Lakuppe, Karnataka / New Delhi: The hum of prayer reverberates through this settlement of 22,000, across its monasteries and the palace. Some 250km west of Bangalore, Bylakuppe holds the distinction of being the biggest Tibetan settlement outside Tibet, bigger even than Dharamsala.
But confusion is beginning to creep into this peaceful town that lies amid fields of maize, ginger and chillies, as Tibetan youth find themselves battling over how to battle.
The youth have been divided over their future course of action by a despairing threat from the Dalai Lama to resign if violence in Tibet continued or escalated. On Tuesday, the Dalai Lama called Tibetan violence “suicidal” and expressed his reservations about batches of protest marches from Dharamsala to Lhasa.
“Don’t commit violence, it is not good,” he said at a news conference. “Violence is against human nature, violence is almost suicide. Even if 1,000 Tibetans sacrifice their lives, it will not help.”
But, while one small segment seeks to accede to the Dalai Lama’s plea, a larger section still calls for meeting fire with fire.
Praying for peace: Tibetans hold candles during a prayer march in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, on Wednesday. (Hemant Mishra / Mint )
“The Tibetan movement has really become a public movement,” said Younten Tsering, joint secretary of the Bylakuppe chapter of the Tibetan Youth Congress. Settlement officer Tashi Wangdu said: “People in general are somewhat desperate now.” Tenzin Yonten, a 24-year-old working in a business process outsourcing firm (BPO) in Bangalore, took a few days off to attend the prayers in Bylakuppe. “Some people think this is the right time (for an agitation),” he says. “If the violence on the part of China continues, how can we do nothing? There is always a limit, and it was mounting public frustration that led to this outburst,” said Urgyen Chophel, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress in New Delhi. “Whether the Dalai Lama is there or not there, it will make no difference. The voice of the people has to be heard.”
If the Dalai Lama’s influence over the Tibetan community was not so large, Chophel said, the levels of violence would be much higher.
Chophel’s view is part of a widely held belief, among Tibetan youth, that the time for non-violence is past.
“We respect the Dalai Lama, and he is our religious and political head, but to follow his message of non-violence in today’s world is impossible,” said Tashi Yangzom, who participated in a protest in New Delhi last weekend.
“It is also possible that his threat is directed towards China, to prove that he is not instigating the violence, as China has accused.”
Surprisingly, some of Bylakuppe’s elderly residents seem to understand the sentiment. “It is almost five decades (since we began the struggle), so the youth sometimes get angry, take out protests, and throw stones at the Chinese embassy,” said Tsering Palden, 73, who came to Bylakuppe as a 24-year-old in 1959, just when the settlement was founded. With his wife, he now leads a retired life while their children work in the settlement.
On the day the Dalai Lama made his announcement, the Tibetan colony of Majnu Ka Tila in New Delhi was quiet, its stores still shuttered in protest, and its little public square filled with knots of people talking quietly. Volunteers occasionally pasted notices in Tibetan on the walls, detailing the day’s news. People wandered up, read impassively and then returned to their murmuring groups.
In memory: People offering prayers for those who have died in the protest in Tibet. Some say that youngsters from Bylakuppe will be heading to New Delhi to join the protests there. (Hemant Mishra / Mint )
Tenzing Wangchuk, a shopkeeper, remembered how the generation gap in the Tibetan community made itself felt strongly last week.
“There was a small protest outside the gates and the police arrived,” he said. “But when the elders called for a peaceful dispersal, the youngsters refused to listen.” Wangchuk says he has heard that youngsters from Bylakuppe will be heading to New Delhi to join the protests there.
Some young Tibetans, however, see a possible reduction in the violent protests in Tibet.
“I remember how the Dalai Lama last year said that he was ashamed to hear of people in Tibet using animal fur products,” said Chenga Tsering, a career development adviser for Tibetan youth in India.
“The very next day, people came out with their animal fur products and burnt them in the streets. If his message gets through to Tibet, I think people will stop. Right now, they are just venting their frustration at Chinese targets.”
On the same day as the Dalai Lama’s threat, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao publicly commended “the position and the steps taken by the Indian government in handling Tibetan independence activities masterminded by the Dalai clique.”
The statement, Tsering insists, was just a publicity gimmick. “China is showing thatIndia supports it, to dilute the news coming out of Tibet,” he said, adding: “It is to create confusion in the minds of Tibetans in exile, and to drive a wedge in the relations between India and Tibet.”
Unquestionably, disquiet has infected Tibetans living across India, even outside the tightly bound enclaves.
“I have not slept in days,” said Dhondup Tsering, a BPO employee in Mumbai. “I feel handicapped here in Mumbai. I can do so little. I want to be a part of what is happening. I wanted to talk. I wanted to stand in front of the Chinese embassy here and shout. Just to feel that satisfaction.”
Yangzom, a 26-year-old resident of Lajpat Nagar in New Delhi, also feels the effect of living outside a Tibetan colony like Majnu Ka Tila or Bylakuppe. “When you live in a colony, it is very easy to get affected, by not just protests but any situation involving Tibet. You tend to follow the crowd,” she said. “Living outside the colony, initially you read about something in the newspaper, and you maybe talk about it with your friends. But there are no Tibetan people around you, as in a colony, so you end up feeling a little helpless. You don’t know what to do.”
Priyanka P. Narain in Mumbai contributed to this story.