Tibetan refugees who come to Madhya Pradesh every winter to sell woollens have taken their campaign to reclaim their homeland a step further — they are packaging their wares in bags with prominent messages for a “Free Tibet”.
Unlike previous years when the Tibetans used plain polythene bags, they are now using bags made of recycled paper and fibres that bear messages like "Free Tibet" and "Save Tibet".
This is not all. They are also selling caps and sweaters with the same messages. Besides, they wear T-shirts and caps that sport the same slogans.
Away from their country and living as refugees in several states, mainly Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh, these Tibetans cling to the hope that some miracle will help them get back "their Tibet" some day. Several of the older refugees say they want to get back to Tibet before they die.
“More than Indians, we wait for the Lok Sabha elections in anticipation that a strong leader would emerge here and he would help us get freedom from China’s control over Tibet one day,” said A Dorjee, a 56-year-old refugee from U-Tsang, one of the three main regions of Tibet.
“Our message is very clear - free Tibet to save Tibet to save the world. We are trying to spread our message to as many people as possible in every part of India, including rural areas, to solicit their support in our struggle. This is to draw the attention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi so that he raises the issue of our struggle at international fora,” he said.
Dorjee said Tibetans living in India were hopeful after last year’s general election about returning to their home because of Modi becoming the Prime Minister. “He is a strong leader and we hope he would stand in favour of our leader, the Dalai Lama, in the international fora. But we were disappointed when Modi did not raise the issue of our struggle before the Chinese President during the latter’s visit to India,” he said.
Tsering Dolma, a 63-year-old woman from Shigatse in Tibet now living in Bengaluru, said: “If Tibet becomes free, we would not only get our rights back but save the money of the Indian government. Indians could easily travel to Mansarovar. As Narendra Modi is a strong leader, we hope that like Indira Gandhi did for Bangladesh, he will do it for us to free Tibet from China’s control.”
Phuntsok Tashi, 35, accused the Chinese of taking away all of Tibet’s mineral wealth over the past 50 years. “Now, they are selling our water across China, especially Shanghai. Our water is not only pure but sacred as well.”
He said his 80-year-old grandmother wanted to see her village before she died. “That’s why she is waiting for a free Tibet or at least greater autonomy,” he added.
Tsewang, 57, Tenzing, 22, and other Tibetans too hope that the message emblazoned on their bags will result in an effective campaign in their favour across India.