Dalai Lama stirs controversy in
Kashmir By Saransh Sehgal
VIENNA - The Dalai Lama's recent visit to
Indian-administered Kashmir has aroused much
controversy. While the spiritual leader met with
Tibetan Muslim refugees settled in the valley, it
was his pleas for non-violent resistance in the
region that angered separatists.
on July 12 for a six-day visit that was his first
to Kashmir in 24 years, the Dalai Lama called for
negotiations between Delhi and insurgents leading
a more than two-decade-old anti-Indian rebellion.
"Kashmiri people should live peacefully
and if there is any problem, dialogue is the only
way [to resolve issues]. Violence is
in nobody's interest. A
peaceful way is essential," he said in Jammu and
Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar.
Kashmiri separatist leaders have said that
the spiritual leader allowed this visit to be
hijacked by the Indian government, as he
overlooked the grim reality of human-rights abuses
in the region.
"We respect the Dalai Lama
... However, peace cannot prevail till justice is
done," Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the
Hurriyat Conference political front, told a local
news agency. Faroog said that the spiritual
leader's failure to meet local civil society
members and mention Kashmiris killed by Indian
security forces was a disappointment to many.
"He did not interact with people, neither
did he meet civil society members, rights workers
or different shades of political leadership. He
did not talk about injustice, killings and
human-rights violations," said Faroog.
Another Kashmiri leader, Syed Ali Gilani,
said the Dalai Lama was being used as a tool by
the Indian government. "He should have cleared the
very basics about Kashmir and then talked to
different sections of society. He is appeasing New
Delhi. He should have cleared the very basics
about Kashmir and then talked to different
sections of society. He is appeasing New Delhi by
Armed resistance to
Indian rule began in the Kashmir valley in 1989,
with some groups calling for independence and
others urging union with Pakistan. Although recent
years have been relatively peaceful, for the past
three summers the valley has been rocked by
violent protests, and over 100 Kashmiris were
killed in anti-India protests in streets of the
Kashmir valley in summer 2010.
authorities were well prepared for the Dalai
Lama's visit, with heavy security and many of the
trappings of a state guest provided.
the last several years, I could not come because
the situation was not very peaceful, now it is
much better. So, the state government now felt
okay that I can come here. Any human community,
everybody want happy life, the basis of a happy
life is peace," the Dalai Lama said, praising the
state government led by Chief Minister Omar
The Dalai Lama visited a
Tibetan-Muslim refugee settlement on Srinagar's
outskirts. Many of the Tibetan Muslims are of
Kashmiri descent whose ancestors had left to Tibet
for trade and settled there, only to flee after
China took over in 1959. Other Tibetan Muslims
migrated to the Kashmiri region because of
cultural and religious affinities with the
Avoiding the separatist
issue, the Dalai Lama spent much of his trip
meeting high-ranking Indian officials, interacting
with students at the Tibetan Public School and
visiting Buddhist sites - historians believe that
1,000 years ago Kashmir was a Buddhist region.
The Dalai Lama also visited a Muslim
shrine and Hindu and Sikh temples in an itinerary
that seemed designed to signal that this trip was
However, some Kashmiris say
that as a champion of Tibet's right to
self-determination, the spiritual leader could
have done more to highlight their plight.
"The Dalai Lama came to Kashmir and chose
to remain silent; it was more like a tourist visit
to the valley as he didn't speak of any politics.
As he was kept away from the public eye in
Kashmir, the people fighting the cause of Kashmiri
freedom were not allowed to meet him just for the
reason that they might persuade him to speak out
the truth," said Basharat Ali, director of the
Kashmir Centre for Peace and Reconciliation.
"The Dalai Lama did not make even a
cursory mention of the abuses and oppression faced
by the common Kashmiri. This caused a lot of
heartbreak in the valley among those looking for a
show of solidarity," said Dawar Dedmari, a young
While visits by the
Dalai Lama to sensitive border regions along the
India-China border are usually condemned by
Beijing, there was no official response to this
trip from the Chinese government. China claims
Aksai Chin, in the northeast of Jammu and Kashmir.
Some analysts believe China saw the Dalai
Lama's Kashmir visit as his private affair, and
that he has no desire to unite exiled Tibetan
Muslims in support of the Tibetan struggle.
Tibetan Muslims have historically not joined the
Free Tibet movement.
"The Dalai Lama
hardly has any influence on Kashmir, and at the
moment Kashmir itself is divided. Even if the
Dalai Lama preached his 'Middle Way' approach, the
divided community wouldn't likely see it as a path
forward for their struggle, " Dr Srikanth
Kondapalli, a leading Indian strategic expert and
an associate professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru
University in New Delhi, told Asia Times Online.
Zainab Akhter, a researcher on Tibetan
Muslims in Kashmir with the Institute of Peace and
Conflict Studies in New Delhi, said the Dalai Lama
has no desire to interfere in another country's
politics. "The Dalai Lama wanted to meet the
Tibetan Muslims in Kashmir as the community has
great hope and faith in him. Kashmiri separatists
should not see his visit as political and they
should not expect him to issue statements on the
Kashmir issue. His visit can be seen as a message
of peace to the whole world as he went to shrines,
temples and Sikh sites."
Dalai Lama, a long-staying guest in India who once
called himself a "son of India", did not want to
irritate his host, which uses exiled Tibetans as a
leverage against China. This is perhaps the
fundamental reason for his caution on commenting
on the Kashmir issue.
Sehgal is a contributor based in Dharamsala,
India, who currently is pursuing further study in
Vienna, Austria. He can be reached at[email protected]
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