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As information of Nepal’s earthquake disaster dominates word news, and nations of the world scramble in support of the beleaguered Himalayan state, the one “nation” that has for over 50 years received countless financial aid, moral support, encouragement and friendship, has remained relatively silent. Ironically it is this “government“ that should have been quick to jump in to help, to show its gratitude after all the assistance it has received, including from Nepal, who for over 50 years, has opened its borders and lands to the Tibetans seeking a new place to settle.
The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the supposed “government” of the Tibetans in exile issued a simple statement expressing sorrow, offered 20 Lakh (equivalent of less than USD 32,000) towards Nepali rescue and relief efforts, and a promise to pray for Nepal. On the face of it, it would appear that the CTA is doing what it can but in fact this paltry gesture betrays the true character of the exiled Tibetan leadership.
Since their exile in 1959, the Tibetan people have lived as refugees under the patronage and protection of its neighbors, primarily India, Nepal and Bhutan. In this time, for over half a century, they have received monetary aid, and various other forms of resources of all kinds, as well as multi-leveled assistance, that has allowed them to build schools, community centers, hospitals, monasteries, government buildings and other necessary infrastructure. Through the kindness of these foreign friends the Tibetan refugee government has been able to re-establish themselves, and preserve their traditions, and their cultural and national identity. The fact that the Tibetan refugees had these opportunities in India was because Nepal allowed them safe passage into Nepal to begin with, so that the Tibetans may then journey into India. All of this was done at the cost of provoking the ire of China.
This fact needs to be remembered by Tibetans in exile.
These neighboring nations have offered the Tibetan people safe havens, citizenships, protection and guidance. In fact it would be difficult to find another group of refugees who have received so much for over half a century and continue to do so. And yet when Nepal needs help at this time, the CTA’s efforts and participation fall way short considering how much they have received from Nepal. This does really reveal to the world who the CTA is and it begs the question – what has the CTA accomplished with all the funds and resources given to them in the last 56 years, and what systems have they truly developed that allows them to benefit others, instead of continuingly to rely on everyone else? If these questions can be answered, it would also explain why after over five decades, the Tibetan people are still no better off, and in fact some may argue, actually worse off.
Today, 56 years after the first exodus of Tibetans from their homeland, the Tibetan people in exile are still known as refugees and are identified as victims of an oppressive China. Even today, other than the Dalai Lama, it is rare to hear of Tibetan contributions in the Arts, Science, Technology, Literature, Sports and Commerce. You just don’t hear of Tibetans accomplishing work of global renown and yet these are the people with the same genetic makeup as great beings like the Dalai Lamas, Panchen Lamas and Karmapas. This is supposed to be the same society that for centuries produced erudite scholars, accomplished teachers, enlightened philosophers and spiritual greats. So it definitely cannot be said that the Tibetan people are somehow genetically inferior.
As a matter of fact, up until recent decades the Tibetan people were well sought after. The Tibetans had one of the earliest recorded histories of medical science, philosophy, metaphysical views and spirituality that the rest of the world found so fascinating. The Tibetan people also had the Dalai Lama who, by virtue of his wide appeal and draw, generated global concern and attention towards the Tibetan plight. And yet by and large, the Tibetans have failed as a community of people. This makes it necessary to question why. Why have the majority of the Tibetans who are under the administration of the CTA, not progressed? And why is it, those few who have managed to make something out of their lives, live outside the influence of their own government?
Of course, the CTA would like everyone to think that it is because of China that they failed. The truth is that although the China factor is a historical fact, it is also history that should have increasingly less influence on the present lives and standing of the Tibetan people, unless it is in the interest of the CTA to keep it that way. The world is full of communities of people that have been dislodged and disenfranchised and yet managed to find success. The Jews for example, have always been heavily persecuted and were especially heavily oppressed by Hitler’s Germany. Despite historical and near-constant persecution their communities have survived and thrived. The Germans and Japanese were left broken both economically and morally after the Second World War and managed to re-establish themselves as two of the most significant nations in the world today. The Chinese people survived a disastrous Mao era, and although an entire nation of people were driven beyond the poverty line, yet today China has revived itself and is now a trade and manufacturing powerhouse.
Chinese people who left home for distant shores, often with nothing, found success everywhere they landed – the Chinese communities in New York and San Francisco for example, are proof of this. And who can forget the Vietnamese people who were torn apart by an unwanted war and for many years were scattered as refugees around the world? The refugee camps are far behind them now and they have moved on into new lives. Similarly, immigrants from Poland, Italy, Greece and the Middle Eastern countries who settled in foreign lands and advanced their lives. The examples of these refugees and immigrants are proof that the natural tendency of humankind is to improve and progress unless there is a purposeful policy to keep them down. And shockingly, none of these communities received as much aid as the Tibetan people have and for such an extended period of time. It therefore becomes necessary to ask why the Tibetan people have not had the same successful experience?
The answer lies with the one factor that stands in their way which is their own “government”. Fifty years after it was first established, the CTA (then known as the Tibetan-government-in-exile) still produces nothing other than propaganda and rhetoric. They have done nothing for their own people and instead continue to be fully reliant on handouts, aid and sponsorships. It is always questionable how much of these financial aid over the decades actually reached the intended people. Their monks continue to go on world tours to raise funds, their school-going children continue to reach out to Western donors for individual sponsorship, and their administration and social welfare continue to be funded by foreign donors. All the aid the Tibetans are supposed to have received from governments as well as public and private sponsors for decades is definitely not reflected in the conditions of the Tibetan settlements in India and certainly not in the lack of advancement of the exiled Tibetans. If they speak of anything, then it has to be the gross mismanagement of the Tibetan leadership.
The CTA’s sole reason for being in existence is, it seems to keep the Tibetan people and the rest of the world focused on how victimized they are by China. Instead of building government infrastructures and facilities to train and develop Tibetan talents and minds, the leadership has chosen to keep two generations of Tibetan people thinking of themselves as impaired victims. In truth, the Tibetan people are victims, first of a Sino-Tibetan conflict but that was half a century ago. Today, they are victims of their own government’s corrupt policies and self-serving politicians. By keeping everyone looking at an external enemy, the CTA shifts focus away from its own incompetence, lack of direction and corrupt officials like Penpa Tsering.
The CTA today is mired with infighting for power and by leaders who seek only to serve their personal agendas. Instead of creating programs using the large network of Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) centers abroad (that boasts 30,000 members) and ‘Tibet Houses’ in foreign countries to promote Tibetan arts, culture and talents, and to initiate programs that will expose young Tibetans to new ideas and experiences, the CTA directs these powerful satellites to be used as platforms against the CTA’s perceived enemies.
We know this just by looking at the CTA’s preoccupations, which are China and in the last twenty years, Dorje Shugden practitioners whom the CTA unilaterally declared to be enemies of the Tibetan people simply by virtue of a small part of their religious practice. In fact, that is all the CTA has done with its time – create problems for its people and divided them so that they are not of one voice and one body of citizens that can question the government and hold them accountable for a string of failures. It was the CTA that divided the Karma Kagyus by acting outside their authority to result in the sect having two different leaders (Karmapa). It was also the CTA who divided the Gelugpas by unlawfully declaring Dorje Shugden an illegal practice in the eyes of the government. It was the CTA that created confusion amongst the Tibetan people as to the government’s stance regarding the much touted ‘Tibetan Cause’. The result of their botched policies is two generations of Tibetan people left drifting and divided. It is by dividing its own people, by denying them the means to progress, and by keeping them relatively poor and poorly educated, is how the CTA contains the Tibetan people so that they do not rise to question the failures and self-seeking policies of their government. It is how despotic regimes of North Korea and some African nations have treated their own people as well.
If further proof is needed that the CTA does not care for the welfare of others and not even that of its own people, then it is to be found in this recent lack of genuine concern towards the plight of its neighbor, Nepal. Nepal has without doubt contributed significantly to the exiled Tibetan people and up until today, it is home to over 20,000 Tibetans (a significant percentage of the total number of Tibetans in exile). Even if the CTA has no interest in the well-being of the Nepali people, at the very least it should be concerned about the Tibetan population in Nepal. In response to the Nepal disaster, China sent a 62-person team to assist in search and rescue and 58-strong medical team; Thailand pledged in excess of USD 200,000 and are running ongoing programs to solicit aid; Sweden sent a 76-member team to help; the United Kingdom deployed a team of 90 personnel; Singapore despite being a small nation stepped up to help and sent two planes and a 75-member team, and these are only a portion of what the world nations are doing to help Nepal. Even the Prime Minister of Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan nation that is not known for their economic prowess, is reported to have gone to Nepal personally with a Bhutanese medical team. And the CTA can only manage a paltry sum and cannot even direct a bus-load of strong Tibetan youth to help fellow Tibetans if not all who are affected by the earthquake.
This speak volumes of the CTA’s lack of genuine care and of their gross ineptitude. The sum of USD 32,000 cannot even cover the medical and living expenses and rehabilitation of the 20,000 Tibetans living in Nepal and again, the CTA leaves it to others to do what needs to be done for Tibetans. And this is the CTA that insists on being regarded formally as a legitimate government but refuses to perform responsibilities expected of a real government. In addition, this is the CTA that is seeking the world’s support to govern over 6 million people in Tibet. Who in their right mind would allow a negligent CTA to control 6 million people when they cannot even take care of 20,000 Tibetans in dire need?
Perhaps the CTA will say that all these foreign nations that are sending aid have ulterior political motives but that is really not the point. It is childish to think that any government in the world would act without any agenda. Is American presence in the Middle East devoid of any political agenda? Were the historical colonization efforts of the Western powers purely altruistic and not because of power and with intention of procuring markets and labor by force? Whatever the agendas may be, the people in Nepal would still benefit and at this crucial time, it should be what matters first and foremost, especially given how Nepal has helped the Tibetan refugees. The CTA might even argue that Nepal may officially reject their help as it did the Taiwanese offer to help (presumably due to the China factor). But that still does not excuse how the CTA has failed to put forward a decent offer of assistance, let alone make private arrangements for Tibetans to go help their own people. In addition, the CTA has not made any arrangements for the Dalai Lama to make an open appeal for funds from private and public sources to help the Nepali people. The Dalai Lama’s appeal and influence is wide and if the Dalai Lama were to make such calls, funds will easily be raised but it would appear that to the CTA, the Dalai Lama is only to be used for the CTA’s own gains.
This incident and how the Tibetan people have been robbed of progress for half a century truly shows the CTA to be nothing but a bunch of self-serving officials who have not hesitated to prey on their own people in order for them to persist in the pursuit of their own agendas. For over 50 years, the CTA has insisted that all nations owe them a responsibility, if not duty, to help them regain their country. In doing so, these countries have risked good relationships with a world super-power that they can ill afford to irritate. The CTA is skilled at their portrayal of themselves as victims and they spend much time lecturing the world as to its responsibility to help victims and yet when a neighbor like Nepal needs help urgently, the CTA officials cannot bring themselves to rise above their own selfish agendas and respond sincerely. Not even if such help is due to their own Tibetans. Is it a surprise at all why after all this time, the Tibetan people are still as lost as they were fifty years ago?
In contrast, China has demonstrated clearly that it does look after its friends. The Tibet problem may be a thorn at China’s side but it is one that China can wait out in a way the CTA cannot afford to. If the CTA truly does have the interest of Tibetans (both in exile and within the Tibetan Autonomous Region, TAR) at heart, it would make conciliatory moves towards China. It would also seek the Dalai Lama’s co-operation towards a similar objective. The Tibetans have tried to oppose China for 50 years and have not gained any ground and today China is stronger than ever before. The only move left for the CTA is to befriend China, meet on terms acceptable to China and yet beneficial to all Tibetans. That is the only way that the Dalai Lama can return to Tibet, and the way the Tibetan people may again be united. Economically and socially, the Tibetan people will be better off by being friends with China. Those in exile will have access to proper infrastructure and social network that will help in their advancement. It would also mean that the Tibetans in the TAR would enjoy greater freedom and trust of the Central Government instead of being perceived as a security threat due to their susceptibility to the CTA’s manipulations.
The CTA should also stop inciting the Tibetans living in Nepal to protest against China. This is perhaps the ultimate show of ingratitude. Nepal agrees to provide safe haven for the Tibetan refugees and in exchange they become the cause of tension and embarrassment for Nepal. The Nepali economy needs China and by protesting against China, the Tibetans hurt the country that has become their home and the people who have been kind to them. It is utterly wrong and shameful for the CTA to keep using friends in this way. Despite having to deal with regular Tibetan protests, the Nepali government has not expelled the Tibetan refugees. This is an act of kindness that deserves to be met with gratitude. The Tibetans are guests of the Nepali people and as guests who are in fact in the minority, they should not create problems for their host that will hurt virtually all the Nepali people. As it is, the Nepali government has had to provide for the Tibetan refugees’ needs and even kowtow to them so that they do not create more problems for Nepal.
Finally, it is time for all Tibetan people to look honestly at their own “government”. For over 50 years, the CTA has done absolutely nothing to develop Tibetan skills and expertise within any secular and professional disciplines. There simply aren’t any Tibetans that can claim to be of world class caliber in any secular pursuits whatsoever. In addition, they cannot claim to have contributed to the growth, development and reputation of Tibetan spirituality. Never has Tibetan Buddhism fallen into such confusion and disarray and looking at how the CTA can simply ban the Dorje Shugden practice and cause such deep rifts amongst its monastic community, it is more accurate to say that Tibetan Buddhism has grown not because of the CTA but in spite of it. The inability of the CTA to adequately respond to the Nepali natural disaster proves conclusively that they have done nothing with all the time, resources and assistance they have received. They cannot even go into Nepal with a basic disaster recovery team to help rescue their own people.