India must apologise to the Karmapa Lama

In his only interview to media on the eve of his first and only visit to the US in May 2008, the Karmapa spoke to me about a wide-ranging issues, including human rights, environmental degradation and religious freedom in Tibet
In his only interview to media on the eve of his first and only visit to the US in May 2008, the Karmapa spoke to me about a wide-ranging issues, including human rights, environmental degradation and religious freedom in Tibet

In the age of 24x7 TV channels facts are not sacrosanct and the only things that matter are screaming headlines, half-baked theories and silly opinions. The Karmapa affair is a good example of this malaise. Now the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has given a clean chit to the Karmapa Lama in the case involving seizure of foreign currency from ‘his’ monastery. But HP chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal has refused to comment on the clean chit to the Karmapa, Ugyen Trinley Dorje, from the Central agencies which looked into the alleged violation of the Foreign Exchange Management Act by the Tibetan leader.

However, while speaking to some Tibetan reporters at Dharamsala on Thursday, Dhumal sang a diiferent tune.  "Karmapa's name in any way is not involved in any land related cases. Neither there are any cases against some particular monastery person,” said Dhumal. This is the same chief minister who has been going hammer and tongs at the Karmapa and the Dalai Lama and the entire Tibetan community in exile, making all kinds of wild allegations. To push his case, Dhumal even went to the extent of asking the Centre to reimburse the “entire amount of money spent by the Himachal government on the security of the Dalai Lama and Karmapa Lama”. Now, it seems he has lost faith in his police but he won't admit it because the lies about the Karmapa have been repeated too many times.

Since lies spread faster than truth, these bizarre allegations against the Karmapa appeared in the media as the gospel truth. Stories coming from unnamed, anonymous sources were played on prime-time TV and splashed across the newspapers, leaving no doubt in some minds that the Karmapa was upto some mischief. First they blew smoke in the air and then began looking for the fire. With the state government and media hunting in pair, the Karmapa had no chance to prove his innocence. The Tibetan spiritual guru had already been declared guilty by suspicion. The entire Tibetan community in India had been put under the scanner.  

The day the police raided the Gyuto Tantric Monastery in Dharamsala and allegedly found Rs 6 crore in possession of a resident of the monastery, TV screens were swarmed by conspiracy theories. Nothing was backed by facts. Truth was drowned in the cacophony of mindless allegations. If anything has been exposed by this unfortunate drama, it’s the ignorance and gullibility of the Indian police and media.

Here is a look at some 'facts and evidence' which were either ignored or deliberately twisted by the media and their “invisible” sources to prove that the Karmapa was indeed a Chinese spy who had come to India to grab land across the Himalayan range on behalf of the Chinese government:

Chinese currency found at the monastery: It was alleged that the Karmapa is a Chinese spy because 1.1 million Chinese Yuan were found at the monastery. The police and media forgot to report that currencies of 25 other countries, including Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, UK, US, Australia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, were part of the cash found. Also, they ignored the fact that some travellers cheques were also found. They ignored this fact because it could prove that the money had come from hundreds of devotees from dozens of countries who visit the Karmapa every day, unless the police meant to accuse the Karmapa of working as a spy for all the 25 countries.

And it didn’t occur to any reporter and investigator that the Chinese have to be very stupid to send their currency to the Karmapa. As it’s not an international currency, the Yuan is just a piece of paper in India. One can’t even buy a loaf of bread with it, forget using it for espionage. It’s like sending an Indian spy to China with bundles of rupees. Plain stupid.

The Karmapa monastery is illegal: The DGP of Himachal alleged that the land deal for the Karmapa monastery proved that it was a ‘benami property’. The allegation was parroted by the media without anyone pointing out that the Gyuto Tantric Monastery is neither owned nor constructed by the Karmapa. This monastery came up in the late 90s, years before Karmapa arrived in India. In fact, parts of the complex were still under construction when the Karmapa moved there in 2000. He lives in a small apartment on the top floor of this monastery and has nothing to do with the affairs of this institute. It’s absolutely wrong to call it Karmapa’s monastery. The Karmapa’s monastery, Rumtek, is in Sikkim and he has been waiting for permission from the government of India to go there. Also, his application for building a monastery in HP is pending with the government.

He was sent to India by China: In 2000, when the Karmapa escaped to India, the Chinese claimed that he had gone to India to “collect some books and musical instruments”. If he was their spy and his escape was stage-managed by Beijing, why would the Chinese be defensive on the issue and claim that he would come back to Tibet. It beats all logic. In fact, the Karmapa’s escape was a huge embarrassment for China. It was the biggest escape from Tibet since 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled to India. It was the single biggest failure of China’s policy in Tibet. To control the damage the Chinese floated a bizarre theory and we swallowed it hook, line and sinker . The Himachal police, which accused him of being a spy, hasn’t produced a single piece of evidence, not even telephone call records, to prove that the Karmapa is in touch with someone in China.

Karmapa owns huge properties: One of the allegations made against the Karmapa was that he owns properties worth $1.5 million, including the Gyuto Tantric Monastery where he is staying at present. The fact that this monastery is not owned or built by the Karmapa was completely ignored. Also the fact that it was the Dalai Lama who had made arrangements for the Karmpapa to stay in two rooms at the top of Gyuto monastery was completely ignored. I have interviewed the Karmapaa at his residence a few times. It is a very small house with a small balcony. The police hasn’t produced any evidence so far which suggests that the Karmapa owns properties worth $1.5 million in India. But this lie was flashed on TV screens as breaking news for days. And now Himachal CM says there's no case against the Karmapa.

He doesn’t speak against China: One strong “evidence” against the Karmapa, according to his detractors, is that he hasn’t said anything against China since he came to India. Again a total lie. In his first meeting with the press in 2000, the Karmapa clearly had categorically said that he escaped to India because there was “no freedom in Tibet”. In my interviews with him in the years 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2008, he spoke about issues of religious freedom and human rights in China. Of late, he has been talking about environmental degradation in Tibet. As recently as December 8, 2010, I, along with some other journalists met the Karmapa at Bodhgaya and he again spoke about the problems in China-controlled Tibet. Also, his detractors forget a simple fact that the Karmapa is not a political leader but head of one of the four sects of Tibetan Buddhism, the Karma Kagyu sect. He is a spiritual leader. In the 1000 years of their history, the Karmapas have been entirely spiritual. The Karmapa is not supposed to talk about political issues. That role is reserved for the Dalai Lama who is the political leader of all Tibetans irrespective of their sects. We also never hear political comments from the heads of two other Tibetan sects, Nyingma and Sakya, but no one accuses them of being Chinese spies. So why single out the Karmapa?

The Himachal government has committed a Himalayan blunder by casting aspersions on the Karmapa in particular and the Tibetans in exile in general. Suddenly, there is a feeling among the Tibetans that they can’t take their freedom in India for granted. This witch-hunt has rattled the community. So vicious were the attacks against the Tibetans that even the Dalai Lama, the most popular person in the world and India’s best global ambassador, was accused by a nitwit of land grabbing. It was preposterous and stupid.

India should reassure the Tibetans that they are safe in this country and no political party will cut a deal with China for short-term gains at the expense of Tibetan refugees in India.

To begin with, the government must apologise to the Karmapa Lama.

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