By Adfar Shah
The Tibetan refugee community scattered round the world and densely in India constitutes a minuscule proportion of Muslims presently residing in Srinagar city of the Indian Kashmir. Away from their homeland they have discovered a home in Kashmir.
This community has been claiming the Kashmiri origin and differs from its fellow Buddhist refugees settled temporarily in many other parts of India only in religious faith, fervor and practices but share the wider aspects of culture of their motherland. Though they are distinct from the native Kashmiris ethnically but have adopted various aspects of the local culture successfully with the passage of time.
The social transformation which this community has undergone is somewhat different as compared to those which are residing elsewhere. Their pattern of change is in that sense a unique phenomenon. This paper is an endeavor to explore this less known Muslim Tibetan refugee community and to discuss their sociological profile to see the level of pattern change, adaptation and conformity with the local culture, socio-economic change and development, etc.
Tibetans now known as Tibetan-Kashmiris are still beset with lots of problems despite being used as a vote bank in state assembly elections. Their serious issue is the lack of State domicile, access to formal educational institutions, employment in government departments, lack of any specific reservation, etc, due to the lack of political in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Also their lethargic attitude is too responsible for their plight. They have though adjusted well now to the environs for having being settled since decades but their quest to return to independent Tibet is still alive.
They irrespective of their religion (Sunni-Islam), pay great reverence to His Holiness-The Dalai Lama, who has so far visited them thrice since their exodus from the Tibet. Though many studies have been carried upon the Tibetan Diaspora, hardly any attention has been paid to this vulnerable and forgotten community who still live the life of wretched and alienated beings.Sociologically, this community is worth studying for their culture and traditional ethos as discussed in length in the paper.
“—-Surely, according to principles I uphold, the last voice in regard to Tibet should be the voice of the people of Tibet and of nobody else”. (Pt. Jawaharlal Lal Nehru, 7th December, 1950, Lok Sabha).
As per oral history and narratives, Islam reached Tibet some 1000 years ago by a group of Muslim traders from Kashmir. These traders settled there, married Tibetan women and converted them to Islam giving rise to a growing Muslim community in the land of Lamas around Lhasai1, the capital of Tibet. Muslims shared a long history of coexistence with their fellow Buddhists. For centuries, Islam and Buddhism coexisted in peace in the Tibetan society without any communal tensions or bloodshed under the leaderships of the age old Dalai Lamaii Institution. According to the refugee Muslims, the Tibetan government rendered Muslims enough freedom to handle their religious and social affairs, without any interference. This enabled the community to retain their Socio-cultural and religious ethos, while at the same time absorbing traditional Tibetan social and cultural traditions shaping up a rich pluralistic ethos and unity within the diversity. With the growth of the Muslim community during the 17th century, the fifth Dalai Lama Nwang Labsong Gyatsoiii (1617-1682) readily gave Muslims a piece of land in Lhasa to build their first mosque and later few more Mosques were constructed in many parts of Tibet.
Muslims had their contributions to the Tibetan society and culture. The first cinema hall in Tibet was started by a Tibetan Muslim businessman. Also Nangma -a popular classical music form of Tibet, is believed to have been brought to Tibet by the Muslims. In fact, the word ‘Nangma’ is said to be derived from the Urdu word, ‘Naghma’, which means song. Amidst the cultural strains and encounters Tibetan Muslims have been able to preserve their social and cultural ethos while simultaneously assimilating the new and outer cultural trends. It is pertinent to mention that this community has undergone change and development over times along the lines of industralisation, modernisation and westernization. Thomas Arnoldiv, in his book, ‘The Preaching of Islam’ argues that gradually, marriages and social interactions led to an increase in the Tibetan Muslim population until a sizable community came up around Lhasa, Tibet’s capital. Alexander Berzin in his article ‘Historical Sketch of the Muslims of Tibet’ (2001) says, “Before 1959, there were approximately 3000 Tibetan Muslims living in Central Tibet. They were the descendents of Muslim merchants who came to Tibet from Kashmir, Ladakh, Nepal and China, mostly between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, married Tibetan women, and settled there. They spoke Tibetan and followed most Tibetan customs. They had four mosques in Lhasa, two in Shigatse, and one on Tsetang, built in Tibetan style architecture. Further, they had two Islamic schools in Lhasa and one in Shigatse for studying the Quran and Urdu.”
He further writes that as part of a policy of tolerance for all religious factions, the Fifth Dalai Lama granted the members of the Muslim community special privileges. They could elect a five-member committee to supervise their internal affairs; could settle their own disputes independently according to the Sharia laws; could open shops and conduct trade in other Tibetan cities; and were exempted from tax. In addition, they could eat meat during the Buddhist holy month of Sakadawa and did not need to take off their hats to the monk officials during the Monlam prayer festival. Moreover, the Fifth Dalai Lama gave the Muslim community land in Lhasa for a mosque and a cemetery, and invited its leaders to all major government celebrations. Tibetan Muslims trace their origin from immigrants from four main regions: China, Kashmir, Ladakh and Nepal. Islamic influence in Tibet also came from Persia and Turkestan. Muslims are known as Khache among Tibetans. This appears to be because the earliest Muslim settlers to Tibet were from Kashmir which was known as Khache Yul to Tibetans. (Bhat,1994)v. The article titled “Identity crisis for Tibetan Muslims” The Week; (29 November, 2008) argues that, In Tibet they were known as khache (Kashmiri Muslims). In Kashmir they are called Tibetan Muslims. During the critical period in 1959, when China occupied Tibet, the Tibetan Muslims organized themselves and approached the Indian mission in Lhasa to claim for Indian citizenship, referring to their Kashmiri ancestry, to escape Chinese tyranny.
Mr. P. N. Kaulvi was the head of the Indian mission then. The initial response of the Indian Government was lukewarm. It said only those whose Permanent domicile remained in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and who visited India from time to time, whose parents or one of whose grandparents were born in undivided India, are potential citizens of India”, and it would , only accept them. But some time later, in later 1959, the Indian Government suddenly came out with the statement that all Tibetan Muslims were Indian nationals, and started distributing application forms for Indian nationality among them (Bhat, Ibid). The small Muslim community that fled Tibet after China’s invasion in 1959 is in constant search of their identity in Kashmir.
Tibet a part of central Asia, commonly known as the Roof of the world, lies in the North of India, Nepal and Bhutan, East of Iran, South of Russia and Magnolia, situated about 16500 feet above the sea level and an average altitude of 14000 feet, bearing total land area of 2333125 square kilo meters (2.5 million sq. kilometers, which means 26.04 of the total area of present china). Modern name derived from Mongolian word “Thubet”. Lhasa (Land of deities) – the capital city and other major provinces like U-Tsang, Amdo, Kham, Shigatse, etc. Tibet is also known as: “the abode of snow”, “The cool climate land”, “Forbidden land fortified by snow mountains “,”Land of Lamas.” etc. Tibetans in the world are also distinctly defined by the kind of land they live in as the Tibetans. Tibetans national identity has not been created by history not only by religion but has its roots deep in the Tibetan land. Tibetans are people who live and have always lived on the great Tibetan plateau, high above and apart from the rest of the world.
Tibet which once existed as an independent buffer State for more than 2000 years between the two Asian giants, India and China, was invaded by communist China in 1949 and by 1959 China illegally occupied whole of Tibet, this resulted in the escape of His Holiness the Dalai Lama into exile in India and followed by some 85000 Tibetans.
The County is a great vehicle of Mahayanavii Buddhism with Muslims in utter minority and Buddhism, Bon and Islam are the prominent religions which people adhere to. It is believed that the advent of Arabs, Chinese, Turks, Yemenis, Nepalese, Ladakhi’s, Kashmiri’s, etc lead to the spread of Islam in Tibet. Merchants from Kashmir entered Tibet in around 12th century A.D, settled in different areas, married Tibetan women and converted them to Muslim faith. During the reign of fifth Dalai Lama Nwang Labsong Gyatsoviii in 1617, Muslims got citizenship of Tibet. It is believed that Tibetan Muslims trace their origin from the immigrants from four main regions: Kashmir, Ladakh, China and Nepal.
In 1913 Dalai Lama and the Tibetan National Assembly (TSANGDU) proclaimed Tibet’s independence, but China withholded the recognition and on October 7, 1950, about 40000 PLA troops attacked Chamdo, eastern Tibet’s provincial capital and defeated Tibetan army after 12 days of fight. Indian Foreign ministry sends a protest letter to Chinese government. British and the U.S expressed support to the Indian position. In November, 1950, Tibetan national assembly requested 15 year old 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso born 1935) to assume full political control authority as Head of state of Tibet. On May 23, using military threat, China forced Tibetan delegations in Beijing to sign the famous 17-point agreement which included that external affairs and defense of Tibetan administration will lie with Chinese authorities. In 1956 Dalai Lama visited India to discuss possible asylum and finally on March 10, Tibetan uprising in Lhasa against the Chinese brutality started and thousands were killed. Here begins the pathetic and woeful tale of a nation, annexed in 1959, its political and spiritual head, an asylum seeker in a neighboring country on 16 March 1959, Dalai lama left Potala palaceix and came to India, accompanied by his mother, brother, two sisters and latter his 72 companions also .
The communist Chinese oppression took thousands of Tibetan lives, and an ample number of communism preachers were brought in Tibet in the guise of crafts men, teachers, social and policy makers.
Tibetan community in Srinagar is a homogenous community, consisting of 220 families and settled in three communities in Srinagar, viz. Idgah, Hawal-Badamwari, and Gulshan Mohalla and all the three settlements adhering to Sunni-Muslim faith. This community escaped from Lhasa in late 1959, a group of about 70 families, gradually moved to Kashmir claiming Kashmiri decentx and paternal ancestry and believing Kashmir to be their ancestral home land, though not proved empirically yet. This community was initially settled at Idgah area of Srinagar in three big buildings and was funded by Govt. in exile in Dharmsala, His Holiness – The Dalai lama and few other international organizations. After 28 years of residing at this place (Idgah), keeping its increasing population in view, it was granted some land on lease at Badamwari Hawal area by the assistance of the then Chief minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullahxi of J&K and houses constructed in a colony type structure. Around 143 households were granted small quarter like houses at Hawal in 1985 and later in Gulshan Mohallaxii in 2004, while more than 40 families are still residing in the old settlements at Idgah Srinagar.
The Tibetans living in the Badamwari settlement have constructed a grand mosque, what they argue have been constructed with some assistance from Saudi Arabia. Besides mosque, a school, a dispensary and an organization of Tibetan youth known as Tibetan Muslim Youth Federation (TMYF)xiii has been formed.
The then Indian Prime Minister Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru let Tibetan’s to migrate to India but before that different taxes were levied on them by communist Chinese authorities and much of their property was seized and many of the Muslim religious heads were given life imprisonment and around 120 Muslim families reached Kalimpong in Assam and then Darjeeling in West Bengal and resided their for five or six months, from Darjeeling around 70 families reached Kashmir and IDGAH was the first camping sport and were initially accommodated in two huge buildings of about 40 rooms by the Govt. Masood Butt in his article, ‘Muslims of Tibetxiv argues,
“Those Tibetan Muslims who were able to cross over into India in the border towns of Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Gangtok in late 1959 gradually moved to Kashmir, their ancestral homeland from 1961 to 1964. They were accommodated in three huge buildings in Idd-Gah in Srinagar by the Indian Government. At that time, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had sent his Representative to inquire about the conditions of Tibetan Muslims.
During the first two decades of their life in exile, Tibetan Muslims attempted to rebuild and re-organise themselves. Lack of proper guidance and leadership proved to be an obstacle in their development. Also, housing in Idd-Gah was inadequate to meet the requirements of a growing family. In the process, Tibetan Muslims began to scatter, emigrating to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Nepal as well as moving to other parts of India in search of better opportunity”.2
Tibetan refugees began to enter India in 1959 after communist Chinese invasion and annexation of Tibet. The two phases of displacement have been noted: The first was the displacement in 1959 and the second was the exodus in the early 80′s. The first batch of Tibetans crossed over to India on March 16, 1959 when 85 Tibetans followed the spiritual and temporal leader the Dalai Lama. The second exodus started in the early 80′s during the period when Tibet was open to trade and tourism between 1986 and 1996. 25000 Tibetans arrived in India. In 1999 another 2200 Tibetans arrived and majority of them have been granted legal residence. Government of India has recognized all of them as citizens (annexure1,white paper no.2, Ministry of External Affairs, Govt. of India, 1959). The Tibetan administration in India based in Dharmshalaxv (Himachal Pradesh, India) declared that the Number of refugees had reached (1,18000).
The Indian Govt. allows the entry of any Tibetan refugee on the Dalai Lama’s pledge that they personally abstain from violent and political activities. The democratic administration in exile was setup in Dharmshala; Tibetan schools were established following a modern secular educational model with Tibetan language, literature and religion classes. There are 85 such Tibetan schools in India, Nepal and Bhutan. About 70% of the Tibetan children attend schools. The communist indoctrination started with individuals at two levels. (i) At the physical level and at (ii) the spiritual level, at the physical level it meant that every citizen of the country whether poor or rich or from any religion and ethnic, background is supposed to perform every task by his own hands because every human is equal and no one is preferable over the other. It was simply to degrade Tibetan nobles, riches and spiritual leaders and to ignorant masses and youth it seemed good and reasonable and led to multiplicity of group formation in Tibet which ultimately led to disintegration. The second level was the change at spiritual level, which led to the loosing significance of religions, natural power, fate, traditional customs and traditions, etc. It was done by opening schools and colleges where new generation was indoctrinated communist ideology in the guise of modern education.
The phase started by stopping people forcibly to perform religious rituals and rites. On one hand Buddhists were stopped from performing their religious duties and on the other Muslim minority was not saved too. Muslims were not let to perform prayers and mosques were locked and used as party spots, where wine was served and consumed. People realized it and raised slogans and protested, demanding closing of communist based schools and colleges. Political and spiritual leaders were jailed, tortured and humiliated in public. Muslim religious leaders too suffered a lot and were tortured to death in jails. People were forced to break deities and other sacred objects, and who so ever denied, was mercilessly killed which led to mass suicides of people. For Muslims it remained no longer a place to live in as they could hardly afford to renounce their religion. So the Muslim community requested to the then Indian ambassador Mr. P. N. Kaul and by the interruption of the then Prime Minister of India in 1960′s and 1970’s, India gave preferential treatment to Tibetan refugees over others. This is mainly because His Holiness the Dalai Lama Sought shelter for himself and his people: India allowed the Dalai Lama to establish a Tibetan Govt. in exile called the Central Tibetan administration (CTA)xvi. It is based at Dharmsala. Yet India has not officially recognized it.
Although no foreigners can own property in India, the Indian Govt. provided land and housing to establish Tibetan farming settlements. The Indian Govt. granted Tibetan refugees, who entered India in the 1970′s, Indian residency (or resident status) for purpose of identification, employment and domestic travel.
Tibetan community in Kashmir has now been residing over here since 1959 and have been affected by the Kashmiri community, have learned Urdu, Kashmiri languages, especially youngsters can speak Kashmiri, they also experienced social mobility in terms of education, cultural development, economic development but have been able to sustain and preserve their ethnic, national and cultural identity as well. They do interact with local natives and have developed limited relations also with them. They have from the very on-set faced tremendous problems and difficulties in settlement, like the problem of land, adequate housing, unemployment, low income and poverty, cultural and social encounters, fallen prey to societal hallow and negative stereotypes, discrimination, negligence and ignorance by state governments. They are however despite all these hurdles moving forward and struggling with the conditions to improve their selves in Kashmir (Abu BakrAmirudin, 2005)xvii
The primary objective was to explore this ethnic community who are being treated as refugees by locals and struggling for identity in a land which they believe as their ancestral homeland. Moreover, it also aimed to gain a deeper insight into the social structure of Tibetan community and to understand the nature of their adaptation and social transformation. Further to know about their social, economic, religious and other characteristics, lifestyle and patterns of living, occupations and income resources, culture, language and lastly to enlist their problems of survival in the new settled society. This whole sociological survey was also aimed to know their migration, life in new settlements, and interrelationship with local natives, demographic features. Social phenomenon of the migrant community, patterns of their social institutions, etc.
The survey was conducted by choosing all the three locations of Tibetan Muslims, i.e, Hawal settlement, Idgah and Gulshan Muhalla settlements for a period of three months. Using the basic participatory approach, and with the help of Structured and Semi structured interviews, Group and informal discussions and observation, the living pattern and change over the times was studied. Moreover by direct participation in special arranged meetings and programmes the problems and issues beset to the community came to fore.
The paper is based on field survey, follows the hermeneutic methodology of documenting the lived experiences of Tibetans living in Kashmir. The paper is an outcome of a survey conducted in all the three Tibetan settlement colonies. The settlements were selected purposively for the study and random sampling was used for the selection of respondents. The selection of community was done keeping in view the importance of studying their socio-cultural aspects to prepare a holistic sociological profile using the local know-how of Srinagar city. The Oral history, Narratives and In-depth interviews, Focused interviews and Observation were the main tools of data collection during the study.
Studying the sociological profile of the Tibetan community with the analysis and classification of various themes like population features, social structure, family, marriage, kinship, occupations, literacy, education, Religion, Religious practices, etc. with the help of Observation, Interviews, Schedules, Questionnaires, etc. An attempt was made to describe some of the themes highlighting the different aspects and features of Tibetan community. Arguments are based on the facts, and comments have been made after studying the community for more than 5 months. Following are different themes supported by sociological arguments.
The main occupation of Tibetan natives is Agriculture and Trade. Tibetans had their trade with India, Bhutan, Nepal, Magnolia, China, etc. Tibetans used to import mostly wool, threads, camphor, tea, carpets, etc. to its neighboring countries.
But now most of the population is in India and other countries. Due to the change in the residence and living patterns, their occupations remained no longer Agriculture and Trade of such commodities. Now the Tibetans in Kashmir are mostly engaged with embroidery, business and fiber work. Some make hand bags and garment business and some are shopkeepers. This is because of: non availability of land and they are dwelling in city, so developed trade as their occupation.
Tibetans in Kashmir have despite a big cultural encounter retained their mother tongue “Tibetan’. People usually speak Tibetan at home with each other. Even children born here are socialized in the Tibetan language.
Apart from this, men, children, young women and young girls speak Urdu as well. Elderly women speak also a bit. The educated stock which is not too much in number also speaks English and can write and read in Urdu to a great extent.
They have a great love for their mother tongue -”Tibetan” and they speak and use it while interacting amongst themselves. Now they have also learnt Kashmiri to a great extent due to prolonged cultural contact except few elderly women. They are in a position to speak Kashmiri to a great extent and have developed a good comprehending power of Kashmiri language. Tibetan educated youngsters and school children have developed English comprehending power as well, which was revealed through observation and interacting in English with them.
The use of Tibetan language amongst themselves and its continuity reflects their attachment to and love for Tibetan culture. Due to various linguistic encounters they have learnt Kashmiri, Urdu and English as well but retaining their mother tongue identity. Cultural assimilation, necessity of interaction in Kashmir, exposure to new environment, and time factor is responsible for their Kashmiri learning.
The main and traditional dress of Tibetans is gown like with a high collar and long sleeves. It is known as “Chuba” in Tibetan language and culture. It is tied with ribbon like piece of cloth called “Kera”. Chuba is made of either woolen clothes or other cool clothes depending upon the nature of season. Underneath the Chuba, a small shirt like cloth is also worn and sometimes sweaters are used too. It is highly simple and traditional. It is usually purple in color. Not so much difference in chuba of males and females. But the present Tibetan community has to a great extent adopted modern dress patterns. Only some elderly men and ladies are seen in traditional “Chuba” now in Srinagar. Jeans, cotton cloths, pants, shirts, shalwar-kameez, dupattas, etc have been adopted by Tibetans over here. It is because of accessibility and acculturation, modernization, effect of migration, a way to escape identity and personality crisis. New environment has forced them to change. Moreover, youth are vulnerable to every new fashion and adhering to traditional ethos is deemed archaic. The Image below shows the modern and changed dress pattern of Tibetan children,playing in the street of their colony. The researcher (Adfar Shah)himself can be seen with the children,standing in the right in 2nd row.
The role of religion is prominent as far as the social life of people (Tibetans) is concerned; there is religious influence in elderly men and women to a greater extent. They are simple, honest and humble, highly hospitable. The Tibetan community residing in Srinagar whether at Hawal, Gulshan Mohalla, or Idgah are Muslim believers and belong to the Sunni sect of Muslims. According to them migration from Tibet was purely and solely to save their religious faith, from the communist Chinese oppression. Tibetans as per observation and information available follow fundamental principles of Islam. Caste has no place; marriages are performed as per Islamic Shariah and in a simple fashion.
The community is more homogenous in nature as all share the pain of displacement and crisis in the new setting.. All the residents have been provided residence and housing and hardly few homes have been constructed on their own. Caste has no significance and not treated as a bar in social institutions like family, marriage, kinship, etc. Occupations too are not so distinguished, majority of the people are either engaged in needle work, embroidery or textile business, etc.
The festivals of Tibetan community in Srinagar are not so different from other Kashmiri’s.The influence of religion is clear in their lives. They observe Id-ul-Fitr, Id-ul-Azha, Urs of Shah Hamdan and other saints as other Kashmiri’s observe, only I have came to know that birthday of His Holiness, the Dalai lama is also celebrated. Festival observations and celebrations are simple and traditional and Tibetan dishes are prepared in homes.
Enculturation is gendered. Gender roles are assigned. Gender Socialisation was also observed. Women generally remain indoors, however now girls go to school mostly to Tibetan public school at Badamwari.Some girls of the community also teach at the school and few Tibetan women work as clerics, peons, etc,.Curently in all the three settlements, there are 236 households of Tibetan Kashmiri’s.
Family is a group of people, related by kinship or similar close ties, in which the adults assume responsibility for the care and upbringing of their natural or adopted children. “Family is a group of persons united by ties of marriage, blood or adoption; constituting a single household; interacting and communicating with each other in respective social roles of husband and wife, mother and father, son and daughter, brother and sister; and creating and maintaining a common culture” (Burgess and Locke). The family organization is not independent in it but is connected to a wider social network. Historically and comparatively, there have been wide variations in the family form. In order to analyze these differing family arrangements we use the key notions of the “Joint Family” and “Nuclear Family”. The Joint family refers to a group of people, related by kinship, where more than two generations of relatives live together or in very close proximity, usually forming a single household. The nuclear family comprises merely parents and their dependent children. Tibetan families are both joint and nuclear. Many of the families are joint where parents live with their married children. Where as 50% of the families are nuclear, Tibetan families marry amongst themselves, very few marriages have been outside their own community. Men are usually the heads of the families and women are mostly inside the four walls of the house. Constitution of the family is traditional and based on Tibetan culture.
The institution of marriage is ritualized in a simple way but within the religious fervor. It is not always endogamous as caste has no specific significance. Most of the marriages are arranged by parents usually three dishes are prepared, now-a-days a limited Wazwan (Kashmiri cuisine) is served due to Kashmiri cultural encounter and new changes. Local Kashmiri’s and other friends are also invited but the feast is arranged at one place arranged by both the families of bride and bridegroom and guests are served at one place. Nikkah-khani is conducted in the mosque and bride is accompanied by aunt, maternal aunt and paternal aunt. Bride is dressed in a special traditional bride dress known as ‘Chandra’. No dowry, no gold exchange, only some dresses are sewn and marriage ceremony comes to an end. Not more than two cases of Tibetan marriages are outside their community. They marry within their own community, the only criteria is that boy should be hardworking, gentle and religious. Caste and class has hardly importance in the selection of brides and grooms. Marriages by choice, love marriages are also conducted. According to them late marriages are not prevalent but at adequate age youth are married.
Formal kinship terminology among them distinguishes between patri – and matri – laterals at the second ascending generation, is bifurcate-collateral at the first ascending generation, and shows a typical Hawaiian generational pattern at Ego’s generation level. In practice, this system results in a strong bias toward distinguishing between one’s matrilateral and one’s patrilateral kin for the purposes of inheritance. For relatives of his or her own level, including cousins, the average Tibetan simply uses the terms “brother” and “sister.” There is local and regional variation in terminology throughout the plateau. Tibetans have distinct names for their distinct kins. So their kinship system is descriptive. Father in Tibetan is termed as Abbala, Mother (Amla), Sister (Acha), Brother (Illa), Uncle (Chala), Aunt (Chichila), Grandfather (Pola), Grandmother (Mola), Maternal Aunt and Uncle (Somo, Sumla), Paternal Aunt and her Husband (Anni, Chala), Maternal aunt and maternal uncle (Mamula, Mimila).etc.
Compared to the previous condition, Tibetan community is on the road of development and moving forward. The basic tool which has led to the social mobility of Tibetan community is education and new jobs like textile business, teaching etc. It cannot be wrong to say that due to the problem of inadequate and insufficient resources of income, limited availability of assets and problem of un-employment are the biggest obstacles to the social mobility of Tibetans in Kashmir.
The health of Tibetan community is not so bad and concern worthy. They are not facing any specific attack of any particular disease. However medical assistance is primarily provided by a health centre established by DOH (Deptt. Of Health), Dharamsala, Government in Exile.
Talking of hygiene, it is very shabby, the lanes are not well maintained and drainage is very inadequate and faulty. Ignorance of municipal authorities and lack of proper sanitation is the problem faced by Tibetan people. Tibetans deem it as discrimination of state government towards them. They also face problem of regular and pure drinking water supply.
Official communications between India and Chinese governments reveal that India produced a list of 129 Muslim families of Kashmir origin, who were then repatriated from Tibet in 1960. In Srinagar they are housed in colonies at Hawal and Iddgah. Today there are 236 families with a population of about 1100. After 46 years of their return most of the people here are unaware of their Kashmir origin (Nighat Jabeen)xix
According to TDS (Tibetan Demographic Survey), 1998 the Tibetan population is one of the most mobile nations of the world scattered over 93 different points in India, Nepal, Bhutan and other neighboring countries. According to TDS the Tibetan population has reached 118000 on June 12, 1998 from the initial estimated population of 6 million in 1959, out of which 85147 live in India, 14000 in Nepal, 1600 in Bhutan, 1540 in Switzerland, rest of Europe 640, 1000 in Scandinavian countries, 7000 in USA and Canada, 60 in Japan, 1000 in Taiwan, 220 in Australia, New Zealand, Arab countries and other regions.
People between 15-25 years of age constitute the majority of the Tibetan population in exile. As for as the population features of Tibetan Muslim community in totality is concerned, as per TMYF (Tibetan Muslim Youth Federation) the total population of Tibetan Muslims outside Tibet is around 2000, out of them about 25 families live in Nepal, 20 in the Gulf countries and Turkey, about 50 families reside in Darjeeling and Kalimpong areas bordering Tibet in Eastern India .There are around 1210 Tibetan Muslims in new settlement in Srinagar consisting of 220 families.
The data provided by TYMF* of population as on March, 1,2007 and later verified through Door to door survey was as given in the table.
NO. OF TOTAL MALES
NO. OF TOTAL FEMALES
As per some reports, Chinese statistics estimated there were 5.2 million Tibetans in 1987 but other Chinese statistics for their 1990 census claim them to be 4.59 million. Whichever is nearer, the true figure of the Tibetan population may now be no larger than during the height of the ‘The Terror’ of the early to mid 1960′s.
Education being a non-economic variable is indispensable to the process of development, both in economic and social aspects. The role of education in the course of social and economic change through the intensification of skills and homogenization of society has been widely noted in the literature. Though education by itself does not generate socio-economic development, but the lack of it can certainly be an impediment in the process of development. Years ago Marshall referred to it as a “national movement”; and in our own times, the Education (Kothari) commission identified classrooms as places where the destiny of nation is shaped. A number of studies during the late 1950s and early 1960s by Theodore Schultz, Edward Denison, Gary Becker, Harry Johnson, Robert Solow and others had demonstrated the role of education in accelerating the process of development..xx
Till the 1950s, physical capital was considered the key button, which, if pressed hard enough, would set the development process in motion. However, the studies conducted on the nature and causes of economic growth over a long historical period in the developed countries revealed that while physical capital undoubtedly played an important role in economic growth, it was by no means as dominant as many economists had earlier visualized. The economists produced historical case studies of countries which enjoyed superior economic growth as a result of having paid greater attention to raising the educational levels of their people than did other countries. The developments in Japan and Germany after the Second World War are generally regarded as the classic examples of education being deliberately utilized as a contributing factor to rapid economic and social change. Investment in education, therefore, is an investment in the productivity of the population. Like economists, sociologists too maintained that education brings about a change in the individual, promoting greater productivity, modern attitudes, values and beliefs about work and quality of life.
As far as the education of Tibetans in exile is concerned, total school enrolments is 85-90 percent of school age. At present there are 106 kindergartens, 87 primary level, 44 middle level, 21 secondary level, 13 senior secondary level schools, with the total enrolment of over 25000 students. According to 1998 figures by DOE (Department of Education), Govt. in exile at Dharmsala, the effective literacy rate of the Tibetan exile population stood at 74.5%. While the general literacy rate is 69.3%, but only 2.6% of total population achieved higher studies with professional courses. As far as the literacy of Tibetan community in Kashmir is concerned, majority of the people are educated, especially religious education is high. About 40% of the people especially youth have received Islamic religious education. Most of then are Hafiz, Aalim, Moulvi’s and pursuing other Arabic courses. General academic education is improving too.
Tibetan Public School is a big source of imparting education to the Tibetan younger generation. Concluding on the basis of generalizations of educational and literacy inquires, it has been estimated that the literacy rate of Tibetan community in Srinagar is 61.33% in general, literacy rate for males stood at 62.8% and for females it is 59.7%, generalized for 220 families of the Tibetan community.
Housing and pattern of life style is mostly traditional and reflecting Tibetan cultural identity. House wear is traditional and decorations are all Tibetan in origin. Floors are mostly covered by Tibetan carpets called “Khatten” and bedding like, usually U-shaped fashion is drawn around covering three corners of a room for guests which is known as “Satti” in Tibetan language. Kitchen wear is also the reflection of Tibetan and Chinese culture, consisting of some uncommon vessels like big Tiffin like vessel used to prepare their traditional dish known as “Momo”. As far as the crockery used in houses is concerned, it is Chinese; wall decorations, pictures, garments, etc are all Tibetan. Their favorite dishes are Tibetan including “Momo” thukpa, chomins, noodles, Shafali, etc. However due to cultural diffusion, they now take rice also. They are now consuming vegetables as other locals are taking. New generation is now prone to rice and Kashmiri foods and vegetables. On special occasions, Tibetan dishes are prepared and served. Now Kashmiri cuisine (WAZWAN) is also famous amongst Tibetan people. They consume sweet dishes like Halwa, mostly prepared from flour.
The community is more or less homogenous in nature and assets. Occupational structure is marked by 70% gender differentiation. Women generally remain inside the four walls of the house. Caste is present and resembles Kashmiri castes like Bhat, Chasti, Shah, Qazi, Malik, Nawajoo etc. but there is no caste consciousness and casteism as such. Food habits are mainly traditional Tibetan, not any specific and different as compared to others. Language is Tibetan but can speak Urdu, Kashmiri and English as well. Most of Tibetan Muslims want to return to their home land along with their Buddhist Tibetan brothers and few of them are slowly migrating to Nepal and other regions from Kashmir and many of them are even now getting married to local Kashmiri girls, and also tying wed knots in Ladakh, to avail state benefits, which they were deprived of till the recent past. Tibetan-Kashmiri Youth feel alienated on all grounds and have more or less failed to adjust themselves in prevailing chaotic atmosphere. Most of them do needlework like embroidery, etc.
It was opened in 1975 in the shape of a Madrassa where in Quran and Urdu was taught only. Later it developed and took a shape of a school run by the Tibetan Muslim Youth Federation looking after the education of the Tibetan children. Bearing a total role of 330 in which Tibetan children are around 100 and rest are Kashmiri native students. The preservation of Tibetan culture, tradition and heritage is one of the main aims of the school and about 40% of the teachers are from the Tibetan community. This school acts as a source of employment for Tibetan educated youth as they have not much Employment opportunities due to absence of resident status certificates, etc. About 40% of the Tibetan children are first generation learners. And school has been able to bring dropout rates of Tibetan children to zero. School has a clear manifestation of Tibetan identity by Tibetan national flag, Tibetan wall hangings, maps, etc.
The general worth mentioning issue which Tibetan Muslim community in Kashmir is beset with, are actually the offshoots of their immigration and new set up in an alien atmosphere. The challenge of adjustment, especially at the initial stage of their arrival was a big issue as far the sociological perspective is concerned. They have, no doubt, to a great extent adopted themselves on many grounds but still their elderly stock and women especially feel difficulty in adjusting in and adopting Kashmir culture properly because of their staunch likeness towards pure Tibetan ethos. They are reserved to speak Kashmiri despite being familiar with the language to a greater extent due to a prolonged cultural contact. They hardly meet and interact with their Kashmiri neighbours, due to the feeling of being Tibetan in ethnicity.
The general problem of the whole community is the problem of adequate land and housing. They have been provided with a small portion of land at all the three locations i.e Badamwari , Idgah & Gulshan Mohalla settlements of Srinagar city. The community consists of more than 220 families but accommodated on a small amount of land with their one story small quarter like houses are constructed. They hardly have a courtyard or parks in front. Even there are no fire gaps between these small houses. Also these houses are too small to provide adequate accommodation to the families. Proper sanitation care is also not provided by the Municipal authorities and drains and lanes are hardly mend and constructed when damaged. Drains, lanes and streets are in a dilapidated condition.
Another problem and the main one, which Tibetan Muslims are beset with, is the non-availability of domicile certificate despite they claim to be the state subjects. They have the problem of not having the permanent resident certificate and this core problem has given birth to many other problems like unemployment, lack of access to higher education and other legal and public facilities, etc. They are devoid of a permanent “Rashan card” which is a serious problem of the community and has not been addressed so far.
Also they face the problem of limited resources of income due to unemployment of youth who are not being absorbed in government departments and public sector because of the lack of state subject certificate. They feel alienated on all grounds and have more or less failed to adjust themselves in prevailing chaotic atmosphere.
Children have got caught in identity and personality crisis. They are not able to understand if they are Tibetans or Kashmiris’.
Problems of Women mainly include the problem of illiteracy as maximum of Tibetan women are illiterate and remain confined to four wall of the house. Problems faced by them are mainly psychological, as they feel loneliness, emotional instability, not fully able to cope up with the alien setup. More liking for their own cultural features like dresses, Jewelry, etc are posing problems of their adjustment. Observations and Interviews revealed that as such there is minimal amount of domestic violence among this community. Educated girls are mostly either working in private schools or helping their mothers at home. Elder women and elder men are poor and are not provided with old age pensions, funds and other facilities which other elderly are enjoying in the state. The Tibetan community is not able to avail different schemes and provisions of government meant for people. They have a strong feeling of being discriminated on many grounds by the state government.
Local native Kashmiri response to the Tibetan settlement is a mixed bag, while most of the locals speak good about them, a proportion of the populace is not happy of their settlement in Srinagar. People are negating their Kashmiri origin. However native youths are in favor and say that Tibetans are highly polite, hospitable, sociable and more religious in their approach.
Tibetan Muslims have been able to preserve their social, cultural and national identity despite their settlement in a new environment. Simultaneously it may be worth arguing that they have not faced any major cultural crisis while adjusting and adopting themselves and their life pattern according to the local customs as well. They have imbibed the local values, language, dress pattern and cultural ethos without much difficulty. Though among all of them, there is a great urge to return to their home-land still they are very futuristic in their vision for proper adjustment in future. Also they are entering in relationships with the state subjects to firm their roots; they have tied knots mostly with Ladakhi’s, to sustain their stay and simultaneously to gain access to all the facilities and provisions by the state. Now most of the youth are getting admissions in educational institutions as well. Also it may not be wrong to argue that they have kept pace with the tradition and modernity and simultaneously preserved their ethnic values.
They are extremely hard working people and most of them deal with garments business. Youth are mostly associated with embroidery. Most of the Tibetan youth are in business and stitching work, needle work, brocading and other embroidery works. They have also set shops in different areas in Srinagar. They also carry out business in Nepal, Ladakh and other neighboring regions.
Much of the elderly stock is emancipated and well educated, especially in the area of religious education. The life style is simple and all the occasions are celebrated in religions fervor. Talking of marriages, festivals and other rituals, only those practices are followed which fall in Islamic purview barring the emerging changes now. However the Tibetan community is in transition now, especially youth are vulnerable to every new pattern of change. Despite separate cultural and ethnic identity, the observations reveal that identity crisis and personality crisis, problems of recognition are some of the factors which prompt Tibetan people especially youngsters to change with the advent of modernity and to keep them selves at par with natives and their neighbors.
However, various problems faced by Tibetan Kashmiris have many aspects like governmental administrative consents, issues and suspense on their very origin and ancestry claims. Despite the long Kashmiri cultural encounter, Tibetans passionately feel that they are different in every way, culturally, linguistically, racially and even temperamentally from the native Kashmiris. Though they claim Kashmiri ancestry and origin and in the local context they have proved it by many evidences like resembling of names which are Kashmiri type, castes which are again Kashmiri type like Bhat, Ganie, Wani, Shah etc, some prior relations in Srinagar and the Govt. white paper which contains 129 names of the Tibetan families.
Tibetans have a strong sense of their national identity and retain their cultural identity despite living in an alien environment and even after the settlement of more than 40 years in Kashmir, they still love to speak Tibetan with one another, have Tibetan furnishing at homes, Tibetan dress pattern occupational by new changes, and still retain Tibetan material culture like pictures, utensils, vessels, crockery, bedding, food habits etc.
Young Tibetans are fed up with the word refugee. They never like to be called refugees whether in India, Kashmir or any other place. Youth are very optimistic of freedom of their country. According to them the law of the land shares a very strange and peculiar relation with Tibetans living over here. The Tibetan hope for independence (Rangzen) still stubbornly refuses to be crushed, but Tibetan youth in Kashmir are less concerned about the freedom of Tibet as they are ideologically poor and self centered as revealed by observations.
There is to a greater extent the scholarly disinterest to dig out and explore this Tibetan-Kashmiri origin. Although now researches are carried upon this ethnic community but it will take more time to dig out actual facts pertaining to the very community. They live in Srinagar but on the land provided by the government for few definite colonies and are also deprived of various socio-economic benefits. There has been a deliberate ignorance towards looking into the future prospects of this community, keeping in view their growing population, unemployment, shrinking residential space, state subject issue, etc. Also there is a dire need of an exploratory kind of research in this regard and to find facts, which can help in building policy inputs for this ethnic stock.
“……..from the point of view of national interests, the fact that Tibet is being annihilated cannot be for the good of India in the long run” (Atal Bihari Vajpyee, former P.M of India, 17TH March, 1960, Lok Sabha).
1. I am highly indebted to whole of the Tibetan Kashmiri community at Badamwari Hawal,Srinagar for their help, time and cooperation during the field work in 2007. I thank my batch mates and friends, especially Ayaz A khan Bilal Kakroo,Lucky Mir and Mr Lone for their constant encouragement and help. My Special thanks to my worthy teacher Prof Bashir A Dabla,Under whose guidance, I completed the fieldwork for this study. Last but not the least, my thanks to Dr Tareak A Rathar (Associate Professor at Centre for Central Asian Studies,Kashmir University,Srinagar), for helping me to convert this fieldwork into a research article.
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i. The Dalai Lama is that unique mix of a spiritual teacher and a political leader. Unlike the Pope he is virtually uncontested as a spiritual inspiration. The exiled 14th Dalai Lama was born on July 6, 1935 to a peasant family living in a former Tibetan village. He was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous spiritual leader of his nation at the age of two and enthroned on February 22, 1940.
ii. Lhasa is the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China and the second most populous city on the Tibetan Plateau, after Xining. At an altitude of 3,490 metres (11,450 ft), Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world. It contains many culturally significant Tibetan Buddhist sites such as the Potala Palace, Jokhang temple and Norbulingka palaces.
iii. Dalai lama is a high Lama.Tenzin Gyatso says,Lama corresponds precisely to the better known Sanskrit word guru.
iv. Thomas Walker Arnold, Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith, (Stosius Inc/Advent Books Division, 1984).
v. Muslims of Tibet, Tibetan Bulletin (January – February 1994). E:\tibet article docs\tibmuslim.html
vi. Mr. P.N. Kaul,The then- head of the Indian mission in Lhasa.
vii. The Mahāyāna tradition is the larger of the two major traditions of Buddhism existing today, the other being that of the Theravāda school. According to the teachings of Mahāyāna traditions, “Mahāyāna” also refers to the path of seeking complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, also called “Bodhisattvayāna”, or the “Bodhisattva Vehicle. Mahayana Buddhism is sometimes called Northern Buddhism. It is mainly followed by monks and nuns, and is largely found throughout China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Nepal, Russia, Tibet, and Vietnam.
viii. During the 17th Century,It was the Fifth Dalai Lama-Nwang Labsong Gyatso readily gave Muslims a piece of land in Lhasa to build their first mosque. He was the first Dalai lama to wield effective over central Tibet and is known as the great fifth Dalai Lama.
ix. The Potala Palace was the chief residence of the Dalai Lama until the 14th Dalai Lama fled to Dharamsala, India, after an invasion and failed uprising in 1959. It is located in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China.
x. They were known as Khache [Kashmiri Muslims] in Tibet thought to be the decedents of Kashmiri traders who had settled there in 12th century.
xi. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah(1905-1982), one of the most important political figures in the modern history of Jammu and Kashmir.termed as Sher-i-Kasjhmir and who fought against feudalism in the state.
vii. A small settlement of Tibetan Muslims near Famous shrine of Hazrat Sheikh Hamzah Makhdoom,Hawal Srinagar.
xiii. The Tibetan Muslim Youth Federation, a body that works for the welfare of the community and sometimes stage marches to show solidarity with their fellow Tibetans.
xv. The home of the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, and the exiled Tibetan government.
xvi. An organization based in India with the stated goals of “rehabilitating Tibetan refugees and restoring freedom and happiness in Tibet”. It was established by the 14th Dalai Lama in 1959 shortly after his exile from Tibet. It is commonly referred to as the “Tibetan Government in Exile”,
xvii. “Tibet Aur Tibeti Mussalman”, by Dr. Abu Bakr Amirudin Tibeti Nadwi, 2005 .
xviii. Shah Adfar.Tibetan Muslims in Exile: A Sociological Profile, jamia journal, July 21, 2011, http://www.jamiajournal.com/2011/07/21/opinion-tibetan-muslims-in-exile-a-sociological-profile/
xix. Reclaiming their Kashmir identity: A story of Indo-Tibetans. Srinagar,Sep. 22, 2006 Kashmir News)
xx. R Bharadwaj and K.K. Balachandram. Planning for social and economic Development. 1992:57. New Delhi. Sage Publications.
This article appeared in ( ISSN 0970-5368) THE TIBET JOURNAL a publication for the study of Tibet Vol. .XXXVII, No. 3, Autumn- 2012 (ISSN 0970-5368). Reprinted with permission.