"We are refugees
Tensin Tsungde's words from his poem "Tibetanness" (2007) tear into the heart of truth. Tibetans, one of the most resilient people in the world, face a silent challenge — an identity crisis in the second and third-generation Tibetan youth and the need to preserve their identity in exile. Thirtynine-year-old Tsungde, poet, writer and activist is a youth icon. The award-winning author of Crossing the Border (Outlook -Picador Award for Non-Fiction 2001), recalled growing up in the Tibetan Childrens' village school (TCV), where teachers narrated stories about Tibet. "I was born in India but my mind was preoccupied with Tibet and I also had this sense of guilt that we are here in a free country, and Tibetans in Tibet are fighting for freedom, which we will get to enjoy later."
Sense of guilt
While many like him share the "sense of guilt", there are others who have settled down into a comfort. Forty-year-old Pasang, sitting in her curio shop in McLeodganj, is where she belongs, "I was born and raised in McLeodganj .This is home for me", she says. A performing artiste, she is happy with her life. "My parents want to go back to Tibet. I am happy, we like the freedom here." However, the one thing she is unhappy about is the challenges youngsters face in career choices. "We get a yellow card but that cannot be equated with a passport." Her daughter works in New Delhi in a call centre and like her mother, sees India as home.
It is not hard to understand the pressures on Tibetan youth to balance tradition with modernity. While this was a conflict with the older generation who had been brought up in the Tibetan tradition, it is with the youngsters have been born into and raised in a democratic and modern way of life.
Exile as challenge
Wangpo Tethong, in his essay (translated by Susanne Martin) Exile As a Challenge: The Tibetan Diaspora, (2003) say, "The pressure of living in exile produced a distorted and somewhat idealistic image of our own past among the youth. Young Tibetans were incessantly told that they had to act at every moment as respectable cultural; ambassadors of a nation."
Yet for some the yearning for "home" is constant. Sonam Wangdue's mild demeanour masks the anger that burns inside. Born and raised in Dharamshala, he studied in TCV and graduated from Delhi University. A video editor, 33-year-old Wangdue makes an effort to bring the Tibetan youth together through various social media and the radio channel Voice of Tibet.
However, he is acutely aware of the change over the years. "There is a growing gap between the new generation and their views on Tibet." The need for youngsters to be identified as Tibetans is a daily challenge. "We always get asked where we are from. There's always an effort we have to make to show we are Tibetans and not Manipuri or Nagas".
The pressure of remaining true to their roots and also fighting to be included in the mainstream in the only world they have known is acute. Some preferring to remain anonymous, voiced the emotional alienation they struggled with. They are unable to connect or be accepted in the Indian culture and surroundings they have grown up and feel out of place in their land of birth.
Identity vs integration
At a time when cultures are shedding their essence for a "global" similarity, maintaining cultural and ethical values is essential to keep the Tibetan identity alive. Born and raised in Mundgod, Karnataka, 41-year-old Tsering Wangchuk teaches his three children well. "I tell them that we are Tibetans and we have to preserve the ethics and morality of the Tibetans." The teachings of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama are the most valuable guide for Tsering and his family.
For him, the struggle for freedom is a part of life, "Our freedom struggle is also the part of our livelihood, we cannot leave the struggle or livelihood, and these two go hand in hand for Tibetans". However, when asked whether he considers Tibet or India his home land, his answer is an honest fifty-fifty. "We wish to go back, we want to feel our motherland, but we want to stay for a little time there because we can never just forget India. It is also the country of our birth".
More substance abuse
The traditional way of life seems alien to many second and third-generation. Tibetans and increasing substance abuse in youngsters is a major cause of concern. As per the study "Substance Abuse Among Second-Generation Tibetan Refugees Living in India," by Catherine Carlson (Emory-IBD Tibetan Studies Programme Dharamshala, India 2003) found two significant commonalities among the subjects she interviewed — an addiction to pharmaceutical drugs and their status as second-generation refugees in India. "The increased use of pharmaceutical drugs among Tibetan youth, for example, exposes political weakness whereas the disproportionate number of second-generation Tibetans addicted to drugs questions factors such as sense of identity and unemployment".
Amidst the problems of growing unemployment and constant inflow of refugees from Tibet, in search of better opportunities in India, there are a few who have escaped for a purpose. The warm smile on Tashi Lamsang's face belies the pain in his heart. "I miss Tibet, I miss my parents, my brothers and sisters." Since his escape from Tibet in 2003 into India, to become a language translator and meet the Dalai Lama, Tashi yearns to go back to his homeland. At 29 years of age, he has seen much. He is saddened that the recent immolations of Tibetan monks in Tibet failed to bring about any strong reaction in the international community. Even more, the incidents did not evoke strong sentiments even in many Tibetans settled in Dharamshala. He says the youngsters in India have grown up in another environment and there is a culture divide between the ones born in India and the ones who have come from Tibet in the recent past.
Having grown up in Tibet, Tashi fears the real essence of Tibet is dying. He feels Tibetans need to preserve their culture. He shudders when youngsters talk in Tibetan sprinkled with Hindi and English. Those working in corporate offices in cities feel life is fine. They tell him that going back to Tibet will mean starting all over again. People who have tasted economic prosperity find it difficult to remain committed.
Fear or freedom?
For 30-year-old Sonam, who also made his journey from Tibet as recent as 2007, it is a simple choice "India is very free. When Tibet is free I'll go back, otherwise I will stay here." It is this separation in reality and personal aspirations that Tsundue is painfully aware of. He says, "We cannot remain individually obsessed with our little money, our little career and the freedom that we think we are enjoying. We seem to be settling down", he fears that they may never go back. As he writes, I am Tibetan.
But I am not from Tibet.
Never been there.
Yet I dream
of dying there.
Tsundue's words hold a deeper meaning for the Tibetans. Their longing for their homeland, their search for identity and permanence is a battle long — and, a tougher battle within.