A Dreamer, Believer, Doer: Why Kasur Gyari Dolma is my choice for Sikyong 2021

Kasur Gyari Dolma at the NYC public felicitation. December 5, 2020. Photo Tenzin Wangdue

In early December this year, I received an invitation to speak at the public felicitation being organized in New York City for Kasur Gyari Dolma la. I gave a 20-minute speech in Tibetan language. I thought it would serve a deeper purpose to publish the English translation of the speech in hopes of reaching out to a wider audience.

Good morning everyone, 

I am truly honored and humbled to be speaking about Kasur Gyari Dolma la (KDG), a name that represents not just an individual, but an institution, an idea or I could say a phenomenon. I can deliberate for hours about this wonderful individual, but given the limited time, I will share few short personal stories about KGD and in doing so highlight a few important traits of hers that makes her who she is.

Firstly, courage and conviction:

In August 2010, I was a young researcher at the Central Tibetan Women’s Association in Dharamsala, when I heard the news that the then Deputy Speaker Dolma Gyari la had announced her candidacy for the Kalon Tripa election of 2011. I felt jubilant and proud at the same. When phayul.com asked me for a response, I said;

 “I welcome her decision as a phenomenal breakthrough in the political empowerment of Tibetan women in the exiled Tibetan polity. Therefore notwithstanding the results, her conviction and assertion will definitely encourage the enfranchisement of the Tibetan electorate.”

It indeed was a “phenomenal breakthrough.”

Today, 10 years later, I am honored and humbled to be speaking in support of the very same person. Truly her courage and conviction has remained unparalleled in the last many decades of service to Tibet. 

KGD has repeated historic feats by being the many firsts – first female Deputy Speaker of the Tibetan parliament in exile, first female contender for Kalon Tripa, first female Home Kalon (minister), and today the first female contender for Sikyong. As a woman I couldn’t have been prouder.

Secondly, vision and strategy:

In May 2009, when I was working at the Central Tibetan Women’s Association, we had invited KDG who was then the Deputy Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament in exile to speak at the 14th anniversary of forced abduction of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. One of the remarkable recommendations made by KGD given her legal background was to press legal charges against the Chinese abduction of a young boy, and this strategic recommendation came in handy with my work at the Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR), especially with our advocacy at the United Nations in Geneva. 

In January 2013, when the self-immolations in Tibet reached its peak, the Kashag and the Tibetan Parliament in exile launched a Tibetan people’s solidarity campaign that saw over 3000 Tibetans from across India and other parts of the world converge in the Indian capital. I was lucky to be in the media team chaired by KGD. One of the best takeaways from working with her was the drafting of a press advisory which we sent out to the national and international news agencies. Following her advice, the press advisory offered an opportunity for global media to witness the unfolding of the greatest solidarity movement in recent history. This served as an important shift from the hitherto applied practice of pleading for news coverage. This placed us, the Tibetan leadership and people in a strategic position of strength and fortitude. The 2013 solidarity campaign made it to both the digital and print version of the New York Times and other leading news sites. I tried mainstreaming that practice during my stint as Information Secretary of DIIR. 

I am convinced that in drawing from her past achievements, KGD is uniquely placed to make her foray into the highest echelons of leadership and blend vision with strategy. As stated in her election manifesto, her biggest priority is and always has been the Middle Way Approach (MWA), to peacefully resolve the long standing issue of Tibet. Even with this approach, we are able to see her strategic leadership. Her advocacy for India’s recognition of Tibet as an occupied nation is a point in case. Likewise, KGD has a proposal for withdrawal of the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People (submitted to the Chinese leadership in the year 2008 by the envoys of the Sino-Tibet dialogue led by KGD’s elder brother late Gyari Rinpoche), in case of further stalemate in the Sino-Tibet dialogue is sheer courage and conviction to affect change. I have always believed that the MWA is a strategy for the Tibetan movement in addition to being an official policy of the CTA, and KGD has shown us how we can leverage MWA to not only turn the spotlight on China’s continued atrocities inside Tibet and lack of political willingness to engage on the issue of Tibet, but also to categorically assert and establish our past status as a fiercely independent nation, and thereby strengthen our narrative and position in global diplomacy and discourse.

KGD’s proposal for the adoption of the 70,000 Character Petition written by the late 10th Panchen Lama as a textbook for Tibetan schools is a clear example of her sincere and strategic efforts to implement measures toward the preservation of Tibetan language and history. She took the unprecedented step toward ensuring that the Government of India pass the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy Act in 2014, thereby securing the livelihood of the majority of exile Tibetans living in India. 

KGD is someone who can turn rhetoric to reality, and allow strategy to guide vision, a rare feat for a leader. 

Thirdly, empathy and efficacy:

The one word associated with KGD is her efficacy at work. I have been a witness to her insatiable quest for hard work. I remember very clearly when I visited the Department of Home in November 2013 for an official purpose, I was told that Kalon is in Delhi battling dengue, but was also informed at the same time that she is available for consultations over the phone. After I joined DIIR, I became a part of the Gangkyi circle and the staff at the Department of Home had interesting stories about KGD pulling successful all-nighters to get work done, and likewise inspiring her peers to do the same.

I had mentioned about the groundbreaking Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy Act, back then as a member of Tibetan Parliament in exile, I have witnessed Kasur leaving no stone unturned to ensure its smooth passage, even if it meant being at the New Delhi railway station at wee hours in the morning, in the sweltering heat to meet with Indian leaders. So this takes us back to KGD’s uncompromising flair for professional efficacy. 

Likewise KGD’s name is synonymous with empathy. A highlight of KGD’s career in public service is her role in the rehabilitation of newly arrived Tibetans from Tibet, be it with housing or with procurement and securing of small businesses for them. I clearly remember when an unfortunate sexual assault of a minor took place in Mundgod in 2013, leaving the exile community rattled, given my role as a member of the Tibetan Parliament, I tried reaching out to her office and before I was able to get in touch with her, in no time KGD had visited the settlement and ensured legal intervention into the matter. This speaks to the effect of her empathy and ethical discernment. 

Conclusion:

Therefore all of the traits in KGD that I outlined be it courage and conviction, vision and strategy, and empathy and efficacy are prerequisites of every leader. 

Before I conclude I would like to briefly spell out why the next 5 years (2021-2026) is crucial for Tibetan nation, people and the struggle. In 2024, we will mark the 65th anniversary of the Tibetan national uprising.  In 2025, His Holiness the Dalai Lama will enter into his 90th year. He will be a nonagenarian. We will witness a huge transition in the demographics of exile Tibetans living in 26 countries. The first generation of Tibetan leaders are phasing out and the 3rd generation Tibetans are stepping into the fold of Tibetan leadership. With the blessing and grace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we have not only survived but thrived for 60 years in exile. 

But in Tibet, China has only intensified its repressive policies. Reports on the mass labour program in Tibet targeting over half a million Tibetans from January to July of this year is worrying to say the least. The death of Lhamo, a mother of three in a police custody in Diru in August this year, and the recent reports of the disappearance of Rinchen Tsultrim, a bonpo monk from Amdo Ngaba who was held incommunicado for 18 months point to the worsening human rights situation in Tibet. 

A lot of times, we were left handicapped because of China’s global influence, but today the tables have turned and they are the vulnerable lot. Globally, we are all witness to the Chinese leadership put in the deep freeze. Looks like the winds of change are blowing in our favor. We need to tap into all these changes. As we say make hay while the sun shines, now is the moment.

Therefore, we need a leader who can steer the Tibet movement in this crucial phase of Tibet’s history. An individual with vision, strategy and political acumen. A viable leader who dares us to dream and make it come true. A formidable leader who shows us possibilities, and will open a floodgate of opportunities for us. A visionary leader who is also a consensus builder. A wise leader who champions the idea of diversity, differences in opinion and yet can unite us  because democracy is not about uniformity but unity. Therefore, KGD a political heavyweight who comes with a wealth of experience is the one. Time has come for KGD to be at the helm of Tibetan political leadership.

Finally, I wish all the contenders for the Sikyong election the very best. It truly is incumbent upon us, the electorate to exercise both our rights and responsibilities bestowed upon us by our exile democracy. Let us honor KGD’s appeal for unity and decorum by making sure the upcoming election is smooth and seamless. Let us be dignified with our words and actions. Let us always remember that one rises by lifting the other.

Personally, today feels like the culmination of a personal dream that I held onto for 10 years. For me, it is a dream come true, to see my icon, who is a dreamer, believer and a doer, usher us into a world of possibilities. KGD is the fittest candidate not just potentially but circumstantially as well. If we look back at our history,  it is inundated with stories of men. It is time we open a fresh chapter in our history, toward a new history of women. Let us all do the right thing by making sure that the right person is at the right seat, and in doing so create history or herstory.

Thank you,

December 5, 2020

New York City

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