Facing an identity crisis-Tibetans of Kashmir

Syed Aqeel

When man made borders had little significance Kashmiri merchants would travel across countries in Central Asia and beyond for trade.

One of the favoured destination was Tibet, the Land of Lamas. By the time Kashmir's borders with Tibet-Xinjiang region were sealed with the departure of British from undivided India, Kashmiris had left a deep impact on the Tibetan society.

They had converted numerous Tibetan women to Islam and married them. Thus, giving rise to a new progeny of mixed characteristics of both Tibetan and Kashmiri, the Tibetan Muslims. Since then to the annexation of Tibet by the Chinese in 1959, the Tibetan Muslims had been living in complete communal harmony with their fellow Buddhist countrymen.  

In 1959 thousands of Tibetans fled their country following Chinese invasion and subsequent annexation with Buddhists settling across India and Muslim Tibetans finding refuge in Kashmir, most of them claiming Kashmiri descent.

Amanullah Malik, Principal of the Tibetan Public School in Hawal, Srinagar, was one of those who migrated from Tibet and settled in Kashmir with many others. "We came to Kashmir, the land of our forefathers after meeting with hostilities by the Chinese. We migrated to save our Identity as Muslims of Kashmiri origin. The Chinese tried to allure us with different offers but our forefathers refused to compromise with our faith and preferred to leave Tibet," said Amanullah Malik.   

The then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru let the Tibetans migrate to India but before that the Chinese government levied different taxes on them and their properties were also seized. Many of their religious heads suffered with life imprisonment also.

They were received well by Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, the then Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir and were initially accommodated in huge buildings in Idgah. The Tibetan community in Kashmir is currently scattered in three localities, namely Hawal, Idgah and Gulshan Colony, near Makhdoom Sahab of the downtown area. After more than 50 years of their migration to Kashmir, this community is caught in the conflict of identities.

Calling themselves repatriates they have been demanding recognition as permanent citizens of India which according to them has not been answered till date. "Our forefathers were Kashmiris who came to Tibet as traders and we are of the same blood. We were repatriated by the Indian government, we are not refugees. We also possess a copy of the government white papers which contain names of the Tibetan families who migrated to Kashmir," added Amanullah Malik.

Giving a profile of Tibetans in Kashmir, Adfar Shah a sociologist and researcher writes, "In 1959, the Indian Government gave a statement that all Tibetan Muslims were Indian nationals, and started distributing application forms for Indian nationality among them. The small Muslim community that fled Tibet after China's invasion in 1959 is in constant search of their identity in Kashmir though they claim Kashmiri ancestry and origin and in the local context they have proved it by many evidences like resembling of names which are Kashmiri type, castes which are again Kashmiri type like Bhat, Ganie, Wani, and Shah Etc."

Adfar, further said, "When they can vote in elections why they cannot have state subjects? They must be treated equally as all other Kashmiris."  

The lack of State Domicile has created many problems for the community, says Muhammad Yousuf, a resident of Hawal. "We do not have access to basic facilities like government jobs and other reservations. Due to non- availability of state subjects we cannot get government jobs and our children are unable to get admissions in various educational institutions of the valley," he said.

He also said that this has developed a strong sense of insecurity in them as many members of the community see a bleak future ahead. "Our children do not pursue education mostly after matriculation because they know that this is of no use to them unless they become the bonafide subjects of the state. With this fear they leave education and take petty private jobs somewhere or resort to tailoring and other such small ventures", said Yousuf.  

Commenting on the issue Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir, Shalindra Kumar said, "These Indo -Tibetans are not repatriates, they are refugees.  Wherever they have settled in India they are refugees. They cannot be provided with the state subjects because they are not the citizens of India. In this case we will then have to provide citizenship to all those who came to India after 1947 as refugees. "

Although they have been provided with ration cards and also cast their votes in elections but the issue of their state domicile remains unsettled. "We have ration cards and election cards too, but I am unable to comprehend that why we are not being provided with the state subjects. We left Tibet to settle in the land of our forefathers and if we don't belong to Kashmir then where do we go", said Ibrahim Malik, a shop owner in Lal- Chowk.

"Our families are growing and our houses are the same. We cannot buy land and cannot build new houses. The houses that we are living in are not up to the mark and no more suffice our needs. In order to survive we need our daily needs met but due to the non - availability of state subjects we face stagnation at all levels," added Ibrahim.

Author is a journalism graduate from Central University of Kashmir. Feedback: [email protected]

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