Karanjit Singh (Tisch 2016) is an undergraduate in the Department of Photo and Imaging at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. An aspiring documentary photographer, he explores the theme of “belonging” and the idea of “imaginary homelands” within the South Asian diaspora. For the past two years, he has photographed within various Tibetan refugee communities in India and the United States in an effort to highlight the deteriorating human rights conditions in Tibet. In 2015 he was awarded the Gallatin Global Fellowship in Human Rights for this project.
Mariko, 18, is a Tibetan transgender woman, who was formerly a monk. Here she practices backstage before the finale of the 2015 Miss Tibet Beauty Pageant.
Tibetan Institute For the Performing Arts, Mcleodganj, Dharamsala, India, June 2015
is a memory of a beloved
bleeding somewhere behind the
— K. Dhondup (1952-1995)
High up in the Dhauladhar range in Himachal Pradesh, India, exile looms like an unending nightmare for over 80,000 Tibetans who fled their homeland after the Chinese occupation began in 1959. Within this context there is an internal schism of how to move into the future: autonomy or independence. (The Tibetan word for “independence” is rangzen.) This is a struggle not often seen in depictions of the Tibetan community in exile. For many in the West, Tibet has largely remained an object of fascination through the highly romanticized tales of “Shangri-La” or images of Buddhist monks in bright yellows and reds. But the current political realities faced by many exiled Tibetans across the world are not so quaint. To look at a people simply through the lens of religion, unlinked from its relationship to politics and identity, is a matter of cultural fetishization. For a displaced diaspora, as with the case of these Tibetans, even daily life takes on a political dimension, and the long nightmare of exile continues.
Despite growing up in alien cultures for more than half a century and seeing their homes uprooted, their landscapes polluted, and their way of life commercialized by the West and the Chinese, Tibetans have not given up the dream of returning to their homeland. As refugees living in India, Tibetans have set up an exile government, schools for Tibetan children, scholarships, and businesses, all of which are under attack inside Tibet. The awareness of the duality of their identities, of existing in several places and “in- betweens” simultaneously, shapes the maturing generation of Tibetans and the future of their resistance movement.
As we near the 2nd democratic elections for the Tibetan government in exile, a debate rages within the exile community over whether to pursue autonomy under the People’s Republic of China through the Middle Way Approach, or to continue to fight for Independence. These elections are not recognized by the international community. As over 30 years of peace talks led by His Holiness Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government have failed to reach any resolution with the Chinese leadership, there is a rising sentiment within the community, especially the younger Tibetans in exile, that the battle for autonomy will result in a stalemate. As reports of brutal crackdowns by the Chinese People’s Armed Police and the growing number of self-immolation protests inside Tibet make their way across the border, Tibetans now find themselves at a crossroads.
The images in this photo narrative tell and show the story of how a community has continued to move forward with their head held high despite the adversities they face. This project is an attempt to let the young generation of Tibetans speak for themselves and give context to their narrative. Though the exiled Tibetans are victims, they are also empowered now more than ever to change their circumstances through advocacy, activism, art, and democracy. We wait to see if a new change is on the horizon