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Chinese shadow over Dalai Lama’s birthday celebrations among Tibetans in Nepal

Tibetans receive the Covid-19 vaccine in Nepal in 2021 (Photo: @LamaLopen/Twitter)

Kathmandu: Karma Gyaltsen, secretary of the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office (TRWO) is still not sure whether the Nepali government would allow them to celebrate the 88th birthday of the Dalai Lama on July 6.

Nepal has a history of obstructing the Tibetans from celebrating the birthday of their spiritual leader who lives in exile in Dharamshala, India.

The TRWO organises the birthday celebration of the Dalai Lama every year. “Preparations are underway to celebrate the birthday of the Dalai Lama,” Gyaltsen told India Narrative. “We are, however, not sure whether we would be allowed to celebrate the birthday on July 6.”

Doubts among the Tibetan refugees increased after Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha arrived home on July 2 after concluding his visit to China.  Northern neighbour China considers the Dalai Lama as a dangerous secessionist.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader was born on 6 July 1935 to a farming family in a hamlet located in Taktser, Amdo, north-eastern Tibet. Since fleeing Tibet in 1959, he has been staying in Dharamshala, India, with a dedicated group of followers.

The local police say they have not received clear instructions from the District Administration Office, Kathmandu, about allowing birthday celebrations.

The authorities had allowed the exiled Tibetan communities to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday last year for a limited time, after which they organised the birthday celebrations at  Jawalakhel area of Lalitpur in the Kathmandu Valley.

Gyaltsen says: “But we were not allowed to celebrate the birthday throughout the day. After three hours, we were told to stop the celebrations”.

Earlier, there have been years when the Nepali authorities completely prohibited the Tibetans from celebrating the birthday of their spiritual leader.

In 2019, Nepal refused permission. In 2020 and 2021 the celebrations could not take place due to COVID-19 related restrictions.

Gyaltsen complained that even though they have been notifying the authorities about the event, stating that the birthday celebration was nothing more than a religious event, authorities have a tendency to intervene in the event calling it a political event and labelling it an anti-China activity.

“As always, the planned celebration on July 6 will be a fully religious event without any political objectives,” Gyaltsen said. “We have notified about the planned event to Nepal’s local administration including the police.”

Cutting cake, worshipping the Dalai Lama, songs and dances by Tibetan children studying in schools for Tibetan refugees are the highlights of the planned celebration, says the TRWO secretary. “We will eat sweetened rice and drink Tibetan tea as per our tradition,” he added.

They plan to celebrate the birthday at Swayambhu area of Kathmandu this year.

According to Gyaltsen, they have invited representatives from foreign embassies including India, the US and the European Union among others. But there would not be any representation from Dharamshala as “the Nepal government does not allow it,” he said.

Since fleeing Tibet 1959, a sizable population has been living in Nepal.

According to the latest update of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in March, Nepal has an estimated 12,540 Tibetan refugees.

As no comprehensive registration of Tibetan refugees has been undertaken since 1993, and as a large number of them were born and raised in Nepal, many Tibetans are now undocumented, according to the UNHCR. An estimated 75 per cent of descendants of the long-staying Tibetans in Nepal have remained undocumented, according to the UN body.

Western countries, particularly the US, have been raising the issue of registration of the Tibetan refugees. “Undocumented Tibetan refugees are facing difficulty in getting a driving licence, Permanent Account Number for paying tax and admission into colleges due to lack of refugee identity cards,” Gyaltsen said.

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