A Tale Of Three Cultures: All Exiled By Time

The only permanent thing about Time is its penchant for Change. Time that witnesses upheavals in generations also soothes the wounds of mental agony. As one moves on, one tends to forget.


Perhaps, it is not always a good thing.


While most of us are caught in a maddening desire to get ahead of Time, there are others who have been patiently enduring the winds of change in a bid to hold on to it. The more it passes, the further away they will be from home.


In this battle of trying to sustain the relevance of memories against the eroding effect of Time, the latter is winning. For nothing erodes cultures as much as discontinuity does. Interfere with the continuity in years, the uniformity of place, the cohabited geography and the homogeneity in demography, and one will end up with a distinct set of cultural systems.


With this recipe for “cultural genocide” as Dalai Lama once put it, two communities in India are cooking away their cultural death. Ironically, one of them has come to us as a “shararnathi” or a refugee group, the other is our home-grown castaway exiled in their own land. Ironically again, while one state of India (J&K) is responsible for shunting away Kashmiri Pandits, the bordering state of Himachal Pradesh has welcomed Tibetans with open arms.


Indeed, India is a country of diversity. Distinct conscience within a matter of some miles.


Strategy Tibetans: Maintain Status Quo, Not Let Time Heal

India became a willing stakeholder in the Tibetan-Chinese conflict when it welcomed Dalai Lama and 80,000 fellow exiles in 1950. For a country which had only recently gained independence, it was a mighty courageous move against the Mao-galvanized iron-fisted Chinese, catapulting her into international media immediately. Nehru, left no stone unturned in offering them 27 settlements across India helping them retain their Tibetan identity. Over years as Tibetans have moved far and wide, the settlement in McLeodganj has become the central point of Tibetan administration, pivot for “Free Tibet” movement and an exiled prototype of Tibetan culture. Without this, much of Tibet as known to the older generation, is lost to the newer one.


The “Free Tibet” movement continues to gain international sympathy in its various forms alongwith the almost universal love for Dalai Lama reflective in his admirers, sympathisers and “Tibetophilia” growing across the world. Almost at the same time, it is a perennial irritant in China’s eyes which it keeps brushing off repeatedly only to find it resurfacing embarrassingly. Needless to say, it’s a thorn in India-China relations even as we assert our bilateral exchanges while welcoming more exiles in our borders.



This April 11, 1959 photo shows Chinese PLA soldiers overseeing the surrender of Tibetan monks after a failed armed uprising against Chinese oppression. AFP

This April 11, 1959 photo shows Chinese PLA soldiers overseeing the surrender of Tibetan monks after a failed armed uprising against Chinese oppression. AFP


Tibetans have nothing else but hope. Their tryst against Time has been an inspiring story. With no major money to fund their ventures, a deep-seated underlying belief in peaceful negotiations which is both their USP and their curse, and little tangible support from international countries, they find their battle slowly fizzling out against the draconian Chinese who are in no mood to relent.


The peaceful Buddhists, who have accepted the generosity of the same country that once gave them their religion, are running out of ideas. Already, there is some dissent. And it comes from the young ones who have never seen their country, have been educated and brought up in India and yet are deeply entrenched in their Tibetan idea. They are young, do not have the mountainous patience of Dalai Lama and are not willing to settle for autonomy.


Freedom is their war cry.


A young Tibetan exile protesting against China's occupation of Tibet is detained by the Delhi police. Money Sharma/AFP

A young Tibetan exile protesting against China’s occupation of Tibet is detained by the Delhi police. Money Sharma/AFP

People like the young ‘poet-warrior’ Tenzin Tsundue manage to send shivers of cold embarrassment down the expressionless faces of Chinese premiers especially when they visit India. Despite police crackdown, he appeared out of nowhere in 2002 unfurling “Free Tibet” posters in front of Chinese PM Zhu Rongji, by climbing 22 floors of Taj in Mumbai. He repeated these antics in IISC in 2005 against PM Wen Jiabao by hiding in the place for 2 complete days prior to the event. In 2006, against Hu Jintao, his aides managed to set themselves on fire each time gaining bad international press for the shamed premiers. After witnessing such a magical spectacle, makes sense for them to be critical of the relatively soft policing powers of India as compared to their native butchering ways!


And yet, the Tibetans are resolute even as Dalai Lama’s peace overtures seem to get them nowhere.


Strategy Kashmiri Pandits: Accept the Present, Ride Time to Move on in Life

I cannot but help wonder if the Kashmiri Pandits do not secretly despise the nation for being hypocritical about refugee-status. At one end is India’s generosity in handing over prime lands and settlements to Tibetans so that they can preserve the sanctity of their culture, at other end is the complete shoddy treatment that has been meted out to her own citizens belonging to the majority religion of the country, of a caste considered “elitist” in India!


We think that Kashmiri Pandit migration began in the 1980s. Unfortunately, Time has another tale to tell. Back in 1389, Sikandar Butshikhan has started the standard medieval history – which we otherwise glorify in our textbooks – custom of “force population to convert or flee”. Much migration happened as early as that. Thanks to the relatively tolerant nature of Akbar, most of the Pandits happily thronged the valley engaging their time in writing religious texts. Then after the Mughal encroachment, Afghanis took over converting a large percentage of the Pandits. Despite these barbaric interferences, the sect maintained its cultural prominence.



Years later, the tragedy of “Ethnic Cleansing” started by JLKF and Hizbul Mujahideen has not found its end-date yet. Authorities are divided on the number of people who had to flee the Valley due to terrorist operations and yet it ranges between 100,000-350,000. However, as a sterile nation watched this home-grown tragedy blow out into catastrophic proportions, it attributed it to ‘terrorist fatwas’. What one fails to narrate is the hand of some local Muslims who played second fiddle to these militants. In the stories of Kashmiri Pandits, the personal account is never brought to the surface. Neither seen are any media-hungry activists openly supporting their cause – a fact opposite in nature to the widespread sympathy for cases prevalent during Gujarat Riots. If at all the Pandits have got anything from the state-it’s Apathy.


Rahul Pandita’s extremely moving narrative of personally witnessed exile “Our Moon Has Blood Clots” can leave your blood cold. Despite the book having been written in a matter-of- fact manner, the gruesome misery brought by the fear of impending doom that haunted the Pandits in the Valley shouts out at your conscience as you flip over pages.


It is my personal feeling as I read more on the subject that people do not leave their homeland under any threat in such large number unless the danger appears to them in form of a neighbour, an aunt’s son, or the local boy you hugged the other day. When the man one trusts with his or his loved one’s life, turns away to expose the ugliest side of his bestial personality, only then one believes that there is no point in staying back. Pick up any such account it’s always the closest whose Hyde-like turnover stabs the last ounce of your hope.



As Pandita writes, majority of the new generation of the Pandits does not have linkages with their motherland, nor do they remember their rituals or cultural practices in great details. This is a generation which remembers its roots once in a while when the subject is brought up or when they look into their parents’ haunting eyes. A generation after that would have no memory of any Kashmiriyat at all.


But despite the newly-found interest in Pandits’ return thanks to Modi government, most of the Pandits have settled in places around the country mingling with the rest of the population taking up jobs and in general “moving on” as if the exiled period was a bad break-up.


Can one successfully “go back”?

There is another community with whom the word “persecution” is attached naturally and which struggled for long to preserve the uniqueness of their identity fighting bitter anti- Semitic sentiments all across the world. Their story stands in contrast to that of the Kashmiri Pandits and the Tibetans for they have already finished their arduous struggle and have been immensely successful in establishing a homeland as they desired – replete with tradition, culture and religious overtones right in the middle of hostile neighbours. Their story can very well be called a Legend and I presume, would be narrated to every child growing up there. It is for this reason that the next generation of Israeli children would not only be hugely nationalistic but also immensely proud of the survival spirit of their ancestors.



The Nazis packed the Jews in carriages and transported them to concentration camps. paterdesign.com

The Nazis packed the Jews in carriages and transported them to concentration camps. paterdesign.com

Their story showed the world that a ‘return’ is a theoretical and practical possibility.


However, while Tibetans and Jews had refused to trade the promise of a comfortable life in exchange for the Utopian hope of “Return to homeland” where they have the freedom to practise their culture, the Kashmiri Pandits have tried to make the best of the situation and integrate with the rest of Indians.


In their battle, the eroding effect of Time is most dominant. The native impressions we learn as kids soon dilute into brief interjections sometimes leading to permanent erasure as we disengage from our native place. Often, like an epiphany, some words from our subconscious appear like a bright lightening in a thunderstorm only to be washed away in the next few hours. This is exactly what happens when discontinuity sets in. Traditions suffer from oblivion, native dressing adopts the Western garb, languages suffer an extinction possibility, and recipes lose their distinct local flavour.


And that is what cultural erosion is all about.

This is how, in matters of years, a whole nation/state gets lost. First from official documents, then from maps, and slowly from public memory.


The same world which roots for Palestinian cause today considers Tibet an unsolvable issue given China’s ever-growing Might, Muscle, Money and of course, Meanness. Our own country goes into a major self-offending tantrum when issues like national language are brought up because we like to believe that we are neither hypocrites nor partisan. The country cries for the present Kashmiris when the news of “pellets” reaches them, even if it was a tactical response of the armed forces in a provocative protest in the Valley.  Right or wrong, the action caused many of our people to condemn strongly the issue and call for an action against the Armed Forces. Yet, no collective outrage is felt for the stranded Pandits. Even the cause of Naxalism, which despite original justifiable reasons turned into India’s biggest blood-shedding problem, draws a lot of sympathisers. Yet, no outrage for Pandits.


While googling for Kashmiri Pandits, I came across three articles. One stated “23 years on,  Kashmiri Pandits remain Refugees”. Another read: 24 years nothing has changed. Another began “25 years after exodus of Kashmiri Pandits” and this year, “26 years in Exile…”. Going through the texts , one would realise that each exodus anniversary a new article would come up adding a lost year to a number n. Slowly and steadily, n would be so large that we would have lost the battle against Time making the “return” a hypothetical idea.


Probably, it’s the character of the persecuted that makes for some telling observations. The protesting Palestinians are violent, gun-toting, havoc-causing even if it’s for a justifiable cause. So are the Naxals. Even the Israelis took over a land by force. Hence, their issues become a cause of concern, a serpentine conundrum worthy of international interest.



Israeli youths march into Jerusalem's Old City through the Damascus Gate celebrating Jerusalem Day, which commemorates a key victory during the 1967 Mideast war. AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov

Israeli youths march into Jerusalem’s Old City through the Damascus Gate celebrating Jerusalem Day, which commemorates a key victory during the 1967 Mideast war. AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov

Kashmiri Pandits are so passive that there is not even a collective candlelight vigil to highlight their problems. They are already trying to assimilate themselves into new cultures that their problem does not even look like a problem anymore. Tibetans are made of sturdier spirit. Despite having no means at their disposal, they keep up the protest and the issue alive in the media, often by random acts of peaceful demonstration embarrassing the Chinese who like to pretend that they cannot see the problem through their small, close-set eyes. His Holiness the Dalai Lama does not even make a public statement when the premiers visit our country, inspiring generations of Tibetans to hold on steadfastly – all peacefully, all patiently.


Probably that’s why these communities find themselves without a voice or any international consensus.


Alas, in their battle against Time, I fear that when the Day of Reckoning comes to each of them, the Pandits will find themselves without a reason to go back. If the cultural ties do not pull them there, what else do they have to look for? For life goes on even in the backyards of other states where they have friends, families, work, money, and most importantly, Safety. Probably, here is where the dominant faith of Tibetans and Jews has succeeded. They kept the culture in-toto, not allowing assimilation, refusing to trade in their status quo. It worked well for the Jews. I doubt if it will work in favour of the Tibetans as Time marches on and they find themselves without a nation, a land, a cultural linkage, and worse; without an identity, travelling the world with India-stamped yellow cards.


For with passage of Time, discontinuity steps in which buries cultures. Already in China- occupied Tibet, Han Chinese have made their way into much of Tibetan landscape altering the demography dynamically rendering Tibetans a minority population in their own land. The same had happened in North Eastern states where Bangladeshi immigration had tilted the demography in favour of Muslims rendering the tribes a minority leading to a perennial strife- laden environment. In Kashmir, I wonder if Pandits will find anything on going back apart from some vestiges of their self-respect. The language, the Kashmiriyat, the big bungalows, the interaction, the feeling of “home” all is lost thanks to infiltrators and sustained Islamization of the area.


The Uncanny Host

And in the middle of three stories similar in their thirst for return, different in strategy of survival and varied in the amount of torture suffered, the one country that somehow uncannily remains connected to all of them is India.


Besides the obvious association of Pandits and Tibetans to India, it is interesting to observe that the Jews who were persecuted all over the world had fled to India to escape oppression elsewhere. Most of them had emigrated back to Israel (Aliyah) and now make up about 1% of their population. In fact, like Hinduism, Judaism is described more as a “way of life” than a hard-core religion.


This makes India the official and unofficial incenter of these three persecuted communities which increases its burden while it interacts with the rest of the world differently polarised. Probably, now the two communities need to race against Time and with their genesis in India compel the country and international arena to attend to their cause.


For what is not acquired by peace, some time in history gets snatched by force. If History is a teacher, let us not let ULFA, Naxals pass by without us learning anything. As  Tenzin Tsundue had told the journalist Akash Bannerjee, “Till Dalai Lama is there, we can’t think of anything but peace. But after him, who knows” suggesting that the desperate Tibetans might find violence as their last option.


And then they have the Jews to learn from. The once-persecuted group terrifies the spirits out of most countries of the world. Even as a collective force, the Arabs cannot unnerve the inspiring tenacity of the Israeli spirit. Yes, they battled Time to prevent their culture from extinction even as they went about fleeing to different parts of the globe. Yes, they came back victorious. But, then they also underwent the Holocaust.


Fortunately, that was the western world. Germany had to own up to its crimes against humanity and paid bitterly with its post-war conditions and a scarred conscience. Holocaust was depicted in movies inspiring dissemination of literature. The Tibetans have no such advantage. The Govt-in-Exile at McLeodganj fights Chinese propaganda machine by its old-world, short-wave radio transmission to natives in Tibet. Kashmiri Pandits have hardly any tangible collectible referenced work showing the horrors inflicted on them.


It’s only a matter of Time.


“The World Forgetting, By the World Forgot”.

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