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7th-december-2011-bylakupeeBylakuppe, South India: - 61-year-old Tsering Lhamo lives in the third camp of the Tibetan settlement in Bylakuppe, south India - the largest settlement of its kind. In 1959, aged ten, she came to India with her parents and attended school in Bylakuppe until fourth grade.

Lhamo's mother died when she was 40 but her father, now 99, lives with her in Bylakuppe. Her husband died some years ago, and one of her two sons also died, three years ago, while travelling about selling sweaters to support the family. Lhamo's other son has a wife and two children, with whom she also shares a house.

Prior to 1999, about 100 Tibetan families lived in Bylakuppe in extremely cramped conditions. The Tibetan government-in-exile, with the aid of the Indian government, provided the refugees with enough housing to accommodate five people per room and also farming land, thus creating the camps that exist today. One camp can accommodate as many as 500 people.

In the past, Lhamo and her family farmed their own land, and so never owned a family restaurant or shop. They have five acres, but have stopped working it themselves. Lhamo's son and daughter-in-law did not take well to farming. Last year, her daughter-in-law went to sell sweaters but did not continue this year.

Lhamo herself is unable to continue the level of manual labor required on the farm and has had to rent it out to local Indian farmers - last year for Rs 3,500 per acre, and this year for Rs 4,500 per acre. She is not sure what she will receive next year and does not know what she will do.

Lhamo has never been able to return to Tibet, and has never travelled in India since settling in Bylakuppe - not even to Dharamshala, the exile home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She still has hopes of seeing her homeland again, and is also very hopeful that His Holiness will one day be able to return to Tibet. She is convinced though that, although the Chinese government claims to have offered to allow the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet freely, this cannot be true.

Interview by Sangay Dorjee.

Translation by Pema Tso and Kyle Hanson.

Mundgod Tibetan Settlement In Focus: click here.

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