Mundgod In Focus: Part Four
In a series of special features, TPI journalist Colleen McKown reports from India's largest Tibetan settlement, Mundgod, in the southern state of Karnataka.
Mundgod, India: Tharlane Changra is the principal of the Central School for Tibetans (CST) in Mundgod. She has been working for the CST network for 35 years and spoke with The Tibet Post about her views on education and the preservation of Tibetan identity among young people.
CST schools differ from Central Tibetan Administration-run schools in that, while most of their students are Tibetan, they are administered by the Indian government.
Changra expressed her gratefulness to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for "having such a far-sighted vision" in working with the Indian government to ensure schools were established in exile where Tibetan culture, language and religion could be preserved. "Looking back, this was the most wonderful decision, converted into a mission, of His Holiness," she said.
She also praised the Indian government for accommodating Tibetan refugees, saying, "They have so many problems, but their heart is so large. I am for ever grateful to India for sharing whatever they have."
Changra emphasized the necessity for Tibetans to study hard so that they can work effectively for the Tibetan cause. She said that many ministers and deputies in the CTA, including the parliament’s speaker, are a product of CST schools.
Changra said that when she was in college studying economics, her Indian friends would ask her why she was working so hard. "College is a time for learning how to talk, how to walk, how to dress," they would say.
"No," she would tell them, "we Tibetans have a big responsibility."
Changra served at CST Mundgod from 2003-2005, and returned in August 2010. She said that when she came back she noticed that the students "didn't look as happy." From talking with students, teachers, and parents, she attributes this to the stress they feel at school, perhaps due to teachers being too strict with them.
"We have to know how to guide without making them feel good for nothing," she said. "If we make a big deal out of their mistakes, they feel desperate. We must be loving, caring, and understanding."
Speaking on His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s mandate to educate children to be good human beings, Changra emphasized the importance of teaching students to respect others, to empathise, and to communicate.
On the subject of whether the students should retain their Tibetan identity, she said, "There has been a tremendous change in the past 15 years in the way students dress and behave. However, inside they remain Tibetan. They're mentally and physically tough. No Tibetan ever forgets they're Tibetan."
"Some students can be carefree and careless,” Changra concluded, “but then you see their true self come out. The Tibetan identity will not die."
Many students at CST have ambitions to leave Mundgod after graduation to pursue professional degrees. "Many want to go to Bangalore," said Palchen Tsering from class twelve. "They hear it's a good place to enjoy."
The students interviewed by the Tibet Post expressed an interest in becoming doctors, dentists, and business people.
"Most of my friends are interested in science and medicine," said Tenzin Golkar from class eleven, who has enjoyed studying science at CST and wants to study dentistry in Bangalore.
Tenzin Lhandon from class twelve would like to be a doctor and said that most of her friends are interested in nursing.
The students had different opinions about how well Tibetan culture is preserved among young people. Palchen Tsering said, "These days, people are not that much concerned about Tibet. They are much more concerned with the English subjects in school."
Lobsang Chondon from class twelve said students are "paying more attention to the Western culture than to their culture." She added, "It's important to preserve Tibetan culture, because Tibetan people are not many in number."
Tenzin Lhanden said young people are not preserving the culture as much as their elders, but that "Tibetan culture is the most unique identity. The culture is now degrading due to the young people. It is important to preserve it." She is interested in studying political policy, perhaps in Chennai, and in working for the government.
Tenzin Thinley from class eleven thinks young people are doing a good job of keeping Tibetan culture alive, citing the recent Culture and Exhibition Meet held at CST Mundgod, which featured traditional dancing and singing as well as debates, declamations and poetry readings.
Tenzin Golkar said she believes Tibetan culture is being kept alive but that in the 21st century, with modern technology, it is important to to keep working on its preservation. "It's really important - it's the gift of our forefathers," she concluded.