Tibetan tryst with democracy- showcasing the stark difference in China occupied Tibet


Tibetans like any other civilization has gone through various developments especially when it comes to the governance of its people. The Tibetan civilization started as a kingdom and eventually had a theocracy in place, the latter functioning smoothly because of the Tibetans strong adherence to Buddhism. This form of theocratic state was broken and seeds of democracy were sown when Tibetans had to flee the Chinese invasion and eventually along with the Dalai Lama, thousands of Tibetans sought refuge in India, 1959.

This chaotic time whereTibetans now did not have a country of their own for the first time in its entire history, took this opportunity to embrace democracy. A form of governance that was popular and very much trending and successful during those times.

Roots of democracy in Exile:

It was on 2nd September, 1960 after much deliberation that Tibetans who were able to escape the clutches of Communist China, voted certain individuals as representatives who took their oath from the Dalai Lama at Bodh Gaya that very day. This became the first legislative body of the central Tibetan governing body and will laid the strong foundation of democracy.

With time the Charter of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (TGiE) was formulated thereby indicating how democracy now was gradually seeping into the consciousness of Tibetans. This charter which is titled as the ‘Charter of the Tibetans-in-Exile’ represents a veiled Constitution of TGiE, which is not a formally recognized constitution because Tibetans are currently occupied by China. The occupation of China extends beyond the borders of Tibet which consists the Cholka-Sum (3 provinces of U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo) impacting those Tibetans in exile as well.

It was on 2001, that the executive branch of the TGiE known as Kashag (cabinet) whose head, the KalonTripa (leader of ministers) for the first time was directly elected by the Tibetans in exile and hence saw the highest political body being elected by the masses for the first time in Tibetan history. This development saw the roots of democracy in Tibet breaking the soil and ushering a new era.

The gradual flow of democracy all culminated in 2011, when the Dalai Lama formally devolved his political/temporal power and completely rested the mantle of political leadership to the popularly elected KalonTripa (now known as Sikyong) by the Tibetan masses. This saw a 6-centuryold religious entity headed by the Dalai Lamas dissolving his political power to allow the flourishing of democracy in the Tibetan community, who escaped the direct governance from Beijing.

It has been more than a decade since the landmark declaration and it has truly seen how Tibetans in exile maneuver their way in the path of democracy. There have been various obstacles coming up of recent times and though it has been tough to fathom and digest as a spectator, Tibetans truly tread the path of unknown yet they can learn from entities who continue to practice and follow democracy.

Stark difference from occupied Tibet:

It is very sad to witness how more than 90% of Tibetans, my own sisters and brothers under Chinese occupation cannot taste democracy, be it the freedom of speech and expression. We can see very clear differences between the Tibetans under these two varying forms of governance, one adhering to democracy and the other forced communism down their very throat.

In China occupied Tibet one can witness how under the severity of communism Tibetans have reached such a state of oppression that they are now forced to undertake self-immolation which is the ultimate form of sacrifice in protest against the practices and polices implemented by communist China. Furthermore, since the rise of current president Xi Jinping and his ascendency to ultimate power in China, Tibetans along with other occupied nations have borne the brunt of repressive polices initiated. The 7th Work Forum on Tibet in 2020 was the catalyst to many such new polices applied to Tibet, which has seen an escalated level of destruction of Tibetan culture, tradition and way of life.

The situation is in very stark contrast to the Tibetans in exile who are practicing democracy. These Tibetans of which I myself am included is a community where Tibetans are able to express themselves freely without any inhibition. This form of expression can be seen when the highest decision-making bodies in the TGiE take part in open and live debates in the parliamentary sessions, which takes place twice per year. The members of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile (TPiE) are directly elected by the Tibetans in exile based on their provinces and show how Tibetans are represented by Tibetans and work for Tibetans which is a process not in place and practiced in China occupied Tibet.

Sentiments of Tibetans in exile, calling for educated growth:

This year Tibetans marked and observed the 62nd anniversary of the Tibetan Democracy Day. It is a landmark occasion but the years also signifies how Tibetans have been occupied under China. In that context and also with the way democracy has been embedded in the Tibetan community in exile there have been several differing views on it but all of them more or less converges on the point that Tibetans must not take democracy for granted but must learn, grow and educate themselves to properly practice and understand democracy.

A strong notion among Tibetans is that, the democracy practiced by Tibetans is not something which we had to struggle for, as this has been more or less the case with the various democratic nations of the world but rather a gift by the Dalai Lama to his people (Tibetans). A group of Tibetans including the current president of the National Democratic Party of Tibet, TashiDhondup views that Tibetans must learn from their host country of India as he recently stated his opinions during a podcast session with the Foundation for Non-violent Alternatives (FNVA). He also called upon much needed reforms in the TGiE especially the Election Commission if Tibetans were to genuinely practice democracy. He recalled how due to the intervention and resolutions followed by the Election Commission; several democratic practices were put to a halt during the 2021 Sikyong (current and updated title for KalonTripa) and TPiE elections.

All in all, there has been much developments in the past 6 decades when it comes to Tibetans and their practice of democracy but one thing that is very clear is how Tibetans very much align and tilt towards a democratic form of governance rather than a communist one. This view very much falls in line with the TGiE whose executive and legislative branch in their statements during the 62nd anniversary of the Tibetan Democracy Day stated how democracy would be the most precious gift to our Tibetan brethren when we are united.

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