An Open Letter To President Elect Barack Obama

My open letter to President Elect Barack Obama which was published in Youth Ki Awaaz, India’s largest online and mobile, collaborative, award-winning platform for young people to express themselves on issues of importance. An Excerpt of this letter also appeared in Global Voices.

  • Posted on: November 7, 2012
  • Under: Specials


President Elect Barack Obama,
White House,
Washington DC,
United States of America

Namaste Obama Jee,

A hearty congratulations on being re-elected as the President of United States. I do feel America and the rest of the world will be much better off with you at the helm of affairs. But unlike other Indian citizens I didn’t actually follow the Presidential race closely but was updated all the time, thanks to interpret Tweets from my Tibetan-American friends.

I am from India, a country touted as the next global leader. I seriously doubt it though but not because I don’t believe in my people but mostly that I don’t believe in the politicians running this country. As you gear up to take your seat in the White House I have these following suggestions which I think if accepted will raise USA’s status much higher in the developing world. Please read-

1. Put Tibet on top of your Foreign Policy Agenda-
You must be aware that the occupation of Tibet continues to this day. While you give your victory speech, China continues to suppress Tibetan’s basic demands for liberty and self-rule. Till date 63 Tibetans have self-immolated inside Tibet. Their demand was very simple- Return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet/ End of Chinese Rule in Tibet/ Freedom to practice their religion and preserve their culture. Instead of opening a dialogue the Chinese regime has turned Tibet into a prison with massive security presence and roadblocks all across the country. Free Tibet groups are calling for a multilateral action on Tibet and I urge you to lead this effort by putting Tibet on top of your Foreign Policy.

2. Stop the Drone Attacks-
I know what happened on 9/11 in USA. Lot of my friends and families were devastated by it too and you have every right to declare war on terrorism. But killing innocent people in the name of fighting terrorism doesn’t help at all. The drones that you send to Pakistan also kill innocent civilians which include children. Maybe you don’t get to see their pictures but we do and it brings tears to our eyes to see kids being bombed and annihilated for no offence. Therefore it’s an earnest request to stop the drone attacks and rather look at an alternative strategy regarding this issue.

3. Release Bradley Manning-
Remember Bradley Manning? I am sure you do. He is the US Soldier charged with espionage for allegedly leaking secret military files to whistleblowing website Wikileaks. He has undergone inhuman mental torture by means of solitary confinement, being stripped and shackled, denied visitation rights among some of many. His crime has not been proved yet but what he has undergone will remain with him as long as he lives. Release him until all charges are proved and let him live a normal life again.

4. Don’t let Israel Bomb Iran-
Tensions are rising again in the Gulf. This time over a possible military action against Iran for allegedly trying to build nuclear bombs. While I, as a non-violent activist vehemently opposed to weapons of mass destruction and any country building it, I do urge you to exercise restraint and use diplomacy over war. Israel supposedly has the largest stockpile of Nuclear weapons in the Middle East and morally doesn’t have any right to voice concern over this. Experts and credible reports suggest Iran is nowhere near to building a nuclear bomb and sending drones or Israeli aircrafts will further destabilise the region and bring untold miseries to the Iranian people.

5. Close Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility-
Your Excellency, if I remember well that you had made a election pledge last time that you will do everything possible to close down Guantanamo. Sigh that it is nowhere near to being closed or prisoners being transferred to normal prisons in USA. I am not blaming you since I do know your administration has been doing a lot to close the detention facility. But I do think a lot more has to be done so that more detainees don’t commit suicide after spending decades in inhuman conditions and for a crime they have no idea of.

I know that you have just got re-elected and probably throwing a champagne or two before you settle in at the white house. All the best again and I do hope that Indo-US friendship will also reach a new level which will be based on mutual understanding and trust. I do also hope that you get some time from your busy schedule to read this note and do the needful. I would absolutely love it if you also get the time to write me a reply. My email id is listed below.

Love and Freedom,

Shibayan Raha


Email Writing for Political Action Workshop

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Photo Credits: David Huang

In October 2012 I conducted a training for Tibetan Advocacy Groups based in Dharamsala, India on “Email Writing for Political Action”.  I have been engaged with the Tibetan community in India since many years first as a volunteer, then as the Grassroots Director with Students For A Free Tibet, India. After stepping down I worked with Online Organizing groups such as and where I was trained in political action related email writing. I wanted to use this and assist the Tibetan community in improving their advocacy skills through emails.

In the first hour, we ran through some slides on the different components needed to write an effective email. In the second hour we explored some successful emails from different campaigns and different tools and platforms which can be used to mobilise support online. I also emphasized the need for maintaining a proper segmented email list and why is it important for advocacy.

Slide- Available on request. I am also available for any trainings, workshops related to the above.

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.

“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.