1. Fulfilling the aspirations of His Holiness the Dalai Lama as his political successor
On 8 August 2011, at the swearing-in ceremony of Dr Lobsang Sangay as Sikyong, His Holiness the Dalai Lama expressed: “I personally feel that today, one of my most cherished aspirations has been truly fulfilled.” Taking that historic statement by His Holiness as a guidance and blessing, Dr Lobsang Sangay undertook the complete political responsibility of the Tibetan people from that day, and wholeheartedly served the Tibetan people for the next ten years.
Overcoming challenges and mitigating obstacles in the path during his two terms, Dr Lobsang Sangay led the Tibetan movement with an impassioned effort to shine the global spotlight on the issue of Tibet. He engaged in high-level discussions and delivered talks on Tibet at various global platforms. He also worked tirelessly to secure the economic and cultural sustenance of the Central Tibetan Administration. In his two terms, he championed the cause of Tibet and fulfilled the faith, responsibility, and honour entrusted on him by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people.
2. Record-breaking educational outcomes
On 3 March 1960, the first Tibetan school in exile, Central School for Tibetans, was established by the Government of India at Mussoorie. On 3 November 2008, addressing the Tibetan Children’s Village school, His Holiness said: “During the first twenty years, we made every effort to lay a strong educational footing by strengthening the foundation. In the next 30 years, we focused on the efficacy and development of the education system. However, I have reservations as to whether we have succeeded in this. If the shortfalls are due to lack of knowledge, then one must seek out instructions and guidance from others who can help.”
On 8 August 2011, in the gracious presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dr Lobsang Sangay delivered the following statement during his swearing-in ceremony: “With education as our key priority, we will strive to produce 10,000 professionals in the next 20 years from the over 1,00,000 Tibetans in exile.”
As the transfer of Tibetan schools under CTSA to the CTA’s Department of Education started materializing on 10 January 2013 with the official approval of the government of India, the Kashag rolled out wide-reaching education reforms. These included improving educational quality and infrastructure, enhancing professional development of teachers and a massive refurbishment project of classrooms, school facilities, including residential quarters of staff and faculties and basic toilet facilities that were otherwise in poor condition. Other shortages such as library access, student resources, materials that significantly hampered children’s learning and achievement levels were identified and adequately addressed.
With the focus on revamping the infrastructure, a series of trainings for teachers were launched including those focused on developing children’s Early Grade Reading habits, nurturing bi-lingual faculty, developing bi-lingual children’s story books; Classroom Reading Corner, an initiative to encourage reading habits for primary level; and policies enabling greater involvement of parents in child development. Pilot projects such as ‘Engage Learning’ drew promising results in piquing children’s awareness in science, math, easy writing, environment at the foundational levels. To facilitate quality education, students of class 9-12 (གཞི་རིམ་གོང་མའི་) were given laptop facilities, audio visual resources. Secular ethics curriculum was introduced in schools to make sure that they are endowed with the sound modern education and the invaluable traditional Tibetan values and system. The top-notch Tibetan teachers were recruited for that purpose. The numbers of schools implementing the Basic Education policy was only 22 in 2011. As of today, 49 schools have implemented the BEP. Keeping their safety in mind, CCTV were installed in all schools. Overall, a supportive environment for everyone from students and teachers to excel.
In 2012, Sikyong debutted a series of incentivized scholarship grants namely Sikyong scholarship, Sikyong Excellence Award, and Sikyong Professional Scholarship. The grants helped foster a competitive educational landscape for Tibetan students, and professionals alike. It led to a phenomenal increase in academic rigour like never before and academic achievements in class 10 and 12 board exams that broke all records of the last 60 years.
In 2020, 19 students received the Sikyong Excellence scholarship, setting an all-time record for the highest number of Tibetan students to score 95 percent and above in class 12 board exams. 19 students scored more than 90 percent in CBSE 10th examinations. Since the implementation of Sikyong scholarship, students have performed exceedingly well every year and most importantly, both the students and parents were seen to participate fully in improving the educational outcomes. The pass percentage of class 12 students increased from 87.72 in 2011 to 97.08 in 2019. The stellar performance of the students has proved all the critics wrong, who had then predicted that the Sikyong scholarships would do anything but fail. In June 2015, in a speech at Upper TCV, His Holiness said: “The level of education in Tibetan schools that had declined in the past years is now progressing. This is indicative of the hard work of the Department of Education”.
As for annual budget spending on education, it increased five-fold from 198 million rupees in 2011 to 538 million in 2019. Since 2012, Sikyong and his Kashag dedicated the highest annual spending on education. In 2011, 640 college-going students received scholarship while in 2019, the number of students increased to 1118. These are several but important yardsticks for measuring how far we have come in the educational outcomes and the precedents that have been set for the up and coming students. The phenomenal milestones achieved in the field of Tibetan education is a testament to the emphasis placed on education as the no.1 domestic priority by the 14th and 15th Kashag led by Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay.
3. Policy recognition on Tibet
The best of Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay’s achievements can be measured in the sheer scale of policies and legislation adopted on the issue of Tibet and Tibetan people during his term in office – most notably the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy of 2014 and the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020.
On 20 October 2014, the Ministry of Home Affairs, GOI formalised the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy of 2014 (TRP 2014), centralising the land tenure of major designated Tibetan settlements in South, North East and Central India. The Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy was the outcome of successive meetings between the Home Ministry officials, Ministry of External Affairs, concerned State Government and the Kashag. As of today, this guideline is effectively the most significant policy statement on the welfare of Tibetans in India. These lands ceded by the GOI during the first rehabilitation of Tibetans in exile had for long remained unregistered lands and without the protection of lease.
Today Tibetans residing in the designated settlements have the legal rights to decide the purpose for which the land would be used and avail Central and state benefits, schemes and subsidies on a par with Indian citizens. The TRP 2014 allows the land to be used for preservation of culture, socio-economic development and welfare projects, thus fulfilling another key priority Dr Lobsang Sangay promised in the 14th Kashag, i.e., sustainable and resilient communities which was carried forward with much greater success in the 15th Kashag under the umbrella of the 5-50 vision. Since the official announcement of the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy Act in 2014, several states including Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, have fully formulated the policy as requested by Kashag of the Central Tibetan Administration.
On 28 December 2020, the U.S. Congress passed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 with overwhelming bipartisan support, and the then US President Trump signed the bill as part of the Omnibus bill. It came to be defined as the pinnacle of U.S. policy and support for Tibet. Significantly a major revision encompassing substantive issues of Tibet to the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, the TPSA addresses the urgent, deteriorating human rights, religious freedom, and environmental and other challenges faced by the Tibetan people inside Tibet. The TPSA establishes as U.S. policy that the succession or reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including a future 15th Dalai Lama, is a religious matter reserved exclusively for the Tibetan Buddhist community; Authorizes the use of existing sanctions for Chinese officials who interfere in the process of recognizing reincarnations or the succession of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including a future 15th Dalai Lama. It commends His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his decision to implement democratic governance and also commends the Tibetan exile community for successfully adopting a system of self-governance with democratic institutions to choose their leaders. In addition, it formally acknowledges the CTA as the legitimate institution reflecting the aspirations of the Tibetan diaspora around the world and the Sikyong as the President of the CTA. It further strengthens diplomatic efforts through the office of the special coordinator for Tibetan issues in the State Department to push for a negotiated solution between the Chinese government and the representatives of the Dalai Lama.
Among the significant provisions, The TPSA also introduces new key provisions aimed at protecting the environment and water resources on the Tibetan plateau, recognising the importance of traditional Tibetan grassland stewardship in mitigating the negative effects of climate change as opposed to the Chinese government’s forced resettlement of the Tibetan nomads. In addition, it calls for greater international cooperation to monitor the environment on the Tibetan plateau. American citizens and companies engaged in business activities in Tibet are encouraged to practice corporate social responsibility and to adhere to the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
In order to promote access to Tibet as enumerated in the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018, the TPSA calls for the establishment of a United States Consulate in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, and forbids China from opening a new consulate in the U.S. until it allows a U.S. consulate in Lhasa. Finally, the TPSA formalises funding for humanitarian projects for Tibetans inside and outside Tibet until at least 2025 including (not less than) $8 million for Tibetan communities in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in other Tibetan communities in China; $6 million for Tibetan communities in India and Nepal; $3 million to strengthen the capacity of Tibetan institutions and governance in exile; over $3.4 million and $4 million respectively for Voice of America’s and Radio Free Asia’s reporting on Tibet and Tibetans; $1 million for Office of the United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, among others.
On 16 October 2020, Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay created history by becoming the first ever Sikyong or President of the Central Tibetan Administration to enter the United States Harry S. Truman building in Washington DC. This was the first time the CTA Sikyong was formally invited to the State Department for meetings, which marks momentous progress between Tibet-US relations. After making attempts for a decade to walk into the White House for a meeting with officials, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay achieved the major breakthrough in his last year in office. He met with the new US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, Robert A Destro. Destro is a concurrent head of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. As reported by Bloomberg News, hours after Destro’s appointment as the Special Coordinator, Zhao Lijian, the spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, called Destro’s appointment a “political manipulation” designed to “interfere in China’s internal affairs and destabilize Tibet.”
In September 2011 right after taking the oath of Sikyong, Kashag sent an official memo to the Office of Tibet in New York to explore the possibility of having Sikyong formally enter the US State Department. It took nine long years for the US State Department to realize the strategic importance of having the CTA President have formal meetings in the State Department similar to leaders of independent countries. From 2011 to 2018, Dr. Sangay had informally met with State Department officials at restaurants, where the existence of the meetings were kept undisclosed and photographs were not allowed. However, as a result of Sikyong’s intensive diplomatic engagement over the years, the State Department officials as well as their policies towards CTA Sikyong have become increasingly amenable. In 2019, a few State Department officials tweeted supportive comments about their meetings with Dr. Sangay. Sikyong’s inclusion into the physical building of the US State Department sends an emphatic acknowledgement by the US Government of the Central Tibetan Administration and the leadership of Sikyong. That the Central Tibetan Administration will be treated akin to other governments by the US State Department, an achievement that paves the way for future Sikyong and leaders of the Central Tibetan Administration.
Even though he neared the end of his term as the Sikyong, Dr. Sangay relentlessly advocated for the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019, and for the breakthrough with State department and ultimately, the White House, which culminated on 21 November 2020. For the first time in six decades of exile history, the head of the CTA was formally hosted at the White House for the first time in six decades, and Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay made it happen. Both historic visits signify an acknowledgement of the CTA by the US government.
A Republican Congressman in an email to Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay on 21 December 2020 wrote: “Good morning. Dr. Sangay. As of about midnight last night, we can confirm that TPSA made it into the omnibus bill. The omni will obviously need to be voted out of the House and Senate and signed by the President, but working with some of our colleagues, we were able to ensure it was included with 6 other provisions in the foreign policy space. So now you can go home to your family! Thank you for your engagement on the legislation, and we look forward to continuing to work with you in the future. Best regards.”
Michael Schiffer, Senior Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer wrote to Sikyong on 22 December: “That is much too kind. Your perseverance and commitment were critical. Without your moral and intellectual leadership, the constant application of (gentle) pressure, refusing to let this fall off the table, and making sure we stay focused, this would not have happened. It’s a big achievement and one I hope you feel well-merited.”
On 27 December, Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay tweeted on President Trump’s signing of the TPSA as part of the Omnibus bill: “History made again! President Trump signs the Omnibus bill, which means the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 is now LAW! Bhod Gyalo!”
4. Global advocacy and support for Tibet
On 13 December 2017, the All Party Japanese Parliamentary Group for Tibet, the world’s largest parliamentary support group for Tibet with around 82 members (58 MPs from the House of Representatives and 24 MPs from the House of Councilors) was formed. As of today, the number of parliamentarians in the group has increased to 99.
On 9 October 2018, coinciding with Sikyong’s visit to Czech Republic, Czech Parliamentary Group for Tibet consisting of 50 members officially launched its activities. It was founded in September 2018. With representatives from both the chambers of Deputies and Senate, the Czech Parliamentary Group for Tibet is the largest group of friends within the Parliament and also the largest Parliamentary Group for Tibet in all of Europe.
Throughout the 14th and 15th Kashag, Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay travelled extensively to six continents from Europe, North and South America, South Africa, Asia to Australia, leading high-level diplomatic engagements and political advocacy for Tibet. This can be described as one of his signature legacies. In the years that Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay began extensively engaging with governments, international NGOs and forums, researchers and think thanks, he expertly pushed the narrative of Tibet as one of the most globally relevant and pressing issue. Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay efficiently forged ally-ship with like-minded governments and pushing the Tibet narrative in all directions. This was evident in the fact that as it drew the ire of Chinese government and the number of the times that the government objected to such meetings hosting Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay.
In 2014, China called the Indian ambassador to its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and formally protested the invitation of Sikyong to the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Modi, describing it as a gross mistake that would derail the Sino-Indian relationship. In 2019, with the victory of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and with the swear-in ceremony of the Prime Minister nearing, China warned that inviting the Representative of Taiwan and the political head of the Central Tibetan Administration to the ceremony would be detrimental to the India-China relationship. Similarly, many a times, under the pressure of the Chinese government, senior officials from countries such as Australia cancelled or declined already confirmed meetings with the Sikyong. Despite such pressure, resolutions supporting the Tibet cause was passed in European Parliament and in the respective parliaments of France, Italy and the United States. Further, parliamentarians from European Parliament, France, Germany, Italy, India, Japan, South Africa and the United States voiced their support through various declarations and policy statements. Navi Pillay, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Gary Locke, former US Ambassador to China and others have expressed strong support for Tibet.
The US Congressional-Executive Committee on China and renowned international organizations such as Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, have all published reports on the critical situation in Tibet. The Tibet freedom movement gained a new momentum. And further through print and TV interviews, and talks through various media and TV channels such as the New York Times, CNN, Wall Street Journal, The Hill, The Guardian, The Times, BBC, Bangkok Post, Reuters, Times Of Israel, Aljazeera, Foreign Policy-The Cable, Council On Foreign Relations, The Diplomat, The Daily Mail UK, The Tribune, Hong Kong Free Press, Times of India, Washington Post, Sikyong strengthened the global discourse on Tibet.
Especially on India’s border tensions with China, Sikyong gave back-to-back media interviews highlighting the issue of Tibet as core to the resolution of ongoing tensions, historical importance of Tibet as a buffer “zone of peace” between the two countries.
His extensive interview to national Indian English and Hindi news channels’ prime time, Hindi news channels as well as some regional media brought Tibet home to not only the Indian urban masses but to the most remote rural audiences as well. Especially during Sikyong’s visits to several Indian states, Sikyong was received with the status of a State Guest.
5. Sustainable and resilient Tibetan communities
No sooner did Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay take charge of the 14th Kashag, he began navigating all his determination and efforts toward ensuring a resilient and self-reliant Tibetan community. As such, through incessant lobby and advocacy by the 14th Kashag, in October 2014, the Government of India passed a landmark bill called Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy 2014 and in accordance with the recommendations of the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy, Tibetans receive exclusive benefits and schemes of the government in all states where Tibetans reside. The policy mandates all State governments to sign a lease document for the land occupied by the Tibetans. The leased land can be used for residential, agricultural, commercial and religious activity or any such activity. The land occupied by the Tibetans must retain a Record of Tenancy Certificate. As per the policy, Tibetans can also avail benefits of the various development schemes of the Indian government such as the benefits and schemes mentioned in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, National Rural Health Mission, Indira Awas Yojana, Rajiv Awas Yojana, and various banking schemes, etc. Other benefits include infrastructural facilities like roads, electrification, and drinking water schemes etc. in addition to specific projects that may be taken in the Tibetan occupied land.
Likewise, the policy also extends the state government’s education subsidies for Tibetan students. It also extends the permit to undertake any economic activity, start enterprises, pursue and take jobs in any field for which they are professionally qualified. These fields could be nursing, teaching, chartered accountancy, medicine and engineering etc. Moreover, Tibetans engaged in seasonal business have been given a special permit and land on lease to proceed with their activities. Likewise, Tibetan cooperative societies which were earlier functioning in isolation have now been legally registered under the Multi-State Co-operative Societies Act, 2002 (39 as of 2002), as Federation of Tibetan Co-operatives in India Ltd. (FTCI). As such, the federation can avail all the benefits mentioned in the act. Based on the RC (Tibetan’s registration certificate), Tibetans are now entitled to driving and trade license. The cooperative bank of the respective settlement offers wide-ranging services and subsidies such as granting loan to the farmers and offering insurances on their crops. Likewise, supplying seeds and fertilizers to the farmers in addition to providing relief fund. Besides, the Ministry of Culture had directed the Chief Secretary of Himachal Pradesh to collect the list and number of Buddhist monasteries in the state and meanwhile proposing to distribute midday meal. Similarly, many job opportunities were opened for the Tibetan medical professionals and nurses through enlistment under the Nursing Council due to which Tibetan medical professionals can now without any restrictions apply for jobs in the Public Sector.
In 2016, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded a grant of USD 23 Million over five years to strengthen the self-reliance and resilience of Tibetan communities in South Asia by equipping them to thrive economically, become effective leaders; and maintaining the vitality of Tibetan communities and institutions while sustaining their unique identity and culture. “Unlike the previous years, this year’s grant must be allocated to 8 key program areas”, noted Sikyong.
Through Gangjong Development Finance, a loan of 28 million rupees was disbursed to Tibetan entrepreneurs and sweater sellers as a pilot initiative. On 18 August 2020, during a press briefing, Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay announced grant upto 5 crores loan at a minimum interest through Gangjong Finance (TibFin) for Tibetan enterprises across India. Sikyong said TibFin will provide seasonal livelihood support loan at low interest, commercial loan of Rs 10 Lakhs and Rs 20 lakhs at low interest of 10% and 12% respectively. This commercial loan sanction does not include small enterprises as Sikyong announced that loan was already rolled out.
When Sikyong took charge of the 14th Kashag, Bir Tibetan settlement was going through a rehabilitation crisis for the newly arrived Tibetans. The issue was finally resolved through the Department of Home’s flagship project ‘Lily Settlement’ whereby a new Tibetan settlement was built to rehabilitate newly arrived Tibetans with permanent housing facilities. The settlement consists of 74 houses with each house costing around 9 lakh INR.
Similar housing facilities consisting of around 400 houses were established for the newly arrived Tibetans at Bylakuppe and Mundgod in Southern India. On 10 April 2019, newly built village for the newly arrived Tibetans was inaugurated at Lugsam. Likewise, around 140 houses were built for 60 newly arrived Tibetan families in Mundgod. Initially, around 100 families in Mundgod applied for the housing project but only 60 were approved by CTA after due verification. A new housing facility was constructed for Tibetan families from around Dehradun and newly arrived Tibetans from Tibet, near Dekyiling Tibetan settlement in Dehradun. On 17 December 2019, Sikyong Dr Sangay along with Home Kalon Sonam Topgyal Khorlatsang inaugurated the newly built Gepheling Tibetan community housing in Dehradun.
For the housing project alone, CTA spent over 38,66,40,000 million in rupees. In Hunsur Tibetan settlement, there were around 80 unoccupied residences for which the Department of Home received applications of only 50 families who were willing to shift in those residences. Only renovating these long unoccupied residences would not suffice the needs of these families, therefore, the only viable solution was to build entirely new residences for the families as that would yield more spaces for farming. 20 families moved into these residences and all the expenditures incurred in the renovation was borne by the respective families. The administration assisted monetary aid to each family such as for a family of 1 to 2, the administration gave 1 Lakh, family of 2 to 3 received 2 Lakhs while a family of 3 to 5 received 3 Lakhs from the administration. For a family of more than five, 4–5 Lakhs as compensation were granted. Also, the 15th Kashag has announced compensation to those willing to occupy these residences through their own expenses. In an effort to make the settlements sustainable, the Kashag has taken many such similar initiatives and projects to enable the sustainable use of the allocated land. For the newly arrived Tibetans in Sunder Nagar, Mandi, and Tso Pema housing project has already begun but due to the ensuing pandemic, the project is on halt for a while. A similar housing project was launched in 2014 for the former political prisoners which have come to fruition in 2016. The building consisted of 16 apartments out of which 4 apartments were allocated to the staff of the Settlement Office.
6. Refurbished Gangchen Kyishong headquarters ‘Little Tibet’
Kashag refurbished the old structures of Gangchen Kyishong into ultra-modern buildings with well-integrated amenities. Earlier CTA had no significant space to accommodate large official gatherings and events such as general meetings and conferences and has to rely on borrowing public hall and school’s auditorium. This issue was resolved in 2014 when CTA began constructing a 4-storey building consisting of parking lot on the ground floor, office space for the Tibet Policy Institute and Tibetan Computer Resource Center (TCRC) on the first floor. The second floor of the building is entirely occupied by Tibet Museum and the fourth floor encompassing a large auditorium that would conveniently accommodate around 700 people. The building is equipped with an elevator and the structure of the building is shaped as ‘T’ signifying ‘Tibet’ with Tibetan carvings and design around windows and doors to give a Tibetanised outlook. Moreover, all the structures of the various departments were revamped and made more spacious. The project of rebuilding Gangchen Kyishong costed around 700 lakhs.
Located in the centre of Gangchen Kyishong, Tibet Museum is well equipped with all the latest amenities and technology required for a full-fledged museum. The museum has a fine collection of Tibet’s history and culture, it has well preserved the legacies of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and document thorough information on the journey into exile, the resistance of self-immolators, the situation in exile, Tibet’s environment, and the ongoing human rights abuses in Tibet by Chinese Communist Party. In 2015, in honour of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday on the second day of the two-day celebration, the honourable Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh renamed the road from Mcleod Ganj, the official residence town of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Dharamshala via Gangchen Kyishong, the seat of the Central Tibetan Administration, as Potala Road.
Looking after the welfare of Tibetans in the settlement is not the standalone responsibility of the home department as the department also looks after the welfare of CTA staff through its housing and estate division. On 26 August 2020, during an interview with Tibet TV, Home Kalon mentioned that through the Department’s housing and estate division, around 243 CTA staff out of 343 staff in and around Dharamshala have been allotted staff quarters. He further mentioned that 58 new staff quarters in Gangkyi have been successfully constructed needing only 30 more staff quarter and the housing issue of the CTA staff will be resolved.
7. US government and White House
Most definitely, what will be remembered as his single greatest legacy is for the fact that under his political leadership, the CTA gained the highest degree of legitimacy as an elected government and the status to diplomatically engage with governments on the issue of Tibet. Sikyong Lobsang Sangay’s formal visit to the White House and US state department in 2020 as the CTA’s political head sums up the long, sustained and strategic efforts that he undertook in the ten years in office.
History will remember Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay as the first Sikyong to formally enter the United States Harry S. Truman building of the State Department for meetings with the officials, most prominently, the US special coordinator for Tibetan issues. He will be remembered among the ranks of Sikyong to have championed momentous progress in Tibet-US relations. From 2011 to 2018, Dr. Sangay had informally met with State Department officials outside the official premises and in restaurants, the existence of the meetings was kept undisclosed and photographs were not allowed. Due to Sikyong’s constant engagements, State Department officials have become increasingly amenable to publishing photo opportunities in the past year and in 2019, a few State Department officials tweeted supportive comments about their meetings with Dr. Sangay. Sikyong’s inclusion into the White House and the US State Department sent an emphatic acknowledgement by the US Government of the Central Tibetan Administration and the leadership of Sikyong.
These unprecedented meetings strengthened the narrative that the Central Tibetan Administration will be treated akin to other governments by the US, an achievement that paves the way for future Sikyongs and leaders of the Central Tibetan Administration.
In May 2013, on Sikyong’s third visit to Washington DC, he had a strategic Tibet advocacy meeting with US House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and other Representatives, CECC chairman, Tibet supporters on a set of 8-point agenda on Tibet. On 5 November 2015, Nancy Pelosi, led a historic congressional delegation to Tibet, invited by the standing committee of the National People’s Congress. It was the first Congressional delegation to enter Tibet since the 2008 unrest in Tibet. Pelosi was joined by Democratic Reps. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Betty McCollum and Tim Walz of Minnesota, Joyce Beatty of Ohio and Alan Lowenthal and Ted Lieu of California.
On 9-10 May 2017, the 15th Kashag hosted a high-level bipartisan Congressional delegation led by Democratic Leader of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi in Dharamsala, India. The delegation also visited Tibetan communities in Nepal. Four members of the delegation: Nancy Pelosi, Jim McGovern, Betty McCollum and Joyce Beatty were a part of the Congressional delegation that visited Tibet in November 2015. On 10 May, the Kashag hosted public felicitation in honour of the congressional delegation’s visit to the CTA headquarters which was graced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Tsuglakhang temple. Immediately upon their return from Dharamshala visit, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and members of the bipartisan Congressional Delegation to India and Nepal held a press conference on 16 May 2017, to brief on their visit to Dharamshala and reiterate support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the nonviolent Tibetan struggle.
On 14 October 2020, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the appointment of Assistant Secretary Robert A. Destro as the new U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues. On 15 October, Sikyong (President) Dr. Lobsang Sangay entered the United States Harry S. Truman building in Washington DC. Sikyong was formally hosted for a meeting with the special coordinator. On 20 October, Sikyong formally entered the White House.
In his interview on 23, Sikyong said: “In the past, State Dept and White House has consistently held the view that Tibetans are refugees and CTA as head of the Tibetan freedom struggle, and by that logic, hosting the CTA leader at the White House and State Dept amounts to an acknowledgement of CTA and therefore, attract pressure from China’. I responded to them saying in that case, Syria and Venezuela exile govt leaders have been hosted. We have been waiting for the door to open for us for the past 60 years. Today’s meeting sets an optimistic tone for CTA participation with US officials and be more formalised in the coming years.”
On 25 May 2018, coinciding with the 29th birthday of the 11th Panchen Lama, the Senate unanimously passed S.Res.429, the first-ever Senate intervention on the issue of Tibetan reincarnation. The resolution refutes any interference by the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the religious process as “invalid”. The resolution reiterated His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s declaration in 2011 that the responsibility for identifying a future 15th Dalai Lama rests solely with the officials of his private office; anyone recognised through illegitimate methods or for political reasons should not be accepted.
It “expresses its sense that any attempt by the Government of the People’s Republic of China to identify or install its own candidate as a Tibetan Buddhist religious leader, including a future 15th Dalai Lama, is invalid interference in the right to religious freedom of Tibetan Buddhists around the world, including in Tibet as well as the United States and elsewhere”.
On 21 December, the US Congress passed the Tibetan policy and support Act, making it official US policy that decisions regarding the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama are exclusively within the authority of the current Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist leaders and the Tibetan people. Any interference by Chinese government officials will be met with serious sanctions and be deemed inadmissible into the United States.
On 10 September 2019, House Democratic Partnership hosted an official reception in honour of Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay at the Rayburn House. It was the first reception ever hosted for the Central Tibetan Administration. Attendants included HDP Chair Congressman David Price, Congresswoman Judy Chu, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, Congressman Ted Yoho, Congressman Gerry Connolly, and Carl Gershman, the president of the National Endowment for Democracy. The president of the National Democratic Institute, the Vice President of the International Republican Institute, and the Vice President of the United States Agency for International Development also spoke at the meeting. Presidents of the Tibetan Association of NY, Philadelphia, and Capitol area, Vice President of International Campaign for Tibet, all the staffers of the Office of Tibet – DC, and many other Congressional staffers attended the event.
As part of his advocacy for the TPSA 2020 and the Tibetan reincarnation issue, on 11 September, Sikyong spoke on Reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism: The Importance of Religious Freedom at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The Sikyong explained the process of reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism which is uniquely Tibetan invention and raised the question, “Can you imagine an atheist Government of [China] saying ‘we will select all reincarnated lamas including His Holiness the Dalai Lama’. Reincarnation was invented by the Tibetan Buddhists, a unique process that should not be infringed upon by Beijing.”
8. Youth empowerment
The Tibet Corps Volunteer Programme established in 2012 has created a platform for young Tibetans from across the US, Canada and Nepal to visit Dharamshala specifically with the objective of familiarizing them with the operations of the Central Tibetan Administration and providing them with an opportunity to serve the Tibetan cause. The primary goal is to promote youth participation in the 5/50 policy and facilitate virtual training to build future public servants. By providing virtual training to the Tibetan youth growing up in the west, it promotes a larger pool of future leaders from all around the world. In the beginning of 2020, CTA’s virtual training initiative committee was created and programmes such as Tibet-related news in several foreign languages from French to Spanish, Japanese and Russian have been arranged with the native speakers recording it remotely from their own regions saving costs otherwise incurred, travelling to Dharamsala and facilitating youth skill development and public service opportunities at the same time. Previously, RC which was a requisite for civil service aspirants has been amended because the requirement of RC restricts eligibility solely to Tibetan residents of India. Year upon year, the exile Tibetan population in India, Nepal and Bhutan is dwindling which remains an undeniable fact. Thus, allowing Tibetans from all over the world to participate in public service, is deemed the most viable path.
In the August of 2018 and 2019, two 5/50 youth conferences were held in which professionals and scholars from diverse countries around the world participated who are not necessarily closely familiar with the Tibetan community and exile Tibetan administration. Initiatives such as addresses and orientations on the exile Tibetan administration, educating on the Tibetan issue has inspired these youth. However, in certain social media circles, only selective parts of the discussions have been shown which reduces their essence. Young people brought up in the west though they can understand Tibetan yet cannot speak in Tibetan. Hence, they have little knowledge of the Tibetan knowledge system. Unfortunately, it remains the same across the exile Tibetan community in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Since many Tibetan youth are growing up ignorant of their own Tibetan language and culture, it is imperative to devise a plan and policy to tackle it. If not dealt with accordingly, the situation will deteriorate over time. To prevent such a loss from happening to future generations, the 5/50 policy is a timely and viable solution.
With the “Leadership Workshop for Class X Students programme”, 10th graders from schools under the CTA were brought together in Dharamshala to provide leadership guidance. Similarly, Sikyong during his school visits stresses on further education prospects. Earlier, the selection for the US scholarship programme which set cut off scores at above 90 marks from 120 in the English proficiency test limiting the total number of yearly applicants to 20. In 2009, only 6 out of 10 seats were filled and discussions arose whether such seats should be filled up or allowed to remain vacant. Therefore, in 2013 the 14th Kashag acted by pushing the score requirement in the preliminary round to the final round and saw the number of applicants accordingly rise to above 90, gradually increasing over time. The scores are as follows:17 out of 50 in the subject of Tibetan culture and politics, and the requisite 50% marks in the 12th standard and graduate results. Two US consulate staff and two Tibetans conduct an oral interview after which the 15 highest scorers are selected for the English proficiency round. After totalling the scores, the top rankers will be selected as per the seat quota. This has enabled the number of scholarship applicants to go up as well as the quality and eased the selection process preventing the discontinuation of the decade-long US-Tibetan scholarship programme.
Since the 13th Kashag’s term, regardless of the cost of the medical treatment and the choice of hospitals, medical insurance covered public servants, the elderly and those under the destitute category. Moreover, in a progressive move, the administration ensured coverage of a percentage of medical bills under emergency treatment plan costs for those seeking government assistance. This, however, proved unviable as the department ended up incurring expenses beyond the funding aid received, forcing them to spend it out of their budget. The-then Health Kalon and planning in charge officials held rounds of discussions to tackle this problem, conducting surveys across settlements which ultimately resulted in the scrapping of the emergency treatment fund and replaced it with the Tibetan Medicare System (TMS).
On 9 March 2011, the 13th Kashag held a press conference to launch the Medicare system. At the time of its launch, it was not backed up by surveys and thorough research. With annual contributions of a required sum, it covered medical expenses upto 1 lakh per year. As a result of unclearly defined terms on the severity of disease and choice of hospital, months into its launch receipts of medical bills for every disease and from every hospital poured into the Health Department. This brought the department to suffer the same setback that it had first faced with the initial scrapped programme. Based on these experiences, successive rounds of discussions with the German aid agency, the administration made amendments to define the severity of diseases and choice of hospitals. Partnering with a select group of Indian hospitals, it was decided that members seeking allopathic treatment would be directed to these hospitals and the rate of medical insurance defined for surgeries and child deliveries, and for minor treatments. This policy shift helped save the losses and saw the number of people opting for this programme grow rapidly. Earlier, while it cost around 70 lakhs for operation of the programme, it dropped to no more than 28 lakhs in 2015 and 2016. In 2019, there were 26,432 members and the membership fees managed to set off the cost of operations. Accordingly, the Health department’s budget grew from INR 17,332,904 in the fiscal year 2011-12 to INR 47,572,577 in the fiscal year 2018-19 seeing an addition of INR 30,239,673.
Better than the treatment approach, exercise is regarded as more important for physiological health by modern-day medical field experts. Moreover, research suggests prevention of diseases and promotion of mental health, especially where youth unemployment is higher, opening more gyms and playgrounds prevent and decrease substance abuse habits. Therefore, the renovation and construction of gyms and playgrounds across settlements was undertaken costing millions. Between 2015-19,12 football playgrounds were constructed and 8 renovated, 17 volleyball grounds constructed and 4 renovated, and 17 well-equipped gyms opened. These facilities are being availed by people of all age groups and in turn, promotes a sense of community. Furthermore, the USAID agency in recognition of the Health Department’s achievement honoured it with the certificate of excellence which states: “In acknowledgement of CTA’s Health Department’s dedication and sacrifice in laying the foundations of the Medicare system and population growth, and the highest charitable efforts in putting together a noteworthy initiative, the USAID awards it the certificate of excellence.” This excellence award was conferred on 8 August 2016 on the day of the swearing in-ceremony of Sikyong, arriving on the back of the 5 year-completion of his first term. Speaking on the achievement Sikyong said, “It is a joyous occasion that USAID conferred this excellence award after working with the Health Department. Although there are many departments under the CTA, it is a fact that the Health department has won the greatest number of international awards during the 14th and 15th Kashag.”
Tibetan refugees who are guided by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and looked after by the CTA, are one of the most fortunate communities. Though there are those who have livelihood struggles, the genuine number of destitute are countable on the top of our fingers. In comparison to other refugee communities across the world, it is a noteworthy achievement. However, the Chinese government is making every effort to distort the facts about the exile Tibetan situation through fake social media accounts sowing discord. However, the undeniable fact is that the exile Tibetan administration takes care of the people and has laid the foundations for self-reliance. Tibetans as a community, particularly, a refugee community are in much better conditions than most others which should be appreciated and celebrated.
Religion and Culture
In 1995, 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2011, His Holiness the Dalai Lama consistently advocated for the establishment of a Buddhist study curriculum that would allow Tibetan nuns equal opportunity to take the examination for Geshema degree and acquire the highest academic title that was traditionally granted to monks. Representatives of the various Buddhist traditions, nunneries and monasteries, have convened successive meetings and deliberated extensively as per the counsel of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
In 2012, departing from centuries of past practice, the Department of Religion and Culture, CTA made the historic decision to confer Geshema degrees following a meeting of representatives from six major nunneries, Institute of Buddhist Dialectics and the Tibetan Nuns Project. Conferment of degree certificates such as Geshemas, the female abbots and Lobponmas were internally discussed and finalized in accordance with their respective Buddhist traditions.
In order to have a common system of Gelug examination in the Gelugpa nunneries, the Department of Religion and Culture convened a special meeting on 18 May 2012. Representatives of the nunneries attended. On 7 January 2013, the Department of Religion and Culture held the first meeting of the Board of Geshema Examination comprising of nine members at the CTA headquarters. On 22 May, the first-ever examination of Geshema Degree was held at Jamyang Choeling Nunnery, Dharamshala. It concluded on 3 June.
On 22 December 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama conferred the first-ever Geshema degree to twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns in a ceremony held at Drepung monastery, South India.
His Holiness said: “Through the power of education, women have been able to rise up to prominent roles including leadership in various societies in the world. Education has played a big role in the advancement of gender equality and material development. It is an opportune time for the Tibetan community to take a step in that direction. Science tells us that women are biologically more compassionate. Education should instill compassion. We should focus on secular ethics. The world needs a uniform outlook on compassion and women are innately inclined to instill compassion. Even though we do have a large number of nun-teachers who have studied the five great treatises extensively, however, the tradition of honouring Geshema degree is a need of the hour as it is purely based on one’s meritorious achievement in the field of Buddhist studies”.
The Conferment of Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns was a longstanding aspiration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the fruition of this vision adds another historic milestone in the list of achievements of the 14th Kashag of Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay. In tandem with these ideals espoused by His Holiness, Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay and his Kashag launched numerous policies and programs directed towards the advancement of gender equality and women empowerment in Tibetan society.
On 1 March 2019, the first Geshema degree was conferred in the Tantra tradition. From 2013-2020, total number of Geshemas reached 43. 33 nuns graduated with tantric training from Gyuto tantric monastery. In 2020, nuns from the Bon tradition were also set to graduate with the Geshema degree.
As advised by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Department of Religion and Culture followed up on the advice to construct Sugata Buddhist stupas at the eight holy Buddhist sites in India including Sarnath, Sravasti, Kushinagar and Sankisa to express gratitude to the government and people of India. In 2018 Yingdum Stupa was erected at Sravasti, the place is one of the eight holy places of Buddhism where Buddha observed rains-retreat (Vassavasa) during his time. The stupa-building initiative was proposed as a gesture of gratitude to the Government and people of India, and to eternalize the centuries of its shared spiritual wisdom and affinity.
Since the year 2019 was the obstacle year for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Kashag visited every Tibetan Buddhist monastery, completed the construction and consecration of stupas, sought the guidance of the oracles and spiritual lamas, and made Tenshug offerings and dedicated every spiritual ceremony and offerings for the pacification of the obstacles. Most importantly, the Kashag carried forth the long-cherished vision of His Holiness which was also a resolution of the religious heads conference, the Department introduced a Buddhist Studies Research Programme course. The first batch completed in 2014-2019, the second batch which began the course in 2015 are expected to complete as soon as the Covid situation subsides. From 27-29 November 2019, the Department convened the 14th religious heads conference at the Sikyong hall with a special focus on the issue of reincarnation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Led by the heads of the various traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and native Tibetan Bon tradition, the religious congregation of 115 reincarnate lamas, eminent Buddhist scholars and representatives of all major Tibetan Buddhist institutes in exile including 17 nun scholars and Buddhist masters from the Himalayan region adopted a unanimous resolution urging His Holiness the Dalai Lama to continue the reincarnation tradition.
Since the 1st Kalachakra Initiation at Norbulingka Palace, Lhasa in 1954, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has conferred 33 Kalachakra initiations in India, US, Europe and in numerous other countries. These teachings have attracted hundreds of thousands of devout followers from all parts of the world. Among the followers of Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the Tibetan people share a special karmic relation with His Holiness. Receiving a Kalachakra initiation is considered spiritual attainment that benefits your present and future lives. However, not everyone is equipped with the financially or physical requisites to attend and receive the teachings. Therefore, the 15th Kashag took up the initiative that would cover the entire travel and living expense of those needy and destitute devotees and provide them with a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend the Kalachakra teaching. His Holiness was greatly pleased on learning about this initiative by the Kashag.
At the earnest request of the Central Tibetan Administration, His Holiness the Dalai Lama graciously assented to confer Kalachakra Initiation at Bodhgaya in January 2016, which was later postponed to 3 – 14 January 2017. The then 14th Kashag, led by Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay assigned the task of organising the event to the Department of Religion and Culture, CTA, and set up an organizational committee comprising the Kalons from the Department of Religion and Culture, Department of Security and Department of Health. Subsequent meetings were also held with the concerned authorities of both central and the state government regarding the facilitation of water, sanitation, electricity, public safety, accommodation and especially the security of the person of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Requisite duties were duly allocated to the concerned departments to aid the needy devotees.
The Kashag provided all facilities for the aged, destitute, orphans and infirm devotees, monks, nuns and Buddhist trainees in retreat. The basic necessary arrangements were coordinated by the Department of Home, Education, Health and Religion and Culture respectively. All preventive measures against unforeseen calamities such as death and other threats posed by over-crowding were taken care of as well. As per CTA’s request, the Finance Ministry has agreed to install ATM machines at the Kalachakra venue and to enable sufficient foreign currency exchange for devotees coming from different countries. Around 40 ATM machines were installed to ameliorate the cash shortage caused by the demonetization.
Every necessary preparations and arrangement were made to facilitate the needs of the devotees. Upon the successful conclusion of the 34th Kalachakra Empowerment, Sikyong remarked, ‘His Holiness the Dalai Lama had graciously agreed to confer the 34th Kalachakra Empowerment at Both Gaya at the request of the Central Tibetan Administration. Within the past two weeks of the empowerment, as a practitioner of Buddhism, I acknowledge that there is no greater fortune than receiving the Kalachakra Empowerment and in no holier place to receive the teachings than in the land of Bodh Gaya, the birthplace of Buddha Shakyamuni. Our collective aspirations in organizing the 34th Kalachakra is to uphold the pure Samaya between teacher and disciple. Our collective merit would have far-reaching blessings on the overall prospect of the Tibetan cause. Moreover, such a collective virtuous dedication would positively benefit the health and life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As advised by His Holiness, I invite the public to contribute to the accumulation of collective merit and perform virtuous activities. The 34th Kalachakra has been a huge success as we have extended all facilities and resources to the best of our best ability to serve the devotees. Taking this opportunity, the 14th and 15th Kashag urge the Tibetan parents to prioritize children’s education, and at the same time, extend a helping hand to the children from destitute families and support their education. Lastly, each of us has the responsibility to uphold and cherish our rich, centuries-old religious, cultural, linguistic heritage which is the unique hallmark of Tibetan civilization.”
Submitted by Kadrung Office
26 May 2021
Note: This is English translation. Should discrepancy arise, please treat the original Tibetan as final and authoritative.