Gyalwa Karmapa Given Refugee Status
FEBRUARY O3, 2001:
Press Briefing on the 3rd of February by Kalon Tashi Wangdi, Minister of Religion and Cultural Affairs, Central Tibetan Administration on the position arrived by the Government of India regarding the status of the XVII Gyalwa Karmapa:
Venue: Lhakpa Tsering Memorial Hall, DIIR, CTA, Dharamsala
It has been over a year since Karmapa arrived here in India and as you will recall, on our very first meeting here in this hall, there were many questions about his future status in India; particularly as to whether he will be allowed to stay in India or not. I made it very clear during that time that I had no anxiety about his long-term stay in India, and subsequently during our various meetings I continued to maintain the same position that eventually the Government of India will take the right decision.
I must also thank you for bearing with me over the past one year. Since I have been dealing with the Gyalwa Karmapa issue we have met many times and I am sure that most of the times when we met you found my replies very frustrating. Yet you have shown lots of patience and understanding. I thank you all for that.
Today, I am very happy to inform you that the Govt of India has formally communicated to us that the XVII Gyalwa Karmapa Ugyen Thinley Dorji has been granted refugee status in India. So we now have the formal permission by the Government of India for Him to stay in India as any other Tibetan refugee.
Over the past couple of days as I have been contacted by many media personnel, I thought it will be fair and proper for me to inform all of you at the time. Also, since I have been assuring you right from the beginning of this, that when a final decision is made on this issue you will be the first to be informed. So, about the Karmapa’s stay and refugee status in India, we have a very clear policy from the Government of India on this.
Secondly, I would also like to take this opportunity to inform you, as you already know, that the earthquake in Gujurat is a matter of great sadness and concern for us. As soon as we came to know about this tragedy we immediately conducted religious prayer offerings, and also started to collect funds and other immediate relief assistance. There have been number of prayer meetings conducted in the Tibetan communities in India and elsewhere, for all the people who have lost their lives and also for the members of the bereaved families. As immediate contribution, we have given Rs 300,000 to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund as a token of our help. His Holiness the Dalai Lama also made a personal contribution of Rs 500,000 for the immediate relief effort. We have organised volunteers from Tibetan communities from various parts of India to go to the affected areas to help in the relief effort. Many Tibetans have come forward to donate blood, but due to logistic difficulties, what we have done is made a list of names and put them on alert. We have quite a long list of volunteers who are ready to donate blood. Tibetans living outside India, from day one, have been very active in collecting donations for the quake victims. We have asked them to channel their contributions through the nearest Indian Embassy.
As you probably know, from Dharamsala yesterday a truckload of warm clothes along with 45 volunteers, both laymen and monks, left for Gujurat. They will be joined by another group of about 50 volunteers from Tibetan settlements in south India. We have been in touch with the State government but as yet we have not been able to get a very clear answer from them regarding our idea to go to the most affected part Bhuj. To make our relief effort more effective, we have made a decision to adopt a small village, or section of a community, and to give them both immediate relief assistance, and in the long run to help with the rehabilitation process. We hope that in this way we will be able to make a more solid contribution towards the relief effort, rather than spreading our efforts thin. We are also continuing to collect donations which will be used to provide immediate relief assistance and the rehabilitation process in the long run.
That ‘s all that I have to say.
Q: Will the Karmapa be allowed to travel without any restrictions in India?
Kalon Tashi Wangdi: Since He is now allowed to stay in India as any other Tibetan refugee, we have no restrictions imposed by the Indian Government.
Q: Will the Karmapa be allowed to go to Rumtek Monastery?
A: Our first concern was to seek for a formal regularisation of His stay in India. About other things we have not yet discussed. We would like to take this matter step by step.
Q: Does the Karmapa have any immediate plans to visit the Sherabling and Rumtek Monasteries?
A: Ever since Karmapa arrived in India he has been wanting to visit the holy Buddhist sites in Varanasi, Bodh Gaya etc, so we hope that we will be able to draw up a pilgrimage schedule for him before the onset of summer season. After that we will work out other programmes for him. He has no plans at present to visit the Rumtek Monastery. As I have said from the beginning, the Rumtek Monastery, established by the XVI Gyalwa Karmapa, is the most important seat of the Karamapa after Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet. So it is natural for the present Karmapa to go there, and we hope and wish that this will come about soon. But at this point of time it is important that we go step by step. The first priority of the Gyalwa Karmapa is to the visit places of Buddhist pilgrimage in India before the summer season sets in. Other things will be decided at an appropriate time.
Q: Do you have any plans to shift the Karmapa from Gyuto Monastery to any other place?
A: No, not at the present. Other things besides the formal regularisation of Gyalwa Karmapa’s stay here in India will be worked out later.
Q: Along with the Karmapa there were five members who escaped from Tibet. Have they been granted asylum too?
A: Yes, they too have been granted asylum by the Indian Government.