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When he fled to India in 1959 during the tumult in Lhasa,Tharpo Njawang thought it would be just a brief stay here until things settled back home. Fifty years have passed by,and 82-year-old Tharpo is still in India,dreaming of breathing his last in Tibet.
For many like him who,along with the 14th Dalai Lama,fled to seek asylum in India five decades ago,March 10,the day the uprising against China started,reminds of streets littered with bodies and the risky journey through snow-covered high passes to reach India.
Its just not sinking in the 50 years that have passed by, says Tharpo with a sigh,sitting at his residence in Camp 1 of Bylakuppe in Karnataka,the oldest Tibetan settlement in India. The uprising led to the death of thousands and lakhs went into exile,he says.
Tharpo,who was from the Doekham region of Tibet,was looking after one of the monasteries there when the revolt broke out. He says that for them,the initial days in India were hard. We were deployed in construction works in Ladakh. It was very difficult initially. But we owe a lot to India. I want to see my homeland at least once before I die, he adds.
I had to leave behind my father. I never thought I would not see him again, Tharpo says with tears in his eyes.
Many have similar stories to tell. Leader of Camp 1 Phuntsok Rinzin says that even after five decades,the images of temples and the sacred Potala palace being attacked gives him the jitters. Many of us broke down seeing the soldiers fire at Potata palace and throwing slippers at Buddhist temples, says Phuntsok.
According to Phuntsok,Camp 1 was the first to be set up in 1961 under the agricultural settlement scheme and has the highest number of oldest refugees from the first generation who fled to India along with the Dalai Lama.
Although hopeful of returning to their country one day,they are anxious about the new generation deviating from the Tibetan cause. Our generation is becoming extinct. The new generation hasnt seen the beauty of our homeland or the atrocities people have suffered. They are educated and employed here. Its natural for them to be comfortable here. But they shouldnt forget that we are refugees and will have to go back one day, says 78-year-old Tsering,who had served as a guard in the erstwhile Tibetan Government.
With the number of youngsters going abroad for greener pastures and those marrying Indians and settling down here increasing over the years,there is perhaps some truth in their reasoning.