Monday, August 24, 2015

Tibetan Settlements in South India: Where Money and Power Dictates




"if your living in a shechak Its all about money money...you pay fine if you miss a meeting, if you miss a prayer meeting, if you miss a lhapso..... or mani...."


The above statement - a Facebook comment on one of my wall post - gave a much-needed spark for the birth of this article. Since I grew up in one of the biggest Tibetan settlements in South India, this statement was so true to me and my family members. I am still living these experiences through my parents, sibling and relatives in the settlement.


Though many residents of these settlements struggle to survive, I have witnessed that overwhelming number of fines and penalties were imposed for non-adherence to shady guidelines, questionable directives and unfair rules and regulations (R&R). These guidelines, directives and R&R mostly come from the Tibetan Settlement Office, Tibetan Cooperative Society, non-governmental organizations, committees such as annual prayer committee and/or camp leaders.

The primary reason for these guidelines, directives or rules and regulations is to make sure that the general public participates or involves in these community building or re-building works such as repair of roads, maintenance of community buildings, construction related to any projects, cleaning of school and hospital campuses, firewood for school kitchen and repair of drinking water pipes.

Often times, fines and penalties were also imposed for non-participation in community hall meetings when a high ranking official from Dharamsala visits the settlement as well as for non-participation in the annual prayer service that stretches for more than a month.


Freedom to practice his/her rights to participate or not participate in these meetings and prayer services are not an option. In these settlements, imposition or dictation of power outplays the importance of individual rights and democratic freedom.

More disturbingly, every household in the settlement are required to help cover the cost of travel and living expenses for individuals traveling to New Delhi or other big cities in India to participate in political demonstration. These protests are largely organized by non-governmental political organization. Residents willingly or unwillingly have to pay for these individual travel expenses to help them participate in a political protest or demonstration.

The question is - for how long, poor residents have to bear these ongoing extortion in the name of whatever-seems-best-fit-description provided by individual holding some kind of power or influence?

(If you are not from Tibetan settlements, let me provide you with a short background of these fines or penalties. As per Central Tibetan Administration's land rules and regulations (simple translation), every member in the household are eligible for housing and land for agricultural purpose. Household members - who were allocated housing and land - are asked to follow these guidelines, directives and R&R.)

Source: www.tibetanparliament.org

As a "permanent solution" to these frequent and ongoing harassment in the name of fines and penalties, several residents opted to return the land and housing allocated to their family members who moved to other countries such as Canada. This request of return is in accordance with CTA's land rules and regulations passed by the Tibetan Parliament in-Exile (see these two snapshots - one above and other below - to read Article 10 and 11 with emphasis on highlighted sections).

However, the reaction from some officials were very disturbing. They asked to return ALL land and housing including family members currently residing in the settlement. Where will these family members go?   This is a perfect example of an abuse of power by certain officials who prefer to suppress the voice of poor as well as CTA's land rules and regulations.

To understand the above para, let me provide an example.  Mr. A lives with his wife Mrs. B, son Mr. C and daughter Ms. D in XYZ Tibetan settlement.  They all received land and housing as per CTA's land rules and regulations.  However, Mrs. B and Mr. C moved and settled in Canada in 2012.  In accordance with the R&R, Mr. A submits a request to return the land and housing of Mrs. B and Mr. C who settled in Canada since 2012.  However, the officials refused to accept the partial return and instead, asked to return ALL land and housing including that of Mr. A and Ms. D.  This will leave Mr. A and Ms. D displaced with nowhere to go or call home. 

Source: www.tibetanparliament.org

The request for land and housing return for those who migrated to other countries is lawful and valid.  It is also logical and reasonable if you look at young men and women leaving these settlements for better jobs in cities or migrating to the West with the hope of economic prosperity. In many household, elders who are not physically capable of participating in many of these compulsory obligations are the only ones left in the settlement. One Facebook comment sums up well, "I have my grandma living in shechak n she has to go to all meeting, mani and work weather it is raining or on a hot sunny day...n let u remind you all mani are mostly held after dark which makes it worse coz most of our elders have eyesight problem.."

When I asked my parents, "Why don't you object to these never-ending rounds of fines and penalties?" Their response in general were, "no one is speaking up." In these settlements, people who speaks up are considered problem makers. I understand why my parents prefer to stay silent; otherwise they may be labelled as rebellious. And if someone speaks up or raises his voice, officials try to shut him up by effectively using His Holiness the Dalai Lama's name. They will make him feel as if you are disrespecting the advice of His Holiness.

Discussion

How long this practice will go depends on how long these residents will collectively shut their voices. Residents need to understand that "no one" is above the law. And law is created through a process guided by the principle of democracy.

The sustainability of these settlements depend on its residents. If residents are exploited in the guise of fines and penalties, we may soon see Tibetan settlements with only a handful of people who call themselves powerful.

Remember! Money and power will not help sustain these settlements. What will help is RESPECTING the needs and interests of its residents.

Appeal:
If you have any story of social injustice to cover in this blog, feel free to contact me via email or comment below.








Glossary of Tibetan terms
Shechak - Tibetan word for Tibetan settlements or colonies in India/Nepal
Lhapso - A public gathering for prayers
Mani - Buddhist mantra



Thursday, August 20, 2015

Final Result: NOMINATION OF 2016 NORTH AMERICA CHITUES' CANDIDATE




Purpose

The purpose of this online nomination survey is to help eligible Tibetan voters in North America to study and discuss their choice of two candidates for 2016 North America Chitue.

Methodology

The survey was first launched on June 23, 2015 and was open for eligible Tibetan voters until August 12, 2015.  Participants were approached using Online Google Form as a survey tool to collect the data.  Facebook groups such as Tibetan, IMTIBETAN, NY NJ Tibetan College Students, GTPN - North America and North America Tibetan Political Network were used to inform and reach a maximum of eligible Tibetan voters in North America.

This online nomination survey carried only four questionnaire items: Who is your FIRST nominee for the North America Chitue? Who is your SECOND nominee for the North America Chitue? Where do you live now? and Are you eligible to vote?

Results

A total of 106 eligible voters participated in this online survey nomination.  Of the total of 212 (106*2 Chitues) responses, 23 responses were marked "invalid" for two reasons: unidentifiable single names such as Kunga, Dorjee, Dawa, Tsering, Tenzin, none and lobsang; and invalid nominations such as Gari Dolma, Geshe Youngdung Gyaltsen, Lobsang Sangay, Tashi Wangdu and the survey administrator Tenzin Yeshi.

Moreover, candidates receiving less than or equal to three counts of nomination were consolidated into "Others" which boils down to the 25% of total nominations.

Findings

Of the total of 106 participants, 81 were from the United States, 23 from Canada and 2 remains Unknown.  This majority of participants from the United States could be true if you look at the proportion of Tibetan immigrant population in these two countries; Tibetans in the United States could at least be three times the population of Tibetans in Canada.

Figure 1. Number of participants by country of residence
(Click to enlarge)

Who is the Winner?

In this poll, there is no clear winner if you analyze by looking solely at the percentage of total nomination received. In figure 2 below, 60% of the total nominations were "Others", "Undecided" or "Invalid".


Figure 2. Percentage of Total Nominations
(Click to enlarge)


However, if you disregard "Others", "Undecided" and "Invalid", you will get a different set of percentage.  In the figure 3 below, Anak Tseten (26%) received the largest share of nominations followed by Tenzin Dorjee (19%), Tenzin Rangdol (19%) and Tashi Namgyal (12%).  There were other four who received less than 10% of the nominations (excluding others, undecided and invalid): Kalsang Phuntsok with 9%, Norbu Tsering with 6%, Tsering Tsomo with 5% and Kunga Thinley with 4%.


Figure 3. Percentage of Nominations
(Click to enlarge)

Participants have used different name spells.  Anak Tseten was written as Anak Tseten, Anak Tsetan, Tsetan Anak, and Tseten Anak;  Tenzin Dorjee as Tendor, Tenzing Dorjee ex-SFT President, Tenzing Dorji, Tenzin Dorjee and Tenzin Dorji (Tendor); Tenzin Rangdol as Tenzin Zrangdol, Tenzin Rangdol, Tenzin Randrol, and Rigdol or Rangdol (CA); Tashi Namgyal as Tashi Namgyal, Tashi Namgyal (chithu) and Tashi Namgyal la (Present NA Chitue).

Of the four nominees receiving less than 10% of nominations, the most confusing was Kalsang Phuntsok.  He was nominated as Kalsang Phuntsok, Kalsang Phuntsok former president of TYC, Kelsang Phuntsok - San Francisco, and Kelsang Phuntsok La (ExTYC President). And Tsering Tsomo was nominated as Tsering Tsomo, Tsering Tsomo ex president ctao/ex twa exec and Tsering Tsomo, Toronto.

Limitations
This online survey has many limitations including the lack of participation from eligible voters. The result generated from these 106 participants could be statistically insignificant.

Confidentiality
During the online survey, participants were not required to identify themselves.  They remain anonymous throughout the survey.

Discussion
Looking at the findings of this online nomination survey, it helped to provide a good list of eligible candidates for 2016 North America Chitue.  However, this does not mean that there are no other qualified candidates for 2016 North America Chitue.

If you are qualified and interested, it is the time to declare your candidacy for the 2016 North America Chitue.  The time is short.

Since a close to 50% of this survey participants were either Undecided or nominated Others, the winners of 2016 North America Chitue's preliminary election could be anyone.

Recommendation and Conclusion
Per the understanding of survey administrator, only Tenzin Rangdol from California has publicly announced his interest in running for the 2016 North America Chitue.  However, the findings of this study may help many qualified candidates to publicly announce their interest in running for the 2016 North America Chitue.

If any of the remaining seven nominees of this survey is interested in running for the 2016 North America Chitue, please send your short bio to the survey administrator by the end of August 2015 via tenyeshi@gmail.com.  This will help the administrator to include your name in the Upcoming Online Opinion Poll on 2016 North America Chitue Preliminary Election.




Monday, August 3, 2015

Tibetan Women, Gender Equality and Women Rights: Tsering Kyi



Recently, Tsering Kyi, a journalist at the VOA, gave a lecture to Tibetan students at Sogar, near Dharamsala. While the focus of the lecture was not on feminism, for she talked about her personal experiences - about her struggle as a refugee from Tibet, her participation in Miss Tibet contest - during the question and answer session, some of the students pressed her on issues of 'gender equality and women's rights' in the Tibetan society. Her views on them seem to have created a bit of 'controversy' in our small diaspora community, for I have received a few requests for a translation of her lecture that was reported in the Tibet Times newspaper. I'm sharing this translation to initiate an open, honest, and serious discussion; not to bask in the pleasure of controversy and mudslinging. Readers, please think and reflect carefully before you write your comments. If you resort to personal attacks, that is if you make any irresponsible comments, I am going to chop them off. Please be responsible; I know it's hard, but it's high time we grow up.

Here's the translation:

After her speech, one of the students asked if she has any plans in the future to do any specific work for Tibetan women, given the fact that today there are many people, both inside and outside Tibet, calling for women’s right and equality. To this question, Tsering Kyi gave the following answer:

“I have no desire to do any specific work for Tibetan women; I don’t also think that Tibetan women lack freedom. When I first left my homeland, I thought Tibetan women were backward, that they were denied education, that they had no rights whatever in the community. In fact, I wrote a few essays on this issue. But after having had the experience of living in diverse human communities, I realized that Tibetan women in Tibet are far more precious (རྩ་ཆེན་མོ་Tsa Chenmo) and enjoy much more happiness than those living in other countries/ethnic societies. For instance, my mother and sister, they have sacrificed all their lives for their family, their children, and their husbands. They never lamented on their [sacrifice]; they never expressed dissatisfaction about this, nor they felt that as a source of hardship. What is the source of their courage? It is due to the [positive] influence of Tibetan religion and culture (ཆོས་དང་རིག་གཞུང་གི་བཞག་པའི་བག་ཆགས Chos dang Rig Shung Ki Shag Pe Bag Chag). [Our religion and culture] place different values on humans and non-humans. This, I think, is precious. If a woman living in the West, who has strong views about feminism, lives in our society and is able to influence our religion and culture deeply, then you might have a different view about “Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.”

Now, I don’t consider Tibetan women backward or being deprived of rights. In fact I have come to realize that my previous views were misplaced. After having seen many foreign societies, I feel the most important institution for a nation or a community is the family. Therefore, I think what sort of Tibetan society we will have in the future shall depend upon how Tibetan women take care of their families, how they love their children and respect their husbands.

If one wants women’s rights and gender equality, one should make it happen through one’s capability, rather than through a struggle (འཐབ་རྩོད། Thab Tso, literally argue and fight). Most Tibetan women in exile talk about women’s issues in order to advance their own personal interest and to draw attention to them. Such people have never studied Tibetan women, Tibetan nation, Tibetan religion and culture that influenced the Tibetan mind which has its precious way of putting value on things. I think they are just advancing their own interests by aping and exaggerating Western theories and practices. Therefore, I don’t struggle for Tibetan women’s rights; nor do I consider [gender] equality important.

Again responding to one of the students who asked, “judging by your lecture, it seems you have already crossed 30, but you have still not married; may I know the reason?” she said with sadness:

“I’m not finding a husband (laughs…) I’m joking. As far as I am concerned, in the beginning, since I had to leave my homeland, I had to go through a lot of struggle. Later I couldn’t even meet both my parents. Such conditions force me to self-reflect and ask this question: ‘why did I have to go through such struggle? Why I couldn’t visit Tibet when my parents passed away?’ To find concrete answer to such a question…. in one sense we share the same fate, where ever we go we are kind of guests, where ever we live we feel like living in guest houses, therefore we are forced to give up on many things such as family and love.”

As to the question ‘what sort of person she would love to marry in the future,’ Tsering Kyi said:

“My future companion of life will surely have to be a Tibetan; that’s what I am hoping for. He should be a courageous man, who can accept both my good and bad qualities.”


Author/Translator: Tenzin Nyinjey based in Dharamsala, India
(Originally published on his Facebook wall post on July 24, 2015)


If interested in reading the full article in Tibetan language published in Tibet Times on July 13, 2015, click here.



Saturday, August 1, 2015

Results of 2016 Sikyong's Candidate Nomination Poll: 1st Round



Purpose

The purpose of this online nomination survey is to help eligible Tibetan voters to think and discuss about their choice of candidate for 2016 Sikyong's preliminary election.

Methodology

The first round of online nomination survey on 2016 Sikyong's candidate was kept open for eligible Tibetan voters for a total of 8 days i.e., from July 24, 2015 to July 31, 2015 11:00 AM U.S. Eastern Time.

Participants were approached using Online Google Form as a survey tool to collect the data via Facebook groups such as Tibetan, IMTIBETAN, NY NJ Tibetan College Students, GTPN - North America, North America Tibetan Political Network, Tibetan Children's Village, TIBETAN YOUTH FORUM (TYF), Jobs and Opportunity for Tibetan and many others. Per survey administrator's understanding, these Facebook groups represent a larger section of general public.

When the survey was shared on survey administrator's Facebook wall post, no individual were tagged in the post to minimize response biases. On the survey request, clear information were provided in terms of anonymity.

The online nomination survey carried only 3 questionnaire items with one on candidate nomination; one on participant's country of residence and the remaining one on participant's eligibility to vote.

Results

Of the 312 total survey responses, 14 responses were invalid and 35 responses were consolidated into "Others." This result is an analysis of the remaining 263 valid survey responses.

Figure 1. Percentage of Nomination


Of the total nomination for 2016 Sikyong candidate, Lobsang Sangay received 41% of the total nomination counts while Penpa Tsering received 22% followed by Tashi Wangdu at 10% and Lukar Jam at 6%.


Figure 2. Number of Participants who nominated Lobsang Sangay by Country of Residence

Other names used for Lobsang Sangay by participants were Lobsang Sangey, Lobsang Sangya, Lobsang Sangye and Lobsang Sangyi.


Figure 3. Number of Participants who nominated Penpa Tsering by Country of Residence

Other names used for Penpa Tsering by participants were Pempa Tsering and Penba Tsering.


Figure 4. Number of Participants who nominated Tashi Wandu by Country of Residence

Other names used for Tashi Wangdu was only Tashi Wangdue.


Figure 5. Number of Participants who nominated Lukar Jam by Country of Residence

Other names used for Lukar Jam were Lukhar Jam, Lugar Jam and Lhukar Jam.


Figure 6. Percentage of Participants who were Undecided by country of residence


Findings and Discussion

Lobsang Sangay, incumbent Sikyong of Central Tibetan Administration, tops the nomination with a margin of 19% from the second candidate Penpa Tsering, Speaker of Tibetan Parliament in-Exile. Penpa Tsering (22%) is followed by Tashi Wangdu at 10% and Lukar Jam at 6%. However, 21% of the eligible Tibetan voters are still "Undecided" which could mean any of the top 2 nominee could win the preliminary election on October 18, 2015.

However, if you look at the nomination by country of residence, Lobsang Sangay, Penpa Tsering and Tashi Wangdu has received their largest share of nominations from India and North America.  Eligible Tibetan voters in India and North America will be the deciding factor in terms of who wins the preliminary election as these two holds the largest concentration of eligible voters (if we disregard Nepal where an election may not be allowed). Looking at this statistic, any of the top three could win the preliminary election.

Also, among the "Undecided" category, 42% of participants from India and 33% from North America could be waiting for a public debate among candidates to help decide their choice of 2016 Sikyong's candidate. Therefore, 2016 Sikyong's candidate should make an effort to win these "undecided" and "others" eligible voters.  They could be the swing voters who could decide who wins the preliminary election.

Participate Now

If you are an eligible Tibetan voter and has not yet participated in this nomination survey for 2016 Sikyong's candidate, please do so before the survey closes on August 10, 2015.  Here is the link to participate http://goo.gl/forms/NhDqBGPkVS.

In the mid of August, the survey administrator will launch an Online Opinion Poll for the 2016 Sikyong's preliminary election.  Stay tuned.


Limitations

Online surveys are not without limitations. Some of the limitations of this online nomination survey are:

1. Nominations of eligible Tibetan voters with no computer and English language skills were excluded from the study.
2. With no available features of one-time participatory settings on Google Form, a participant could have shared more than one nominations.
3. With Tibetan electorates spread across the world, it was not possible to adopt a good sampling technique. Therefore, the study’s finding cannot be termed as statistically significant.
4. Finally, due to the low rate of survey participants, the generalization of study’s findings is limited.



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