Success Stories50 years of struggle! Tibetan community at Gothangaon

50 years of struggle! Tibetan community at Gothangaon

They had fled Tibet following the forcible occupation of the spiritual kingdom by communist China and sought refuge in India. first came in March of the year 1972. This year, 2022, marks the Golden Jubilee of the camp. The tale of this small Tibetan community in Gothangaon camp, which is the only such camp in Maharashtra, is of grit and also -- one must say -- of continuing challenges.

They had fled Tibet following the forcible occupation of the spiritual kingdom by communist China and sought refuge in India. first came in March of the year 1972. This year, 2022, marks the Golden Jubilee of the camp. The tale of this small Tibetan community in Gothangaon camp, which is the only such camp in Maharashtra, is of grit and also — one must say — of continuing challenges. For, there is no tar road, no street lights in the murroom pathway connecting Gothangaon residential area, Sambhota Tibetan School, and Sera Jey Thekchenling Monastery even after 50 years. In fact, none of the Governments in Maharashtra in all these 50 years has bothered to care that the population of the camp has actually decreased and that much of the development in the camp area has been done with aid from Switzerland, Italy and other countries. Life has not been easy on the Tibetans, who are living a life in exile.

Still, they are known to be a peaceful community that has continued struggle to see Tibet free of Chinese occupation. When the early settlers came to Gothangaon, the challenges were multiple. The biggest challenge was to survive. Among the first lot of settlers who came here in 1972. As she points out, many died because of high heat. As is the case, Tibet is known for cold weather due to its Himalayan altitude. From there, they came to warmer parts of India. But, in March, temperature in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra is too hot even for locals. Imagine, what must have happened to Tibetans who lived in cold weather. “Initially, due to unbearable heat, people used to rest almost throughout the day in the Itiadoh dam’s canal on the bank of which the camp is located. There were almost two/three deaths every day. Gradually, we learned how to survive. Locals also extended support to us. Now, we have become acclimatised,” Tehjin Sarman, the primary teacher officer here, gave this information to the Piyush Karanjekar podcast channel.

Gradually, the Tibetan community developed a determination to stay and constructed houses for themselves. Now, he says, the situation is much better than it was in 1972.  adds that the 14th Dalai Lama visited Gothangaon a year after Gothangaon camp was established. Many complained to His Holiness that people were dying. “He said that those of us who wanted to stay here should stay, and others might shift to other camps. So, some left. But, some stayed on with grit. Two years later, when the Dalai Lama came here again, he said with a smile that people were alive here. It provided hope, and boosted morale for survival even in this hot climate,” says Tenzin Pasang. Karma Namga, Headmaster of Sambhota Tibetan School at Gothangaon, sheds some more light on the issues beyond initial struggle for survival in hot climate. The camp had Central School for Tibetans. Later on, its name was changed to Sambhota Tibetan School. Previously, he says, the school conducted classes up to Std VIII. “But, the strength has dwindled over the years. At present, the school conducts classes up to Std V. There are only 56 students in school. The younger generation is moving to other places for education,” The camp set up in 1972 was planned for 3,000 persons. However, presently, only 1,049 live here. The population of the camp has actually come down in past 50 years.

Youngsters do not wish to stay in the camp located in remote area. They have got aspirations, want to study and work in big cities, he elaborates. However, in many cases, they are unable to get jobs as they are not Indian citizens. As such, despite unwillingness, they have to work in their traditional occupation of setting up sweater/winter wear shops in season and engage in local business, says a youngster. “Government of India revised Rehabilitation Policy for Tibetans in 2014. Our community has got support as per the revision in Karnataka, but in Maharashtra we have got no such support so far. There is no tar road up to the Norgyeling Tibetan Settlement (Gothangaon Camp). There were no water tanks in the settlement. We contributed for the same and constructed those. Maharashtra Government has not been forthcoming with support for Tibetans, who are the longest guests of India,” Teacher Tenjin Sarman said

The issues concerning steady livelihood also haunt many. When the Tibetans came, the Government of India made arrangements and State Government made available 0.6 acres of land per family. However, considering that each family has five members, and also the passage of 50 years, the income from such a small agricultural holding is highly inadequate. As such, the community members weave woolen clothes and make winter wears, and sell them in market at Nagpur in winters. Some of the community members who served in the Indian Army get pension. They are the ones who are comparatively well off among others.

The list of issues is still longer and serious, as it came out in the interaction with other members of the Tibetan community. The Tibetans have got Registration Certificates but no regular Indian passports as they are refugees and not Indian citizens. There is a dilemma out of which Tibetans have not applied for Indian citizenship. If they become Indian citizens, their fight for freedom of Tibet gets diluted, they feel. And, if they do not, they remain people living in exile, waiting to return to their homeland — Tibet. Those who are born and brought up here have got Aadhaar card and PAN card to facilitate them to open their bank accounts. However, they do not have voting rights as they are not Indian citizens. Probably that is the reason why no political party has paid enough heed towards extending to them due support of Government in Maharashtra. For citizens above 60 years of age, and there is no one to take care of them in the family, there is an old age home, which is funded by Tibetans from Switzerland. There is a ‘Men Tsee Khang’ (Jadi-Buti Dawakhana in Hindi/Marathi or Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute). There is a healthcare facility, which was constructed with donation from Italian organisation. A handicraft workshop was constructed but it has been closed down now. “Yes, one faces the challenges when one is living in exile. However, we have not given up hope of seeing Tibet free of Chinese occupation. That hope is our driving force… We will, one day return to our homeland…” Teacher Tenjin Sarman said.

Mr. Snehal (Piyush) Karanjekar, P.A Cum PRO at AIIMS Nagpur

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