Tsunami: Tibetans Support Victims

People left homeless by the tsunami in Nagappattinam, Tamil Nadu, India. Photo: RFA/Pema Ngodup

TAMIL NADU—Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has spearheaded a fundraising drive in aid of tsunami victims, some of whom came from Tibetan communities in southern India.

"The Central Tibetan Administration deeply mourns the death of thousands of people in the aftermath of the recent earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in Southeast Asia and East Africa," the Tibetan government-in-exile said in a statement carried on its Web site.

Officials and staff of the exiled government, based in the northern Indian hill-town of Dharamsala, had donated up to two days' wages toward rehabilitation of the victims, the statement said.

Communities clustered in southern India

"The administration is gravely concerned about the enormous loss of lives and property in some Indian states and union territories," it said, adding that funds collected from individuals would be handed over to the Indian government by the Dalai Lama's representatives in Delhi.

Around 100,000 Tibetan have fled Chinese rule in the Himalayan region since a failed uprising in 1959, to be housed by the Indian government in refugee settlements.

Prayers were offered for the rebirth of the dead in the higher realms, welfare of the families of the dead and healthy balance of the earth’s natural forces.

Many of the Tibetan communities are clustered in the southern part of the country, where the majority of the families are farmers, with free education for their children at least until age 16.

Some have become traders and settled in the southernmost coast of India. They sell mostly garments and textiles.

Southern India's coastlines were ravaged by the Dec. 26 tsunami, with thousands dead in the worst-hit state of Tamil Nadu.

"People have taken refuge in schools, in colleges, in community halls. I have seen a lot of people coming from other places, like Karnataka and other southern states, bringing support to those in need," RFA reporter Pema Ngodup wrote in a recent blog from the area.

Tibetans join relief effort

But he said volunteers, including Tibetans, had also begun to converge on the area to start relief and clean-up work.

"They come by trucks, buses, minibuses; there are a lot of vehicles. They are schoolgirls, doctors, lawyers, political people... I have seen some Tibetan monks in Madras and some Tibetan businessmen who had come to distribute clothing and give aid," he said.

Tibet's government-in-exile expressed its gratitude to India for its welcome to Tibetan refugees, for which the Indian government comes under pressure in its diplomatic relationship with Beijing.

The statement thanked Indians and their government "for making the Tibetans a part of the big Indian family," adding that it had already offered prayers for the victims according to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

We are political refugees and when Tibet gains freedom, we are supposed to be going back, according to the original plan.

"Prayers were offered for the rebirth of the dead in the higher realms, welfare of the families of the dead, and healthy balance of the earth's natural forces," it said.

A Tibetan source who was born in southern India told RFA that while some Tibetans had gained Indian citizenship and bought land, many still regarded their stay there as temporary.

"We always, our parents also, talked about going back. We never thought we would be there for ever. The majority of the people did not wish to be like Indian citizens."

Refugees still hope to return

"We are political refugees and when Tibet gains freedom, we are supposed to be going back, according to the original plan," the source said.

But a steady program by Chinese officials of what the Dalai Lama has termed "cultural genocide" has ensured that a steady stream of refugees has continued to arrive in India from Tibet, augmenting the original 1959 emigre communities five- or six-fold.

Many leave Tibet to pursue a better education for their children, who they say are denied career opportunities open to Han Chinese in the region. Many also seek a more tolerant climate for their religious development.

"There are a lot of overseas assistance programs, run by the United States and Germany, scholarships and so on," the Tibetan source said. "But a lot of people do not get an education. A lot of people drop out of school."


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