I've been spending a lot of time in India recently, specifically living near Dharamsala. As a result, I spend a lot of my free time in Mcleod Ganj, considered the center of Tibetan society in exile, and also a big tourism spot.
Like any tourist attraction, it has its fair share of hotels, cheap hostels, coffee shops (my caffeine addiction is pleased with this), and lots of shops.
Many tourists come here with a "Shangrila" idea of Tibet and India, and the tourist industry does cater to that to a certain extent with courses on 'Tantra,' dozens, if not hundreds, of yoga courses (a few of which are genuine), astrology, hypnosis, past life regressions, and tarot. The last three are almost exclusively offered by westerners spending time in India.
And, like any tourist attraction, people come with a sense of entitlement, a belief that their every whim should be catered to. The customer is always right, and in the case of tourism, the entire locale is the "shop."
I've always found this attitude sickening, in any location. Like the American tourist in France who believes that yelling slowly in English will make them understood, and then acts as if its the fault of the French fruit seller on the street for not speaking English in France.
Are there times when it's okay to be demanding? Yes. You sign into your hotel room and find out that the promised AC is broken and the sheets are dirty, feel free to complain. But I'm sure you can see the difference.
However, here in Dharamsala and other Tibetan settlements, there is a much bigger problem. Most tourists here, and even many supporters who are well meaning, polite and well educated, forget what this place is.
This is a refugee camp. This is where people fleeing their country, arriving with nothing, settle because they have no where else to go. This is a refugee camp.
I cannot count the number of times I've seen a tourist screaming at a Tibetan shop keeper or waiter for misunderstanding English, not taking a moment to think that this person might be a newly arrived refugee from Tibet, who had little to no access to education. Most adult arrivals get less than 5 years of a meager, amateur English education and come out with limited functional English at best.
Most Tibetans are not in Dharamsala for Business. They did not come to Dharamsala to learn English, to open a shop, to open a restaurant, or open a hotel. They came here because of the lack of rights in their homeland, fear of arrest, fear of torture, a desire to live in freedom, the hope to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the chance to learn in a Tibetan supportive environment.
They have to learn some English to survive here. They have to work in a shop or a hotel or whatever in order to pay their rent (since owning land is nearly impossible for a refugee.)
Dharamsala does not overtly look like a refugee camp for a couple of reasons.
1) It's been around long enough that you have long established buildings and institutions instead of the imagined 'tent city' refugee camp. However, if you look at other long standing refugee camps and settlements (Palestinian ones come to mind) you are bound to see a lot more concrete apartment buildings than tents. It's how things go if you've been around for a while.
2) Problems are not easily viewable from the main street level, where most tourists confine themselves.
Not only is this by definition a refugee camp, but also the problems that are not easy to see are the same as those faced by refugees anywhere.
-Newly arrived Tibetans usually don't speak either Hindi or English.
-They usually arrive with little or no money or possessions
-They usually have no paperwork, aside from a refugee document issued in Kathmandu
-Many are severely traumatized due to experiences in Tibet or a difficult escape, some are suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result
-Many are suffering physical ailments as a result of starvation during the escape, frostbite, and also illnesses due to the new environment, low altitude, and dirty water
-Upon arrival in India, many must wait months, and some even years, to get an RC (Identification card for non-Indian residents) and even longer to get an IC (travel documents)
-Without an RC, Tibetans can be detained by Indian police,who have been known to abuse detainees.
-Tibetans may be subject to official curfews, and unofficial curfews are self imposed due to the lack of RCs. Many Tibetans are afraid to go out after dark if they do not have their RC
-Tibetans face extreme difficulties getting permission to own businesses
-It is nearly impossible for Tibetans to own land
-It is nearly impossible for Tibetans to get Indian citizenship
-Many 2nd and 3rd generation exiles suffer from issues of identity and displacement, resulting in unemployment, and high levels of drug and alcohol abuse.
-Clashes occur not uncommonly between local Indians who feel displaced by the Tibetan community, and the Tibetan refugees. These are often very violent.
-Tibetans can be financially abused by landlords and so on, because they feel as if they have no legal recourse.
-Extremely high numbers of parentless children
What does this sound like to you? It sure sounds like a refugee camp to me. All of us need to remember that.
This land is my land - ལ་ཐོན་པོའི་ཙེ་ལ། ལྷ་སང་གཅིག་བཏང་ནས། དར་ཅོག་གཅིག་བརླངས་ནས། ལྷ་རྒྱ་སྦྱིན་མཁྱེན་པས། ལྷ་ཆོས་སྐྱོང་སྲུང་མས། འདི་ང་ལ་གསུངས་བྱུང་། ཕ་ཡུལ་འདི་ང་ཚོ་ཚང་མའི་རེད། Cho...
2 years ago