Free Tibet, rock and faith is a way of life for him

Choedup didn’t have to face the struggles that his forefathers did,but he still cares for their cause.

A young Tibetan activist goes by the name ‘Ugyan Tibet Choedup’ on Facebook. After completing his bachelor studies, he was tempted to go for a lucrative job. But he was goaded out it, thanks to his father.  

“He said, ‘Do what you want to do. But I will not be happy if you get a job elsewhere… or with whatever money you earn’,” says Choedup, whose MPhil programme in Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University is being funded by the Tibetan government in exile. “My father wanted me to serve the Tibetan community.”

Before enrolling himself at JNU, he worked with the Students for a Free Tibet, a non-profit which works in “solidarity with the people in their struggle for freedom and independence”.

Choedup claims that he has opted for life as a nomad. He says most of his life he has stayed away from his parents, who live in a small town called Bir in Himachal Pradesh. Ever since he stayed away from his parents, he has studied at several schools including one Tibetan medium residential school at Dharamsala, two-hour ride away from Bir, and university education took him away to Karnataka, Punjab, and now Delhi.  

Having taken a cue from his ‘senior’ activist friends, he tries not to picture himself moving to someplace with his family. “I was indoctrinated to think about Tibet all the time,” Choedup says, while adding that after completing his education he will be working for the Tibetan community “for sure”.

Being a third generation immigrant, he says, his priorities have started to shape differently. His grandfather, who came from Tibet in 1960s, worked at a road construction site in the Manali region in Himachal – apparently the “highest altitude road built by the Tibetans in the world”.

“My grandparents were working there. My mother and father were born during that particular time. Obviously, they never had opportunity for education. They never went to school.”

“Our struggle and their struggle were different. For them, at back of their mind, they always had Tibet. And their practical difficulty was survival,” Choedup says.

In a bid to be more significant in the ‘struggle’, he has developed his research interest in studying evolution of Tibetan identity under Chinese policy, as it may help him to discard simplistic understanding of the political standoff between Chinese government and Tibetan freedom activists.

Since the activist in him prevents him from becoming a neutral academician, Choedup has his plans ready. To serve the Tibetan community, he sees himself working for the Central Tibetan Administration or a non-profit organisation or as an independent critique.

“The knowledge we acquire not just helps us to understand things. It also enables us to change things. These are some of the basic thing I learnt while working for the NGO,” he says.

Choedup sources his inspiration from both rock and religion. He seldom goes to monasteries, but has faith in Buddhist philosophy. He calls ‘self-immolation’ powerful method of protest, yet he doesn’t glorify it. Tibetan rock concerts he thinks can be a powerful tool to raise awareness about their cause.

“China in 21st Century has hard power, and now they are planning to get soft power – which we are trying to deny them,” he says, speaking about protests by Tibetan refugees last week against Xi Jinping’s visit to India.“By getting beaten up or arrested while protesting, we feel closer to Tibetans, living in Tibet,” he adds.

Choedup has big plans, including not letting the ‘resistance’ die and working at the grassroots level. But since he is not all about  activism, he says, he is devising a strategy to find someone who is working in ‘his field’.

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