Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Being One of the Shi-Chak Wala

Growing up in a Tibetan refugee settlement (shi-chak) was filled with challenges; mainly due to its remote location and lack of accessibility to many modern amenities. You have to wait days to get half an hour of tap water; you have to live half a day with no electricity; you have only one bus going through the settlement to visit the nearest town; your only source of irrigation is the rain God; you are accustomed to wearing clothes with several old and new patches; you have to work in the farm after school hours and on holidays; you have to graze your cows in the woods; you have to walk almost half a kilometer to get spring/river waters; you have to study under dim light coming from a home-made-bottle-kerosene lamp; and the list of challenges goes on.

However, moving out of shi-chak is even more challenging and depressing. You are looked down as Shi-Chak Wala. This identity tag comes with a derogatory meaning that stands parallel to backwardness, ignorance and dark complexion. I still remember the discrimination that students from Shi-Chak Wala face in the Tibetan boarding schools. If you are from shi-chak, you are looked down even by the school officials. I remember one incident which is still fresh in my memory.

Even before I moved to Central School for Tibetans (CST) Mussoorie in Uttaranchal for Class XI and XII, I heard a lot about existing discrimination against a student from Shi-Chak Wala. It was not easy moving to a boarding school away from parents and scared of what is coming. 

The discrimination from fellow students was expected but I was never prepared for the same from school official. My brief incident is shared below.

After about a month in the school, as most 16 years old kids do, we (a group of students from my own shi-chak) were just gossiping during the study hour. The rector of the school caught us gossiping and asked:

"Where are you all from?"

"Kollegal" we replied.

The rector then said, "Though you have great marks in class X (from CST Kollegal), you will not survive the Mussoorie weather."

It was such a derogatory and discouraging statement that I promised myself to prove him wrong. The real meaning of his statement could be read as below:

"You all have secured these great marks in class X because of cheating. CST Mussoorie is not fit for cheaters. You all will fail and return to your own shi-chak soon."

In class XII board examination results, I proved him wrong by securing better marks than many of his own school students. I even received Merit Scholarship from the Department of Education, Central Tibetan Administration, Dharamsala. The point here is not about me. It's about the prevalence of discrimination that students from shi-chak faces in our own Tibetan school.

Though it may be decades since I graduated, the discrimination still exists. This is one example of discrimination but there are many more such as girls from shi-chak are easy going and cheap; Shi-Chak Wala has big and bare feet; and Shi-Chak Wala has to travel in buses along with cows, goats and sheep. 

Now, whenever I visit shi-chak, I always feel proud to have spent early days of my life here. I realize that I am more compassionate because of my experience with poverty. I have more empathy because of my exposure to different level of life challenges. I appreciate nature because of my personal experience with the work of farming.

In short, I am proud to be one among those Shi-Chak Walas.  These life experiences made me a better and stronger person.  Are you one of those proud Shi-Chak Walas and have a story to tell?  Feel free to comment below.

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