On social media, several Tibetans have said the Dalai Lama’s controversial interaction was in line with the community’s customs, citing one in particular called ‘Che Le Sa’.
“Respect our Guru, Respect our religion.” This banner was held high Thursday as the Monpas of Tawang, who follow Tibetan Buddhism, marched in support of the Dalai Lama in light of the row surrounding his controversial interaction with a child.
In a video that went viral this week, the Dalai Lama was seen kissing a young school student, who had approached the spiritual leader for a hug. He then stuck out his tongue and was heard saying “suck my tongue”.
The incident is said to have taken place in February, but the video only went viral this week. The Dalai Lama subsequently issued an apology for the “hurt his words may have caused”, with the same statement adding that “His Holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras”.
While the interaction was deemed wildly inappropriate by scores of social media users, the Dalai Lama’s followers have rallied behind him, blaming the criticism on ignorance about Tibetan customs.
There have also been allegations of China playing a role in making the video viral as part of efforts to discredit the Dalai Lama, who lives in India and is a central figure for the exiled Tibetans who left their Beijing-controlled homeland.
Voices of support have also risen from other followers of Tibetan Buddhism, like members of the Monpa tribe in Arunachal Pradesh.
Speaking to ThePrint from Tawang, Sange Dondu, president of the All Tawang District Student Union (ATDSU), which organised Thursday’s “peace march”, said that the trolling against the Dalai Lama on social media had hurt local sentiments.
“Only a part of the video was made viral. One should see the full video to understand,” he said. “Only those who don’t have full knowledge of our culture and tradition can do this.”
The peace march started from Chamleng, near the Tawang Monastery, and ended at the Buddha Park. The Monpas marched behind a decorated vehicle carrying a portrait of the Dalai Lama, and holding banners. One of them read, “We, the people of Tawang, stand with His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama.”
The rally — attended by shopkeepers from three markets, and villagers from Shyo and Ketchanga, among other areas — was held alongside a march by local Tibetans against China’s bid to rename certain locations in Arunachal.
Beijing claims the whole of Arunachal as “southern Tibet”.