Tue, Jan 11, 2000 - Page 1 News List

Followers seek asylum for Karmapa

REFUGE The Tibetan government-in-exile is asking for political asylum for the runaway `Living Buddha,' whom China maintains is only on a visit to collect relics

By Sunil Kataria , DHARAMSALA, INDIA

Tibetan Buddhist monks read the Tibet Times for news about the 14-year-old Karmapa Lama, pictured on the front page, who escaped from China to northern India last week and who is expected to ask the Indian government for political asylum.

PHOTO: AFP

Tibet's government-in-exile said yesterday it was hopeful India would respond favorably if it sought asylum for the top lama who had fled Lhasa.

"India has this great tradition of being very generous to people seeking shelter and as such we have been coming here for many decades. If there is a strong request for asylum it should be a humanitarian consideration," Tashi Wangdi, the Tibetan minister for religion and culture, said.

Wangdi said the Indian government had been informed immediately after the boy lama arrived in the country.

"India has given refuge to over 100,000 Tibetans and it should be considered in that context. He is not a political figure and this is not a political issue," he said.

Late on Sunday, the exiled government blamed China for the flight of the 14-year-old Karmapa Lama, third highest-ranking in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy.

"[In light of] the harsh conditions for religion, arrests of monks and nuns, serious violations of human rights and the indifferent attitude of the Chinese vis-a-vis the Karmapa Rimpoche for the last few years ... it is for these reasons that he had to flee," Wangdi said.

Wangdi said the Karmapa Lama -- who arrived in Dharamsala on Jan. 5 after an arduous 1,400km trek through the snowbound Himalayas -- had to be shifted to a secret hideaway on Sunday because they feared for his safety.

"He is being kept in secret confinement, away from the public for security reasons. There could be a threat to his life."

The United News of India (UNI) said police had tightened security for the lama. "We are taking all possible measures to ward off threats to his life," UNI quoted Dharamsala's superintendent of police K.C. Shadyal as saying.

The 17th Karmapa Lama is the highest Tibetan lama whose authority is recognized by both Beijing and by the Nobel Prize-winning Dalai Lama, who lives in exile at Dharamsala.

Karmapa Lama, his sister and two lamas trekked through the snowbound Himalayas to reach Dharamsala in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh on Jan. 5.

Chinese official reports insisted the lama's departure did not mean he had betrayed Beijing. They said he had travelled to India to collect holy relics -- musical instruments and black hats -- used by a previous incarnation of the Karmapa Lama.

Wangdi said the escape of the lama, born Ugyen Trinley Dorje, was prompted by the "revival of cultural revolution" by Chinese authorities in Tibet.

In 1950, China's Communist army, fresh from victory in the Chinese civil war, entered Tibet and overthrew its Buddhist theocracy. Nine years later, a large-scale uprising exploded and the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, fled to India with thousands of followers.

The Indian government has refused to comment on whether the Karmapa Lama had asked for political asylum.

Tibetans in Dharamsala, overjoyed at the Karmapa Lama's arrival, said they wanted the Indian government to officially accept the monk's arrival.

"I would like to plead with the Indian government to grant asylum to Karmapa Lama," said Tenzing, a 25-year-old Tibetan.

John McLeod, an American Buddhist in Dharamsala for the last seven months with his family said: "He [the lama] is a jewel and people have to protect this jewel."

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