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Photo Feature: Tibetans distribute 86,000 masks and food on the Dalai Lama’s 86th birthday

Volunteers of the Tibetan Cancer Society distribute 86,000 masks among the marginalised people in North Delhi's Majnu ka Tila on the Dalai Lama's 86th birthday (All photos: Rahul Kumar)

Despite Covid-19 acting as a dampener, the Tibetan diaspora in Delhi began distributing 86,000 face masks to the poor people in the Indian capital. Tibetan volunteers also distributed food to commemorate their spiritual leader's 86th birthday.

Parts of north Delhi are a hotspot of the Tibetan community in exile in India. It is the second and the third generation Tibetans, all born in India, who have taken over the responsibility, and also the task, of keeping the Tibetan flame of independence alive.

Dalai Lama

A young woman distributes halwa prasad to the passersby

The Dalai Lama's birthdays mark a sacred day that is celebrated widely and is cherished. For them it is as important as the Tibetan Uprising Day on March 10, 1959 when they had revolted against the Chinese rule. If they organise protests against the Chinese rule on the Tibetan Uprising Day, their activities are opposite on the Dalai Lama's birthday when they pray for world peace, play music, chant for the longevity of the holy leader and light 108 butter lamps.

For decades, the Tibetan youth kept fleeing Tibet, walking across the plateau, dodging Chinese soldiers and crossing over into Nepal for their final destination – India. "Now it has become dangerous", says Tenzing Champa, adding that "there are a lot of checkpoints with Chinese snipers. They spot you and shoot to kill. Your body and anything else that you may have on your person, disappears". Champa had fled Tibet for Nepal and then came over to India 18 years back. Earlier he organised protests in Kathmandu and now he does it in Delhi.

Dalai Lama

Tibetans distribute food to the poor people near the Yamuna river bank

To commemorate their spiritual leader's birthday, the community cooked food, packed it up neatly along with water bottles and distributed it to the poor people near the Yamuna river bank.

Volunteers from the Tibetan Cancer Society (TCS), a fledgling organisation, assisted by distributing masks to people. On the Dalai Lama's birthday celebrations, they have taken a pledge to distribute 86,000 surgical masks around their settlements near the river.

Dalai Lama

A monk outside the Tibetan temple on the Dalai Lama's birthday

A group of young TCS nurses, led by head nurse Chime Dolkar began distributing the masks. "Cancer is there among our population but not all are aware of it till they reach the final stages. Besides working as trained nurses, we create cancer awareness. During the second wave of Covid-19, we even took care of Covid-19 patients", says Dolkar, as the other staff members chipped in with information.

The young generations of Tibetans have become well integrated in India. Besides Tibetan, they are also fluent in Hindi and English. They flaunt speaking in Indian languages. During interactions, they relish that occasional compliment on their fluent Hindi. It is commonplace to come across Tibetan women humming Hindi numbers alongside Tibetan songs.

Dalai Lama

Tenzing Champa, who fled Tibet 18 years back, says now it is almost impossible to cross over into India due to Chinese snipers

Ngodup Chophel, the vice president of the Resident Welfare Association, Delhi, says that all Tibetans want to see their country get independence. "I do not mind that Penpa Tsering, our new Sikyong (the Tibetan nomenclature for the President) of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, speaks with the Chinese government for the "middle path". Though many Tibetans do not agree with this, I am fine even if Tibet gets the middle path to freedom."