In Transit


The entrance to Majnu ka Tilla reads ‘Tibetan Refugee Colony’. MT as it is popularly called was established in the 60s as a Tibetan resettlement colony in New Delhi and Tibetans in exile were given land by the then Indian Government. The writing on the wall is a cruel and constant reminder of their status - impermanent and tenuous. Following the footsteps of the Dalai Lama more than 1,50,000 Tibetan refugees have fled to India during the past 50 years to escape the Chinese invasion.

Chhota Dorjee, 70, sitting for a conversation over tea with whoever is available after pottering around the colony. He had lived in Nepal before coming to India around 20 years ago. Nepal too like India has a huge number of refugees from Tibet though the country does not recognize Tibet as an independent nation.

The Lama, one of the earliest settlers of the colony, dozing in his chair, spends most of his day like this. He donated the land allotted to him for building a temple. He now lives alone in a small room at the back of the temple. The temple square has evolved into an informal space for recreational activities.

Mingma at the temple square with her prayer beads for company. She was part of the first 20 families which came from Tibet and settled in MT. In the 60s almost 80,000 Tibetans fled from Tibet. Despite having lived here for over 50 years she does not know Hindi.

68 year old Achook La's eyes well up while talking about her country and says, “Dil dukhta hai” (My heart pains). She then looks up and continues chanting on her "Kora". She travelled to India during the 60s with her sister. She has lived in Dehradun and Simla before settling down at MT. She is one of the few old people who can speak fluent Hindi though she had no knowledge of it when she first arrived.

Thomey, 74, talking about her only son who disappeared at a young age and has remained missing. Rumor has it that he got recruited in the Special Frontier Force of the Indian Army and lost his life in some operation. The SFF was created in 1962 at Chakrata, around 100 km from Dehradun, a town with a large Tibetan refugee population. The involvement of this force in the Indian Army has received little attention and most people remain unaware of its existence. she is a widow has lived in MT for more than 40 years now

Trinley Dolma, 44, at her shop recounting incidents of torture in Chinese prisons on. An ex political prisoner for three years she looks older for her age and breaks down while talking about the torture she underwent at the hands of the Chinese. Various organizations like The GuChuSum Political Prisoners Movement of Tibet have been established by former Tibetan political prisoners to create awareness about the human rights violations in Tibet at the international as well as the national level

Lobsang, in his tea stall watching videos of religious sermons by Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is both the spiritual and the political head of the Tibetan population. The Dalai Lama established the Tibetan government-in-exile in India based in Dharamshala in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The exile government looks after the welfare of the Tibetans in India, coordinates socio-political activities of the Tibetans around the world and lead the Tibetan movement for a Free Tibet and protection of Tibet's environment.

A Tibetan man outside a PCO offering cheap call rates to Lhasa. Many families got separated when the exodus from Tibet began in 1959. Most people in MT have relatives and family in Tibet and phone calls are the only form of connect

Residents sitting on a bench in the main alley leading to the road outside. These alley walls speak of the inner turmoil and anxiety of the Tibetan population. Posters of missing/dead/disappeared people share space with a Tibetan film poster along with sermons of the Dalai Lama. They are a means of expressing the communities' angst against the Chinese oppression.

Tashi taking phone calls at her office in MT. Born and brought up in Delhi she works in a travel agency. Being born in a foreign land and living in an alien culture is a constant tussle in the minds of the younger generation. Given a chance she said she would take up Indian citizenship but would always remain a Tibetan at heart

Young Tibetan boys playing carrom outside a small tea shop. Due to their ambiguous refugee status there is dearth of viable employment opportunities. Interestingly India is not a party to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, despite having long hosted refugee populations, including Bangladeshi and Afghani.

A young monk leaving for Dharamshala from MT. Religion has been a unifying factor for the Tibetan population in exile worldwide. Young and old alike look towards the Dalai Lama for guidance. There are approximately 106 Tibetan monasteries in India. They are not just religious spaces but also a space for social interaction within the community.

Little girls returning from the Tibetan Day School in MT. The Tibetan Government in exile runs around 68 schools for the refugee population across the country. The medium of instruction till class 5th remains Tibetan. For little girls like these, Hindi thus remains a foreign language and lack of it sets them apart from the rest of Indians. It is a major impediment to communication.

A Tibetan man walking past a car saying 'Thank you India'. For the Tibetans, India, is a home away from home and their sense of gratitude is manifest in ways like these. They all dream of the day when they will be able live in freedom, able to practice their religion freely and with equal rights and opportunities in their own country

– Niha Masih

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~ by Niha on December 10, 2009.

5 Responses to “In Transit”

  1. good work!

  2. This is a great photo stories of Tibetan life in India especially Majnukatilla. Keep clicking and keep spreading the plight of Tibetan. I must say Free Tibet, Save India…

    • Hey Tenzin….thank you so much for your kind words. i hope to continue doing this and help in whatever small way i can!

  3. good job.

  4. really cool!!!!

    thought of this a lot earlier – been adrift for a bit – thanks for the reality check.

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