Dialogue  October-December, 2012, Volume 14 No. 2

1.      A new Tibet Policy

Claude Arpi     


This paper is in two parts: first we shall study the British Policy towards Tibet before they left the subcontinent and later the non-existence of such a policy in India after Independence and before 1962 War with China. In the second part, we shall look at what should be a Tibet Policy in today’s changed circumstances and this, at the strategic, economic and cultural levels as well as for the welfare of the Tibetan refugees in India.

The British were good strategists, nobody can deny this. It has not always been the case of the Indians, especially with issues related to Tibet as we shall see in this paper.

On November 5, 1945, as World War II ended, the British Cabinet issued a little-known Statement on Tibet. It reiterated: "The attitude of His Majesty’s Government towards the Tibetan question is defined in a memorandum by the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs and for India dated 23rd June, 1943." What was this memorandum of 1943?

It was a policy statement about Tibet sent by Antony Eden, the then British Prime Minister to Dr. T. V. Soong, China’s Foreign Minister: "When you visited me on 26th July, you spoke of Tibet and enquired as to our attitude. I have pleasure in sending you the accompanying informal memorandum which I trust will serve to clear this matter up".

The well-known Memorandum represented the British policy towards Tibet for several decades. It starts thus: "Since the Chinese Revolution of 1911, when Chinese forces were withdrawn from Tibet, Tibet has enjoyed de facto independence. She has ever since regarded herself as in practice completely autonomous and has opposed Chinese attempts to reassert control.1"

It is necessary to mention some of the points highlighted in the 1945 British Cabinet’s Statement:

l Until the Chinese Revolution of 1911, Tibet acknowledged the suzerainty of the Manchu Emperors and a measure of control from Peking which fluctuated from military occupation to a more nominal link.

l His Majesty’s Government made repeated attempts after 1911 to bring the Chinese Republic and the Tibetan Government together on the basis that Tibet should be autonomous under the nominal suzerainty of China, but these attempts always broke down on the question of the boundary between China and Tibet, and eventually in 1921, His Majesty’s Government presented the Chinese Government with a declaration to the effect that they did not feel justified in withholding any longer their recognition of the status of Tibet as an autonomous State under the suzerainty of China, and that they intended dealing on that basis with Tibet in the future.

l …we have promised the Tibetan Government to support them in maintaining their practical autonomy which is important to the security of India and to the tranquility of India’s north-eastern frontier.

The Statement admits that the alliance with China during World War II made it difficult to give ‘effective material support’ to Tibet. Lhasa was however informed that London "would be prepared to give them only diplomatic support against China."

The Statement points to an interesting development; in August 1945, Chiang Kai-Shek made a declaration in the Chinese Assembly: "I solemnly declare that if the Tibetans should at this time express a wish for self-government our Government would, in conformity with our sincere traditions, accord it a very high degree of autonomy. If in the future, they fulfill economic requirement of independence, the nation’s Government will, as in the case of Outer Mongolia, help them to attain this status".

The British commented: "There would seem to be nothing irreconcilable between this offer of ‘a very high degree of autonomy’ and the attitude of His Majesty’s Government. It is clear however, from conversations which took place between British and Chinese representatives in Lhasa in 1944 that with regard to Tibet, there is a considerable difference between the British and the Chinese conceptions of the word ‘autonomy’."

The conclusion of the Bristish Cabinet was that two factors would govern the Tibetan question for London:

l Tibet has in practice regarded herself as autonomous and has maintained her autonomy for over 30 years;

l Our attitude has always been to recognize China’s suzerainty, but on the understanding that Tibet is regarded as autonomous by China.

This was the Government of India’s position when the country became independent in August 1947.

Did Independent India have Tibet Policy?

This brings another question: had India a Tibet Policy at the beginning of 1950, when Communist China was preparing the ‘liberation’ (invasion in fact) of Tibet? The answer is a clear ‘no’.

The 1950 events in Tibet should have triggered a chain of reactions which could have resulted in a well-defined policy. It was not to be the case.

In India, the demise of Sardar Patel, the Deputy Prime Minister who had a pragmatic view on the security issues for the Indian borders, stopped the search for a Tibet Policy. The disastrous consequences are still visible more than 60 years later.

During October and November 1950, India had the choice between two directions: either to bend with the ‘east wind’ and ally with China or stand and defend her own interests. The letter from Patel to Nehru, which could be considered his political testament, was resolutely in favour of the second path.

What probably started the exploration for a Tibet Policy was a report of Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, the General Secretary of the Ministry of External

Affairs and Commonwealth. We know of the report’s existence only through a letter that Patel wrote to Bajpai on November 4, 19502.

The Deputy Prime Minister tells Bajpai:

The Chinese advance into Tibet upsets all our security calculations. Hitherto, the danger to India on its land frontiers has always come from the North-West. Throughout history we have concentrated our armed might in that region. For the first time, a serious danger is now developing on the North and North-East side; at the same time, our danger from the West or North-West is in no way lessened. This creates most embarrassing defense problems and I entirely agree with you that a reconsideration of our military position and a redisposition of our forces are inescapable.

A few days later, Patel sent his above-mentioned letter to Jawaharlal Nehru.

The clarity of Patel’s perception and the strategic implications of Tibet’s invasion for India have been masterfully outlined in the following lines:3

We have also to take note of a thoroughly unscrupulous, unreliable and determined power practically at our doors. ...[the invasion of Tibet] in my judgment, entitles us to treat them with a certain amount of hostility, let alone a great deal of circumspection. In these circumstances, one thing, to my mind, is quite clear; and, that is, that we cannot be friendly with China and must think in terms of defense against a determined, calculating, unscrupulous, ruthless, unprincipled and prejudiced combination of powers, of which the Chinese will be the spearhead.4

Twelve years later, this last sentence would resound in the Indian mind. Was the China of 1950 very different from 1962’s China? Or was it the same China who had already decided in 1949 who would be the new leader of Asia and was ready to use all available means to achieve its plans.

In a way, Patel’s letter was the first (and only) draft Tibet Policy for India.

The letter goes on to analyze, with great lucidity, the defence and other strategic and political issues facing India. For example, Patel lists the problems which need immediate action:

- a military and intelligence appreciation of the Chinese threat to India both on the frontier and the internal security.
- An examination of our military position and such redisposition of our forces as might be necessary, particularly with the idea 
  of guarding important routes or area which are likely to be subject to dispute
- An appraisal of the strength of our forces
- A long-term consideration of our defence needs
- The question of Chinese entry into the UNO
- The future of our mission in Lhasa and trade posts at Gyantse and Yatung
- The policy in regard to the McMahon Line

Six months later, as a first consequence of the new policy of non-interference of the Government of India, a 17 Point Agreement would be forced ‘under duress’ on the Tibetans. The first consequence was that the Indo-Tibetan border in the western and eastern sector became the Indo-Chinese border. It is what the British had tried to avoid at any cost.

Nehru’s Note on Tibet Policy

Nehru did not respond directly to Sardar Patel’s letter, but a few days later, he dictated a Note5 that would become the corner stone of India’s Tibet Policy until the Prime Minister’s death, and in a way, till today. We shall look at this Note to try to understand Nehru’s fears and motivations.

In November 1950, Nehru had already accepted that the frontier between India and Tibet had de facto become the border between India and China. It was a surprising statement because at that time, the Chinese troops had not marched further than Chamdo, still several weeks away from Lhasa, and several months from the McMahon Line.

Nehru says: "I think it may be taken for granted that China will take possession, in a political sense at least, of the whole of Tibet."

He further admits that for the Tibetan people the "autonomy can obviously not be anything like the autonomy, verging on independence, which Tibet has enjoyed during the last forty years or so."

It is beyond comprehension how Nehru, who wanted to be the hero of the oppressed nations, could at the same time accept that a nation ‘verging on independence’, should lose its independence before his eyes, and he could so easily accept it as a fait accompli.

Another point made by Nehru is that "it is exceedingly unlikely that we may have to face any real military invasion [of India] from the Chinese side, whether in peace or in war, in the foreseeable future."

It is not clear what was meant by ‘real’ invasion. However, Nehru came to the conclusion that China would not take the risk to have too many new enemies; for that would weaken China. He was proved wrong. Nehru’s Note concludes: "We cannot save Tibet". Regarding the Tibetan Appeal to the UN, Nehru finally decided to do as little as possible: "It will not take us or Tibet very far. It will only hasten the downfall of Tibet."

The facts showed that Tibet was an independent nation, it was clear that China, as the aggressor, was in the wrong and that it was India’s moral duty to defend this position, but under the pretext that it would not ‘take us very far’, the moral stand was dropped and Tibet abandoned to its fate.

All this shows that India had no Tibet Policy.

What should a Tibet Policy be today?

The above analysis raises some questions.

Does Delhi have a Tibet Policy today? If it does not have one, what shape should a Tibet Policy take? To answer this, it is important to have a look at what are India’s present interests in Tibet?

They are, of course, of different nature; first and foremost are the strategic interests flowing from the long common (and disputed) border with China. But they are also diplomatic (visa issue), economic (border trade), cultural and civilisational. The presence of the Dalai Lama and more than a lakh of his countrymen and women is an important factor to be taken into account. After defining these interests, a formal (or informal) policy should accordingly be drafted.

A- The strategic interests

Let us have a look at strategic interests as many other issues flow from this core subject. There is currently an argument in India that the country is not prepared for a war. This is an undisputable fact. A few months back a Weekly magazine published a cover story arguing: "Fifty years after its only defeat, the Indian Army is still unprepared for a battle with its scheming adversary, China. Low on equipment and lacking in infrastructure, the bloated war machine is in urgent need of an overhaul."

Though Defence Minister A.K. Antony affirmed that no infiltration takes place across the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh, he recently admitted: "there have been instances of a few Tibetan herb collectors inadvertently crossing over into Indian territory in the last two years." It is common knowledge that the Chinese are masters at testing the ground by sending herders or herb collectors to scout areas that they ‘perceive’ as theirs. Behind this new Tibet Policy should be that fact that it is not necessary for India to always be in denial mode. It does not help to engage China. Does it mean that 1962 can repeat itself?

Take the roads for example: in January 2008, during a visit to Itanagar and Tawang, the Prime Minister announced a Rs 24,000 crores package for the State. The priority was given to the roads (in particular, the construction of a Trans-Arunachal Highway). With the road being enlarged between the plains of Assam and Tawang (en route to the Tibet border), one finds today the messiest imaginable road site; it has become the favorite topic of local jokes. There are, however, differences between 1962 and 2012: the Indian leadership did not then dare to use the Air Force; it will not be the case today. A full squadron of Sukhoi-30 aircraft have now been deployed at Tezpur air base in Assam (another squadron has been brought to Chabua in Upper Assam). Further, the IAF is planning to open six Advanced Landing Grounds, as well as several helipads in areas close to the border. This may take some time, but the process has started.

Were India attacked today, it will not remain a localized conflict like in 1962; any Chinese misadventure would trigger an ‘all-out’ conflict, and India would certainly not hesitate to attack the PLA infrastructure in the Nyingchi Prefecture, north of the McMahon line and elsewhere in Tibet.

It has been in the public domain that two new infantry divisions are being raised and that the Government is looking for a place in the Northeast to set up the headquarters of a Mountain Strike Corps. This should be one more deterrent factor for China.

Another crucial issue is the support of the local population in Arunachal and Ladakh. In 1962, some villages fully supported the invading Chinese troops. How else could the PLA have built a road from Bumla, the border pass, to Tawang in 18 days? It is not difficult to imagine the staggering amount of accurate intelligence required for this feat.

An important question is "what will China gain from a misadventure on India’s territoory, apart from a hypothetical Asian supremacy?"

It is clear that China cannot militarily ‘take back’ Tawang. The PLA could at the most occupy a few ‘disputed pockets’ like Samdorong Chu valley, north of Tawang or Demchok in Ladakh, but in the process, Beijing would lose India’s present goodwill and the international respect it earns with its ‘peaceful rise’ policy as well as its integration into the world scene as a responsible State.

Further, it should not be difficult for India to get logistic support from inside Tibet and eventually support a military rebellion; at least a civil disobedience could be organized. Let us not forget that an alien PLA has already to deal with a resentful local population on the Tibetan plateau. The recent immolations of monks and nuns in Eastern Tibet are a proof of this.

The launch of the Agni-V long range missile also adds to the deterrence. It has already made Chinese policy makers ponder. The People’s Daily stated that it reflects India’s "intention of seeking regional balance of power".

If Beijing wants again to ‘teach a lesson’ to India, it will indeed be a Himalayan task, and what will Beijing gain in the bargain?

China can nevertheless use some asymmetric types of warfare, cyber-warfare is one of them.

Traditionally, the Himalayan frontier has been a frontier between India and Tibet; the 1914 border agreement (i.e. the McMahon Line) delineates the frontier in the North-East. This is not acceptable to Beijing which denies the existence of the McMahon Line.

It is the main reason why the border talks have today come to a standstill. Presuming that the next generation of Chinese leaders would attempt a 1962-like adventure against India, the Tibet factor would become crucial. The Indian Government could, for example, immediately recognize the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala as the legitimate exiled government of Tibet.

A Tibet Policy should be based on deterrence, as India can’t match today with China in terms of infrastructure and armed forces. Some of the developments mentioned above should be part of this policy of deterrence.

B- Diplomatic contacts between Dharamsala and Delhi

A few years ago, the diplomatic contacts between Dharamsala and Delhi were enhanced when the post of the Dalai Lama’s Liaison Officer (an officer of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs) was upgraded to the rank of Director and a post of Deputy Liaison Officer was created.

In the recent years, successive Foreign Secretaries have visited Dharamsala and called not only on the Dalai Lama, but also on the Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister), the elected head of the Central Tibetan Administration.

However, there is still a feeling that "we should not upset the Chinese" and often ministers are ‘shy’ to meet the Dalai Lama and the Kalon Tripa.

Officials contacts should be upgraded at the ministerial, if not prime-ministerial levels. It could be explained to the Chinese ambassador that it is nothing against the People’s Republic of China, but the mere fact that the Dalai Lama is an ‘honoured guest’ and one and half lakh of his countrymen/women live in India, requires some coordination meetings from time to time.

Further, India should continue to insist to reopen its Consulate General in Lhasa. It would be an important step to restore the traditional relations.

But when the question came to open a Consulate in Lhasa, some Chinese India experts objected. Zhao Gancheng, director of South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies criticized India’s proposal saying that the move was motivated by political, rather than economic interests: "The Indian government hopes to closely watch, observe, and infiltrate the Tibetan area after the opening of a Lhasa consulate, ... The issue regarding Tibet is an internal affair and we won’t tolerate any external forces imposing a negative impact on the situation in Tibet."

In this case, why to have a Nepali Consulate in Lhasa? Has (and had) Nepal closer contacts with Tibet than India?

Zhao Gancheng, who, by the way is often invited by Indian think-tanks, seems unaware of the traditional bonds between Tibet and India. The Indian presence on the Roof of the World is older than the British ‘imperialist’ (for the Chinese) inroads in Tibet.

One of the best proofs is the collections of thousands of 700-year old Sanskrit manuscripts found in Tibetan monasteries by the scholar Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan when he visited Tibet in the 1930’s. Such examples could be multiplied.

If the Indian Government had wanted "to watch, observe, and infiltrate" Tibet, they could have done it long ago, with or without a Consulate General in Lhasa.

Regarding the visa issue, if China continues to issue visas on stapled paper for the residents of J&K or Arunachal Pradesh, India should simply reciprocate for Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongols from Inner Mongolia.

C- Trade between India and Tibet

Trade has, for centuries, been a traditional link between Tibet and India. Even when the Government of India decided to ‘bury’ Tibet as a de facto Independent nation in 1954, an agreement on ‘Trade and Intercourse’ between Tibet and India was signed (it is remembered as the Panchsheel Agreement). Inter alia, it says:

The High Contracting Parties mutually agree to establish Trade Agencies:

(1) The Government of India agrees that the Government of China may establish Trade Agencies at New Delhi, Calcutta and Kalimpong.

(2) The Government of China agrees that the Government of India may establish Trade Agencies at Yatung, Gyantse and Gartok.

The Trade Agencies of both Parties shall be accorded the same status and same treatment.

Indians and Chinese traders were allowed to use the following places, (1) Yatung, (2) Gyantse and (3) Phari as trademarts. Further the Government of India agreed that trade may be carried on in India, in places like (1) Kalimpong, (2) Siliguri and (3) Calcutta.

The Chinese Government specified (1) Gartok, (2) Taklakot, (3) Gyanima-Khargo, (4) Gyaniina-Chaltra, (5) Ramura, (6) Dongbra, (7) Puling-Sumdo, (8) Nabra, (9) Shangtse and (10) Tashigong as markets for Indian traders in Tibet.

Traders and pilgrims were allowed to use the following passes and routes:

(1) Shipki pass (Himachal), (2) Mana pass (Uttarakhand), (3) Niti pass (Uttarakhand), (4) Kungri Bingri pass, (5) Darma pass (Uttarakhand), and (6) Lipulekh pass (Uttarakhand)

Unfortunately, after the 1962 conflict, all these trade marts and passes were closed.

Since then, a series of border trade agreements were signed to reopen Lipulekh-la in Uttarakhand (1991), Shipki-la in Himachal Pradesh (1991).

In 2003 a Memorandum on Expanding Border Trade was signed between India and China; it was agreed to reopen Nathu-la as a border pass. Article II says: "The two sides agree to use Nathu-la as the pass for entry and exit of persons, means of transport and commodities engaged in border trade. Each side shall establish checkpoints at appropriate locations to monitor and manage their entry and exit through the Nathu-la Pass."

A recent report of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies explains: "Border trade markets [are] scheduled to be opened from Monday to Thursday every week. A permit fee of Rs. 50 each would be levied for every vehicle entering Sikkim side from China. Similarly, a fee of 5 Yuan (Rs. 25 approximately) would be levied for every vehicle crossing over to the Chinese side up to the trade mart point at Renqinggang." Unfortunately, business is not flourishing as yet.

On April 21, 2011, iSikkim reported: "The fifth edition of Indo-China trade through the Nathu-la border in 2010 recorded absolute zero import. In 2009 also the Nathu-la border trade closed for the season recording zero import. As per the official record, [year] 2010 saw exports worth a little over Rs 4 crore."

The Sikkimese publication quoted Kesang Diki, the Tibetan Autonomous Region’s in-charge, affirming that the reason for zero import was the non-feasible list of items. She requested the Indian Government to expand the trade list and cater to today’s market demands.

Many feel that most of the items listed in the schedule are obsolete and do not have a commercial value; interestingly both the Tibetan and the Sikkimese traders agree on this.

It is worth noticing that a few hundred kilometers westwards the trade with Nepal is blooming.

The website China Tibet Online affirms that the "total volume of cross-border petty trade between Tibet and Nepal has increased remarkably in the first quarter of 2011". Like for India, Europe and the United States, the trade is heavily tilting in China’s favour, but the Nepalis do not seem to mind too much.

A new Tibet Policy should take into account this important traditional bilateral activity and if there is a political will, the situation could greatly improve, with both side benefiting from it. Further, new traditional land ports such as between Walong-Rima in the Lohit Valley, Bumla in the Tawang district or Demchok in Ladakh could be opened, once the security concerns are taken care of. The softening of the borders would be one of the measures to bring more understanding on both sides of the frontier.

D- Pilgrimage

The Panchsheel Agreement mentions that as both India and China were "desirous of promoting trade and cultural intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India", (1) pilgrims from India of Lamaist, Hindu and Buddhists faiths may visit the Kailash and Manasarovar lake while pilgrims from Tibet may visit Banaras, Sarnath, Gaya and Sanchi. Today the immediate need is to open a new route for the Kailash-Manasarovar yatra. Demchok should be easier than the present one through Uttarakhand. Unfortunately, the Chinese side seems overcautious about the project.

In a longer term, if the security risks can be sorted out, the old Tsari pilgrimage around the Dakpa Sheri, the Pure Crystal Mountain in Tsari region of Southern Tibet could be reopened for the Buddhist populations of Arunachal Pradesh. It would, of course, raise the problem of visas as the Chinese authorities still claim the Indian State as part of ‘Southern Tibet’.

A special agreement would be required for this pilgrimage which occurs every 12 years, as part of it is located south of the McMahon Line. However, if allowed, the sacred yatra could greatly help to ‘soften’ the border. It needs mention that year 2016, is the next date for the Tsari pilgrimage.

E- Buddhist Studies

As part of a global Tibet Policy, India should take the lead in promoting Buddhism and Buddhist studies. In this context, the Global Buddhist Congregation (GBC), organized by the Ashoka Mission in November 2011 was a good exercise. Some 900 monks and nuns from over 40 countries attended the event in Delhi. China, as usual, objected to the function. Beijing was particularly incensed by the invitation sent to the Dalai Lama to address the valedictory function.

China even threatened to call off the 15th round of border talks between the Special Representatives if India refused to yield and cancel the Conference. Beijing also objected to the Prime Minister and the President of India attending the opening ceremony of the Congregation. Eventually, India partially backed out with the Prime Minister and the President suddenly becoming ‘busy’, but the program with the Dalai Lama was reconfirmed. The External Affairs ministry issued a bland statement "We are looking forward to the 15th round of Special Representatives’ talks in the near future and the two sides remain in touch to find convenient dates for the meeting."

The Ministry explained to China that the Congregation was of a religious nature and not a political event; further it had no power to cancel it. The Conference came at a time when Beijing had been trying to take on the leadership of the Buddhist world movement through its involvement in projects as in Lumbini and Nalanda and later a Buddhist Conference in Honk Kong.

One could think that the atheist regime in Beijing does not believe in Buddhism, but on the contrary, Beijing recently seems to embrace the philosophy taught by the Great Gautama, for, at least, the political purposes.

The Economist reported that China plans to invest $3 billion in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha. The magazine explains: "After Prachanda, the leader of Nepal’s Maoists, stepped down as Prime Minister in 2009, he met representatives of the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (APECF) several times. In July, the Chinese media reported that the Hong Kong-based foundation which is widely thought to have China’s backing had signed an agreement with UNIDO, the UN’s industrial development organization, to invest $3 billion in Lumbini." The objective is to make Lumbini a ‘Mecca for Buddhists’ (under China’s sponsorship). Unfortunately for Beijing, the dynamic 82-year old Lama Lobzang from Ladakah and his colleagues from the Himalayan belt decided to celebrate the 2600th anniversary of the Enlightenment of the Buddha and to do it in India.

The Global Buddhist Conference eventually resolved to "preserve and conserve sacred sites and holy relics worldwide, particularly those that are historically connected to the life and times of Buddha such as Lumbini in Nepal, and Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar in India". It was further stated that Buddhism can help the human civilization which "today faces many challenges such as conflict, violence, extremism, discrimination, injustice, inequality, materialism, environmental degradation, natural disasters" and that solutions "to these issues of global concern can be found within the principles and values contained in Buddha’s teachings."

India should certainly have a say in most of these issues. Whereas Buddhist ethics cannot flourish in China where the individual liberties are still very restricted under an authoritarian regime. India should give a lead to the Buddhist world in which Tibet and the Dalai Lama (representing the true Nalanda tradition) have a significant role to play. Once again, Indian leaders should not be shy to attend these types of religious functions.

F- Tibetan Studies

Tibetan studies is also a field where India has traditionally been present as most of the Tibetan literature originated from India. Unfortunately, here also it is China which invests in this field.

Traditionally, scholars, pundits, lamas from India and Tibet have criss-crossed the Himalayas. For centuries, vast amounts of knowledge have freely been exchanged between the subcontinent and the Land of Snows over the Himalayan passes. Today the situation has changed. From August 1 to 4, 2012, the 5th Beijing International Seminar on Tibetan Studies was held in the Chinese capital under the auspices of the China Tibetology Research Center. It is said, it attracted 246 scholars from 21 countries and regions including Mongolia, India, Japan, France, Australia and the United States. According to the organizers, the Seminar on Tibetan Studies was aimed at ‘preserving culture and serving society’. The topics of discussion focused on social development in Tibet. The China Daily quoted Lhagpa Phuntshoks, the Director-General of the China Tibetology Research Center who stated during his opening speech: "Tibetan studies are expanding in China, with the government investing heavily in the protection of traditional heritage, printing of historic texts in the Tibetan language and the cultivation of young researchers".

Sitar, the Vice-president of the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture declared that "China has been steadily endeavoring to preserve the Tibetan language, cultural relics, folk arts such as the Epic of King Gesar, and the religious practices. It is for this purpose that we organized a panel on Development, Sustainability and Livelihood Security in Tibetan-inhabited Areas."

The question is why should China have the monopoly of Tibet studies? Delhi, with the help and support of institutions in the Himalayan regions as well as Dharamsala, should revive Tibetan studies in a big way. Further, why not open Chairs on Tibetan history, culture and politics in some of the main Indian Universities; particularly in J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh? The age-old intellectual, spiritual and also environmental relations between India (particularly the Himalayan belt) and Tibet should flourish again. The People’s Republic of China can keep the monopoly on Tibetan studies. A new Tibet Policy should promote the traditional links and help reestablish them through regular conferences/seminars and exchanges.

G- A Greater Trans-Himalayan Cooperation

Sowa Rigpa system of medicine

There are different fields through which the Himalayans have a deeper and closer cooperation with the Tibetan civilization. One of them is Tibetan medicine. In August 2010, the Indian Parliament officially recognised the Tibetan system of medicine, known as Sowa Rigpa. The Parliament adopted a bill to add the Sowa-Rigpa system of medicine practiced in sub-Himalayan region, as one of the Indian systems. While replying to a debate on the Indian Medicine Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2010, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said: "It would be the endeavour of the government to bring to mainstream Sowa-Rigpa system of medicine in regions where it is prevalent." Mr. Azad assured the Members that the Bill will provide protection and preservation of this ancient system of medicine and help its propagation and development. It will also facilitate the setting up of a regulatory mechanism in the field of education and practice. Further the government would set up a Pharmacopoeia Commission for Indian Systems of Medicine, including Sowa-Rigpa. The Rajya Sabha had passed the Bill on August 25. The Sowa-Rigpa system of medicine is practiced in Himalayan belt and other parts of the country besides Nepal, Tibet, Baltistan, Mongolia and Japan. The practice and research in this field should be further supported.

Bhoti language

Language is one of man’s best mediums of communication. It is also a reflection of history, culture, religion and politics of a nation or a region. One of the richest and less known languages of India is the Bhoti language. It is widely used in Ladakh, Kinnaur, Lahul, Spiti, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, but also in Bhutan, Nepal and Baltistan. Bhoti language is closely linked with Tibetan, using the same scripts.

Bhoti is the language of the Buddhists of the Himalayan belt. It is the language of the pundits, scholars and saints who criss-crossed the Himalayas generations after generations. It is also the language for the Himalayan people struggling to preserve their identity, in a global world. In the same way that Sowa Rigpa has been acknowledged by the Government of India as one of the indigenous systems of medicine, Bhoti language should be recognized as one of the Indian languages. The time has come to introduce a bill for its inclusion in the eighth schedule of Indian constitution. It will go a long way to acknowledge the century-old link between the people of the Himalayan belt and Tibet.

Right now, Bhoti language is preserved at a slow pace. For example in Ladakh, winter classes in Bhoti are organized in some villages, but only middle aged people usually attend. One step forward would be to start classes at the primary school level.

In an online debate on the subject, a participant wrote: "There is still immense appreciation and interest for Bhoti language among the local people of Lahul & Spiti, Ladakh. We still organize sessions in winters to keep the traditions of the oral songs and verses alive. People take interest, but mostly middle aged, learned persons, government employees. Every winter we put up notices indicating the timings of such sessions. People from Tod, Garh, Khoksar and Myad valley are often more interested. But it is not taught in schools for the younger generation. In Spiti the enthusiasm is much more as the community is more homogenous and they have been able to introduce Bhoti in schools. Many of us have tried to document the lyrics in Bhoti and learn the script because, if we write them down in Hindi, we don’t do justice to the unique pronunciations. The SC/ST Commission and the Himalayan Buddhist Culture Association are taking some initiative in promoting the language."


Environment is a field where the Himalayans should be able to ‘share’ more and should be encouraged to do so. After all, they have a common ecological past and future. In this context, an interesting event was organized in Simla in October 2009. The Chief ministers of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim issued a detailed action plan known as ‘Simla Declaration’. Union Minister of State for Environment and Forest, Jairam Ramesh, presided over the Chief Ministers’ meet. Experts from the five Himalayan States discussed the impact of climatic change in the Himalayan region and its relation with the people living in mountains. The declaration states:

"The mountain people have traditionally lived a low energy, low consumption, and low waste life styles. It is very important to learn from these, and emulate this in a larger scale in view of the necessity of reducing the global emission of green house gasses." Adding: "Himalaya, which provides life-sustaining ‘eco-system services’ to a large part of south-Asia, is one such region. While the impacts of climate change on the Himalayan ecosystems like accelerated glacial melt and distorted rainfall patterns have been studied in depth, preparation to tackle these impacts, both at the national and state levels seem to lack vision and are generally based upon the same paradigm of unsustainable development that has brought this world to the current state of crisis."

The Chief Ministers of Himalayan States decided in Simla to adopt a common strategy to combat climate change. A trans-Himalayan organization in the line of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), but purely Indian should be established, collaborating with Tibetan experts in the field of environment.

ICIMOD is a "regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan." It is based in Kathmandu. ICIMOD’s strategic framework stresses: "Globalization and climate change have an increasing influence on the stability of fragile mountain ecosystems and the livelihoods of mountain people. ICIMOD aims to assist mountain people to understand these changes, adapt to them, and make the most of new opportunities, while addressing upstream-downstream issues." A similar organization should be instituted for the Indian Himalayas in close collaboration with ICIMOD. It will be one more occasion to share similar problems on both sides of the Himalayas.

The Tibetans in India

Regarding the third aspect of a new Tibet Policy, i.e. a greater security for the Tibetan refugees living in India, it is enough to cite a few possibilities:

l Long term residential permits could be given to the Tibetans settled in India for a long time.

l Possibility to apply to OCI scheme under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

l A long-term solution for people living in the Himalayan States having difficulty to acquire land and build up assets on these lands.

l The Special Frontier Forces, the Tibetan Force fighting under India’s colours should be given proper recognition, first of all in terms of decorations and awards. India should not be ashamed to employ Tibetans jawans

l The Special Frontier Forces should train a few jawans for the new Olympics Games in shooting, wrestling or other disciplines where Tibetans excel. An Olympic medal would be a great boost to the Tibetan community in exile and will prove to China that India attaches a great importance to the Tibetan presence in India.

l Facilitate admission of Tibetan students in Indian educational institutions under a special quota.

All these different aspects should form part of a Tibet Policy whose objectives would be to reestablish the centuries old economic, cultural and religious links between India and Tibet and at the same time make the Indo-Tibet (now Indo-China) borders softer, even if it takes time to return to the 1950s open frontiers.


1. The entire text of the Memorandum is available on this writer’s site: http://www.claudearpi.net/maintenance/uploaded_pics/lettertoSoong.pdf

2. Chopra, Ed., Collected Works of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (Delhi: Konark Publishers, 12 Volumes), vol.XV, p. 274.

3. To read the notes, visit: http://www.claudearpi.net/maintenance/uploaded_pics/195011ExchangeofnotesonTibet.pdf.

4. Ibid.

5. Text of the Note in SWJN, Series II, Vol. 15 (2), p. 345. Policy Regarding China and Tibet.

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati