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E-Mail this special report to a friend The third generation of Tibetans are beginning to appear as those whose links with Tibet is less than ever before. This generation will have difficulty keeping alive their distinct Tibetan identity and culture, which in turn will create problems for the Tibetan cause in the future,” said Sonam C Shosur, welfare officer in the Tibetan exile government.

The first generation were those who came over from Tibet in the aftermath of the Chinese invasion, especially the young men, often in their teens or twenties, some even older. These were people with living memories of a country and culture they were forced to leave behind, memories kept alive in their passion for freedom and the struggle for Independence.

The second generation comprised those Tibetans who were either very young when they left Tibet, carried across by their parents or older siblings, or those who were born in India in the 1960s, when the wounds of the first generation were still bleeding and the scars yet to heal. Brought up on tales of their motherland, their religion, alive to the struggle of their parents and the existing culture, they sought to maintain their distinct identity in the sea of humanity that was India - and grew up as Tibetans first and foremost. Mostly living is cloistered colonies and settlements, they were able to continue living the Tibetan way of life as they grew into adulthood.

Yet, these people are now bringing forth the third generation, at a time when the first generation is slowly disappearing as time marches on. With parents busy earning their daily bowl of rice, and grandparents fewer every passing year, the fear is that this forthcoming generation, while still aware of Tibet, may simply lose interest in the cause for freedom.

Not everyone agrees with the idea. “If anything, I have found is that today, Tibetans young and old, are far more conscious about their culture, their history, and their religion than when we lived in Tibet. Being in exile has made us alive to our past and increased our respect for it,” said Lobsang Rapten who is in his mid 50s and is the president of the Delhi Tibetan assembly.

To maintain the distinct Tibetan identity when hundreds of thousands of refugees fled Tibet following the 1959 uprising (which was brutally crushed by superior Chinese forces), the Dalai Lama asked that Tibetans be allowed to live together in colonies and settlements. One such colony is the Tibetan Camp at Majnu ka Tilla in north Delhi where a non-Tibetan might be forgiven for thinking he is in a small Tibetan village! Only the brutal heat of the Delhi sun is a constant reminder that the village is in India and not high up on the Tibetan plateau.

Yet, the fear of losing the Tibetan identity cannot be brushed aside. The first Tibetans that visitors (foreign or Indian) to New Delhi come across are in the dozens of small shops on Janpath, near Connaught Place (in the heart of Delhi; incidentally, Connaught Place today bears the official name of Rajiv Chowk!). These shops hawk antiques, rugs, mementos, portraits and wall hangings with the themes of Tibet, Buddhism, Lhasa, and the trans-Himalayan region. The sellers are Tibetans, but with a difference.

These Tibetans are, unlike their cousins who came from Tibet in the late 1950s and 1960s and even now, Indian citizens who set up their stalls on Janpath way back in the late 1940s and which were regularised in 1953.

“My grandfather was a freedom fighter and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi,” said the owner of Tibetan Mandala, one such shopowner. And his name, Tashi Singh, is curious mixture of Tibetan and Indian!

Tashi Singh is a Buddhist who reveres the Dalai Lama, but is more fluent in Hindi than Tibetan. “I studied in a Hindi-medium school, and I speak with my wife in Hindi,” he said. His parents spoke in Tibetan, which Tashi can speak, but not fluently.

He admits that his contact with the Tibetans who came over in the late 1950s and 1960s is limited since Tibetans like him tend to stick to themselves. “We were such a small group, and most of us who came to India way back in the 1940s have become very Indianised,” said Tashi. For instance, while Tibetans are known to relish pork and beef, Tashi is a vegetarian! “What can you expect when all during my school, I was told about the virtues of vegetarianism and all my classmates seemed to agree,” he asked.

Yet while Tashi Singh may not have much in common with Lobsang Rapten save for religion, their respective children will have. “Today, all the children speak English, eat non-vegetarian food such as hamburgers, hear the same music and wear similar clothes. They are much more likely to get along, given their common roots,” said Tashi Singh.

Yet, it is this concern of the Tibetan culture in India being swallowed up that many of them are keen for some rapprochement with China so that they can reestablish their old links. “In India, the younger generations of Tibetans are losing contact with Tibet, while in Tibet itself, the plateau is being flooded with ethnic Han Chinese who are reducing ethnic Tibetans to a minority,” said Kalsang, who runs the Lhasa travel agency in Majnu ka Tilla.

“According to reports that we have received, while there are six million Tibetans in Tibet, there are now 12 million Chinese,” said Sonam Shasur.

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda

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