June 2004 News

A Tibetan Enclave In Srinagar

21 June 2004
The Indian Express
Humra Quraishi

New Delhi: Right-wing fundamentalists who insist on painting the Kashmir crisis in shades of black and white, who persist in depicting its troubles in purely religious terms, should take a walk in Srinagar. They should head towards the ziarat of Makhdoom Sahib. Around the foothills of this Sufi ziarat lies a well-planned basti of Tibetan refugees. I was told by a law student of Kashmir University that he'd always been intrigued by these refugees living in exile in the city since 1961. One autumn afternoon he directed me to the Tibetan settlement. I was told that earlier these thousand or so refugees had been living in Srinagar's downtown area but gradually were shifted out to this area - with the government giving them grants and loans for the construction of 145 houses. That afternoon I took an autorickshaw from Kathi Darwaza and reached an interesting little bazaar and asked for directions. The Kashmiri sellers pointed towards a few Tibetan boys standing around. I approached one of them, who was settling his bike, and the moment I asked him whether he could direct me to a Tibetan family, he almost growled. Undeterred, I continued walking in the rain and slush, down a row of houses, and stopped near a group of young Tibetan men. Almost immediately they stopped chatting. Spewing aggression, they said, 'We are not interested in talking to anyone. We are not concerned about any crisis here. Muslims we are, but we have own schools, masjid, shops.' No door opened to me in this Tibetan colony. When I would ask the locals what they thought of these refugees living in an obviously aloof fashion, they'd tell me in a matter of fact manner: 'They are different. They live here but for them the Dalai Lama is their only leader. They are different culturally.' Yet, I was reluctant to give up trying to make contact with the Tibetans. I went to the basti again and again. Each time I met with the same sort of rebuff and unwelcoming looks. Even when I suggested that I treat them to momos and special tea at one of 'their' restaurants, they responded with a firm no. Probably they were wary of strangers or of the security bandobast around. On each of my visits, I had spotted armed security men standing atop that hill, their guns pointing directly down. A forbidding sight.


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