The identity crisis facing Tibetan refugees

August 30th, 2008 - 11:35 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 30 (IANS) What is the place of Tibetans in our society? Are they just refugees, or have they taken on an Indian identity after having lived the Indian way for over three decades? A documentary titled “Tribute to Life - memoir of a lost land” answers all.The documentary was screened at the inaugural ceremony on Aug 28 at the Jeevika South Asia Documentary Film Festival 2008 which is on till Aug 31 at the India Habitat Centre here.

Neal Karthik, the director of the film, told IANS: “When I was preparing a proposal for Centre for Civil Society (CCS) - the producer of the film, I already knew one of the protagonists in my film - Amma, an 85-year-old Tibetan refugee. She does not speak; she seems to have been silenced by the trauma of losing her dear ones and her land.”

In his opening address for the festival, Parth Shah, president of CCS, said: “Tibetans face critical challenges to adapt themselves to new cultures and face challenges in earning their day-to-day livelihood.”

“The objectives of the festival are to document livelihood challenges, and bring it to the attention of the public, media and policy makers.” Shah added.

When questioned as to what challenges he faced while documenting the life of the refugees, Karthik said: “I visited the Tibetan settlements time and again before a month of research but found that Tibetans were apprehensive of outsiders and shy to face the camera; the impact of the political tension and police pressure was apparent.”

“Amidst this I came across my second protagonist Pasang, a women in her seventies, who owned a roadside tea shop. She was excited to share her sentiments about the ongoing struggle for Tibetans and her journey to make her life in India.” he added.

The film tracks the history of the Tibetan issue with archival footage of the displacement and welcome of refugees in India - with voiceover from veteran theatre artiste Tom Alter. The film identified two refugees, Amma and Pasang, who live in the Tibetan settlement Majnu ka Tila in north Delhi.

Highlighting the anguish of having been forced to leave their land and make their way through life as refugees in an unknown land, the film also explores the relevance of the Buddhist philosophy which supports Tibetan refugees through trying times.

There are an estimated 600,000 Tibetan refugees in India, who fled their homeland in 1959 after Chinese troops crushed their uprising. Tibetans have settled in Delhi, Bangalore and several places, but their main centre is in the Himalayan resort of Dharamsala, the home of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Karthik felt that at the outset the Tibetan refugees he interacted with in the course of his research expressed “a desire to rush back home”. On further probing their minds, they all seemed to have reconciled to their fate as refugees.

The film has recently been awarded the first position at the Full Marx Short Film Fest-MICA India and was previously screened at the Quebec International Film Festival and the San Marino International Film Festival as well.

Tempa Tsering, official representative of the Dalai Lama and the chief guest at the screening of the film, said: “The issue of the Tibetans who have taken on the identity of refugees across the world is a social and economic challenge, but only has a political solution.”

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