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Tibet-Settlement-Refugees-Bylakuppe-India-2017Bylakuppe In Focus: Part One

In a series of special features, TPI journalist Tashi Choekyi reports from India's largest Tibetan settlement, Bylakuppe, in the southern state of Karnataka, India.

Bylakuppe, South India — The Tibetan settlement Lugsum Samdupling in Bylakuppe, Karnataka State, South India, was established in 1961. This is the first ever Tibetan exile settlement in India. After the Chinese invasion, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and some members of the government of Tibet subsequently fled to India, followed within a year by about 80,000 Tibetans.

His Holiness requested land from Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He envisioned places where Tibetans could live together and keep their culture alive. His Holiness then sent requests to each state of India, and the Chief Minister of Karnataka state accepted and granted a large parcel of land to Tibetan refugees.

Delek Jongney who is the head of the settlement said, ''the land was not a plain where life could be settled easily, it's all covered with reserved forest. Tibetan people (their ancestors) cleared all the trees, built their houses and constructed all the roads and settled. While there are many Tibetan settlements throughout India, Karnataka has by far the largest number of Tibetans and Bylakuppe itself is the largest Tibetan settlement in terms of both population and land. The total population of Lugsum Samdupling was 11,000, and 8,000 of it is monks and nuns. The remaining 3,000 are farmers and small business holders.

''The income of the families varies, most of the families works really hard that they are very rich and they could afford cars and living a luxuries life, but on the other hand, few families although they works on their level best but were still fighting for their survival, nevertheless no one in the settlement left without three meals in a day'' said Delek Jongney the head of the settlement.

Delek said, ''there are seven camps in Lugsum Samdupling and each camp has 100 families. Most of them are farmers. The Settlement has 3,500 acres for farming. Tibetan people initially depended on farming, and whatever they earned from the grain production was their family income. But the fact is that the income they got from merely farming was never sufficient for their survival. Since the climate and soil are favourable to grow anything, they then started to plant coffee and especially grew black peppers, which added major profit to their business. Also they grow timber which continue to be the source of maximum profit of farmers''.

When asked about identity and responsibility in the settlement as a Tibetan, he mentioned that the identity and responsibilities of Tibet will be their first priority, and will remain in the heart of Tibetan youngsters and elders as well. He also mentioned that they celebrate each and every occasion as a part of culture and organise Buddhism teachings by inviting monks from Sera Jhey monastery and sometimes invite scholars to discuss about Tibetan identity and culture to the young Tibetans.

In both the schools, Tibetan Children's Village, a non-government organisation, and the Central school for Tibetans, run by Indian government, there are full opportunities to learn Tibetan identity and Tibetan culture, and few fail to grab such opportunities. Likewise for such kids whose minds are diverged, they have full opportunities and the platforms are provided to study, learn and grow in camps as well said Delek.

When asked about the challenges Bylakuppe faces, he said, ''problem or hardship is necessary part in order to improve something to a greater level, for example gold has to pass several furnace in order to prove it glitters, likewise we do face many challenges but we handle it with patient and ideas!''

However Delek said the conditions of the settlement and livelihood of people had greatly improved as compared to the period where people had problems adjusting to the climate and scarcity of food were major issues.

Further, Delek said that people aren't interested in staying in the settlement and working on farms. "The young people, they want to study and work in white collar jobs. Taking these jobs typically means moving to urban centers like Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. Tibetan young adults are interested in working in places where profit is abundant, because only then they could help their own families as well as their settlement. In Lugsum Samdupling settlement most of the families have their family members abroad to earn for their survival."