As the 2011 Kalon Tripa election nears, Tibetans need to seriously evaluate the candidates so that their decision is well-informed. As the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review, we have not committed to supporting any candidate. In order to further the spirit of democratic debate, we plan to comment on and critique the policy platforms of the individuals nominated as Kalon Tripa candidates, toughly but fairly. We do this not as any sort of "experts" but simply as Tibetans. In this article, we turn to Ms. Gyari Dolma.
In a June 7, 2010 article in Outlook India, Dolma-la opposes Tibetan refugees taking Indian citizenship. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with this position. Many Tibetans --including His Holiness the Dalai Lama -- make statelessness a matter of principle. For these people, taking another country's citizenship is akin to abandoning their Tibetan-ness. Other Tibetans feel differently, believing that dual Tibetan/foreign citizenship is entirely possible. Both views have validity.
Dolma-la, however, does not call on Tibetans to reject foreign citizenship on the grounds of principle. Rather, she invokes purely material grounds. She states:
“While many Indians are dying of malnutrition and hunger, our Tibetan community is very well-looked-after, thanks to substantial foreign aid. Once we become Indian citizens, we will lose much of that aid, and will have to fend for ourselves."
Let us accept for a moment Dolma-la's assertion that Tibetan refugees in India are "very well-looked-after," even though the economic condition of some settlements is difficult. Perhaps Dolma-la did not mean to gloss over the challenges of improving life in the settlements, which will be a key task of the next Kalon Tripa.
A more troubling issue is Dolma-la's assertion that the success of Tibetan refugees is -- and should be -- based on foreign hand-outs rather than their own hard work. It sounds as though Dolma-la wants Tibetan refugees indefinitely to continue their stateless existence in order to garner foreign sympathy and charity. If this is Dolma-la's economic plan for the settlements, we worry for both moral and pragmatic reasons.
Morally, we believe Tibetans should plan for a day when they do not need to hold out their hands for alms. Do Tibetans really want to become a people who cannot "fend for themselves"? Dolma-la seems to believe that fending for yourself is something to avoid, but isn't self-reliance a noble goal? Isn't over-reliance on charity something that leads to dependency and lack of motivation ? Isn't it time for the Tibetan people to cast away the patron-seeking mentality and stand up for themselves?
Pragmatically, Dolma-la's position also has a problem. It is not a sound economic plan for the Tibetan settlements to depend on continuous "substantial foreign aid." What will happen if that aid dries up? Shouldn't Tibetans be working on improving education, opportunity, investment, and plugging the Tibetan refugee community into the globalized world to succeed on their own?
If Dolma-la has been misquoted, we encourage her to clarify her position. Perhaps she has a plan to economically revitalize the Tibetan settlements. Perhaps she has a vision on bringing opportunity and education to Tibetan youth, and how to bring together Tibetans living in settlements, Indian cities, and the West. If she does, she should share it with the voters.
We are also surprised by Dolma-la's characterization of Indian people "dying of malnutrition and hunger." The Indian people have been generous enough to host Tibetan refugees for over five decades. While India contains both poverty and affluence, it should be unthinkable for a member of the Tibetan government-in-exile to make a comment that is both flippant and possibly insulting about one's hosts. Politeness aside, this is not politically astute.
In conclusion, we know that sometimes the media takes things out of context, so we welcome Dolma-la to clarify. Based on what she said in this article, however, we are troubled by Dolma-la's position on Tibetans remaining stateless to bring in foreign handouts. We believe it is wrong to continue dependency rather than seek self-reliance. We also believe it is not pragmatic to rely on foreign hand-outs indefinitely. Lastly, we do not believe it shows good judgment, politically, to insult Tibetans' hosts in India. These are all opposite of the traits the Tibetan people need in the next Kalon Tripa.
Part of a Series by the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review