Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The First Days in Exile: a Letter from the Dalai Lama to Nehru

Tibetan road workers in the Himalaya
A few months ago, I posted on this blog, the report from the Government of India about the first days of the Dalai Lama in India in March/April 1959.
During the following months, the Tibetan leader was followed in exile by thousands of Tibetan refugees.
The situation soon became difficult to handle for the Indian Government as well as for the Dalai Lama's administration.
I am posting here extracts from Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of The Dalai Lama. It shows the situation as the Dalai Lama saw it evolving at the end of 1959 and early 1960.
A letter from the Tibetan leader to Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister is also posted.
Eventually, the Dalai Lama shifted to his new quarters in Dharamsala in April 1960.

From Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of The Dalai Lama
In December, I made the six-hour journey down to Delhi once more, this time as the first leg of a new pilgrimage. I wanted to spend more time at the places I had visited at the beginning of I957. On my way I called on the Prime Minister once more. I was somewhat anxious of what he might have to say to me on account of the UN resolution and I half expected him to be annoyed. In fact, he congratulated me warmly. I began to see that, despite his occasional heavy-handedness, he was a man of great magnanimity. And once again, I was reminded of the meaning of the word 'democracy'. Even though I had rejected his opinion, there was no change whatever in his attitude towards the Tibetans. As a result, I felt more disposed than ever to listen to him. This was exactly contrary to my experience in China. Nehru did not smile much. He would sit quietly listening with that tremulous lower lip protruding slightly, before making his reply, which would always be frank and honest. Above all, he gave me complete freedom to follow my own conscience. The Chinese, on the other hand, had always been full of smiles and deceit.
…From Delhi I proceeded to Bodh Gaya. Whilst there, I received a deputation of sixty or more Tibetan refugees who were also making a pilgrimage. A very moving moment followed when their leaders came to me and pledged their lives in the continuing struggle for a free Tibet.
…Shortly after returning to Mussoorie, I learned that the Indian Government had plans to move me to permanent accommodation at a place called Dharamsala. This was unexpected news and quite alarming. I found Dharamsala on the map and discovered that it was another hill station, like Mussoorie, but in a considerably more remote location.
…In the meantime, I made the first of many-visits to the northern provinces, where thousands of my people were now engaged on road building. I was heartbroken when I saw them. Children, women and men were all working side by side in gangs: former nuns, farmers, monks, officials, all thrown together. They had to endure a full day's hard physical toil under a mighty sun, followed by nights crammed into tiny tents. Nobody was yet properly acclimatised to the conditions and even though it was a bit cooler than in the transit camps, heat and humidity still exacted a frightening toll. The air was fetid and thick with mosquitoes. As a result, sickness was universal and often fatal, thanks to the already weakened state of people's constitutions. Worse still, the work itself was quite risky. Much of it was done on steep mountain-sides and the dynamite they used claimed its own share of casualties.
...Even today, quite a few old people carry scars from this terrible labour and are maimed and crippled. And although now the fruit of their labours is clearly visible, at the time there were moments when the whole venture seemed pointless. It took only one fierce downpour of rain to wash away their efforts in a slick of red mud. Yet for all this, despite their desperate situation, the refugees showed me deep, personal respect and listened closely when I said that it was vital for us to remain optimistic. I was very moved.
...These first visits to the road camps made me aware of a new problem, however. The children of the roadworkers were suffering badly from malnutrition and their mortality rate was very high. So I contacted the Indian Government, which hurriedly organised a new transit camp dedicated specifically to their needs. At the same time, an initial batch of fifty children was sent to Mussoorie, where the first of our schools had been set up.
While he was in pilgrimage in Bodh Gaya, the Dalai Lama sent a detailed letter about the terrible situation of the refugees.
Apparently, the Indian Government acted immediately on the Tibetan leader suggestions/demands: on February 1, 1960, the first refugees were resettled in Bylakuppe (Karnataka).

A letter from the Dalai Lama to Jawaharlal Nehru about the rehabilitation of Tibet refugees in India as published in the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru (Series II, Volume 57)


January 30, 1960.

Your Excellency,
I hope that you are enjoying good health, in spite of your heavy and arduous duties of State. I am sorry to encroach upon your precious time but knowing your great sympathy for myself and my people, I venture to do so without further delay.

2. It is now almost a year since I came to India for asylum, and several thousand Tibetans followed me. You personally, and the Indian Government and people, have all shown us the greatest sympathy and regard during the time of our travail, and have given invaluable help in looking after such a large number of refugees despite their preoccupations with a multitude of other important and pressing problems. I need not say how deeply grateful myself and my followers have been to yourself and the Government and people of India for their sympathy and great assistance.

3. It is, however, my fervent desire that the bulk of the Tibetan refugees in India should not remain a permanent burden on the Government of India, nor on the various relief committees who have been helping them in various ways so far. I feel that since the stay of these refugees in India would now unfortunately seem likely to be for an indefinite period, steps should be initiated without further loss of time for their permanent rehabilitation so that as many of them as possible may within a short period be able to become self-supporting. A few thousand Tibetans are already doing road work in Sikkim and perhaps some more may be receiving opportunities for manual work elsewhere. While this has no doubt helped somewhat to relieve the problem of those Tibetan refugees for the time being, I feel that merely engaging these refugees on manual work against wages in Governmental construction projects may not fulfil the ultimate need for their permanent or semi-permanent resettlement.

4. In the case of monks, I am extremely grateful for the kind decision made by the Government of India to establish two camps at Buxa and Dalhousie and to support them in order that they may continue their religious studies and practices for the sake of keeping the Tibetan faith and culture alive in friendly India even if, as seems to be unfortunately the possibility, it should be destroyed under the onslaught of Chinese Communism in my own country.

5. What I say below would apply to the vast majority of Tibetan refugees who are laymen, or not high lamas, who should be enabled to stand on their own feet through some modern vocations.

6. Among the Tibetan refugees are many who had engaged themselves in pastoral activities in their own country. They would feel at home in similar work in India. The cultivators, I suggest, may be settled on agricultural land. There are several for whom sheep or horse-breeding can prove to be useful and customary vocations. Quite a number can do forest work.
I earnestly trust that India with its vast area may be able to provide some opportunities for all these categories of Tibetan refugees, by allotting to them some agricultural land and some facilities for breeding sheep and horses in suitable places. Some virgin forest land would also be very helpful for the settlement of some of the refugees who can initially clear the forests and simultaneously do some timber business, and later on cultivate the cleared areas. A number of Tibetans are good at handicrafts or small-scale industries, and may be enabled to utilise their skill to advantage. There are yet others for whom trade has been a traditional occupation. Some encouragement in this field, for example the grant of special licences, opportunities to invest whatever money some of them may possess, etc., would greatly benefit these persons and render them self-supporting.

7. As far as I know, there are at present approximately 13,000 Tibetan refugees who came to India since March last year. Besides, there are about 8000 Tibetans of the poorer classes who had been in India earlier in the usual course but who could not return to Tibet due to the changed conditions there, and now have become destitutes and refugees. Thus there may be about 21,000 Tibetans altogether at present in India, who are in great need of some opportunities for semi-permanent rehabilitation. I give below a rough breakdown of this total number of refugees, categorised broadly under different vocations which may be suitable for them:-
Total number of refugees: 21,000 approx.
1.    Monks and others whom the Govt. of India have already kindly agreed to support:-
(a) Monks at Buxa    1500
(b) Monks at Dalhousie    300 appr.
(c) Aged monks and aged laymen at Dalhousie    700 appr.
2. Self-supporting    500 appr.
Total    3000
Remaining number: 18,000 approx.
(a) For vocational training    2000 appr.
(b) Young persons (below 20 years of age) for school, etc. education    2000 appr.
(c) Able bodied persons who can be suitably settled as:   
Cultivators    9000 appr. Herdmen (including horse and sheep breeding work)    3000 appr. Forest Workers  2000 appr.
Total    18000

(These are only very approximate figures, intended to serve as a working basis for consideration of rehabilitation schemes. The exact figures would have to be determined after a census is completed and also with reference to the extent of the facilities which it may be possible for the Government of India kindly to provide-under the various categories.)    

8. In addition, I understand that some 4,000 to 5,000 Tibetans who had entered Nepal are wanting to come to India and settle in this country. I would request that they may kindly be allowed to do so if they ask for facilities to stay in India and be resettled.

9. After careful deliberation, I am convinced that the time has come when I must request you for your help in offering these several thousand refugees some opportunities to settle down semi-permanently in India and live more or less like a community with some regular occupations. The places where they are so settled might as far as possible be near to one another.

10. I do sincerely hope that you would very kindly consider my request sympathetically, so that permanent or semi-permanent rehabilitation measures can commence at an early date. I have only indicated the broad lines along- which I would request you to consider this rehabilitation problem. I shall be most grateful if the details could be worked out by competent authorities in the Government of India, for the purpose of implementation. I shall be able to nominate some experienced officers of mine, to assist the Government of India in this matter, since their services will be of help to all concerned.

11. I have had fairly long discussions on this subject with Shri Apa. B. Pant, Political Officer in Sikkim, who was kind enough to visit me at Varanasi. I found that his views in regard to the need for rehabilitation of these refugees are not at variance with my own, which I have tried to indicate above. I do not wish to burden you with too long a letter and have, therefore, taken the liberty of requesting the Political Officer to explain to you and to the officers concerned in the Government of India, in greater detail, the rehabilitation needs as I have tried to visualise from the point of view of the Tibetans. The greatest need, I-venture to suggest, is to settle these refugees as early as possible in a manner that would enable them to live like a community and to earn their living through normal work.

12. Until such time as permanent measures can be implemented, I hope that the Government of India and the Central Relief Committee would continue the kind assistance they have been giving. I would also request that the question of rehabilitating the 8,000 Tibetans referred to in pare 7 above, (they are mostly in the Darjeeling/Kalimpong area) may kindly be sympathetically taken up at an early date. These Tibetans are in a dire plight and I understand many of them have been begging for their living.

13. During my recent stay at Sarnath and Bodh Gaya, I have come to know that there are some one thousand or more Tibetans at present in these two places, 'who are in an extremely pitiable condition, and trying to live by begging. These persons had come from Western Tibet, through Nepal, and did not go to any refugee camp. I fear that in the summer season they will suffer badly unless settled in a suitable place. May I request that the problem of settling these Tibetans may also kindly be considered urgently?
With apologies for having to trouble you with my woes, and with my profound regards and best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

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