Delhi, India — An exclusive interview with the President of the Regional Tibetan Women's Association (RTWA) in Delhi. She talks to TPI about the overall work of the RTWA, the difficulties of Tibetan women in exile and their life in the pandemic. She also talks about Tibet and her aspirations.
Phurbu Dolma is the 13th president of RTWA, Delhi. In an exclusive interview with TPI, she talks about the work of TWA as a whole and RTWA Delhi in particular, as well as their advocacy and movements for Tibet and the Tibetan cause, the plight of Tibetan women in exile, etc.
TPI: Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your organisation?
Interviewee: My name is Phurbu Dolma and I am the President of RTWA (Regional Tibetan Women's Association of Delhi). Our organisation is the 58th chapter of the Tibetan Women's Association, headquartered in Mcleodganj, Dharamshala. Our work is to fight for Tibetan freedom, to help women in need and to do social work, including cleaning Samyeling Tibetan Settlement he Settlement and its surroundings.
TPI: What is the range of work and activities that your organisation undertakes?
Interviewee: Our women's association is one of the largest associations among Tibetan non-governmental organisations. We work on our cultural programmes, educating our children in the Tibetan tradition by teaching them the language and dressing them in our Tibetan clothes. Then our duty as mothers gives us the responsibility to teach our children about our country, our people and the different cultures as much as we can.
The women's association, wherever we live, we try to work on cleanliness and health awareness, including tetanus vaccination campaigns. Every Friday we clean the whole neighbourhood. We support the programmes of the political leaders in Delhi.
Whether it is demonstrations or actions for Tibetan freedom, we go there and work with other activists shoulder to shoulder on these issues too. For Tibetan freedom, we are organising activities, but in the last two years they have stagnated because of the pandemic. Previously, the women's organisation used to organise peace marches on important dates and occasions. For example, a peace march from Delhi to Dehradun and then to Dharamshala. Then there was the idea of organising a cycle race to Arunachal from Delhi, but this could not be done because of the pandemic.
When self-immolations took place in Tibet to protest against the repressive policies of the Chinese government, we organised a candlelight march for the victims to rest in peace, and for their families to show that we are with them in all situations, good or bad.
Every year, on Tibetan Women's Uprising Day, we organise a peaceful march from the Samyeling Tibetan Settlement, in Majnu ka tilla to the Jantar Mantar in Delhi. We also celebrate Indian festivals like Rakshabandhan and participate in other activities.
TPI: What are the challenges faced by Tibetan women in exile and what is RTWA doing to support these women?
Interviewee: As Tibetan women, we face many difficulties. As refugees, it is difficult for our children to find a good job despite their education, because there is the problem of the huge population in India. Every winter, Tibetan women get up at 5am to get ready to sell sweaters to make a living. We play the role of businesswomen while doing the household chores. In the 21st century, everyone faces difficulties, but for Tibetan women, living in a different country, doing so much work and adapting to a new environment becomes very difficult.
Let me tell you my story. I have been selling sweaters for twelve years. I get up at 5 am or sometimes even at 4 am and I sleep around 1 am at night. It is not for one or two years, but every six months of the year. It becomes very difficult for us in this way. And on top of that, we have to take care of our children, even if our children study and graduate, it is difficult for them to find a job because of the high competition for one job. Only 5-10% of our children manage to find a job. We do not blame the Indian government for this, they have done a lot for us. Even many Indians are not able to get a job despite their educational qualifications. So it is becoming very difficult for us Tibetans to find a permanent job in India. Some Tibetan women get jobs as nurses or teachers, but it is still difficult for them to find permanent jobs.
When women in our community have difficulties in their business or suffer losses and need money, our organisation collects donations and gives them. For poor families, or if a child has no parents, or if they come from Tibet and have problems living here, our organisation takes care of them and also works to collect fees for them. Whatever we have to do, we divide it and work together.
TPI: How has the pandemic affected the lives of Tibetan women in Delhi?
Interviewee: There were some difficulties during the first wave of Covid-19. When the second wave came suddenly, people were affected all over India. Here, people helped each other in difficult times, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama told us to help each other whenever needed. Tibetan doctors handled the situation well and hotels and restaurants were converted into health centres where doctors came to check on the sick and people helped to get oxygen tanks. The tasks of the RTWA increased at that time, we used to bring food from the guest houses and serve it in the covid-19 centre. During this period, two members of our association became very ill and had to be taken care off. At the height of the second wave, our women's association worked hard. With the blessings of His Holiness, none of the members of our association were affected by covid-19, all tested negative.
TPI: How was the birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama celebrated in the Samyeling settlement and what was the role of the RTWA in it?
Interviewee: RTWA supports all the activities that take place in the colony. We organised the cultural programme for the 87th birthday celebration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We also decorated and served tea and cakes, and looked after the guests during the celebration. We do all kinds of work, there are always two or three traditional dance performances before everyone gathers to dance on Wednesday of each week, as we have been celebrating Lhakar (White Wednesday). His Holiness' birthday is celebrated all over the world. Delhi being the capital of India, it is even more important for us to celebrate it with grandeur and we leave no stone unturned to make it a great success every year.
TPI: Did your parents share any stories with you about their life in Tibet and their escape to India?
Interviewee: When we hear the stories about Tibet, it breaks our hearts. My father was a small child when he came to India from Tibet. "Life was good when we lived in Tibet, my daughter," he would tell me. He told me that they did not lack resources, but when China started to occupy and intervene in the lives of Tibetans in Tibet, life became very difficult for them. So much happened in 1958 and 1959 that many of them had to flee to India.
My father used to tell me that they used to walk at night for eight or nine days in the jungle and sleep during the day. When they reached the border area, many of them were shot by the Chinese army. My father had escaped to the Darchula side of India. He used to tell me that a road was being built and that the some people were making roti. My father did not know their language but he used to ask them for roti. They did not give him roti as it was made for the workers. But he was starving and to survive he had to take half a roti from them.
TPI: What are your thoughts and aspirations about the Tibetan cause?
Interviewee: We all want freedom for Tibet, but our nation is occupied by China, the issue is big because Tibet is under the rule of a very powerful nation, China. If the nations of the world support the Tibetan cause, I think Tibet can become independent soon. If not, then the Middle Way Approach can also work for the benefit of Tibet and China, as well as India.
China has built dams on rivers originating in Tibet, which have caused extensive damage in India and neighbouring countries. The Chinese government's projects have caused serious ecological damage. Tibet is the roof of the world. What will happen if its environment is damaged? The new generation should try to raise their voices for Tibetan freedom, as it is everyone's duty to do so. I strongly believe that in the coming years, Tibet will be independent or the Middle Way Approach will be implemented. I also hope that His Holiness will have the opportunity to visit our homeland, Tibet. I hope that the present generation and the generation to come will not face the difficulties that our generation and the previous one faced.
Finally, I hope Tibet will gain freedom soon and the relationship between Tibet and India will continue to strengthen in the future. I wish His Holiness a long life and peace throughout the world.