At any given time, a crowd of at least 10 Tibetans can be seen glued to a nondescript roadside wall at the marketplace in New Refugee Colony in Majnu Ka Tila. The wall, full of newspaper clippings reporting recent Tibetan protests the world over in several languages, echoes the turmoil in the lives of Delhi’s Tibetans these days.
In the past seven days, the gathering before the wall has been the only sign of public activity at this refugee colony, otherwise known for bustling businesses of colorful Tibetan merchandise.
Every single shop has remained closed since last week. Youngsters have been setting out for demonstrations across the city every morning. The sound of television is ubiquitous as news bulletins bring in hourly updates about compatriots in faraway Lhasa and Dharamshala to tense, concerned viewers.
“This has been the biggest protest in two decades. We should rest only after we get our country back,” says 30-year-old Neema, a travel agent, who is one of the hundreds of traders losing business voluntarily since March 10.
What sets this protest apart is that no party or authority has called for a bandh at the colony. Residents take pride in calling it a true people-driven protest. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The mood is somber because all of us, even the ones who were born and raised in Delhi, have friends and relatives in Tibet, where the Red Army is cracking down. So we have refrained from business and pleasure,” said 25-year-old Tenzin, another trader.
Lhakpa Tsering, the Tibetan Welfare Officer of the colony said the only protest-related directive that went out from his office was asking the Tibetan Day School to remain open. “The school also has Indian students, who should not lose classes because of us. Besides, we thought not to hamper the studies of our little ones,” he said. “Free Tibet” tattoo shops, the only business open these days, has seen a rise in clientele, and T-shirts carrying the slogan of freedom have become the uniform.