Top Lama "Banned" from India

Sep 17, 1999

Category: Tai Situ Rinpoche

Tibet Information Network
17 September, 1994 ISSN 1355-3313

A high-ranking Tibetan lama has been accused by New Delhi of "anti- Indian activities" and has been effectively banned from entering India. The move is being interpreted by Indian newspapers to mean that the Indian Government regards the lama as a pro-Chinese agent, apparently because he has recently made well-publicised visits to Tibet and Beijing.

The order is of considerable political significance, equivalent to the British Government denouncing a senior bishop as a Russian spy. The order appears to be an indirect criticism of the Dalai Lama, who earlier this year declared strong support for the lama, and could indicate a change in India's policy towards the Tibetan leader and his 130,000 followers in exile. The Indian Government has always been extremely supportive of the Dalai Lama and is not known to have criticised him even indirectly in the past.

The accusation against the lama could also indicate a toughening in India's relations with China, whose top military official visited Delhi last week.

The banned lama, Tai Situ Rimpoche, is ranked second or third in the Kagyupa school, one of the four sects of Tibetan Buddhism, and has lived for over thirty years in Sikkim, now a north-east Indian province. He has recently returned from Beijing where he was negotiating with the Chinese authorities to bring a Tibetan child, recognised as a reincarnate lama by the Dalai Lama, to India.

The official restriction order, issued two weeks ago but only learnt about today, says that Situ Rimpoche cannot enter India without direct clearance from India's Home Ministry, because of his "anti-Indian activities". The lama, who is internationally regarded as a leading exponent of Buddhist philosophy with thousands of students in Asian and western countries, has issued a strong statement declaring his innocence and re-affirming his loyalty to India.

Situ Rimpoche, who is currently travelling in East Asia giving Buddhist teachings, confirmed yesterday that the order existed, but said he had not himself received any official notification. "I know that this order exists, but I don't know at what level it has been signed and I don't believe it can have been issued with the full knowledge of the India Government," he told TIN. "It must be a misunderstanding," he added.

The lama, who has lived in India as a refugee since he fled from Tibet as a child, stressed his allegiance to India, which he described as his "second home". "I have always had and continue to have great respect and deep appreciation for India and the Indian people, and I have great faith and trust in the Indian Government," he said.

Situ Rimpoche said he had no idea what the allegations were based on, and stressed that his recent trips to China and Tibet had been purely connected to his religious duties, which have been widely publicised. "I can assure you that I have no political involvement with any Government whatsoever," he stated. His visits to China and Tibet were carried out after consultation with the Indian authorities and the Dalai Lama, both of whom "seemed perfectly happy about my trips", he said.

Indian Home Ministry officials said yesterday that they would not give a public comment on the affair until next week but have confirmed the existence of the restriction order in discussions with the Tibetan Government in exile, which is based in Northern India.

"We have approached the relevant Indian officials and expressed our concerns", said the exile Government's Chief Minister, Kalon Tenzin Tethong, speaking from his headquarters in India yesterday. He said that his government had not yet received any clear explanation from the Indians as to the allegations made against Situ Rimpoche. Newspapers in India said that ban order was imposed because Situ was a "Chinese agent".

"I am totally unaware that he is involved in anything that could be considered anti-Indian and I think it is very unlikely", said the Tibetans' Chief Minister. He added that he had not heard of the Indian authorities imposing restrictions on a Tibetan figure of such prominence at any time in the previous ten or fifteen years.

- Newspaper Campaign Against "Chinese-Backed" Lama -

An Indian newspaper, the Indian Express, has been running a ten-month campaign against the lama, portraying him as "Chinese-backed" because he visited his native Tibet to oversee the enthronement of the child recognised there as the reincarnation of his teacher, the 16th Karmapa. The articles quoted heavily from internal correspondence held by the Home Ministry in New Delhi and in retrospect appear now to have been government-inspired.

The apparent endorsement by the Indian government of the Indian Express allegations, which were generally regarded as inflammatory, was described as bizarre by observers in Delhi. "I don't think these allegations have any currency beyond the Indian Express, and I really don't know what is behind this except that he has travelled to Tibet and China," said Kalon Tethong.

Hundreds of Tibetan refugees now make regular visits to Tibet with Chinese consent, many of them lamas planning to reconstruct destroyed monasteries. The effective Indian ban on Situ Rimpoche may be a heavy- handed way of warning high-ranking Tibetans not to get too close to Beijing, and indicates that the current Indo-Chinese rapprochement is still sensitive territory.

Tai Situ has been involved in a bitter dispute with another exile Tibetan lama, Shamar Rimpoche, who had fiercely contested Situ's candidate for the Karmapa reincarnation, and was assumed to be connected to the Indian Express campaign. The dispute has led to at least two fights between rival supporters in Indian monasteries.

Tibetans interviewed today interpreted the restriction order on Situ Rimpoche as a slight by the Indian Government to the Dalai Lama, who publicly endorsed Situ's position in the succession dispute and has encouraged visits by lamas to Tibet.



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