Tibet’s Sacrifice: Exiled Lives

I am featured in this multimedia piece of comics journalism on Tibet. Cartoons by Dan Carino.


Today we publish “Tibet’s Sacrifice: Exiled Lives” by Dan Carino, a multimedia piece of comics journalism examining Tibetan activists living in India and their willingness to die for their cause through self-immolation.

Picture 7
In New Delhi, India, Carino interviewed activist Shibayan Raha, who was arrested in 2007 for attempting to self-immolate, and visited the refugee settlement Majnu Ka Tilla to see why so many Tibetans seem willing to die for their homeland.

“The fact is that self-immolation now transcends Tibet and protesting monks,” Carino says.  “Everyday exiled citizens in the diaspora feel so anguished and frustrated with the Chinese process that they are willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause. Meanwhile, Tibetan settlements serve to truly support the welfare of Tibetans born in India and preserve their culture.”

Tibet’s Sacrifice” blends numerous multimedia aspects, including navigation, an audio/visual slideshow, and outside links to supplemental material. You can use the multimedia navigation with the latest Chrome, Safari or Firefox browser. Otherwise, you’ll be presented with the comic as a static page.


Survey shows thumbs down to government’s Lokpal bill

Fri Aug 12 2011 17:58:57 GMT+0530 (IST) by IANS

New Delhi, Aug 12 (IANS) A majority of people surveyed by a campaigning organisation Awaz do not support the Lokpal bill tabled in parliament that excludes the prime minister, MPs, the judiciary and civil servants from the ambit of the Lokpal (ombudsman).

The survey, released Friday, was conducted in six cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. A total of 1,518 people over the age of 18 were interviewed.

A total of 75 percent respondents felt that the government’s bill will not effectively tackle corruption.

Seventy-six percent indicated that they would not vote for a party that did not support an effective anti-corruption draft law and said that tackling corruption will be a motivating issue at the polls.

“The government’s Lokpal bill can be renamed as Protection of Corrupt Public Servant Bill or Promotion of Corruption Bill and will not do any good in the current scenario where corruption has pervaded from top to bottom of governance,” said Prashant Bhushan, civil society member of the Lokpal bill joint drafting committee.

“Indian voters will take to the streets to get an anti-corruption bill with teeth. The government is forging ahead with their joke-pal bill. It is time for the government to listen to the people of the country,” said Shibayan Raha, a campaigner of Avaaz.

Forty-eight percent of the people surveyd were ready to protest on the streets if the government fails to pass a strong Lokpal bill.

“Active participation of people can now make the government change its mind,” Bhushan added.

Avaaz decries cabinet’s endorsement of a weak Lokpal Bill

Agencies Jul 28, 2011, 01.58pm IST

NEW DELHI: Avaaz, the global campaigning organisation, with nearly 700,000 members in India, slammed the decision of the Indian Cabinet to push through a weak and toothless Lokpal bill. They criticised the cabinet for ignoring hundreds of thousands of Indian’s who are demanding a strong bill that includes in it’s remit the PM, MPs, Judiciary and all levels of bureaucracy.

Shibayan Raha, Campaigner for Avaaz said: “Corruption is arsenic in the water of our democracy and the Cabinet have chosen to keep our politics polluted rather than clean up our country of this poison.

In just 24 hours, over ten thousand men and women from across the country have sent faxes directly to Cabinet members demanding a strong bill. But, Ministers are protecting the elite status quo and not bold enough to respond to the public clamour with measures that could truly tackle corruption. “We will continue fighting to ensure we get a law that rids India of the scourge of corruption,” Raha said.

For the past four months people have been campaigning for a Jan Lokpal through Avaaz. Over 685,000 people have taken action by signing a petition to PM, sending emails directly to the Lokpal Drafting Committee, calling minister’s offices, sending personal messages to Sonia Gandhi, and sticking up billboards and thousands of posters across the country.

This week over 10,000 faxes were sent to the cabinet urging them to listen to the voices of the people and bring a strong anti-corruption bill to root out corruption once and for all in this country.

“The Allegations Against His Holiness Karmapa Are Baseless!” – An Activists’ Voice

The following is an article I wrote for online Magazine- Youth Ki Awaaz on Feb 10,2011


There has been a raging controversy going on in the Indian mainstream media about the third highest Tibetan Religious leader His Holiness 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorjee’salleged Chinese links. The allegations by the Himachal Pradesh Government and the HP police started appearing after the seizure of nearly Rs.1 crore in cash from two men in Una, HP. Karmapa’s residence in Sidhbari were raided subsequently and another 8 crore in cash were also recovered which had dollars, Chinese yuan’s. For us working with the Tibetan Movement, all these years, what is more demeaning to see was how a spiritual head and a whole community’s integrity towards India was put to test due to these baseless allegations.

I have been quite lucky to have met Karmapa twice and be blessed by him. For me the allegations against him are totally untrue without an inch of concrete proof. I know many people will now ask for theories behind my argument and here they are-

How was such a huge amount of cash received from his monastery?– Yes I do agree that 8 crore’s in cash was received from the Gyuto Monastery during police raids. As we all must be knowing that its a ritual among Tibetans and Buddhist followers to make cash offering to their guru’s and fresh notes are offered as a way to show their utmost devotion. The Karmapa’s lineage has follower’s all around the world including mainland China and ofcourse inside Tibet. So when these people come they always make donations in chinese currencies. The Karmapa’s office has been asking for permission to register under FCRA (Foreign Currency Regulation Act) to get this money properly regularised. The permission was given and then withdrawn for unspecified reasons. Hence all the money received was correctly documented in a register and kept in the dormitory of the monastery where all the monks sleep. Even so the Chinese currency (Yuan) accounts for less than 10 percent of the total cash received in about 20 different currencies. Does simply having chinese currencies prove that he or anyone is a Chinese spy?

Karmapa’s escape to India was stage managed – Mainstream Indian Media has reported from sources in the Indian intelligence that his escape from Tibet at the age of 14 was stage managed and that he was sent to India by the Chinese government to influence the Tibetan community in exile and the buddhist community in the border regions like Ladakh, Tawang etc. Labelling someone who escaped his country when he was a kid — of being brainwashed and following chinese orders is not only hilarious but also questions the entire investigation. His Holiness Karamapa’s first act on gaining his freedom was to make his way to Dharamsala to seek the Dalai Lama’s blessings and pledge his support to the Tibetan cause. Karmapa’s lineage, the Karma Kagyeu Sect has its seat in the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. The Chinese government had already recognised Sikkim as part of India well after his escape. Karmapa’s sect has whatsoever no influence in Tawang where the Gelug sect and the Nyingma sect reign supreme. To be more precise — Dalai Lama has more influence there and he has categorically stated that Arunachal is a part of the Indian territory.

Benami Land Deal- His Holiness the 17th Karmapa has been living as a guest in the Gyuto Tantricmonastery in Sidhbari, Himachal Pradesh ever since he came to India. He has not been allowed to take his seat in the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim and hence the negotiations to buy a plot of Land in Himachal Pradesh was initiated. The land was not purchased illegally and it is in the process of being cleared by relevant Government departments and contrary to some mainstream media reports its not for a “China Study Center” or nowhere near the Indo-China border. The money seized was a legitimate payment for the land. It was paid in cash because the seller wanted it so and according to legal opinion this is permissible.

Chinese SIM card’s seized from the monastery–  There were also reports in the media that Chinese SIM cards were seized from the Karmapa’s monastery citing sources. When the HP police was asked about this they completely denied and said nothing of this sort ever took place. The mainstream media should have some knowledge about how mobile networks work. Will a chinese SIM card work in India without coming under the radar of the Indian intelligence? Won’t it be easier to use a Indian SIM? Now when it is found that the allegations are baseless would the media care enough to issue an apology?

I have seen lot of Indian media hype and a section of Indian public opinion question the Tibetan community’s affection and integrity towards their host country. This is more demeaning to me than anything. India-Tibet relations are more than 1000 year old and an example of a perfect Guru Chelarelationship. The Tibetan community in exile has stood by us in every weather in the last 50 years. They fought with us shoulder to shoulder in the Bangladesh war, recapturing strategic mountain peaks in Kargil during Operation Vijay, guarding our borders on the Siachen Galcier, anti-insurgency operations and so on. They have never complained about anything. Ask any Tibetan in any part of India about their feelings towards India and they will bow down in utmost respect for their host country. If we cant acknowledge their contribution then let us not question their integrity as well.

Let us take this opportunity and ask ourselves – do these people really deserved this? Are we not taking Freedom of Expression a little too far and aren’t we putting the very right of “Innocent until Proven Guilty” into question by labelling him as a spy?

Digital Activism and Online Advocacy: Experiences from the Tibetan Freedom Movement – A Talk by Shibayan Raha

I spoke on the role of digital activism, online advocacy and use of social media in the Tibetan freedom struggle at the Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore on 9 August, 2010.


The Tibetan freedom movement began in the 1950’s when it started its campaign to highlight the sufferings of the Tibetan community under the Chinese regime through conventional means. Today the movement has come a long way in that it engages the Chinese Government on every possible world stage including the online world. Online advocacy and digital activism forms an integral part of this movement as is reflected from the use of advanced e-mailing servers and social media as an activism tool to mobilise people online and press international bodies to extend support for the movement.

Shibayan Raha, a young activist, will talk on the role of digital activism, online advocacy and the use of social media to further the cause of the Tibetan freedom movement.

About Shibayan Raha

Shibayan Raha is the grassroots co-coordinator for ‘Students for a Free Tibet, India’.  A native of Kolkata, he did various odd jobs in his hometown before devoting himself to social work, particularly the Tibetan freedom struggle, five years ago. As a grassroots co-coordinator, he takes the Tibetan issue to the youngsters and gathers more people to join the movement. He has been imprisoned thrice, twice in Tihar jail and once in the Colaba police station. Further, he has also been involved in other areas like the Bhopal gas leak tragedy, the Burmese issue and AFSPA.



“If somebody is oppressed, you cannot be free yourself”

Posted by YouthKiAwaaz on April 19, 2010 in Youth Icons

Rudrani Dasguptaour correspondent from Kolkata, got the opportunity to walk the talk with Shibayan Raha, who has been fighting for the Tibetan cause, nearly all his life.

Why on earth would someone fight for the freedom of another nation? Isn’t it enough being free yourself? That is not what Shibayan Raha believes in. “As long as somebody out there is being oppressed, you cannot be free yourself”.

This is what he says.

India has a size-able number of Tibetan refugees and quite a few of them know Shibayan as one of those young people who are fighting passionately for the freedom of Tibet from China. He is not your average college activist shouting slogans from the canteen. In fact he chose to give up all that for a cause he believes in.

Shibayan Raha started out as a kid who was disillusioned with the monotony of life around him. He finally found his calling when he went to Darjeeling in 2003. He saw flags and posters all around, rallying for a Free Tibet. “Something just struck my mind”, Shibayan says. And here he is, five years down the line.

In 2006, he went to Dharamsala (Himachal Pradesh), the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan-Government-in-exile. Soon after that` he joined Students for Free Tibet (SFT) as a volunteer.

On 23rd November 2006, Chinese president Hu Jintao came to Mumbai for the India-China Economic, Trade and Investment Cooperation Summit. Outside the Taj Hotel Shibayan unfolded the Tibet flag which read “China Get Out of Tibet and Aksai Chin”. He was arrested on various charges and the case is still on. However, this did nothing to dampen his passion.

Shibayan, protesting in Mumbai

On 9th April 2007, he was arrested along with another activist Migmar Tsering while trying to storm the Chinese Embassy in Delhi. They were protesting for the release of the Panchen Lama who comes second in the Tibetan religious hierarchy after the Dalai Lama. He has been kidnapped by the Chinese government at the age of six, a few days after he was recognised as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. This activity sparked off a chain of events leading to his arrest. He landed up in Tihar jail where he went on a complete hunger strike. After three days without any food or water, the jail authorities forcibly hospitalised him citing the excuse of tuberculosis. After five days, he was finally released.

When you question him about all this, he replies in a cheerful voice. Shibayan has no regrets about having gone to jail. “You get to meet all kinds of people there. It is an experience in itself.” At times, such unflagging optimism can bewilder, to say the least. All his harrowing experiences have not done anything to diminish his passion for Tibet. He has earned the respect of thousands of Tibetans and other people for not letting go.

Today, he is the Outreach Coordinator for SFT and working hard.

“There are 7 million Chinese as compared to the 6 million Tibetans in Tibet today”. Thousands of Tibetans are being jailed, beaten up and tortured every day in Chinese prisons. “I have met Tibetan political prisoners who have been in prison for over three decades. Today, they are free and have smiles on their faces, in spite of what they went through.” He speaks of a woman who had been imprisoned for over thirty years. When she was released, her daughter could nor recognise her. People are tortured for participating in non-violent peace protests in the country. One scrap of information relating to the Dalai Lama can land them in jail. No one is spared, not even the monks who have to face the worst of it sometimes.

“There is an AIDS epidemic in Tibet now. All the good things are reserved for the Chinese, including the top jobs.”

This should sound familiar to Indians who know their own history.

Does Shibayan think that his contribution will bring freedom to Tibet?

“It is a long road. I might not get to see a free Tibet in my lifetime, but I hope I can do my bit towards it”, he smiles.

The Pune Blasts that broke my Heart Again !!

Just as all us who work closely with the Tibetan Movement was gearing up for Losar the next day, a blast ripped off the popular German Bakery in Pune on Saturday evening killing eight people instantly and injuring many others including many foreigners. Among the victims were three youngster’s from Kolkata. The news ripped my heart again as does any other cases of violence. I remembered my visit to Pune in August 2009, when I had gone to visit the new formed SFT Pune chapter. It was the height of swine flu pandemic in Pune and everyone around was wearing mask on their face. Instantly I liked the place, small and pleasant it was, people were friendly as were the autowallahs. My hosts, the students studying in different colleges in Pune told me that the city was the hub of international students as students from France, Ghana, Senegal and even China come there to study. After our meetings got over they also took me to the German Bakery where the blasts happened. It was a quiet, lightly dimmed place with the smell of freshly baked cakes, coffee’s which made me fall in love with that  place. I  don’t remember what I took but we sat in the corner and as Tselha and Pelzom was talking I just looked around seeing every corner of the place, the décor, the glasses,the walls, people sitting and reading books, talking or couples talking to each other. At the bus stop I told Tselha that I will come again if not anything but to see the city and visit the Bakery again.

I skipped the next days newspapers as I do after any blasts that happen. I don’t have a specific reason for this but maybe I don’t like how the media rakes up people’s emotions, bringing stories how the victim’s families have cried or a near one collapsed.

But my eyes caught  the picture of the youngster’s from the city who died. Youngsters who had a long life before them, a life they wanted to live, do what they want, become something or someone and looking at their pictures made me even more sad. After all why ?? Why some people needs to bomb innocents caught so harm ?? As usual the extreme right are calling for war with Pakistan or a stop to recently accounced talks.

Fundamentalists, who did this blast and the ones before call this “Jihad” or Holy war against infidels. If I ever meet these guys I will surely ask them what do they mean by Jihad?? I am not a religious one and neither I am muslim, neither I have any particular religion. For me any worship place of any religion is a place for me too. My knowledge tells me this-

Jihad is the fight against your inner self, the negative energy that’s inside you

Jihad is to bring the purest form in you.

No religion has ever said to kill people from other religion. For God we are all his/her child. We are all the same. Its us who have started this and its us who have to stop this.

Let us not talk of violence when something violent like this happens. Let us not talk about vengeance or retribution. Let us all come together and pray for the departed souls and for those who have some been swayed into these heinous acts, for them to realize their true being and realize their mistake.


In Memory of the blast victims in Pune. My dear brothers and sisters you will always be remembered in our hearts and prayers.