Reflections on the Recent Murder in Dharamsala

By Tenzin Kaysang

Three nights ago, a 29-year old Tibetan man named Tsultrim Chokden was beaten and stabbed to death in McLeod Ganj by three Indian men who have since been apprehended by the police and presented in special court in Kacheri, Dharamshala.

Tsultrim and his female friend were returning home from dinner at Lhasa restaurant when the men allegedly started teasing the woman, after which a verbal argument ensued. The three men, also residents of Dharamshala, reportedly came after Tsultrim and his friend on their bikes, beating and stabbing Tsultrim. His friend was apparently pushed aside amid the tussle. Tsultrim was taken to the zonal hospital in lower Dharamshala after his friend called the police, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival.

Tension has erupted from time to time between local Indians and Tibetans in Dharamshala and there have consequently been quite a few instances of violence through the decades. As such, it is easy for both sides to accuse each other and defend one’s own side when underlying bitterness and hostility takes an ugly turn; but, too often we forget to ask critical questions of ourselves and look for practical solutions to the underlying problems at the root of these conflicts.

Tibetans came and settled in and around this town that used to be little more than huge swathes of pine trees and a handful of houses scattered around the mountains. The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan settlement transformed it into the thriving center of culture, tourism and economy that it is today. Hotels, restaurants, and shops pop up endlessly, one after the other, with such frequency that most people can’t keep track of new developments anymore. It is not merely Tibetans who are reaping the benefits of this; locals and investors from other parts of the country too are seeing their businesses boom.

Yet, many locals see the average Tibetan doing better than the average Indian in town, which obviously does not sit well with many. We, Tibetans, as a people with no land to call our own, are often racist and close-minded when dealing with Indians and that shows clearly in the attitudes that we have towards them. We have lived here for so long that this has become our home and, thus, we tend to assume that we have an uncontested claim upon it. Yet, ironically, we also have the unfailing knack of letting people push us around. I have personally seen, on countless occasions, Tibetans bribing even the most low-level officials to get the smallest things done, letting locals look down upon us when we are fully aware that their words are taunting us.

Of course Indians do not like the fact that a large number of Tibetans, despite having spent so many years in India, cannot speak Hindi properly. There are many more, however, who have come from Tibet in recent years and for whom the dramatic change in language, culture, and environment are simply too much to deal with. Then there are also the many unemployed youth around town who act out their frustrations by abusing alcohol and getting into brawls with fellow Tibetans.

In light of this brutal murder in Dharamsala and the strain it has caused on our communities, it is imperative for Tibetans to reflect deeply on how we interact with the communities in which we have settled. These questions about where we went wrong and dialogue on how to rectify our faults and mend bridges are long overdue.

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