Just my two cents worth


May 2009

Did Speaker Pelosi Talk Tibet in China?

Among the “burning issues” in Washington, D.C. (actually among those who follow US-China relations and Tibet) currently is what is Speaker Nancy Pelosi is saying in China regarding human rights and Tibet during her first ever visit as the Speaker.

Given her background everyone expected that Speaker Pelosi would be raising issues such as Tibet during this trip. However, developments in the days leading to her departure for China made people feel that Speaker Pelosi may play a different tune in China. First, it appears that the Chinese Government was the one that actually announced her visit.  Subsequently, Pelosi confirmed the trip. Secondly, she announced that she was visiting China to talk about climate change thus avoiding the mentioning of human rights.

Today, Speaker Pelosi met with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao. The media reports do not speak of any topics raised, other than climate change and broad US China relations.  A statement on the Speaker’s website though talks about her delegation raising Tibet with President Hu Jintao.  It says, “Our delegation also emphasized the bipartisan concern in Congress on China’s poor record on human rights in China and Tibet.”

Xinhua’s coverage of Pelosi’s meeting with Hu Jintao is interesting. This version of the report contains eight paragraphs out of which six are devoted to what President Hu told her. What Speaker Pelosi said is restricted to one paragraph while the last paragraph is about her travel schedule.  There is of course no mention of her raising human rights, not to speak of Tibet, with the Chinese leaders.

Democracy for you, Himalayan style

First it was Bhutan, when the public there virtually voted in a one-party rule by giving the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa 45 of the 47 seats in the first ever elections to the National Assembly.  The People’s Democratic Party secured a mere two seats and subsequently has gone into some sort of disarray. That was in March 2008.

Just yesterday, in neighbouring Sikkim state (where elections were held both to the State Assembly and to the Indian Parliament) the ruling Sikkim Democratic Party under Pawan Kumar Chamling won all the 32 seats in the State Assembly thus virtually eliminating even the semblance of an opposition presence.     The Indian National Congress, which hoped to make a comeback through the help of former chief minister N.B. Bhandari, would want to reassess its role in the region even as it celebrates a clear victory in the national parliament.

I guess the Himalayan people, at least some of them, believe in being black and white so that there is no confusion.

So what may happen in Nepal next year when the hoped for Constitution is promulgated and surely elections will be held to the Republic’s Parliament. Unliked Bhutan or Sikkim, Nepal has a surfiet of parties and so there is no chance of a single-party rule being voted to power. But if there is a pattern in the Himalayan people’s mindset we should expect surprises.

Elections in the Tibetan Community in Exile, both for the de facto Prime Minister (Kalon Tripa) and the Parliament, are two years away but the surprise or the matter of interest this time would only be the candidates that will come up for the post of the Kalon Tripa. There is an initiative started by Thubten Samdup la to encourage the people to discuss this.

Want to read the first ever Tibetan newspaper?

The first ever comparatively widely circulated Tibetan newspaper Yulchog Sosoi Sargyur Melong (a mouthful that is given a shorter name in English as Tibet Mirror) can now be read online, thanks to an initiative by Columbia University.

This newspaper was founded by Babu Tharchin, whose biography Called from Obscurity: The Life and Times of a True Son of Tibet -Gergan Dorje Tharchin by H. Louis Fader (published by Tibet Mirror Press, Kalimpong, 2002) I had the privilege to review for the Tibet Journal of the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives.  Tharchin la was an ethnic Tibetan Christian from an area bordering Tibet in Himachal Pradesh state of India. He went to Kalimpong on a missionary trip and ended up becoming one of the pathfinders in the Tibetan society.

It is said that the elites in Lhasa enjoyed reading his newspaper as it was the only channel for them to get some world news. In an interview with Tibetan Review of December 1975, Tharchin says, “In the first issue of October 1925, I printed 50 copies and sent most of them to my friends in Lhasa, including one to His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama….He sent me a letter with some gifts congratulating
me and encouraging me to carry on publishing the newspaper.”

The press at which this newspaper was published still exists in Kalimpong. I had the chance to stand in front of it many years back and could not imagine that a history-making newspaper was published from such a simple place.

And Here is to Tibetan Chang!

I have not been a fan of our traditional drink, Chang (fermented beer or wine. While we are on it, is Chang a wine or a beer?). As a child I would take a sip or two from the bowl that my parents used. They, too, stopped drinking eventually. These days, except for the possible exception of Losar (Tibetan) or a Wedding (when I am forced to partake of it) period when I may consume some Changkhoe, I do not interact with it.

But Chang came to my mind as I was thinking about the Tibetan people’s exposure to the outside world and how this has impacted our lifestyle. Continue reading “And Here is to Tibetan Chang!”

Thank You India, by Tibetans, in New York

Among the myriad of programs during His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s just concluded visit to the United States was an event with members of the Indian community in the New York area. This was part of the program to thank India for its assistance to the Tibetan people that the Tibetan leadership in India has been organizing this year, on the occasion of the 50th year of life in exile. You can read a report about the New York event here as well as in the Indian media.

The turnout in New York was beyond expectations and so the room was really full. Continue reading “Thank You India, by Tibetans, in New York”

To Tibet Over the Nathula

To an average Tibetan the name of Nathula evokes the memory of the exodus in 1959 when several thousand Tibetans may have crossed over through that pass, from Tibet, to seek refuge in Sikkim and India.

Prior to 1959 Nathula symbolised the trade relationship between Tibetans and Sikkimese and Indians, for this was the main entry point for foreign goods to enter Tibet from India, as also for Tibetan traders to enter into commerce with Indian traders in Gangtok and mostly in Kalimpong.

Following the Tibetan political tragedy of 1959 this route was closed for several decades until its reopening in recent years.  Today there is news that the Nathula route has opened for this year.

Despite all such efforts, things are not the same as they used to be.  Today, the trade relationship is driven more by political considerations than by actual desire of people on both sides of the border.  They have in fact become more of a photo-op with photos of traders smiling to the camera, carrying their trading permits or something similar.

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