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pasang-mumbai-sft-2012Mumbai: - Journalist Trinolda Colaco meets board member of Students for a Free Tibet Mumbai, Passang Tashi, to discuss refugee life and the struggle for a Free Tibet.

Passang Tashi lives and works in an apartment in Versova, northern Mumbai."When I first came to Mumbai two years ago," he tells me, "I was intimidated by the city. I felt lost.

"Usually, when a Tibetan travels to certain parts of India, there is Tibetan settlement somewhere and fellow Tibetans help you to settle in. But with Mumbai having very few Tibetans, scattered in different parts of the city, I had to find my own way. Honestly, it was exciting."

A neatly framed poster of The Lost Country - a film by Kargyur Rinpoche and his wife Mandakini - adorns his living-room wall. A small picture of the Tibetan flag also catches my eye. I remember seeing it in Imitiaz Ali's recent movie Rockstar.

"We are not offended by the fact that the scene with the Tibetan flags was later banned from the movie," says Tashi. "In fact, we feel happy to know that Indians are aware about Tibet's current situation and are trying to portray it in the media.

"We also met the censor board's CEO, Pankaja Thakur, and she expressed her concern about the Tibet issue."

Tashi's work for Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) involves participating in protests, seminars and workshops in Mumbai and in Dharamshala, northern India.

So what is it like to be a Tibetan in Mumbai? "I really like it here," Tashi tells me. "I have learnt a lot. I believe that if one faces a problem, one just grows with experience. Most Tibetans have a similar positive attitude and believe that soon Tibet will be a free country."

More and more Tibetan youth are leading the struggle for Tibet's freedom, and finding new ways to demonstrate.

Tibetans in Mumbai protested outside the Chinese consulate in March this year, to mark the 53rd anniversary of the Tibetan uprising that forced the His Holiness the Dalai Lama to flee to India. SFT Mumbai also organised an action to mark the global Stand Up for Tibet protest on 2 November 2011, at which demonstrators tried to hand over a list of demands to Chinese Consul General Niu Qingbao. It was not accepted.

Tashi himself studied digital film-making and animation at FX School and intends to use film as a medium educate society about Tibet. He is currently working on an idea for a film and also plans to organize a Tibetan arts festival in Mumbai, highlighting Tibet's distinct culture and arts.

In the face of harsh media and communications censorship in Tibet, SFT struggles to try to connect Tibetans in Tibet and Tibetans in exile, via the internet and cell phones.

"They [Tibetans in Tibet] are an inspiration for all of us who live in exile," Tashi says. "They give us the hope and courage to believe that one day His Holiness the Dalai Lama will return to Tibet and that we will live in a free Tibet."

Finally, when asked if he really would go back to Tibet if it gains its freedom, Tashi explains, "Tibet and its freedom has always been the first priority for all the Tibetans in exile. The movement to free Tibet is so crucial for us. But at the same time, I love India. It has given me so much. Yes, I would love to go back to Tibet, but I will come to Mumbai as well!"

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