High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser originally written in November 2011 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and only posted on her blog on February 27, 2012.
The post takes the Bollywood film “Rockstar” as its starting point and goes on to consider the relations between Indians and Tibetans. Despite the big media controversy that Woeser writes about below concerning the film, contrary to some reports, it was the Free Tibet banner that was blurred out during the song “Saada Haq” and not the Tibetan flags.
The new film of the Indian director Imtiaz Ali, starring the currently popular Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor playing the leading role of the “Rockstar”. When he is performing the song “Saada Haq”, in many scenes we can clearly see the Tibetan flag waving in the crowd in front of the stage, we can also clearly see many Tibetans at the show. According to a report, the scene was shot in the centre of the Tibetan exile community, Norbulingka, Dharamsala. The Indian film censors (CBFC) deleted the scenes that show the flag in November 2011.
“When Tibetans were Forced into Exile and Came to India”
On Facebook, I saw a video of a famous Indian star, singing in a Bollywood film. He looked handsome and cool, passionately singing and dancing on stage to the clamorously cheering audience; but what was even more eye-grabbing was the scene of the Tibetan flag fluttering in the wind. This, of course, evoked another incident: the Indian film censors edited out this scene, probably to avoid making Beijing angry.
This made me think of the fact that since 1959, several hundred thousands of Tibetans have been forced to leave their homes and live a life in exile in India. How do Indian people look at this situation? How do exiled Tibetans and Indian people deal with each other? I remembered the Nobel Literature Prize winner, VS Naipaul, writing in his travel notes how once, somewhere in India, he met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, walking with some Tibetans; Naipaul is an extremely critical writer but he holds deep sympathy towards exiled Tibetans. I also know the film director Tenzing Sonam and his Indian wife Ritu Sarin who are like-minded and bound by their deep love for each other, they have made several good films together.
I posted these questions on Facebook and some Tibetans responded. They were all ordinary people, exiled Tibetans who would often come into contact with ordinary Indians. Their opinions are of course not representative, but they are still voices of ordinary people. Of course, what must really be stressed is that from ancient times until the present day, no other country has been showing as great affection for Tibetans as India. In the past, they showed affection with regards to culture and religion, and over the most recent half a century, also with regards to saving people’s lives.
Now I would like to quote the discussions of several Tibetans. Lobsang Wangdu, for instance, says that only in recent years did he see some civil society groups supporting Tibet appearing in India and after having lived in India for over 10 years, he has never had a single Indian friend, many Tibetans are like that. I asked him whether this may be because India is too big, has too many people, too many different religions and cultures? He said that this could be one reason, but also thought that Tibetans had not made enough effort; at the same time, however, he also felt that it is difficult to come into contact with Indians.
Tashi Gyaltsen rejects this view and says that Indians are by no means difficult to deal with, rather it is Tibetans who do not actually want to get to know them, which is why the distance between Tibetans and Indians has become bigger.
Gendun Gyatso says that from the point of view of ordinary people, most Indians don’t feel anything towards Tibetans; those Indians who encounter Tibetans on a daily basis feel that Tibetan refugees are economically better off than locals, who only own some national land, so they don’t see and also don’t recognise the economic benefits that Tibetans bring to the area. He thinks that all in all, Indians feel quite indifferent towards Tibetan issues. Most people would assume that a country that was once colonised, would be particularly supportive and knowledgeable with regards to human rights and freedom, but what makes people feel disappointed is that countries like India or South Africa are not at all like that; but perhaps it is also because they are facing so many problems themselves that they don’t have the time to worry about others.
Yushu Kgu disagrees by saying that the support Tibetans have gained from India has been much much bigger than that from the US or other countries. One should not just look at the present situation, but ask the previous generation. The Indian antipathy towards Tibetans has to do with Tibetans themselves, he wonders whether Gendun Gyatso only talked about the situation in Dharamsala.
Worried about the future, Gendun Gyatso continues: after the last Karmapa incident, I really don’t think Tibetans are welcome guests in this country. In the past, Tibetans still enjoyed some freedom in Nepal, but in recent years, because of China’s growing strength, it became difficult for Tibetans to even meet to celebrate traditional festivals that have nothing to do with politics. Many activities that Tibetans engage in in India actually have no legal basis; for example, New Delhi’s Tibetan area is faced with many demolitions because most of the houses have no legal documentation. Also, some Indian elite believe that Tibetans represent an obstacle standing between China and India. Yet, the international reputation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as the ongoing border conflicts between India and China mean that, at least for now, Tibetans can remain living under the roof of India. But the future augurs many uncertainties. It all depends on how India makes decisions in its own interest, and we should convince the Indian government that granting legal status to activities that advocate for the freedom of Tibet is a policy of appeasement.
November 29, 2011