Issue of preserving cultural identityin a foreign society has always been a challenge for any refugee or migrantcommunity. How these communities cope up with such challenges has been a subjectof academic studies for long. Here it is remarkable that the social institutions of asociety are not just the part of a culture, they are also the carrier of thesaid culture. Traits of a culture not only appear in a person’s social life, italso makes impact on his decision-making strategies and choices in variouscircumstances.
However, in situations of refuge, role of the youth andyoungsters of a community enhances for survival of their cultural identity sincethey become the primary medium to carry forward their ancestral culture in aliensurroundings.The Tibetan refugee community which arrived in India as exilewas fractured by internal political conflict over authority, cultural andlinguistic dissimilarities between refugees from distinct parts of Tibet, andsectarian religious affiliations. They could hardly be called a homogenousTibetan community. Unity was only fostered later through various adaptivestrategies employed by the administration that was to grow out of the PrivateOffice of the Dalai Lama. If we broadly lookat the efforts by Tibetan refugee community to preserve their culturaldistinction, it involves: the creation of a Tibetan national identity inresponse to the Chinese occupation, the use of education in maintaining that identity,the effect of non-Tibetan groups on the re-creation of national identity, andan analysis of material culture as a tangible expression of identity.In exile, establishment of separate rural agricultural andhandicraft based settlements for the refugee and their supervision by the DalaiLama’s administration sheltered the Tibetans from the alien culture andclimate. Even for the Tibetan refugees who stayed outside the settlements, theDalai Lama’s administration gave a sense of protection. Similarly, as anattempt for maintaining solidarity amongst the Tibetan refugees and to passidea of Tibetan nationalism in new generations, education in CTA run schoolsare made highly focused on Tibetan Culture and language (Mallica 2007).
Educational policies giving precedence topatriotic concerns as against pragmatic ones have therefore been formulated. A’national’ consideration of survival of the traditional Tibetan language,culture and identity is prioritized in the educational policies as against’individual’ educational and economic aspirations in exile. In the final go, itis not individual choice but the greater good of the community that seems to drivethe educational policy of the refugee government in exile due to the need forpreservation of Tibetan culture in the host country.
But in recentyears, this education policy is creating tensions within the exiled Tibetancommunity. The tensions are created as the youth fails to express the sameopinions as the older refugee generation. This issue is attributed to outsidecultural influences and failure of traditional education in fulfilling theirmodern days individual requirements. Graduates are scattering to Indian cities dueto lack of employment opportunities in the community.
Increasing number of younger generationleaving their settlements is a serious cause of concern as it may prove apotential threat to Tibetan identity and culture in exile soon. Studies havereported that some schools in the settlements are on the verge of closing forlack of students. One of the evident among the youth is growing unemployment.Job opportunities are less in general, so employment in lower grade jobs hasincreased. The modernist trend among youth and the large influx of migrantsfrom the transformed Tibet in recent years for whom the CTA’s articulation of’Tibetan culture’ appear anachronistic have increased the pressure on CTAleadership in India.
Since already many have left to the US and Europe in searchof greener pasture and their commitment to Tibetan cause cannot be taken forgranted. Some others want to take up Indian citizenship according to the IndianCitizenship Act of 1955. But Tibetan leadership in India generally discouragesTibetan claim to Indian citizenship as it considers it as detrimental toTibetan road to independence. Because asa component of their political struggle, Tibetans have categorically refusedcitizenship in India and Nepal, the two countries in which the refugeecommunity has primarily resided since 1959. Tibetan administration in exileargue that to accept citizenship would compromise their political claims toTibet. But same approachis not being adopted when a stateless Tibetan tries to get citizenship of theUSA. As Hess(2009) hasnoticed that Tibetans now see the adoption of U.S.
citizenship not ascapitulation but as a tool for becoming more effective transnationalspokespeople and political agents in the same political struggle. They see thishappening not only through the opportunity to educate western world about theTibetan cause, but also because a US passport allows them to travel morefreely, including to visit Tibet. The implications of accepting US citizenshipare not uncontroversial or uncontested, however. While opinions vary about thedegree to which a “brain drain” has become a problem, all agree thatremittances have had a large impact on Tibetans in India. Whereas many arguefor their positive impacts, others suggest that remittances have ledcompetition and tension within families.The endeavour ofthe Tibetans to protect their cultural and religious identity has so far facedminimal opposition from their Indian hosts, barring a few minor incidents.However, with increasing number of Tibetan refugees in exile and limitedresources available, the CTA administration is facing the growing challengesand dilemma of not only looking after the settlement of these refugees, butalso preserving their religious identity from the rapid forces of moderniisationin India. Tibetans in exile are forced to exist in an economic andsocial milieu (a person’s social environment) in which some characteristics of traditional Tibetanculture, such as their business and trading acumen, are valuable, while othersare not.
Tibetan language study suffers from the need for fluency in both Hindiand English in India. Since these refugees are living in dominant Indiancultural environment for many decades, it is natural that long and continuousinteraction with Indian culture might affect their cultural identity. It may benoted that maintaining the distinct Tibetan culture, which is the crux of theTibetan condition in exile, becomes even more challenging when the refugees areengaged in seasonal occupations and are constantly traveling to differentplaces. Similarly, dependenceon foreign aid and tourism has strongly contributed to the rise of Westerninfluence in Tibetan exile life. Prost (2006) based onstudy among Tibetans in Dharmshala, finds thatfor many Tibetans and foreigners in Dharamsala, modernity is presented as acultural and spiritual exchange in which both parties have prescribed roles.Tibetans share with their visitors the rich spiritual heritage of Buddhism and,in return, may profit from some of what foreign donors have to offer:sponsorship to children, biomedical clinics, money for temples and institutionspreserving the ‘traditions’ of Tibetan culture.New generations of Tibetan who are born in India are facinganother challenge to catch up with the requirements of modern world andchanging requirements for livelihood along with preservation of theirthreatened culture which is already being attacked by Chinese regime in Tibetand is under pressure in exile due to continuous exposure to dominant foreigncultures of host country i.e.
India and of western culture.Now a day,difficulty amongst the Tibetans in exile in trying to reconcile individualneeds and community needs are clearly visible. Tibetan youth identity and educationaland occupational aspirations in exile is therefore, to be understood asprocesses of negotiation and mediation. There are concerns of assimilation intothe host society’s socio-cultural milieu that is seen as defeating the verypurpose of flight to India. Difficulty in trying to reconcile these two ‘needs’seems to be creating palpable tensions between the old and the new generation.Back in Tibet, gaining a free hand by the departure of the Dalai Lama andcollapse of the traditional Tibetan government in 1959, the Chinese intensifiedtheir attempts to transform Tibetan society according to the doctrines andtechniques of socialism. Traditional organisation of society was intentionallyfragmented, and an economic class basis was artificially implemented in thesociety.
Tibetan language was simplified, by elimination of honorific and theintroduction of “proletarian” terminology, and de-emphasised inschools in favour of Chinese. Buddhism was eradicated as far as possible bothin its physical and spiritual forms.Despite of above discussed challenges being faced by Tibetanrefugee community on the issue of nationalism, very high number of refugeesparticipate in their cultural and traditional festival with all spirit andenthusiasm. According to them, it helps the exile community to come together.Similarly, regular religious debates organised in various monasteries helps indeveloping rapport with other monasteries and settlements. A study by Banakar B (2013) reveals that such efforts by Tibetan exile community are part of their attemptto “re-establish their society in exile, so that if and when they go backto Tibet, they could carry their culture back intact.However, all these have resulted in a situation ofuncertainty of future for the community and an elusive recognition and identityin the present as gap widen between CTA perspectives and youth aspiration.
While attainment of ‘free Tibet’ is a mirage to some, to others ‘culturalpreservation’ in its pristine form does not serve purpose as it alienates themfrom the Indians and/or prevents them from relating to present global trends.At the same time, lack of distinct identity is seen by many as defeating thevery purpose of fleeing from Tibet. For many of second and third generationyoungers, return to Tibet is not an attractive proposition nor would theyidentify themselves emotionally with India. Therefore, cracks within therefugee community on issues of identity and future are visible. Here it is remarkable that till date, despite of the loss oftheir independence, the Tibetans have neither been subsumed within the”broad masses” of Chinese nor, in their Diasporas, they have assumedthe usual helplessness of the refugees.
In the exile, they are continuouslymaking collective efforts to cope up with the challenges of refugee life and toadjust in host country’s conditions to save their identity. In this process ofadjustment, many changes are taking in their society. Despite of challenges onvarious fronts, the CTA has regularly tried to portray the community ashomogenous and unified a task in which it has largely succeeded till date.Tibetan refugees today appear to constitute a nation within larger Indiannation, yet non-inclusive in the latter. But with rapid internal as well asexternal changes, identity and recognition as well as future of Tibetanrefugees especially of younger generations are now on a slimy ground and its wherewithalin the face of increasing frustration among youth seems difficult. Hence, muchmore focus on the issue is required before it becomes too difficult to behandled by the Indian leadership as well as by the Tibetan.