry of I&B, Govt. of India v. Cricket Assn. of Bengal (1995) 2 SCC 161 & People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. UOI, 2004 (2) SCC 476 etc. Thereafter, under the demand and pressure from the citizens, the Government of India was compelled to enact the Right to Information Act, 2005, with object to empower the citizens, promote transparency and accountability in the working of the Government, contain corruption, and make our democracy work for the people in real sense.
My argument, therefore, is twofold. Firstly, Democracy is a gift by His Holiness to all of us and it’s our moral responsibility to embrace it and make it more vibrant and liberal democracy. One of the key aspects of democratic culture is the concept of a "loyal opposition", where political competitors may disagree, but they must tolerate one another and acknowledge the legitimate and important roles that each play. Secondly, there is a need of enact law relating to Right to Information in Tibetan Govt. in-exile to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for its citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency, accountability in the working of every public authority and make our democracy work for the people in real sense.
By Tenzin Dorjee
To say that Tibetan exiles live in a small world would be an understatement. Ours is a world where any two people chosen at random are bound to have several common friends (and sometimes, a few common enemies). Whoever postulated the 'six degrees of separation' theory clearly never did any field work in Tibetan society, where one degree of separation is the norm.
The extraordinary smallness of the Tibetan world, now made even smaller by social media, renders authorial disclaimers redundant. Everyone knows who is a friend (or foe) of whom. And yet for the sake of formality, here's my disclaimer: Lukar Jam is a friend of mine. Well, there you go, I've said it. Aside from the fact that we are fellow activists in the struggle for Rangzen (Tibetan independence), I count him among my numerous eccentric friends many of whom, like Lukar, happen to be starving artists, hopeless poets, and barefoot activists.
In August, Lukar made a big splash in the small pond of Tibetan politics when he joined the race for the post of Sikyong, or Prime Minister, in the upcoming Tibetan elections. As a prominent exponent of Rangzen, his entry into the race enthralled many supporters of Tibetan independence. However, in conservative Tibetan circles, it provoked laughter at first, then ridicule, and later a creeping fear. In their eyes, Lukar is not only pro-Rangzen but also a harsh critic of the Middle Way policy, a conciliatory approach introduced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama that seeks Tibetan autonomy rather than independence from China.
On social media platforms – a parallel universe that can sometimes feel more real than the real world for stateless exiles who have lost their sense of territory – there was an avalanche of insults and denunciations against Lukar. Many Tibetans were terrified by the specter of a Lukar Prime Ministership, and called him all kinds of unprintable names. Predictably, they also slapped on him the more printable and less erasable tag, "anti-Dalai Lama." In Tibetan society, this label can get you ostracized for life. Even the Speaker of the Parliament, Mr. Penpa Tsering, who is also running for Sikyong, declared that he would not participate in any debate or forum where Lukar is also present. At first this undemocratic statement shocked me, because the word on the street is that Penpa la is usually considered far more liberal than most of the Dharamsala politicians. But under closer analysis, I began to suspect that this was partly a calculated move by the Speaker to avoid having to engage with a formidable debater, and partly a premeditated soundbite aimed at appealing to the masses of faith-driven voters.
Why did Lukar's candidacy put so many people on edge? In fact, why is he held in contempt by so many conservative members of our society? Where does his notoriety come from?
I met Lukar in 2007, when he was already a controversial figure in Dharamsala but not as reviled as he is today. We had tea at Hotel India House Restaurant (yes, that really was the name of the restaurant). I asked him several questions about the state of the resistance inside Tibet, as I often do with people who grew up in Tibet. His answers were always thought-provoking and often unpredictable. It became clear to me that he was not only well read but also one of the most original and unorthodox thinkers in our community.
Since then I have met with him occasionally during my visits to India. We chat over tea (any tea but Am-cha, please) or over nomad-style boiled meat. This is not to say that we agree on everything, although his detractors would like to put all Rangzen advocates into one box as if we were identical products manufactured at the assembly line. The truth is, I vehemently disagree with him on a number of issues. For example, I believe deeply in the strength of strategic nonviolence to effect fundamental change even under the most forbidding circumstances, while Lukar is dismissive of the power of nonviolence. Influenced by revolutionaries like Che Guevara, he believes that violence as a potential method of resistance should not be ruled out. On the contrary, I insist that violence is strategically unnecessary because of the overwhelming empirical evidence that nonviolent resistance is twice as likely to succeed as armed struggles.
Another disagreement I have with Lukar is more relevant to the topic at hand. Lukar has said in public that in the calculus of international politics, anyone who concedes the struggle for Rangzen will be considered a traitor. In my opinion as a political science student, “traitor,” even in its most expansive conception, is the wrong word to define people who lower their sights from independence to autonomy out of desperation, especially when the country in question had been lost half a century ago. By making such hyperbolic statements, Lukar the provocateur is letting down Lukar the Sikyong contender, not to mention many of his supporters.
My disagreements with Lukar do not end here, but neither does our friendship. Actually our discussions are more enjoyable and fruitful precisely because we have different opinions. Tragically, Tibetan society today has lost its ability to embrace intellectual differences and accommodate ideological disagreements. Driven by two false assumptions – that China would resolve the Tibet issue if all Tibetans agreed with each other, and that unity is founded upon uniformity – the conservatives among us have sought to isolate anyone who voices an opinion different from the mainstream narrative, especially when that opinion appears to be at odds with that of His Holiness.
As a result, the whole exile population is being split into two sides: the Middle Way camp and the Rangzen camp. Ironically, some of the most polarizing words and malicious tactics in recent memory have been used by conservative fundamentalists in the name of advancing the Middle Way. This false dichotomy has turned both sides into caricatures of themselves, demonizing each other, unable to see that they are both located along the same continuum. In the process, those in the real middle – the non-ideological public who do the grunt work for the movement – are confused, tormented and disillusioned.
Amid this tense atmosphere, many Tibetans fail to see the humanity of Lukar's personality and the complexity of his candidacy. Where does he stand on women's rights? What are his views on the exile education system? Does he support Tibetans applying for Indian citizenship? If elected, what concrete steps will he take to advance the struggle? These are important questions, but alas no one will hear his answers. Detractors of Lukar, in a masterful stroke of campaign politics, have already painted him as "anti-Dalai Lama," and that's the only frame through which the public will view him.
But what has Lukar actually said that has led people to call him "anti-Dalai Lama"?
The most specific accusation against Lukar to date is the allegation that he has referred to His Holiness as largen, a term that means “senior monk” or "older monk". Most people, however, have misunderstood this word to mean the less reverential “old monk.” As irreverent as the term sounds to many of us, Lukar has clarified that in his native Amdo dialect, largen is a neutral word and not a derogatory term; some have even pointed out the respect that is tacitly implied in the term “senior monk.” At any rate, the fact that this one word has become the focal point of the anti-Lukar campaign only highlights the bankruptcy of the charges against him.
The damage is done, however, and no amount of clarification can prevent Lukar from sinking in the quicksand of ignominy, dragging along any one who tries to save him. Such is the nature of politics, and all who step into the ring must accept that fate. Nevertheless, it pains me to see my own community demonize a person who almost died in Chinese prison for his principles and for his nation.
A more persistent source of Lukar’s notoriety is his relentless critique of the Middle Way approach. But many Rangzen advocates often critique the Middle Way approach without suffering political concussion. Even the most high-profile interpreters of the Middle Way have privately expressed doubts about its effectiveness or relevance. Just criticizing the Middle Way does not automatically make someone "anti-Dalai Lama," not least because the main overseer of the Middle Way for more than a decade has been the Tibetan government, not His Holiness.
But wait, on second thought, a few Rangzen advocates who were running for seats in the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress in New York were actually labelled "anti-Dalai Lama" earlier this year during a controversial election. This worrisome incident points to the rise of a Tibetan equivalent of the Bush-Cheney doctrine: "You're either with us or against us." In Tibetan politics, some conservative hawks are beginning to warn Rangzen advocates: "You're either with His Holiness or against him."
Some Tibetan elders have privately confided to me that they do not approve of our community’s vilification of Lukar. However, what makes them lose sleep at night is the fear that Lukar’s words may undermine young Tibetans' faith in His Holiness. While their fear is understandable, it has no basis in reality. On the contrary, this fear exposes how little they know about the resilience of young Tibetans' devotion to His Holiness. I have never met a single Tibetan whose faith in His Holiness has been compromised by coming in contact with anything said or written by Lukar, or anyone else for that matter.
To be sure, as His Holiness advances in age, more young Tibetans are beginning to see His Holiness as a human being rather than a divine figure. This should not alarm our elders. Recognizing the Dalai Lama's humanity, far from diminishing his divinity, allows us to fully appreciate the crushing weight of the burden that he has carried for us all these years. To insist that His Holiness is infallible and superhuman is to trivialize the monumental effort that has gone into his extraordinary achievements.
Therefore, when institutions like the Ganden Monastery tries to muzzle Lukar Jam by denying him a platform, they are doing a disservice to His Holiness. In their clumsy effort to protect His Holiness from any hint of criticism, they end up promoting intolerance and bigotry in our community. His Holiness has built a legacy of tolerance, dialogue and compassion, and the conservative segment of our society must not let its own small-mindedness suffocate His Holiness' great legacy.
Lukar is a complicated person. Though humble and incorruptible, he is not immune to mild delusions of grandeur. But for someone with a healthy ego, he rarely talks about himself. It takes a fair amount of prodding before he opens up about his experience as an underground organizer for Tibetan freedom in his youth and later as a political prisoner. A man of ideas, he prefers discussing history, philosophy, and poetry. He never talks ill of others, even of those who had engineered his transformation into the Frankenstein of Dharamsala.
His greatest quality – and also his greatest weakness – is that he is devastatingly honest. He presents the truth in its starkest form, with no cushioning to soften the effect. When he calls for secularism in Tibetan politics, for instance, he cloaks his message in the harshest language possible. Unfortunately, the harshness of his language gives his detractors the ammunition to attack him and undermine the prescience of his message. Even to those who agree with him, he may seem like almost the wrong messenger for the right message.
Not surprisingly, even among Rangzen advocates, many find it hard to imagine Lukar as Sikyong. While every Lukar supporter is almost certainly a Rangzen advocate, not every Rangzen advocate is a Lukar supporter. Many Rangzen sympathizers find Lukar too radical and worry that a Lukar administration might turn the Tibetan world upside down. More damagingly, many Rangzen supporters are under the false impression that Lukar is against His Holiness. They will vote for anyone but Lukar.
For all my disagreements with him, I applaud Lukar’s candidacy in this election. And his unflinching advocacy of Rangzen is not the only reason why. I believe that Lukar's candidacy can be a testament to the progress that Tibetan democracy has made. For the first time, a candidate has emerged who publicly champions views different from those maintained by the establishment. This partial realization of the concept of a loyal opposition makes Tibetan democracy worth its name. Lukar’s candidacy does not endanger what some perceive as “our fragile democracy." On the contrary, his dissenting voice makes our democracy more robust and genuine, in keeping with the vision His Holiness laid out decades ago.
I applaud Lukar’s candidacy also because he stands for secularizing Tibetan politics. Oracles like Nechung have served the nation for centuries, and it's time to retire them with dignity – and a generous pension of good karma. Moreover, in the wake of the Jhonang protests at the Tibetan Parliament in Dharamsala, our government would be well advised to simply eliminate the parliamentary seats reserved for religious sects – “one person, one vote” should be our mantra, whether the voter is lay or monastic. It is only by embracing secularism that we can safeguard religion from becoming a political tool, and protect politics from getting hijacked by religious sectarianism.
Whether Lukar wins or loses the race for Sikyong, his true campaign vision is far grander than any political project: it is to awaken Tibetan society from the slumber of servility, to liberate the new generation from the shackles of dogma, and to launch a secular renaissance in Tibetan culture. I, for one, will not begrudge him his occasional delusions of grandeur.
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Tenzin Dorjee is a Tibetan writer, activist and cartoonist. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent the views of any organization or institution that he is, has been, or will be associated with.
By Jamyang Norbu (Oct. 3, 2015)
Some exile Tibetans are angry with Sikyong candidate Lukar Jam Atsok for criticizing HH’s policies. He has not only been attacked in speech and writing but also on video, in one of which the accuser bursts into tears and dramatically sobs out his condemnation.
A specific accusation against Lukar is that he once talked about His Holiness as “la-gyen” or the “old lama”. Of course, this is not the usual way to refer to the Dalai Lama, and it is not exactly respectful, but on the other hand it is also definitely not hostile. One might even say Lukar’s la-gyen reference is affectionate, in an informal sort of way. Like Englishmen (of yesteryear) calling each other “old boy” or “old chap”. Of course older Tibetans would say that Lukar Jam was being too forward, in a socially inappropriate way (nangtsa tsa drapa), and perhaps they have a point.
But we should bear in mind that Lukar Jam does not come from the honorific filled world of old Lhasa, or the “culturally subservient” world of exile Tibetans where children are trained from infancy to sing nursery rhymes in praise of His Holiness. Lukar Jam was a nomad boy from Chabcha, playing with sheep, and probably singing paeans to Chairman Mao in his local elementary school.
We should also never lose sight of the fact that after his first escape to India in 1991, Lukar Jam returned home to Amdo with as many copies of the Dalai Lama’s My Land and My People as he could carry, a videotape of a speech the Dalai Lama made when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and human rights documents including some sixty copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It was very dangerous thing to do but Lukar explains: “I carried the books and videotape home because people, especially older people, wanted to see the Dalai Lama. They often prayed they would see him in Tibet. I knew the books and tape would bring happiness to them. Tibetans don’t know about the Universal Declaration, and I thought that if I distributed copies it might help them to understand.” Perhaps Lukar’s critics should ask themselves if they had ever taken such a risk on the Dalai Lama’s behalf?
Lukar Jam was arrested a year later, for this and for other crimes against the state. The Haixi Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Lukhar Jam to an eight-year term for “espionage” and ten more years for “organizing and leading a counterrevolutionary clique.” The full account of Lukar’s and his friends Tsegon Gyal and Namlo Yak dangerous undertakings for the cause of Tibetan freedom is in the detailed Human Rights Watch report I have linked here. For those few exiles spreading the rumor that Lukar was arrested for stealing a yak, it should be pointed out that CTA-backed Tibetan Center for Human Rights & Democracy at Gangchen Kyisong (TCHRD) in their publication of November 1997 caries a Profile Article “Sentenced to 17 Years for Espionage” which makes it clear that Lukar Jam was charged with “endangering national security”, and being a spy for an “external espionage organization” (almost certainly the Tibetan government in exile).
In prison he underwent unceasing and relentless interrogation, sleep deprivation, starvation rations, painfully tight handcuffs and leg shackles, and endless beatings “I was beaten and tortured with every kind of technique. They used cattle prods. My body swelled so much that my pants tore when I tried to put them on, but they didn’t give me new ones.” Lukar was soon seriously ill and rapidly lost weight. His abdomen became painfully distended and he developed a serious lung disorder. After four years in prison he was clearly dying. The prefectural hospital told the high court that Lukhar Jam was beyond their help, and there was no hope of him recovering. The chief of the detention center refused to take responsibility if Lukar Jam died in prison. After much nightmarish bureaucratic wrangling he was granted medical parole, if his family paid all his medical expenses. Lukar was in prison for fours years. When he was finally released, he could not stand, much less walk, unaided. He weighed 37 kgs (81 lbs). This is somewhat better than Holocaust survivors, whose average weight was around 60 lbs. The Americans who survived the Bataan “Death March” and Japanese POW camps, the “walking skeletons”, were said on average to weigh about 90 lbs.
The above photograph was taken a few months after he had put on a little weight. When someone posted it on Facebook one idiot commented that the photograph was faked because the face and neck looked darker than the body. I posted a reply where I noted that in such photographs the face and neck are usually darker as they are more exposed to the sun than the torso which is usually covered with a shirt or jacket. Someone else remarked that Lukar Jam’s imprisonment had happened a long time ago and that he and his supporters should get over it. Lukar himself does not talk much about his prison experience. If you’ve listened to his campaign speeches you’ll note that he practically makes no reference to it at all. I think I know why.
These days when trendy liberal types in the West talk about overcoming tragedy and loss, they insist on using the facile word “closure.” Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a national catastrophe, or more often than not, a divorce, closure is supposed to be what we need to heal and get on with our lives. But if you survive something truly horrendous, the reality is that there is no such thing as closure. Nightmares never end in the real world.
Some years ago (2010, I think it was) I was at a talk given by two of (the fourteen) “singing nuns of Drapchi ” who in prison secretly recorded songs that described their suffering in prison, demanded freedom for Tibet and praised the Dalai Lama. Ngawang Sangdrol and Choeying Kunsang, told their harrowing story to a young audience of largely SFT members, and quietly described the horrendous price they paid for their defiance of Chinese authority. At the conclusion of the talk someone asked this question. “Have you managed to get over it all? Do you sometimes remember your terrible experience in prison?”
I think it was Choeying la who replied, in a voice so soft that it was barely audible: “Every night when I fall asleep I dream of being back in prison.” My blood ran cold.
This is why I feel Lukar Jam would make a good leader. There is no “closure” for him on this most vital of issues. He will never forget what the Chinese did to him, and by extension what they did to Tibet.
Samdhong Rinpoche may complain to the Indian press about new-arrivals from Tibet being violent, but I think that new arrivals, especially political prisoners, could make an invaluable contribution to exile politics with their hard-earned experience of suffering under the Chinese. Hence I have no hesitation in saying that it is criminal, I repeat, criminal of CTA officials to try and reeducate (sometimes even pressure) arriving political prisoners in Dharamshala, to give up their commitment to the cause for which they were tortured and incarcerated, and instead adopt and advocate the official policy that Tibet should be part of the PRC.
I also believe that Tibetan political prisoners do not merely exist to be trotted around the corridors of the US Congress or the European Union to drum-up more funding for the CTA or ICT; and that our duty to them does not somehow become fulfilled when we sing their praises as “heroes” and arrange an audience or two for them with the Dalai Lama. It is vital for us to recognize that these are individuals, unique individuals with a political vision that most of us in exile have lost a long time ago. It is that political vision and experience, and their courage and commitment to stand up and speak out for it which now makes the likes of Lukar Jam, and also Ngawang Sangdrol, Golok Jigme, Phuntsok Wangchuk, Choeying Kunsang and many other prisoners of conscience the ideal leaders for the Tibetan struggle in this darkest moment in our long history. http://www.hrw.org/legacy/pubweb/lukhar.html
By Ponteng Thinley Dhondup (New Delhi)
Our democracy was presented to us by H.H The Dalai Lama when our nation was plundered by
People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China. We evolved our democratic culture while struggling
refuges in the exile land. We are enjoying the rights of a democracy while fighting for our
freedom from the hands of totalitarian China. Election sits at the heart of every democracy
prevailing in this world, and it is a clear manifestation of how that democratic nation works.
Because, the election is by the people to elect their leadership, who is for the people to achieve
their welfare and interest. According to Jeane Kirkpatrick, an Americian scholar, democratic
election is not just symbolic rather they are competitive, periodic, inclusive and definitive.
The 2011 election was one of the biggest “leap forward” transformation in the history of exile
Tibetans. The election had made the public debate and discussion inclusive and it was rather
competitive with highly qualified candidate from various backgrounds of campaigning
wholeheartedly to be elected. The election was also the most definitive in a way such that the
public enjoyed the right of criticism yet were able to build up a public consensus and popularly
elect the most deserving representative as Prime Minister and Members of the Parliament
The 2016 election is at its threshold, and the exiled Tibetans in various communities are already
discussing in full swing about their candidates both in terms of criticism and favoritism. There
are five candidates for the Sikyong, who came out and spoke of their candidacy. Similarly, in the
previous election, the candidates vary in their educational credentials and service experiences.
One thing to be noted in this election is that one of the Sikyong candidate stands for complete
independence (Rangzen), which is a new scenario in this election. There are numerous Chitue
candidates this time from different backgrounds, but mostly from the younger generation both
self-nominated candidates and candidates nominated by nongovernment organizations.
Rights and Responsibilities
“Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another, and it becomes my duty to guarantee
as well as to possess.” (Rights of Man 1791) Responsibilities are the products of rights and rights
are bound to the responsibilities. Basically, in a democratic society, rights and responsibilities are
the two criteria that create a good relationship between citizen and state, in our case public and
administration. The rights and responsibilities have to be borne by both the public as voters and
the candidates who they vote for. Under the Universal Suffrage, it is the right of the public to
cast their votes for their choice of leadership. But that Universal Suffrage Right should not be
taken lightly as it is binding through responsibility of electing the right person for the right post.
One has to know the importance of Sikyong and the Chitue working at Gangkyi and their duties
and demands, as well as the ability of the individual to meet that demand. Recently, I saw a
statement on a social networking site where the writer argued that Tibetans in India are
misguided so have misconstrued themselves in supporting the Sikyong or Chitue candidates.
Somehow, the argument is true by studying the climate of present ongoing Sikyong and Chitue
candidate's election campaign. There was a huge, irresponsible or a senseless reaction from
public in various means, be it in a social network or in organizing the public debate. Being a
responsible voter, one should not let himself fall into the trap of the mere participates in emotion
driven election campaign rather a thorough analysis has to be done in order to elect the best out
of the best. The casting of the vote itself is a part of every individual’s struggle for freedom.
It is a sign of progress for having so many candidates for the Chitue and more or less for the
Sikyong. It can also be a wish-fulfilling desire of our older generations, many of whom believed
it is the right time for a more educated and dynamic young leaderships to take the responsibility.
The responsibility is incomparably heavy due to a critical situation of Tibetan people in Tibet
and the uncertain situation of Tibetans in exile. The quantity itself doesn’t serve the purpose; the
quality matters a lot. It is a democratic right to stand as candidates of Chitue or Sikyong, but one
has to keep in mind that the weight of responsibility lies ahead, and so to question oneself
whether he or she possesses that capability. It is not just to impress voters to win the Tibetan Idol
competition, rather shouldering the solemn responsibility of realizing the aspiration of six
million Tibetans. Hence, one has to feel the responsibility before vying the seat.
Some observations on the current election trends.
This time, the Election Commission (EC) was expanded with an Additional Election
Commissioner which comprised of a Chief Election Commissioner with two Additional Election
Commissioners. The expansion of EC is positive, in many ways, to regulate the election process
well under a free and fair election. It is also an indicator of growing public interest and vibrant
participation of the larger population in the election process. The EC has laid out certain new
rules regarding the campaign expenses and activities of the candidates as well as the supporter
groups. The new rules are welcome initiatives to have a free and fair election and to make
everything transparent and accountable to each and every individual of the general public.
The general doubt about the new rules is its implementations because there is an obscurity and
vagueness for the practical sense of enforcement. The concern was highlighted by the editorial
board of the TPR in their piece of “The Good and Bad of the Tibetan Election Process So Far”.
They stated “We have serious concerns about the constitutionality of some of the EC’s rules, but
this editorial takes the rules as given.” The problem of effectiveness, especially lies in part 5 of
the article 24, which is to distinguish between the official speeches and campaign speeches of the
incumbent candidates using the official platform. The usage of campaign literature, which
contains the portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and emblem of CTA as well as Tibetan
national flag and Tibet map. Some of these are indeed very vague to identify, even though the
EC has declared that violating such rules will bear a penalty of having 5% of the votes received
being declared as null and void. The EC has made clear that anyone can approach the EC if he or
she has clear evidence and want to raise the issue. The investigation will be done accordingly,
and the actions will be follow the violation of any rules. But the question is who will come up
voluntarily only to bring the issue unless and until there is no any official committee to monitor
the campaign activities.
The piece in TPR contained EC’s response to the CTA website used for dismissing the Sikyong
candidate Tashi Wangdue’s charge against the Health Department, where EC has stated that
“There is no way we would be able to investigate each and every case of this nature with the
limited manpower we have. We are also not aware of the objective of the Health Department to
issue this clarification.” The statement clearly shows the limitation of EC as though they have
laid out the rules, they have problem enforcing it. It is good to consider the rules that are written
only if they doesn’t cause any conflict regarding the absence of enforcement. In order to make
the case the EC wants someone voluntarily to come up with the evidences of rules broken.
Hence, after all someone has to act as himself or herself an appellant so that EC can get a hand to
clean the things.
But it is fair enough to acknowledge and welcome such rules as an initiative to have fair and
smooth election campaign. The EC has also visited different settlements and clarified all these
The Sikyong election campaign is going well with hot debate wherever Tibetan communities are
located. Recently, I was traveling from Dehradun to Delhi, while I was waiting for my bus at
Dekyiling and within twenty minutes people started to debate between each other about the
Sikyong candidates. I can see so much of people’s participation and interest in the election
As of now, we have five Sikyong candidates who have come forward and made their candidature
over press conferences or in different media. There are two CTA incumbent candidates and three
new candidates who are more or less not related to any of the CTA offices. As it is commonly
understood, most of the debate is happening between two incumbent candidates and three
candidates. Moreover, this time it is remarkable to say that one of the candidates doesn’t come
from CTA stand that is the Middle Path (Lam Uma) but on an another that is of Complete
Independence (Rangzen). This gives a new perspective on the current Sikyong campaign, which
is somehow the indicator of the progress in our democratic culture. The inclusiveness plays a
bigger role, even in the face of different ideologies, that there is a space where one can enjoy his
or her right.
Given all these scenarios, one of the biggest problems of the current election is that people were
misunderstood and are falling into the trap of this ideological inclination. Most of the debates are
either directly or indirectly turning around on these two stands rather than talking about the
candidate as a person. The election in its genuine purpose is to elect a right person for the right
post and not for between one stand over another. Making a candidate’s political stand more
important than his or her capability for the post of Sikyong is problematic for this election and a
liability for us in the post-election period.
The essence of this election is to elect a capable and confident person to hold the Sikyong
responsibility irrespective of what is his or her political stand. If the candidate is not competent
enough for whatever responsibility he takes, then what is the use of his stand as he won’t be able
to carry it further. Let us not be deluded by the empty political stand (for the moment), rather it is
time for us to study the background of each candidate, their capability in whatever capacity they
have demostrated it before. Each candidate’s past journey is the witness for the present to judge
their competency in the future. There is no any political stand inclination, there is no any
sympathy, there is no any regionalism, but there are only education and competence that can
shape our future in a much better way.
This time there are a overwhelming number of Parliamentarian candidates, unlike any of the past
elections. I could say this is also a good sign of a growing democratic value in our society, and
people are awakening, especially the younger generation who are taking steps forward to grasp
the opportunity. This revolutionizing thing about the growing number of candidates, more
precisely from the younger generation is due to none other than the social media revolution. The
social network makes it easier, just to write their biography and promote their candidacy as much
as they can in this virtual world.
Standing for Chitue candidates, especially from the younger generation is welcomed, but at the
same time one has to think about the responsibility of Chitue in contrast with their own
capability and education. There should be some education and competency in order to take the
responsibility of Chitue as it is not a hit-or-miss election. Emerging are a large number of Chitue
candidates which gives us more and multiple choices and equally makes if difficult for us to
choose one of the deserving ones. If not careful we may confuse by the sheer number of
candidates and miss the real test of quality. As a voter, it is our inevitable responsibility to study
about the candidates from their past to the present in order to measure their education and
In conclusion, I hope there will be a more serious debate between the candidates of both Sikyong
and Chitue and voters will stay committed to elect the best out of the best candidates. May this
election will be a force to bring us closer to freedom of our nation.
By Sonam Dorjee, Toronto
It is incredible to have read many thoughtful write-ups on the 2016 Sikyong election and its candidates from all spectrums of ideological thinking in the Tibetan politics in exile; captivating perspectives on candidates’ stand, ideas, and manifestos are well-expressed. The uploaded interviews and panel discussions programs on the web are remarkably well-done in terms of highlighting candidate’s strengths and weaknesses before the voters. More interestingly, a discussion on Sikyong Candidates on social media, mainly on the Facebook, is by far the best to have followed for its interactivity benefits to the Facebook users. However, amidst all of the above positive things happening in our cherished democratic process, absence of a female Sikyong candidate is apparent; the prospects of having a female Sikyong seems to have been conveniently written-off from our vibrant Tibetan politics in exile.
The discussion on female participation in the Tibetan politics in exile is nothing new to the Tibetan community. In the mid 1960’s, a positive step was taken to ensure representation of female deputies in the then Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies (CTPD), reserving one seat for a woman from each of the three traditional regions in Tibet. The seat reservation policy was implemented from the 2nd through 7th CTPD term. However, in 1974, the reservation for women in CTPD was eliminated; as a result, from 1982 to 1990, no female deputies were elected to the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile (TPiE). The present Charter of Tibetans in Exile reserves two seats for women from each of the three traditional regions, a total of six reserved spots are available for women in the TPiE. The 15th TPiE term has 8 female deputies representing three traditional regions of Tibet, which is still just above the reserve quota for women in the TPiE.
A historical analysis on female’s representation in the Kashag is imperative to emphasize the under-representation of females in the Kashag (Executive). According to information available on the Tibet.net website, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) had 76 Kalons (Cabinet Ministers), including Kalon Tripas, in the past and eight Cabinet Ministers (including Sikyong) are the incumbents.
Of the total 84 Kalons, only 9 Kalons or 11% of them were/are female Kalons; two of them are the incumbents in the present Kashag. Further analysis shows that only 6 female individuals or 7% were ever appointed as Kalons, as Kasur Jetsun Pema la and Kasur Rinchen Khando Choegyal la had served as Kalons for three terms and two terms respectively. The appointment of female Kalons began only in the mid 1990’s, during the 8th Kashag term. The female representation in the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile does not fare well either, nor in the Central Tibetan Administration bureaucratic circle in Dharamsala. Apparently, not a single female Secretary is currently heading the departments of Central Tibetan Administration.
Since the direct election of Kalon Tripa in 2001, we have witnessed the leadership style of Trisur Samdhong Rinpoche, an ardent follower of a Gandhian philosophy. In the last four years or so, we have seen a Harvard graduate, Dr. Lobsang Sangay’s leadership style and his policies. Has the turn now come for a female Sikyong to bring forth new set of leadership style and policies to resolve Tibet issue? Are we ready and prepared for a paradigm shift in power to a female Sikyong? Around the world, whether it is in the business or politics, women are increasingly taking on important leadership roles. In the context of our present exile status, it would be interesting to see a female Sikyong and the type of responses from the international political leaders, especially the Chinese leaders. Negotiation process with the Chinese leadership is at its lowest level now; the situation inside Tibet is deteriorating at an alarming rate with desperate Tibetans continuing to take their own precious lives. In light of that, will ‘Her Excellency’ be able to thaw the strained relationship between Dharamsala and CCP?
The Tibetan community in exile has quite a few viable and eligible woman leaders who could make excellent Sikyong. Two individuals come to mind, both dynamic and well-experienced: the incumbent female Kalons for Home and Information & International Relations – Kalon Dolma Gyari and Kalon Dekyi Chhoyang. Both currently hold important portfolios and, more importantly, they are fully committed to our Just Cause. Kalon Dolma Gyari has been actively contributing to the Tibetan struggle in various capacities for the past 30 plus years; served as Deputy Speaker of the Doetsok (parliament) three times. She is well-educated and has a proven track record of possessing excellent relationship building skills, particularly among Indian politicians. Kalon Dekyi Chhoyang is also highly educated, fluent in 4 languages (Tibetan, French, English and Chinese) and has been actively associated with the Tibetan community in the West from a very young age. She has been in Tibet for her research work in the Amdo region. Her track record as Kalon for Information & International Relations is impressive and has made good stride in garnering international support on the issue of Tibet in the last four years. So, I am confident that either of the two can be a foreseeable leader for Resolving Tibet Issue with their vast experiences.
Talking of a maturity in the Tibetan democratic process, a transition of power to a female Sikyong in 2016 would mark a milestone in Tibet’s history. The existing five Sikyong candidates could continue running after their vote, should either one declare their candidature for the Sikyong during 2016 election. It is still not too late for them to declare their candidature or any associations to propose their names for the 2016 Sikyong election – it will certainly bring about an election coup in the 2016 general election! We should support them, if they become Sikyong candidates - not on the basis of their gender, but on their merits and for the potential change of leadership style. A female Sikyong could be an excellent role model for aspiring Tibetan women to become Kalons and Chithues in future. Women empowerment can only be possible if we encourage and support them for taking active participation in Tibetan politics in exile.
By Ngawang Choechen
The core policy of Sikyong (Prime Minister) and Chitues (Representatives) should be finding a solution to the Tibetan issue: Ume Lam (middle way approach) or Rangzen (independence). Do we have a candidate with a third option to solve our problem? Let me discuss what the third option is in the succeeding paragraphs.
The primary voting for Sikyong and Chitues of the Tibetan Administration is less than a month now. Out of five candidates for Sikyong, four support Ume Lam and one supports Rangzen. No one has a third option. Tibetan voters should know the policy and program of the candidates and cast his or her vote without any influence from others.
Currently, the Tibetan Administration is pursuing Ume Lam (middle way) approach. But differing opinions, views and stands are welcome in a democratic system. As such, candidates supporting either Ume Lam or Rangzen should equally be acceptable in a healthy democratic system. I was also a member of Tibetan Youth Congress which supports Rangzen and still support the organization. We all know that historically Tibet was an independent country. Until 1974, His Holiness the Dalai Lama also strived for Rangzen. It is very important for all of us to fully understand Ume Lam and know that His Holiness never forced us to accept Ume Lam. His Holiness gave us the choice and the majority of the Tibetan electorates chose Ume Lam through a democratic process. The main goal of pursuing Ume Lam was to save the very identity of the Tibetan people which is at the verge of extinction in Chinese occupied Tibet. It was also aimed for the mutual benefits of the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.
But His Holiness had also said that the ultimate decision lies with the Tibetan people. As such Rangzen can be acceptable if the Tibetan people chose it democratically. But a candidate cannot merely say that I stand for Rangzen without any plan of action. In our society, people especially some younger generation are excited when somebody talks about Rangzen. But the question is not, “Do we like Rangzen or should we choose Rangzen?” It is, “How can we achieve Rangzen”. “What should we do to achieve Rangzen”.
Although I support Rangzen (Independence) policy of Tibetan Youth Congress, I have not been able get a clear answer to my above questions. In fact, when I asked a long time veteran Rangzen advocate how Rangzen could be achieved, he had no answer. In fact, he even got upset with my question. It is not the question of choice. It is a question how Rangzen could be achieved.
Therefore, in the pretext of Rangzen, speaking against His Holiness the Dalai Lama is very sad and unacceptable. His Holiness as the supreme leader of the Tibetan people has tirelessly worked for the Tibetan cause from the age of 16 to 80. He has now politically retired and handed the rein to a democratically elected Sikyong. Still His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the symbol of our unity. Maligning His Holiness using the name of Rangzen during the election campaign or elsewhere is unacceptable. It creates disunity among the Tibetans and only helps the Chinese government. So a candidate speaking against His Holiness should apologize in public and also should not repeat such remarks if he wants to win the election.
A candidate can certainly pursue Rangzen with the question, “How” in his mind. He or she needs a clear road map how he is going to work for attaining Rangzen. Has the current Sikyong candidate supporting Rangzen a clear plan of action? Unfortunately I have not seen or heard that he has explained us how his plan of action will lead to achieving Rangzen.
The third option is to pursue Ume Lam for a specific period and then switch to Rangzen. In this case first we should pursue Ume Lam, which is the current policy of the Tibetan Administration. But we should not merely say that our doors are always open for talks. Chinese government will never use our open door to talk to us. For a successful dialogue with China for accepting Ume Lam, we need rigorous effort to reach the decision making top Chinese leadership for a result oriented dialogue. We need to make serious effort to knock on their door and reach the highest Chinese authority including the Chinese President for a meaningful and decisive talk. The elected Sikyong using the Third Option needs to approach the Chinese leadership through numerous channels and give them an ultimatum or specific time limit such as three years for a decisive talk. In case no positive response or concrete result is achieved within the specific period, we have to rethink our approach. We should not wait for Ume Lam indefinitely. If the Chinese leadership plays the ill conceived game of delaying tactics, we should approach His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his blessing and the Tibetan people through democratically Chitue Lhenkhang and then vote for Rangzen option. Rangzen can be achieved. If everybody seriously think and discuss about the ways, means and plan of action how to achieve Rangzen, there should be a way. Freedom is our birth right and when there is a will there is a way.
Whatever the stance of the candidate, we should always be respectful, cautious and vigilant especially during the election season. These days we hear a lot of allegations against almost all the candidates. Chinese communist party and the government always try to use even our trivial differences against us to create disunity amongst us. In order to overcome such evil designs, we need to understand the sensitivity and complexity of our regional and sectarian based society. We need to work sincerely for the genuine and solid unity of all the Tibetan people from the three provinces of Tibet and also the religious traditions. Our Sikyong, Chitue candidates and community leaders should be able to provide factual and convincing information to the younger generation particularly few misinformed people about the Tibetan administration and our Buddhist tradition. We should educate our youths how our disunity is helping the Chinese government so that innocent people will return to the main stream. We should try our best to win the hearts of misguided people through education. Constructive suggestions are always welcome and productive in a democracy. Unfounded, baseless and negative comments with an ill intention to damage a promising candidate based on rumors or distortion or personal grudge should be discouraged and challenged. We must always judge the future policy and program of a candidate rather than wasting our time on rumors about his or her personal matters.
Besides the main Tibetan core issue, each candidate needs other specific policy programs and should declare them. Recently I have seen in Youtube five point program of a promising North America Chitue candidate. His program was very attractive especially for the Tibetans in North America. They include unity of all Tibetans, preservation of Tibetan language, 21st Buddhist studies including providing a spiritual teacher for each of 32 Tibetan Associations in North America, promotion of democracy including citizen’s duties and increasing the Tibetan population. Others should also publicize their programs.
One of the important issue is that the next Tibetan parliament should seriously discuss and change the term of Sikyong and Chitue to four years. We need a four years term and not five years at the present situation. A Sikyong winning two terms and serving for ten years is pretty long for our case. Eight years is quite reasonable for a Sikyong to prove his or her capabilities. With a shorter term, more people will avail opportunity to serve the Tibetan people. Several countries including the United States already follow this system and is very effective.
Other important programs of a practical candidate could include helping the ever increasing Tibetan immigrants: There are numerous immigration programs which the Tibetans are not making best use of them. Tibetan refugees in some countries in Europe face certain problems due to lack of knowledge about immigration rules of those countries. As such, North American Chitues and Chitues in Europe can organize seminars by themselves or encourage Tibetan associations or non profit organizations to do so by inviting immigration attorneys in places where a large number of Tibetans reside. The Tibetans will learn various legal immigration programs such as asylum, marriage, adoption, relative petition, religious, business and employment related visas.
The new Tibetan immigrants face numerous problems in a new country with a vast different system such as travel in large cities, asylum procedure, family reunification, permanent residence, citizenship, school admission, higher studies, employment, micro business, health care, insurance, etc. Chitues in various countries should recommend establishing a section in the Office of Tibet for organizing regular weekly orientation sessions for new Tibetan immigrants. Also it becomes important to discuss the merits demerits of establishing an Office of Tibet in a moderate Muslim country because not many Muslims in the world know that Tibetan Muslims also had to suffer and leave Tibet due to Chinese invasion. They had to resettle in India or elsewhere in the world and also Communist Chinese government subsequently destroyed few mosques in Tibet during the notorious Cultural Revolution. We have educated and experienced Muslims in Kashmir who could lead such Office of Tibet.
We talk about our education policy a lot. As part of our education policy, our Chitues and Sikyong can ask the relevant departments/organizations to arrange career counseling & information session for higher studies for those who plan to pursue higher studies such as law, engineering, medicine, information technology, communication, journalism or obtaining various licenses such as teaching, nursing, real estate, etc.
Another issue is Green Book. Our current election system requires a voter must possess a valid Green Book in order to be eligible to participate in the election. Also Green Book contribution is a major source of revenue for our government in exile. But obtaining a Green Book has been pretty complicated process for the past few years especially Tibetans living in small numbers in all over the world. Therefore, one of the important responsibilities of the Chitue is to ensure prompt supply of Green Books to Tibetans and timely collections of Green Book contributions. Small populated areas including ours face such problems.
The Central Tibetan Administration, Tibetan settlements as well as Tibetan associations in the west need to discuss the utilization of experience and skills of the former members of Special Frontier Force, Establishment 22 (Tibetan military organization). The personnel of this organization are well trained in various fields such as guerrilla as well as conventional warfare. Many have leadership experience while others are trained in skills such as physical fitness exercises, rock climbing, mountaineering, swimming, etc. Many others are trained in health services, sports, marching band, office work, security service, driving, cooking, cleanliness, etc.
These persons are in general physically fit, hard working and disciplined to mobilize in an emergency relief work such as flood, earthquake, fire, etc. There are thousands of former members all over the Tibetan clusters. Who knows if a situation arises we will be able to utilize the services of these compatriots to fight for our Rangzen if the Chinese regime refuses to accept our middle way approach with delaying tactics. I am not advocating for a military campaign now but it is one of the available options for us.
Tibetan population in the western countries is ever increasing over the years. A time has come to explore the possibility of establishing Tibet Towns in the western countries where large number of Tibetans reside. The Tibetan Administration or Tibetan entrepreneurs could initiate projects by exploring to buy a large tract of land consisting several hundreds or even a thousand of acres. There are vacant lands for sale for less than a thousand dollars an acre not far away from a city in many parts of the United States.
The land thus procured could be divided into plots of around a quarter of an acre and then sold among individual buyers. Architectural designers, developers, builders, investors, realtors could be convened for a feasibility study. The infrastructure in the Tibet town should generally focus on self reliance and self employment. It could include facilities such as a Palace for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a Rimey (non-sectarian) Monastery, schools, Thangka schools, child care centers, medical clinics, libraries, culture centers, entertainment units, sports facilities, restaurants, guest houses, handicraft centers, gift stores, grocery stores, gas stations, laundry, parks, walking trails, etc.
Yet another important issue is senior` citizens. Currently there are many senior living facilities for Tibetans in India. But there are none in the west. More and more Tibetans are getting old in the west. Persons who were 45 when they immigrated to US in 1993 are already senior citizens now. We need senior homes designed to the spiritually rooted Tibetan elders such as a Buddhist shrine and stupa in addition to facilities such as living quarters, dining hall, recreation center, park, etc. Chitues should approach the concerned departments in order to explore the possibility of establishing simple senior living facilities by seeking financial assistance from foundations & also using their own Social Security and savings.
So far a few Chitue and Sikyong candidates have declared their policy programs but others have not. The serious Chitue or Sikyong candidates must have prepared their policy programs by now. I wish the candidates consider some of the above items. It is important that they should publicize` their policy programs using all available channels as soon as possible as the Tibetan voters would like to know their programs. We should not vote for a candidate who has no specific program.
Our best wishes are with the candidates with clear and practical programs.
The contributor lives in North Carolina, US and owns a Tibetan Gift Shop.
By Lukar Jam Atsock (Sikyong Candidate)
On The Title of "CTA"
f I am elected Sikyong, I will make serious efforts to reinstitute the title Tibetan Government in Exile. I will present a case to the Tibetan parliament arguing for the need of such a change. The title Tibetan Government in Exile was removed to appease the Chinese government, so that the latter would come to the negotiating table. But the fact of the matter is that the Chinese have rejected the Middle Way proposal, as the series of white papers attests. The idea that the Indian government would not allow us to use the title ‘Tibetan Government in Exile’ is misleading. The Indian government will not crack down on us if we use this title.
On Seeking Support from Non-Tibetans
As far as my administration is concerned, we will seek support from any non-Tibetan who’s an ardent humanist, who believes in justice. That’s the ultimate criteria. He or she doesn’t necessarily have to be a person of religious faith, a believer, including a Tibetan Buddhist. Right now, because of the dominance of the Middle-Way, those supporters who are sympathetic to Tibetan independence are being alienated. If I become Sikyong, the support from non-Tibetans shall be expanded. We will have support from those who are not only Buddhists and Middle-Way advocates, but also from those who are sympathetic to Tibetan independence.
On Sino-Tibetan Dialogue
I have to make it clear here. If I become Sikyong, there will be no Sino-Tibetan dialog on the political status of Tibet. This will end. My administration may conduct negotiations on other humanistic issues, such as the aspiration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to visit Tibet and China for pilgrimage; or the desire of the Tibetans in exile to meet their relatives in Tibet. But there shall be no dialogue on the POLITICAL status of Tibet. Secondly, the Chinese government does not respect our views; our views are considered illegal. It considers Tibetan Government in Exile a criminal organization. It considers Dalai Lama a terrorist. It considers the Middle-Way a ploy to split China. The only thing that we have achieved after decades of Sino-Tibetan dialogue is that the Chinese government summoned what it refers to as ‘a few Dalai-led overseas separatists’ to Beijing and ordered them to condemn ‘Tibetans involved in smashing, burning and looting.’
The present educational policy, the brainchild of Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, of the CTA shall be reviewed. This educational policy has many systemic flaws. The goal is not to create independent thinking students, but ‘moral beings,’ with overwhelming focus on ‘Buddhist compassion and kindness.’ Moreover, Tibetan exiles live throughout the world, in North America, South Asia, Europe, Australasia. So a monolithic education policy is not realistic. We have to have a system that takes into account the local realities. The driving force of my education shall not be ‘others before self,’ but resistance, which means standing up for justice.
On Shugden Worshipers
I am confident I will resolve this controversy, which is threatening to tear apart the Tibetan community. To me Shugden is a small issue, but due to the mistaken policies we have made it a big issue, basically we have blown it out of proportion. Shugden is a matter of worshipping a spirit, that too a Geluka spirit. We can’t have a monolithic view of Shugden worshippers. We have to know that there are different types of Shugden practitioners: there are those Shuden practitioners, who openly collude with our enemy, the Chinese government, as revealed by Lama Tseta. Then there are those who quietly practice the deity, while also acknowledging that they believe in the Dalai Lama. We also have to take into account that there are mischievous people harming the Tibetan cause in the name of loyalty to the Dalai Lama, in the name of fighting the Shugden worshippers. We have to have a nuanced, comprehensive policy that will tackle this issue.
On the Sustenance of Tibetan Refugee Settlements
The issue of the sustenance of Tibetan refugee settlements is important. As far as I am concerned, I think the Tibetan refugee settlements are doing relatively well. Of course, we can make further improvements. But what is really important is to realize that settlement sustenance is not something that is achieved by raising money alone, that is by constructing some shopping malls in today’s context. A real sustenance of Tibetan refugee settlement is possible through developing cordial relations with the local people. The biggest problem we face in the Tibetan settlements today is the lack of economic equality; some people receive too much aid; people quip that the capable ones even have sponsors for their dogs! In the near future, the important question is not how much further aid we will receive [from our donors] but whether we can ensure an equal distribution of the aid we have already received. We cannot sustain the settlement simply by raising money; in fact if we don’t know how to use the money properly, this will endanger our sustainability.
On the Split Between the Middle Way and Rangtsen Advocates
The truth of the matter is that I am fighting the election for Tibetan independence. So, for me the restoration of Tibetan national independence is far more important than winning the Prime Minister’s post. My fighting the election is not simply about winning a post. If I become a Sikyong, I have to be honest with the people. If there are certain things that I am incapable of accomplishing, I have to be clear about it. I have to clarify it with the public. I can’t pretend otherwise. Of course we can have a dialogue on all the internal issues. But one thing that we can’t compromise upon is the goal of seeking independence. If I am not firm on Tibetan independence, there’s not much use for me to fight this election. So I will focus on restoring independence. But that doesn’t means my administration will ostracize Middle-Way advocates. As one of my slogans for this campaign attests, I am for a non-partisan government. Let me assure you: Middle-Way advocates too shall have space in my administration.
On Staffs Resigning from the Exile Tibetan Administration
We have to seriously think about the exile Tibetan administration. We might face a situation one day when not just a few, but all of the staffs leave the administration. We might even see the closure of the Central Tibetan Administration, if all Tibetan refugees in India migrate [to other countries]. Fortunately, at the moment the Central Tibetan Administration exists. Although Tibetan diaspora is important, that is the fact that we all live in different parts of the world, what is really important is that we have a history. We are a nation. So, the existence of CTA is not just a matter of seeking livelihood for the refugees. Secondly, we don’t know yet where the Chinese Communist Party is heading. The Chinese might even commit genocide in Tibet. Therefore, Tibetan establishments in India are necessary to receive Tibetans fleeing Tibet in case the Chinese commits a mass slaughter of Tibetans. So irrespective of staffs leaving CTA, I believe the existence of CTA is necessary. There are several reasons for staffs leaving CTA. The principal reason is the inability of the administration to create a future, a vision, for them.
On Tibetan Diplomats
A full review of the procedures on the appointment of Tibetan diplomats in foreign countries shall be conducted; educational trainings shall be provided to them to ensure that they become sophisticated enough to advance the political cause of Tibet in the international arena. Alliance shall be made with people of Taiwan, Hong Kong, East Turkestan, Chinese democracy activists and so on.
Other Concrete Reforms
I will see the possibility of establishing Tibetan Studies programs in prominent universities; I will ensure that major libraries around the world have good books on Tibet; full efforts shall be made to advance the education of young Tibetan refugees, especially college graduates. Towards this end, I will make efforts to convert Tibetan colleges, such as the Dalai Lama College in Bangalore, into a work-class educational institution. This is possible.
Originally published at:
By Asahi Shimbun Editorial (Sept. 23, 2015)
Occupying the highlands of western China at an average elevation of 4,000 meters, Tibet marked the 50th anniversary of the foundation of its autonomous region on Sept. 1.
Celebratory events were held in Tibet on Sept. 8, but the Xi administration continues to pursue a policy for Tibet that combines economic development with tight control by Beijing. Given Tibet's autonomous status, China must clearly reset its course and respect Tibetan ethnic culture.Full editorial here: http://ajw.asahi.com/article/views/editorial/AJ201509230025.
By Lhadon Tethong (Tibet Action Institute) Sept. 13, 2015
Chinese President Xi Jinping will be in the U.S. for his first official state visit later this month. As President Obama prepares to receive him at the White House with a state dinner and a 21-gun salute, Xi's regime is carrying out an unprecedented attack on Tibetans and civil society in China. After the U.S. spent decades pursuing a failed 'quiet diplomacy' approach to promoting rights and freedom in Tibet and China, now is the time for the President to turn up the volume and speak out publicly.
Since taking over as President in 2013, Xi Jinping has targeted everyone who is likely to have an alternative opinion to the Chinese Communist Party - this means lawyers and rights advocates, civil society leaders, journalists, academics, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Christians and anyone else who may be attempting to practice religion, protect culture, defend the environment, promote rights, or push for more political openness.
This past summer alone, at least 323 Chinese lawyers and rights defenders working for human rights, religious freedom, environmental protection, labor rights, etc., were disappeared, detained, tortured or harassed. And as this crackdown was underway, one of the most high profile Tibetan political prisoners, 65-year old Buddhist monk and revered social activist, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, died in a Chinese prison after 13 years of torture. Protesters in his home region were shot at for demanding the return of his body and now thousands in the area are living under military lockdown.
Xi Jinping's hardline approach surprised many. When he first took power, observers speculated that this modern Chinese leader, who had even spent time in his youth studying agricultural technology in Iowa, might usher in a new era of openness and liberalization. In fact, the reality has turned out to be the opposite.
Determined to crush even the slightest perceived opposition to his hold on power, Xi has escalated state repression of civil society on multiple fronts, overseeing the drafting and implementation of a spate of draconian laws on NGOs, cyberspace and 'National Security,' while aggressively targeting thousands of activists.
In Tibet - where at least 143 Tibetans have now lit themselves on fire to protest the suffocating repression they face under Chinese rule - the situation is going from bad to worse, with the Communist Party recently announcing its intentions to tighten control and stamp out the influence of the Dalai Lama, including plans to choose his successor.
For many Tibetans and rights advocates, witnessing this new low that Xi's policies have brought makes it clear that something needs to give - that world governments need to change their approach to Beijing.
For more than two decades, politicians and business leaders have maintained that the opening of China's markets would open China's political system and therefore bring greater rights and freedoms, including to Tibet. Eager to secure smooth access to Chinese markets, they argued that moving embarrassing discussions about Tibet and human rights out of the public spotlight and behind closed doors would allow Chinese leaders to save face and make them more open to substantive discussions and reforms.
But this 'quiet diplomacy' approach - embodied by bilateral dialogue processes that see human rights issues relegated to confidential meetings between Chinese officials and their counterparts - has utterly failed to improve the human rights situation in Tibet or China. Instead, it has let Chinese leaders off the hook entirely, ensuring there is no real price to pay for trampling on human rights in China or Tibet, not even the embarrassment that China used to suffer during public debates or discussions.
In 2009, long before Xi Jinping even took office, the Obama administration took quiet diplomacy to a new level of quiet when then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, brushed off the entire subject of human rights on the eve of her first trip to China. She said the issues were important, "but we pretty much know what they are going to say," implying that discussing human rights issues was a waste of time.
Later that year, President Obama broke from tradition and declined to meet the Dalai Lama until after the President had first made a trip to China and met then-Chinese President Hu Jintao. Since George H. W. Bush, every sitting U.S. President had received the Dalai Lama at the White House on the latter's first visit to Washington after the presidential inauguration.
Whatever the intentions of the White House, the message received in Beijing was that the United States under President Obama was not going to prioritize the issue of Tibet or human rights in China. It was clear that increased repression wouldn't result in any substantive reaction from the international community if the so-called "leader of the free world" was taking such a weak approach on human rights.
Now, the situation in Tibet and China is so bad that some China-watchers who previously championed the 'trickle-down-democracy' arguments cannot ignore the ugly reality: China under Xi Jinping has doubled down on the authoritarian approach, perhaps more so than at any other time since Mao.
So how does the U.S., and any other democratic country for that matter, begin to address such a massive problem? The place to start seems clear: abandon 'quiet diplomacy' - it is not working.
On the occasion of the Chinese President's first state visit to the U.S., the time has come for President Obama to speak out - unequivocally and publicly - against Xi Jinping's crackdown in China and Tibet. The President should call on Xi to immediately halt the ongoing assault and release all prisoners of conscience, including mentioning by name Tibetan Buddhist leader Khenpo Kartse, Uyghur intellectual Ilham Tohti, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, and human rights lawyer Yu Wang.
Of course, a public statement alone is not enough to halt Xi's crackdown. There are many tools in the diplomatic toolbox that can and should be used to support the people of China and Tibet who are struggling to achieve their basic rights and freedoms. But, at least to start, a strong public statement is the most emphatic signal the President can give to his Chinese counterpart that the current situation is unacceptable.
After nearly two decades of toothless attempts to get the Chinese government to improve its human rights record, it is time to do things differently. The days of fruitless bilateral dialogues should be over. Xi Jinping must be told, in the clear light of day and for the whole world to see, that we know what he is doing, that we do not accept it, and, as a so-called partner on the global stage, we expect him to do much better.
By Tenzing Sonam
For the sake of honouring the Snowland
And to win Tibet’s complete independence
Based on the manifold truth
Raise the Tibetan flag, children of the Snowland!
Think about Lolo. Brave, gentle, patriotic Lolo. Languishing in a Chinese prison, serving a six-year sentence for singing these stirring words of hope and encouragement. How would he feel if he knew that had he sung those same words in exile, he would now be reviled, branded anti-Dalai Lama, hounded by trolls on social media, and pressurized by our own government to refrain from using words like ‘independence (rangzen)’?
What would beautiful, noble, serene, Ani Sangay Dolma think, making the ultimate sacrifice for our country, with a smile on her lips and rangzen written on her hand, if she knew that in exile, her sacrifice would be in vain, for she too, daring to articulate the banned word, would be cast among the disbelievers, the unity-breakers, the anti-Dalai Lama clique?
And what of all the others – the self-immolators, the demonstrators, the resistance fighters, the thousands over the decades who gave up their lives fighting for Tibet’s independence and for the safety of His Holiness – what of their sacrifice and the cause they fought for, and continue to fight for? Can we exile Tibetans look them in the eye and honestly tell them that today, as rangzen activists, they are no better than the enemy?
How have we descended to this absurd, illogical and unthinkable situation? Do we really believe that unity can be enforced through intimidation and the threat of upsetting His Holiness? I have watched with increasing horror as the space for reasonable debate and discussion in our society has been systematically shut down in recent years. Rangzen supporters have been vilified and ostracised, tarred by the convenient brush of being anti-Dalai Lama. I need not recount here the many attempts to enforce this new regime, from targeting individuals to pressurizing groups like TYC and SFT to change their pro-rangzen stance to the recent shameful events at the 10 March commemoration in New York.
It is no secret that I am a rangzen supporter. I have written several articles since 2006 outlining my reasons for questioning the long-term viability of the Middle Way Approach and emphasising the importance of reinstating the goal of independence as the cornerstone of our struggle (for those interested, I have provided links at the end of this article). If anything, I believe there is an even greater urgency today to review the Middle Way Approach and rethink the direction of our national struggle. These are my opinions, based not on wishful thinking and emotional immaturity as some would like to believe, but on my own reasonable analysis of the situation. You are welcome to accept or reject them. And as long as we can have a civilised discourse, I will respect your views even if you disagree with me.
But I want to make one thing absolutely clear: to support rangzen is not to be anti-Dalai Lama. How much clearer can that statement be? To believe in the goal of rangzen is not a sign of impractical idealism, emotional confusion or an automatic endorsement of violence. These insidious and destructive accusations are tearing apart the very fabric of our community, ripping our movement into shreds and making a mockery of our long and hard-fought struggle against the injustice of the Chinese occupation. In a democratic society, a plurality of views and the right to freely express them is supremely important. In a tiny community like ours, striving to make the transition into a functioning democracy, it becomes all the more urgent to correct this course towards authoritarian bullying.
That this should be happening at a time when His Holiness has devolved his political authority and we have elected our first Sikyong is, perhaps, not surprising. The sudden vacuum left by His Holiness as our political head rendered us insecure and uncertain and our immediate response was to hold on to him even more tightly than before. In our attempt to prevent him from leaving us to our own devices, we redoubled our efforts to prove to him that we were loyal, committed and devoted to him. And one manifestation of this painful separation anxiety may well be the hardening of attitude towards those deemed to be disloyal to him.
But surely, when His Holiness made the difficult decision to withdraw from politics and once and for all sever the tie between religion and politics, he understood that he would be throwing us into some disarray, that there would be a period of introspection and uncertainty, but that the mechanisms of democracy that he had established would eventually overcome them?
In a talk to the Tibetan community in Paris in August 2008, His Holiness had this to say on this matter: “Since we are on the path of democracy, in order for it to function, it is not appropriate that a lama leads the people. It should be based on elections. Secondly, it is the struggle of a people. Not the struggle of one generation or of a few selected leaders, and nor is it to benefit a small minority. Therefore, the people should lead and do the work and not depend on one or two persons. Normally, on the lips of Tibetans, it’s always – ‘The Dalai Lama knows best, the Dalai Lama will do it…’ – but it is a mistake if you say such things. It is also dangerous to depend on one person. The Chinese also say that your Tibet problem is nothing, it is dependent on one person and if that person passes away the issue of Tibet will also disintegrate. This is what they say, but this is not the truth, absolutely not. Therefore, we should be able to fight and struggle, generation after generation. We have to prepare ourselves for that. It is very important.”
When His Holiness set into motion the chain of reforms that ended with the devolution of his political authority, he was clear that what he wanted in place of centuries of theocratic rule was a system of governance more in tune with the 21st century: a secular democracy, a government where religion was completely separated from politics. This may be why he refused for himself even a figurehead role as head of state in the new government. He recognised that in order for Tibetan society to evolve and become a genuine democracy, the era of theocratic rule would have to be definitively and decisively terminated. No vestige of our past political system could remain if a new start was to be successfully made. Of course, while His Holiness is alive, he knows fully well that he is there to guide, counsel and offer us his support, so the need to codify his role in a formal political sense, even as a figurehead, doesn’t arise. His concern is for the future, when he will no longer be there for us. And the only way we can legitimately carry on his legacy and represent the people of Tibet is if we have successfully established a secular democracy. This is truly visionary thinking on His Holiness’ part and it is our responsibility to do our best to fulfil it.
We are yet in the infancy of our transition to a full democracy, still unsure about exercising our rights, still feeling our way deferentially and diffidently through conflicting emotions and choices, still burdened by the weight of our conditioned past. This is only natural. But this is why it is so crucial that these upcoming elections represent a decisive step forward in shaking off the straitjacket of the past. And why it is absolutely necessary that the witch-hunting of rangzen supporters in His Holiness’ name stops. And if anyone has any doubts about His Holiness’ own views on this question, they would do well to remember these words from a press conference he held in Dharamshala in 2008 soon after the uprising broke out in Tibet: “So now we fully committed to democracy, therefore criticism… differently. Now look at the Youth Organization. Right from the beginning, they are very, very critical about our approach, the Middle Way Approach. Even my own eldest brother, now I think 85 years old. Once you see, he told me, he expressed to me, my dear younger brother, 14th Dalai Lama, you sold out Tibetan legitimate right. Like that, many Tibetans are critical about our Middle Way Approach. This is I feel, a healthy sign of our sort of commitment about democracy, open society.”
This then brings me to Lukar Jam Atsok and his candidacy for Sikyong. Of course, as a rangzen activist, I am happy to have a candidate that supports my own views about the Tibet struggle. There are many good reasons why he is a valid candidate for the post but I will not go into them here for this article is not about promoting his campaign but about our larger democratic process. I will certainly vote for him, but in one sense, whether he wins or loses is unimportant to me. What is significant is that by throwing his hat in the ring on a rangzen platform, he has taken advantage of the democratic rights bestowed on us by His Holiness and broken the taboo of being a rangzen supporter. This is a bold and courageous step on his part, given the current vitiated atmosphere against anyone daring to speak out in support of rangzen.
As a candidate, he can bring to the open the debate around the Middle Way Approach and rangzen that has been increasingly silenced in our community. And hopefully, his campaign will pave the way for a more forward-thinking generation of politicians who will stand on their own merits and ideas rather than forever hiding behind the smokescreen of what they believe are His Holiness’ wishes. And in doing so, I have no doubt that Lukar Jam Atsok is furthering His Holiness’ vision of a future Tibet that is a vibrant, secular democracy. This is why his candidacy for Sikyong is so important for Tibetan democracy.
So for the sake of Lolo, Ani Sangay Dolma and all the others still in prison, for those who have self-immolated on our behalf, and for those who came before us and died for our country, let’s stop this demonizing of rangzen supporters. Let’s give Lukar Jam Atsok a fair hearing and an unbiased platform to present his case. And of course, may the best candidate win!
Links to my articles on the subject of Rangzen and Middle Way Approach:
Rethinking the Tibet movement, Seminar, April 2013: http://www.india-seminar.com/2013/644/644_tenzing_sonam.htm
The Democracy Conundrum, Himal Southasian, July 2011: http://old.himalmag.com/component/content/article/4590-the-democracy-conundrum.html
Middle Way or bust, Himal Southasian, May 2009: http://old.himalmag.com/component/content/article/738-middle-way-or-bust.html
Until the last Tibetan, Himal Southasian, April 2007: http://old.himalmag.com/component/content/article/1388-until-the-last-tibetan.html
Roadblock on the Middle Path, Himal Southasian, December 2006: http://old.himalmag.com/component/content/article/1469-Roadblock-on-the-Middle-Path.html
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