Another article which establishes our stand on Tibet and our outright rejection of the convoluted Tibet-policy of this current Indian government.
Can exile ever be an apolitical condition, asks Tridip Suhrud
Edward Said begins his reflections on exile by stating, “Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.” Being in exile is not a romantic notion, its purpose is not to humanise the world, despite the most evocative literature that exiles from the times of Ovid have created.
Exile is not a condition of one’s choosing. Either one is forced into exile or one is born in exile. Exile in its classical sense of banishment has come to be replaced by modern political categories — the refugee, the displaced, the immigrant. The sheer scale of anonymous refugees and displaced persons that the 20th century created through its wars, its totalitarian states and developmental projects somehow does not allow us to reflect on the irreparable and interminable loss of exile.
It is a condition that is marked by deep longing, and a sense of estrangement. Longing for the home that is no longer available and being estranged from the place that gives one refuge. Without this longing, without the need to return, without the promise that one would eventually return, the exiled would become an émigré, not that the immigrant does not long for home or does not feel strange in the adopted land. As Dante said, only the one in exile knows “how salty another’s bread tastes and how hard it is to ascend and descend another’s stairs.”
The Dalai Lama speaks of himself and his people as a people in exile. He also says that Tibet today is a community built on suffering and exile. As the Dalai Lama, he has twin responsibilities. He is to his people a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. So long as the people of Tibet have faith in the institution of the Dalai Lama, he is duty bound to lead them spiritually and as a spokesperson of their struggle for justice. His being in exile places on him the second responsibility. He must keep the possibility of eventual return alive. Not as longing but as promise.
When Pranab Mukherjee, as external affairs minister, characterises the Dalai Lama as a ‘respected guest’ and then advises him to refrain from political involvement, he displays astonishing ignorance about both the institution of the Dalai Lama and responsibilities of one who is in exile. A person in exile cannot but be political. It is politics itself that has created the condition of exile.
The people of Tibet have a right to their politics, however uncomfortable that might be to the Indian state. And as India finally affirmed, political protest is a way of life in a democratic society, and this right is available in equal measure even to those in exile. It is available to the people of Tibetan origin against the apathy of the Indian state as much as against Chinese repression.
Let us remind ourselves of another of our famous émigrés who more than a hundred years ago, in distant Johannesburg, took a pledge in the name of god to fight injustice unto death. That act, which we celebrate officially, was also an affirmation of the right of the émigré and of the exiled to assert political and cultural rights. It is natural that such great acts make, to borrow from Salman Rushdie, ‘a great noise in the mind, the heart.’
A people in exile will try and recreate home in a new land as a people in search of their roots, past, land and heritage often do. A certain kind of inwardness is written in this process. This inwardness is the only source, however feeble, to contain estrangement. Simon Weil spoke of the need for rootedness as one of the least recognised of human needs. The little Tibet of Dharamshala is one such attempt, without which the promised return would become even fainter.
That the Dalai Lama sought refuge in India, and continues to remain in exile in India and that India promised him refuge is not only an accident of geography. Spiritually, the Dalai Lama cannot be in exile anyplace else but India. For him, India is the land of two masters, one Gautam and the other Gandhi. He has often spoken evocatively of his debts to the two. He is in this sense exiled at a place that could have been his only home outside of Tibet. He is exiled at home.
The writer is a social scientist based in Ahmedabad