Category: Police Raid Jan 2011
Guest post by DIBYESH ANAND
India prides itself for having a free and vibrant media. A recent story around Tibetan exile leader Karmapa lama has exposed the Indian media scene as closely resembling a chor bazaar. One where uninformed assertions, distorted facts, libelous statements, ad hominem attacks, and lazy analysis are recycled again and again to create a sensation.
The remarkable convergence in how the different channels and newspapers covered the story of police raids and findings of unaccounted foreign currencies at Karmapa’s temporary establishment near Dharamsala is conspicuous. In the media, the unaccounted money is however presented in salacious and sensationalist manner. Money is not the focus, the Karmapa’s alleged China connection is. A possible financial irregularity of $1.6 million is a non-story in India where scams, schemes and scandals of billions erupt with the regularity of tides. The story becomes one of Karmapa as a probable Chinese spy.
Karmapa is the third highest leader in Tibetan Buddhist world. Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje came into exile in 1999 at the age of 14, is the head og Kagyu sect, but often touted as a possible figure to lead the Tibetan people after the present Fourteenth Dalai Lama passes away.
There are too many holes in the story conjured up by the media relying mostly upon the unnamed sources. So many that one can question the editorial judgements in allowing these to be reported or aired. Let me point out to some of the glaring problems in the Karmapa story as reported by many Indian channels and newspapers.
First, why did Karmapa’s monastery have Indian and foreign currencies, including Chinese yuan, in cash? If Karmapa was indeed a ‘Chinese mole’, would the Chinese government be so stupid to send him ‘neatly stacked’ Chinese yuan to use in India? Did they think that Chinese yuan is so powerful that it can now be used in Dharamsala without raising any suspicion? Presence of so many types of foreign currencies point toward only one thing – Karmapa has followers and disciples all over the world. A simple online search by a journalist would have convinced her of the worldwide appeal of the Kagyu sect, including in the West, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China. As for the mystery of Chinese yuan, what do journalists expect the Tibetans from Tibet, who have a strong tradition of patronising the lamas, to give their donations in? Tibetans live under severe restrictions inside China. Are they expected to go to the Bank of China’s Lhasa branch and say that they need dollars or rupees to send donations to their religious leaders (most of whom live in India)? Since when did it become a crime for religious leaders in India to have followers inside China (and Tibet is inside China) but not in any other part of the world? Well-off Tibetans as well as Chinese followers of Tibetan lamas will often use cash to avoid any problems with the authorities in China. The possession of foreign currency in cash may have broken laws in India but it has nothing to with Karmapa’s character.
Second, Indian media keeps reporting that Karmapa may have been sent by China to take control of monasteries from Ladakh to Sikkim to Tawang. The addition of Tawang is the most glaring one here for it immediately raises concerns about security in the disputed area. Did any journalist bother to investigate what important monastery exists in Tawang that Karmapa could take over? There is no Kagyu monastery of significance in the region. Indian media seems completely ignorant about sectarian divisions within Tibetan Buddhism and shows no interest to appreciate the complexities of Tibetan Buddhist regions that belong to India.
Third, some media reported that Karmapa had to answer questions through an interpreter because he can speak ‘only Chinese’. This is another lazy assertion for not only does the Karmapa speak excellent Tibetan but broken English and is learning Korean and Japanese.
Surely good journalism is one where reports are verified, ‘facts’ presented by unnamed sources reconfirmed and taken with a critical distance, and all efforts are made not to damage personal reputation. Speculating in public about Karmapa being a Chinese spy is not only lazy journalism but a libelous attack on beliefs of millions of followers of Tibetan Buddhism. While the Dalai Lama may still harp on about Guru-Chela relations between Indians and Tibetans, this case of news sensationalism has questioned the cherished Indian myth of warm hospitality (what hospitality allows one to accuse the guest of being a spy?), exposed the Guru as irresponsible and ignorant, and harmed Indo-Tibetan relations. At the very least, the Indian media owes an apology to the Karmapa and the Tibetan community.
Dr Dibyesh Anand is an Associate Professor in International Relations at London’s Westminster University and the author of ‘Tibet: A Victim of Geopolitcs’.