Dalai Lama stirs controversy in Kashmir
By Saransh Sehgal ,VIENNA (A Times): The Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Indian-administered Kashmir has aroused much controversy. While the spiritual leader met with Tibetan Muslim refugees settled in the valley, it was his pleas for non-violent resistance in the region that angered separatists.
Arriving on July 12 for a six-day visit that was his first to Kashmir in 24 years, the Dalai Lama called for negotiations between Delhi and insurgents leading a more than two-decade-old anti-Indian rebellion.
“Kashmiri people should live peacefully and if there is any problem, dialogue is the only way [to resolve issues]. Violence is n nobody’s interest. A peaceful way is essential,” he said in Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar.
Kashmiri separatist leaders have said that the spiritual leader allowed this visit to be hijacked by the Indian government, as he overlooked the grim reality of human-rights abuses in the region.
“We respect the Dalai Lama … However, peace cannot prevail till justice is done,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the Hurriyat Conference political front, told a local news agency. Faroog said that the spiritual leader’s failure to meet local civil society members and mention Kashmiris killed by Indian security forces was a disappointment to many.
“He did not interact with people, neither did he meet civil society members, rights workers or different shades of political leadership. He did not talk about injustice, killings and human-rights violations,” said Faroog.
Another Kashmiri leader, Syed Ali Gilani, said the Dalai Lama was being used as a tool by the Indian government. “He should have cleared the very basics about Kashmir and then talked to different sections of society. He is appeasing New Delhi. He should have cleared the very basics about Kashmir and then talked to different sections of society. He is appeasing New Delhi by his utterances.”
Armed resistance to Indian rule began in the Kashmir valley in 1989, with some groups calling for independence and others urging union with Pakistan. Although recent years have been relatively peaceful, for the past three summers the valley has been rocked by violent protests, and over 100 Kashmiris were killed in anti-India protests in streets of the Kashmir valley in summer 2010.
Indian authorities were well prepared for the Dalai Lama’s visit, with heavy security and many of the trappings of a state guest provided.
“For the last several years, I could not come because the situation was not very peaceful, now it is much better. So, the state government now felt okay that I can come here. Any human community, everybody want happy life, the basis of a happy life is peace,” the Dalai Lama said, praising the state government led by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
The Dalai Lama visited a Tibetan-Muslim refugee settlement on Srinagar’s outskirts. Many of the Tibetan Muslims are of Kashmiri descent whose ancestors had left to Tibet for trade and settled there, only to flee after China took over in 1959. Other Tibetan Muslims migrated to the Kashmiri region because of cultural and religious affinities with the Kashmiri people.
Avoiding the separatist issue, the Dalai Lama spent much of his trip meeting high-ranking Indian officials, interacting with students at the Tibetan Public School and visiting Buddhist sites – historians believe that 1,000 years ago Kashmir was a Buddhist region.
The Dalai Lama also visited a Muslim shrine and Hindu and Sikh temples in an itinerary that seemed designed to signal that this trip was apolitical.
However, some Kashmiris say that as a champion of Tibet’s right to self-determination, the spiritual leader could have done more to highlight their plight.
“The Dalai Lama came to Kashmir and chose to remain silent; it was more like a tourist visit to the valley as he didn’t speak of any politics. As he was kept away from the public eye in Kashmir, the people fighting the cause of Kashmiri freedom were not allowed to meet him just for the reason that they might persuade him to speak out the truth,” said Basharat Ali, director of the Kashmir Centre for Peace and Reconciliation.
“The Dalai Lama did not make even a cursory mention of the abuses and oppression faced by the common Kashmiri. This caused a lot of heartbreak in the valley among those looking for a show of solidarity,” said Dawar Dedmari, a young Kashmiri engineer.
While visits by the Dalai Lama to sensitive border regions along the India-China border are usually condemned by Beijing, there was no official response to this trip from the Chinese government. China claims Aksai Chin, in the northeast of Jammu and Kashmir.
Some analysts believe China saw the Dalai Lama’s Kashmir visit as his private affair, and that he has no desire to unite exiled Tibetan Muslims in support of the Tibetan struggle. Tibetan Muslims have historically not joined the Free Tibet movement.
“The Dalai Lama hardly has any influence on Kashmir, and at the moment Kashmir itself is divided. Even if the Dalai Lama preached his ‘Middle Way’ approach, the divided community wouldn’t likely see it as a path forward for their struggle, ” Dr Srikanth Kondapalli, a leading Indian strategic expert and an associate professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Asia Times Online.
Zainab Akhter, a researcher on Tibetan Muslims in Kashmir with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi, said the Dalai Lama has no desire to interfere in another country’s politics.
“The Dalai Lama wanted to meet the Tibetan Muslims in Kashmir as the community has great hope and faith in him. Kashmiri separatists should not see his visit as political and they should not expect him to issue statements on the Kashmir issue. His visit can be seen as a message of peace to the whole world as he went to shrines, temples and Sikh sites.”
Apparently, the Dalai Lama, a long-staying guest in India who once called himself a “son of India”, did not want to irritate his host, which uses exiled Tibetans as a leverage against China. This is perhaps the fundamental reason for his caution on commenting on the Kashmir issue.
Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in Dharamsala, India, who currently is pursuing further study in Vienna, Austria. He can be reached at email@example.com.