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  • 24 Feb, 2023
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Tibet & Losar 2023 : Looking Back and Ahead


The events of 2022 tested Tibet and Tibetans more than any other sovereign nations. China’s continued aggressive policy, coupled with Xi Jinping assertive control over the power and crackdown on any dissents, both home and abroad (remember overseas China’s secret police station).

Tibetans and Himalayan people celebrated this year's Tibetan new year on Feb 21, 2023. To celebrate or not to celebrate Losar is a contested question, perennially asked by many Tibetans since the many Tibetans started self-immolating to protest China’s vicious and abhorrent human rights abuses. Losar is the most important festival among Tibetans. Usually celebrated with gusto, defiance and style. I personally think Tibetan Losar, the grandest of the festivities in our tradition, a mark of our inherent difference with Chinese, should be celebrated. With much gusto and pomp.

2022 for Tibetans-in-exile and for Tibetans inside has been a mix of highs and tragedies. Covid in Tibet and China has propelled into darkness. Tibet reported its first case of covid in August 2022 since the outbreak of covid in 2020. Since then, people have only seen suffering. The Tibetan were put in harsh lockdown for more than three months, unprecedented anywhere on earth.

Substandard food and pitying facilities in quarantine centers and harsh lockdown, culminated in huge protests in different parts of Tibet. Like anticipated, the Chinese government came down hard and crushing on protesters. Thousands were detained, people who voiced their protest on social media, their social credit scores were downgraded. There were numerous cases of suicides from “quarantine sites and residential building under lockdown” as reported by, all this as a results of draconian ‘zero policy’. If the untold suffering and the destruction of land and people of Tibet, brought by 50 years is not enough, they have added growing pain to the list. Brought from frying pan into fire.

Things weren’t bad for the Tibetans on the international stage. 8th World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet held in Washington DC, with attendance of parliamentarians from different parts of the world. This is a huge moment, considering it was held in the capital city of the world's most powerful country.  This is the second such convention held in the United States. The primary objectives of convening the World Parliamentarians’ Convention on Tibet are for members of the parliaments  to take a principal role in the international area on the question of survival of the Tibetan identity and its rich cultural heritage. Which has come under heavy artillerist destruction from the Chinese government. Likewise, parliamentarians join the world leaders in expressing concern over human rights violations and religious repression in Tibet and consider initiatives in their respective countries to support an early resumption of dialogue between the representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the People’s Republic of China, for a negotiated solution on Tibet.

2023 started with a momentous occasion. Members of the US Congress reintroduced Tibet-China Conflict Act, a bill that will pressure the government of China to resume dialogue with the envoys of the Dalai Lama toward a negotiated agreement on Tibet’s future. Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama held 10 rounds of dialogue between 2002-2010, without any fruitful results and clear commitment from China.

What’s ahead for us?

Before the Chinese government illegal occupation of Tibet. Tibetans fed its people unfailingly, with no assistance from outside. The Tibetans owed no money to outside, to international lenders and institutions. With the implementation of basic rule and law, even with theocratic form of government, people were happy and law abiding. Chinese invasion in Tibet has led to a huge influx of refugees, freeing political and religious persecution. According to a census released by the government of India, there were around 150,000 Tibetans in 2011. The numbers have come down to 85,000 according to the latest census.

Truth be told, Tibetans are leaving India. Economic concerns are central. Most of the Tibetans are emigrating west to find better job opportunities. Others for political stability is also another reason for people to emigrate. China’s brutal invasion and subsequent abhorrent abuses and atrocities has displaced thousands of people from their families, formerly from Tibet to India, then from India to the west. Their search for home continues.

The Dalai Lama’s succession

As we stare at 2023 with hope and dream of resuming dialogue between representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government, we also have to stare at questions of the Dalai Lama succession. The Dalai Lama turns 88 this year. Question of his succession has been a bone of contention, and long-running dispute between Tibetans and the Chinese government. Over the years, it has also caught US and others attention. The US congress has even passed a bill that reaffirms the right of Tibetans to choose a successor to their spiritual leader. This is a clear message from Washington DC to Beijing about America's seriousness with the Dalai Lama’s succession.

Beijing repeatedly calls the Dalai Lama as “wolf in a monk's clothes,” "separatist”, “enemy of the motherland”. But at the same time, wants full control over his reincarnation. His Holiness the Dalai Lama once’s joke when asked about China’s persistence obsession with his reincarnation, he said, “if the Chinese are really concerned about the issue of reincarnation, they should look for Mao Zedong’s reincarnation first, Deng Xiaoping’s second [both deceased Chinese communist leaders], and then maybe the Dalai Lama”.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama's succession will be the biggest bone of contention between China and others. The Chinese government’s apparent determination to choose and select the next Dalai Lama is to take over the enduring popularity of the present Dalai Lama. They want the next Dalai Lama to dance to their tunes.

The 14th Dalai Lama is a world-renowned apostle of peace, compassion and wisdom. The Tibetan Population in exile is less than the population of Karol Bagh, a small constituency in Delhi municipal area. But His Holiness the Dalai Lama makes Tibet a world cause. He is, to quote former India minister Arun Shourie ‘an international celebrity’ – admired by people across different political spectrums. It is a strange situation that his holiness reincarnation, which is an esoteric Buddhist concept that cannot be proved scientifically, has become a key political issue in the Chinese-Tibetan context. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was born in 1935, in a small village in eastern Tibet and has said that he hopes to live to be 113 years old. Let us hope that it is true, and by then the Tibetans may gain significant autonomy or political freedom from China so that they may welcome him back to his magnificent Potala Palace at Lhasa.

Resolving the Tibetan issue should be the foremost priority of the international community in 2023.  Add Tibet’s fragile environment and the issue of the Dalai Lama to list, we have a contentious, important year ahead for us in 2023.