With joy, sorrow and a few surprises, a Taiwan Friends of Tibet (TFOT) student delegation yesterday shared their experiences and discoveries from a two-week trip to Dharamsala, India, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Sitting in a room at a coffee shop near the MRT Zhongshan Station in Taipei, members of the student delegation and their friends shared pictures, video clips and new discoveries from their trip last month.
The room was sometimes filled with laughter, cheers and applause, and sometimes with a more serious atmosphere when discussions were focused on issues relating to the political situation in the exiled community.
“The most interesting finding was that, in the past, we’ve always viewed the Tibetans as a whole, we see the structural problems, and we know that they are being repressed by the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] regime,” said Hsiao Hui-chung (蕭惠中), an Academia Sinica research fellow who accompanied the delegation of mostly college and graduate students on the trip.
“However, when we were there and talked to individual Tibetans, we found that they are not a people as a collective, but rather individuals with different stories, backgrounds, ideas and expectations,” he said.
Hsiao said that for most people who are concerned about the Tibet issue, it is the voice of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama that stands out most, “but once we were in Dharamsala, we heard different voices and there are also voices critical of the government-in-exile.”
Wu Ju-mei (吳如媚), a graduate student from National Taitung University’s Graduate Institute of Regional Policy and Development Research who has interviewed several Tibetan public figures in Dharamsala, said she was also surprised by the different views expressed by different people.
“Former political prisoner Lukar Jam is very critical of the exiled government and believes that all governments will eventually become interest-driven groups. He even went so far as to remind the exiled government not to become a new problem for Tibetans,” she said. “On the other hand, Gang Lhamo, a member of the exiled parliament and also a former political prisoner, believes a government could serve as a symbol of legitimacy and the struggle for the Tibetan cause may be harder without the exiled government.”
Wu said that while the Dalai Lama is a much-respected figure among Tibetans, “there are also Tibetans who think that the status the Dalai Lama enjoys is not positive for the development of democracy in the exiled Tibetan community.”
While Tibetans may hold different views about their government and on current events, the delegation found that independence for Tibet is a shared objective for all exiled Tibetans, despite the government-in-exile’s insistence on gaining genial autonomy under Chinese rule in recent years.
“The living conditions and the environment in Dharamsala are much harsher than I have expected, but no matter how challenging life is for the Tibetans, most of them are very positive-minded and optimistic,” Nanhua University student Peter Hu (胡家銘) said.
“I think this is a lesson we should learn from them when we face so many social injustices in Taiwan,” he added.
The TFOT organizes trips to Dharamsala every year, hoping to promote exchanges between Taiwanese and exiled Tibetans, as well as to help Taiwanese understand the Tibetan issue better.