The Majnu Ka Tilla Tibetan refugee colony was founded in the 1960s to consolidate Tibetan refugee communities around India’s capital into one location.
NEW DELHI, India— The Majnu Ka Tilla Tibetan refugee colony in New Delhi is a chaotic neighborhood of narrow alleys and shanty concrete structures packed into a thin strip of land between National Highway 9 and the Yamuna River.
The refugee colony was founded in the 1960s to consolidate Tibetan refugee communities around India’s capital into one location. Today, about 3,000 Tibetans live in Majnu Ka Tilla.
Tibetan restaurants, guesthouses, street food vendors and craft stands line the narrow streets, which are clogged with rickshaws, beggars, stray dogs and women carrying impossible loads on the tops of their heads.
It is the typical chaos of the Indian street. But in this section of India’s capital, walls are covered in “Free Tibet” graffiti and posters of the Dalai Lama. There is a Buddhist temple in the center of Majnu Ka Tilla, out front of which hangs a large poster with a tally of the number of days a trio of Tibetan activists has been on a hunger strike.
“You can walk around here and there are so many stories of people who gave up everything to come to India,” said Lopsang Sherap, 35, a guesthouse manager in Majnu Ka Tilla. “That tells you how bad it is in Tibet.”
Sherap’s parents crossed the Himalayas in 1959 to escape Tibet—the same year the Dalai Lama went into exile. Sherap was born in India, but he is not an Indian citizen. He does not have a passport and is essentially stateless, forbidden from returning to what he calls his “motherland.”
“It’s impossible for me to go to Tibet,” he said. “They’d never let in a Tibetan who was born in India. But if Tibet were free? Yes, of course I’d go back. And so would my parents.”
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