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Ten Questions for Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay

Tibetan prime minister, Dr Lobsang Sangay. Photo: File
On the occasion of the second anniversary of the 14th Kashag, Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay gave the following exclusive interview to Tibet.net.

 

1.  How would you describe your administration’s overall strategic approach as you complete two years in office?

The 14th Kashag had the formidable challenge of ensuring a smooth transition in the wake of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s historic decision to devolve his political authority to a democratically elected leader while sustaining the Tibetan freedom struggle. The strategic approach we have taken at a macro level can be summarized as a three-phase integrated approach of consolidation, action and dialogue.

The consolidation phase that spanned much of the first year was focused on ensuring a smooth transition.  Our priority during this time of transition was to avoid disruption; and rally all Tibetans and supporters. Towards this end, we hosted several major conferences in Dharamshala that brought together Tibetan representatives from all across the globe and leaders of the Indian and International Tibet Support Groups.

With His Holiness’ blessing, Tibetans inside and around the world have fully supported the transition and taken responsibility in fulfiling the vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The 14th Kashag would like to express its appreciation for the support and urge Tibetans to continue to do so. This support has been instrumental during the consolidation phase.

The action phase witnessed major solidarity events in several cities including New York, New Delhi, Brussels, Tokyo, Sydney and others. These solidarity events were complemented by media awareness and efforts to garner support for Tibet in congresses and parliaments across the world. Working with friends and supporters of Tibet, we were able to get declarations, resolutions and motions passed in parliaments in the European Union, Australia, Brazil, Japan, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the United States and other countries.

The dialogue phase involves sustained efforts and initiatives to resume contact with the Chinese government. Additional investment will be made to educate both Tibetans and external audiences on the Middle Way Approach. The Task Force on Negotiations will be enlarged and members will have their 26th meeting in September 2013 during which ongoing developments in Tibet and China will be reviewed and discussed.

2. What is the Middle Way Policy and how has this policy benefited Tibet and Tibetans?

As early as the 1970s, His Holiness the Dalai Lama began to formulate a far-sighted and pragmatic solution to the Tibet issue after consulting various Tibetan leaders in exile and later in the 1980s also soliciting feedback from Tibetans inside Tibet.

The new formulation traversed the middle path between repression and separation –  rejecting the repressive and colonial policies of the Chinese government towards Tibetans while not seeking separation from the People’s Republic of China. This win-win proposition, which came to be known as the Middle Way Approach, calls for genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people within the framework of the People’s Republic of China. This approach was also in sync with then China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s position that, “except for independence, all other issues could be discussed and resolved.”

The Middle Way Approach has enabled Dharamshala and Beijing to establish contact through a series of talks held between Chinese representatives and envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. For the first time, Tibetans inside and outside Tibet were able to contact and visit one another. Tibetan students and monks in Tibet visited India to receive secular and monastic education, which also contributed to the revival of Buddhism inside Tibet and awareness and solidarity with the exile Tibetans.

Many prominent educated Tibetans inside Tibet support the Middle Way Approach because they view it as a realistic and forward-looking approach to peacefully resolving the issue of Tibet. Furthermore, this approach enables many governments to support a solution-oriented Tibet policy and helps them raise the Tibet issue in their bilateral dialogue with China. After President Barack Obama’s meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on July 16, 2011, the White House applauded “the Dalai Lama’s commitment to non-violence and dialogue with China and his pursuit of the Middle Way Approach,” and encouraged “direct dialogue to resolve long-standing differences.”

Another key area where the Middle Way Approach is steadily bearing results is in the minds of many Chinese, particularly among the intellectuals. Some of the Chinese intellectual luminaries, including Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Nobel Laureate, were signatories of a courageous open letter in 2008 that expressed support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s peace initiatives. His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s outreach to Chinese students and scholars and his teachings to Chinese Buddhist practitioners, part of an estimated 300 million plus Buddhists in today’s Mainland China, are also helping reshape Chinese attitudes towards Tibet and Tibetans.

For all the reasons stated above, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) remains committed to the Middle Way Approach in resolving the Tibet issue.

3. What is the cause of the unprecedented wave of self-immolations in Tibet and how has your Administration handled this painful issue?

On the second anniversary of the present Kashag, a special prayer session was held in dedication to 120 self-immolators, their family members and for all those who have given their lives for the cause of Tibet. Similar prayer sessions were held in the Tibetan settlements in India and abroad.

Sadly, since 2009, 120 Tibetans have self-immolated, including 22 in 2013. 103 of them have died. The self-immolators include monks, nuns, nomads, farmers, students and Tibetans from all three Tibetan regions of U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo, including the capital city of Lhasa.

Political repression, cultural assimilation, social discrimination, economic marginalisation, environmental destruction and lack of religious freedom are the primary factors driving Tibetans to self-immolation. According to Human Rights Watch, two million nomads were resettled in ghetto-like accomodations without their full consent and proper consultation. The repressive policies has also resulted in recent incidents of violence in several mining areas in Tibet. The only way to end this brutal and grave situation is for China to change its current hardline Tibet policy by respecting the aspirations of the Tibetan people. We are always mindful of the fact that our compatriots inside Tibet hold the key to the Tibet issue.

The Kashag has consistently appealed to and discouraged Tibetans from drastic action, including self-immolation, as a form of protest. As human beings, we do not want anyone to die in such a manner. However, as Buddhists, we pray for the deceased. As Tibetans, it is our sacred duty to support the aspirations of Tibetans in Tibet: the return of His Holiness the great Fourteenth Dalai Lama to Tibet, freedom for the Tibetan people, and unity among Tibetans.

The blame as well as the solution for the self-immolations lies with the Chinese government.

4.  Would you like to make any clarifications on the May 8, 2013 AFP article Exiled Tibetan PM not challenging Chinese Communist Party’s rule in Tibet?

Those who have heard or read my remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington DC, the basis of the AFP article, should have no grounds to be alarmed. There is no divergence between my comments and the long-held official CTA position on major issues such as  the role of the Communist Party in Tibet, democracy in Tibet, and control of Tibet’s defense. These official CTA positions were  articulated in the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy For the Tibetan People and the accompanying Note on the Memorandum of Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People (hereinafter referred to as Note), submitted to the Chinese government in 2008 and 2010 respectively.

As far as Socialism and the role of China’s Communist Party in a Tibet that is genuinely autonomous is concerned, I urge readers to review chapters 3, 4 & 5 of the Note, which clearly states, “The Memorandum, in no way challenges or brings into question the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party in the PRC. The Memorandum also does not challenge the Socialist system of the PRC. Nothing in it suggests a demand for a change to this system or for its exclusion from Tibetan areas.”

With reference to democracy, I was asked by the CFR event moderator “Do you think you can institute democracy in a genuinely autonomous Tibet?  Will there be real, free political elections, freedom of expression?  It would be unique to the People’s Republic, wouldn’t it?”  The answer to these questions is “no.” As I explained at the CFR event, “democracy is what we practice and this is what we aspire. But this is not part of what we are asking.” As explained we do not challenge or demand a change to the socialist system of the PRC and leadership of the Communist Party if we are granted genuine autonomy.

5. What is CTA’s stand on Tibetans applying for Indian or other foreign citizenship?

The decision to apply for Indian or any other country’s citizenship is a personal choice. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1986 grants citizenship rights to Tibetans born in India between 1950 and 1987; and to those born after 1987 if “either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of his/her birth”.  CTA cannot prevent any Tibetan from applying for Indian citizenship. At the same time, CTA cannot compel Tibetans to apply for Indian citizenship, as the application process entails surrendering both Registration Certificate (RC) and Identity Certificate (IC) documents to the Indian authorities.

Also, the primary objective of CTA is political and to provide welfare services to Tibetans in exile.

CTA issues bona fide Tibetan letters of support through our Offices of Tibet to those applying for citizenships abroad. We also issue “No Objection Certificate” (NoC) through our Department of Security to applicants for Indian citizenship. During my administration, we have so far, received exactly 14 requests for NoC and we have not withheld supporting documents for anyone.

6. What is the state of CTA’s finances?

CTA is financially sound. During the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile’s budget session in March 2013 the 14th Kashag submitted a budget for the fiscal year 2013-2014 that includes new revenue representing an increase of 23% over the previous budget. We are confident we will not only raise, but also exceed our revenue goal.

The current 2013-2014 budget includes 97 new projects, including programs for settlement revitalization and youth employment, which will positively impact a majority in the Tibetan refugee community. The budget also includes an increase in monthly stipend for former political prisoners from INR 3500 to 6000, for elderly people without family from INR 900 to 1500, and for people with special needs from INR 700 to 1500. Health and education for those living below the poverty line are also covered. It includes performance-based scholarships for higher studies to encourage academic excellence. The budget also strengthens CTA’s IT infrastructure and upgrades all computer hardware and software.

The voluntary cha-ngul payment by individual Tibetans, which constitutes about 8% of annual CTA’s revenue. I commend those Tibetans who are regular contributors, and encourage others to begin to make such voluntary contributions. The amount is modest, but important symbolically as it reflects a personal commitment to the Tibetan cause and support for CTA as an institution.

Lastly, let me say that CTA funds are prudently managed with clear controls in place. Approval is needed from either the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile or its Standing Committee before the Kashag can receive or spend funds.

7. How is the CTA helping new arrivals from Tibet and tackling youth unemployment in the Tibetan exile community?

I am happy to report that we have allocated an additional sum of INR155 lakhs (USD293,000) from the current CTA budget for the rehabilitation of new arrivals from Tibet in Dharamshala and other places.

The curriculum at the Sherab Gatsel Lobling School (SGLS), formerly known as Tibetan Transit School, has been thoughtfully upgraded and redesigned. This new program expands the school’s focus from basic education to basic education plus skills and vocational training. Furthermore, SGLS students who qualify, will now have the option to pursue college and university education.

Beginning this budget year, we have launched a new program to offer a second chance for those new arrivals who are 35 years and older, and for those who have dropped out of SGLS and are unemployed, to reapply for a two-year program.

The Department of Security provides new arrivals with much-needed assistance in obtaining all their necessary documents. The Department of Health offers medical care and attention to torture survivors among the new arrivals and also provides them life-skill training. The Department of Religion & Culture gives monthly stipends to the new arrival monks and nuns and facilitates admission into their choice of monasteries and nunneries in India.

Although there is a decrease in the number of new arrivals from Tibet into India, the Tibetan Reception Centres in Kathmandu, New Delhi and Dharamshala continue to facilitate their safe journey and looks after their essential needs until the time they are enrolled in secular or monastic educational institutions.

On a related note, we are also committed to tackling the problem of youth unemployment. We all know that the success of any community rests on the productivity of its youth, and that today’s Tibetan youth are tomorrow’s future. With this in mind, we have launched several initiatives in this arena:

·    A pilot Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) venture was launched in Dharamshala, as a joint effort of CTA’s Tibetan Administration and Welfare Society (TAWS) and OKS Group, an Indian corporation. As part of this venture, the newly-opened BPO center will employ 50 Tibetans. Depending on the success of the pilot venture more such centers could open in the future.

·      In addition, employability skills trainings are being provided to 570 young Tibetans, including new arrivals, through the Tibetan Career Centre (TCC), a project of the USAID-funded EDOTS program. The TCC operates in several satellite centers for the Tibetan youth throughout various Tibetan settlements, including in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, HP.

·      The third initiative for our youth is with The Institute for Small Trade Training at Neelamangala, Bangalore, managed by the Department of Home. This program has announced a new round of skills training for unemployed Tibetan youth in seven different fields: cookery, graphic & web design, computer hardware & networking, medical transcription, beautician, hairdressing and tailoring. Similar vocational training programs are also made available at Tibetan Homes Foundation, Mussoorie and at Selakui.

8. What are some of your new initiatives in education and what is the current status of the transfer of CTSA-run schools to the CTA?

Education continues to be a top priority of our administration. Our literacy rate of 84% is better than that of many south Asian countries. We want to provide a supportive environment where our schools, students and teachers can excel. Some of the key programs we have launched include:

·      Incentivized Scholarship:  The incentivized scholarship to offer higher funding for higher scores was   initiated to inspire students to work harder and perform at higher levels.

Students from families living below the poverty line (nyamthak) now receive special scholarships as long as they score a minimum of 40% in their board exams.

Gaden Phodrang student merit awards have been increased from three to nine and the top three performers in science, arts and commerce receive INR 20,000/15,000/10,000 respectively.

A new annual Sikyong scholarship of INR 100,000 will be awarded to any student
scoring 95% or higher in XIIth grade board exams.

This year’s XIIth grade board results are also encouraging. The number of students scoring 90% rose from 4 in the previous year to 13. Students scoring at least 70% rose from 242 to 345. Tenzin Chokyi, the first recepient of the Sikyong scholarship, scored a total of 95.4% in the All India Senior School Certificate Examination – the highest to date in the history of Tibetan education in exile.

·    New College Opportunities in the United States: CTA and a partner organization convened a meeting in Boston on October 14, 2012 which brought together His Holiness the Dalai Lama and more than 60 deans and admission officers from some of the top American schools including Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Caltech, Princeton and Yale. We are hopeful that the number of Tibetan students seeking and gaining admissions to high-ranking universities will increase in the coming years. CTA will continue to reach out to university officials in the U.S. and elsewhere across the globe.

·    Bhuntar, Centre for teacher education: We opened a centre for teacher education at Bhuntar, an off-campus branch of Central University of Tibetan Studies, Sarnath. The aim is to give teachers a strong foundation in content and pedagogy firmly grounded in moral ethics and human values.

·    Education Advisory Committee meeting:  The first-ever Education Advisory Council meeting was held on 5-6 June 2013. Experts in the field of education, including Indian Padma Shri recipients, attended the meeting as committee members.

·    National Geographic Explorers (Nat Geo) Program: A year-round science, environmental science and English learning programs were introduced for students of class VI to X in three Sambhota schools (Peton, Paonta and Chauntra) and two TCV schools ( Suja and Chauntra) in July 2013. This collaborative effort between the Department of Education and the Nat Geo Explorers (NGX) Program, based in the U.S., aims to improve English language proficiency of Tibetan students; and to improve the teaching and learning of environmental science.

As regards the CTSA schools transfer, we are close to finalizing the document detailing the modalities of the transfer. We are aware of the challenges related to the transition and will make every effort possible to ensure a transparent and successful transfer.

9. What are your thoughts on the state of gender equality in the exile Tibetan community and what measures has your Administration taken in this area?

The 14th Kashag is fully committed to gender equality and supports the welfare and overall advancement of Tibetan women. Though there is still much to do, I’m pleased to report that we have made some progress. This includes the fact that female Kalons run two of CTA’s largest departments – Department  of Home, and Department of Information and International Relations. Also, women representation in the 15th Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile has increased from 8 to 12 compared to the previous parliament. Women comprise 36.5% of the CTA workforce.

Yes, the number of women in senior CTA leadership positions is still much too small. This is due to the fact that promotion within the CTA service is exclusively based on seniority. However, now that more women are applying and being hired by CTA, we are confident this will lead to an increased number of women in key positions.

To gain a better understanding of the gender situation in the exile community, the Social and Resource Development desk  (SARD) of Department of Finance has recently published a report titled The Status of Women.

In the exile Tibetan community-at-large, I’m pleased to see Tibetan girls excelling academically. In the recent All India Secondary School Certificate Examination conducted by CBSE, the girls outperformed the boys in clearing the high school board exams (88.63% to 85.96%), attended colleges in larger numbers and also received a larger share of CTA scholarships. In 2011, 125 female students received undergraduate scholarships as compared to 53 male. Post graduate scholarships went to 52 women and 21 men. In 2012, the numbers were 125 female to 108 male for undergraduate scholarships and 52 female to 20 males for post graduates. This accomplishment is comparable to economically advanced countries because, even in the U.S., the female representation outpaced male representation at the college level only recently.

Let me also comment on the Tenzingang incident, a most unfortunate case of gender violence. This incident happened in June 2011, two months before the 14th Kashag took over. By then, an agreement had already been mediated amongst concerned parties by the local community. The aggrieved woman, till date, refused to file a legal complaint despite our and others repeated efforts. As per the court of law, if a victim refuses to file a case, one cannot do much. Through the CTA’s Department of Health the previous Kashag extended all necessary medical and other assistance to the aggrieved woman.

As per the resolution passed in the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, the Kashag in April 2012 sent out a circular notifying local representatives of all Tibetan settlements to exercise gender sensitivity in any decision-making process. The dedicated staff of Department of Home and Kalon Gyari Dolma continue to create awareness among the Tibetan settlement officers on gender sensitization.

10. Lastly, what is the current status of the Canada Tibetan re-settlement program and could you please provide an update on the U.S. Immigration Bill that has a provision for 5000 visas for Tibetans?

We are grateful to the Canadian government for accepting 1000 Tibetan refugees from Arunachal Pradesh
as permanent residents under a special program. This opportunity became possible after His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Canada in 2008. In the first lottery, 890 people were selected, including 409 applicants under “Single” category and 481 under the “Family” category. The first batch of 204 applicants is expected to leave for Canada in the fall of 2013. CTA provided the settlement resident data, allocated the number of seats based on the population of various camps, and monitored the entire process. The actual process of preparing a list of people, organizing the lottery, etc. was conducted by the camp representatives in conjunction with Project Tibet Society, the Canadian organization coordinating the resettlement program.

Provision for 5000 visas to the U.S. for displaced Tibetans over a three-year period was initiated as an amendment to a larger immigration reform bill currently under consideration in the U.S. Congress. Senator Diane Feinstein sponsored the amendment which passed the U.S. Senate with broad bipartisan support. However, the fate of the Tibetan provision is tied to the outcome of the larger immigration bill. The House of Representatives, controlled by the Republican Party, has criticized the comprehensive immigration bill and announced that they will come up with their own series of immigration-related bills. Hence, it remains uncertain whether or not the Congress will pass the immigration reform bill.

Would you like to share any final thoughts?

I, on behalf of the Kashag, want to express my deep gratitude for the continuing support of Tibetans both inside and outside Tibet. Active participation by individuals and civic groups is crucial for a vibrant democracy. We welcome diverse opinions and feedback on our various initiatives and policies while at the same time, encouraging civil and respectful discourse as we maintain our unity.

The enduring spirit of Tibetans in Tibet, the unity of all Tibetans, and the guiding presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama will help us achieve our long cherished goal that all Tibetans enjoy the freedom and dignity which we deserve and is our right.

I would like to thank all my colleagues in the Kashag and the CTA staff for their support and dedication. We continue to meet adversity with exceptional unity, resilience, and dignity. I pay tribute to all those who have sacrificed their lives for Tibet. I fervently pray for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

For those interested in keeping abreast of the latest developments of the Central Tibetan Administration and the Sikyong’s work, please visit www.tibet.net, LIKE the Sikyong Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/sikyong.lobsang.sangay), and follow the Sikyong on Twitter @drlobsangsangay.)

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