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Ugen Bhutia
Date of Publish: 2016-08-19


Monks intensify stir to press for Karmapa's visit to Sikkim


While the whole country was celebrating its 70th Independence Day with fervour, monks in Sikkim celebrated it in a novel way; they celebrated it with black armbands. These black armbands were the sign of despair and discontent against alleged insensitivity and indifferent attitude of the government towards their demand, even after their hunger strike of more than a month.

The monks, supported by the Buddhist communities in the state, have been demanding that the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje should be allowed to visit Sikkim since soon his escape from Tibet in 2000 to India. Since then various cultural and political groups in the state have been raising their voice for it. The monks from different monasteries in the state organized a rally- ‘Peace and Aspiration rally’- in Gangtok on July 10, 2016. The government’s response was not a positive one; it ignored it completely.  Reading from the first signs,  Denzong Lhadey Tsopa, an organisation of the monks, had decided to fast till the demand was accepted.

Karmapa is the highest order in the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Majority of the Buddhists in Sikkim belong to this sect. Rumtek Monastery in East Sikkim is the abode of Karmapa. It was built by 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje in 1966 and was named as Pal Karmapa Densa Shed Drub Cho Khor Ling meaning ‘The seat of His Holiness The Gyalwa Karmapa’. Hence demands were raised to get permission for the 17th Karmapa to live in Rumtek Monastery. But there was a major problem in this demand.

Ogyen Trinley Dorje supported by Tibetan religious head Dalai Lama is not the only one who claims to be Karmapa. Trinlay Thaye Dorje who came to India in 1994 from Tibet because of the threat from the Chinese government is also another candidate for the post. His candidature is no less than the Ogyen Trinley because he is supported by Shamar Rinpoche, the second highest rank in the Kagyu monk’s hierarchy. The disagreement about the real 17th Karmapa has reached judiciary and is presently subjudice.

The monks and Buddhists in Sikkim consider Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the original 17th Karmapa. But now the matter is subjudice,  they changed their demand from reinstating Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa to permit him to visit Phodong or Ralang Monastery for the Drukpa Tsheshi prayers instead of Rumtek monastery. Drukpa Tsheshi is one of the important Buddhist festivals in the state. Since this demand was also ignored, lamas who were in hunger strike since 10 July are now demanding that he should be allowed to visit any place that the government suggest at the least.

The issue of Karmapa visit to Sikkim became one of the major political issues in the State. By and large every political party in the state promised that they will bring him to Sikkim in every election since the year 2000. State legislative Assembly election in 2014 was no way different. The issues is more important for the candidates who are contesting for Sangha seat. Article 371 (f) of the Indian constitution gives space for the Sangha seat to give monks representation in the governance of the State. Only the monks from different monasteries of Sikkim can vote for Sangha candidates. Needless to say, the trusts of monks on the candidate in bringing Karmapa greatly influences their choice while voting. Moreover, the adequate numbers of voters from Buddhist communities make the issue undeniable for any political outfits in the State.

In 2014, State Legislative Assembly passed two resolutions urging the Central government to allow Ogyen Trinley’s visit to Sikkim.

But the present contradiction between the monks and the state government is about the place of his visit. According to the protesting lamas the government is trying to confuse and manipulate the situation by requesting Central government to allow Ogyen Trinley to visit Rumtek Monastery. While knowing that this could not be achieved because the case is in the judicial process, such insistence by the government has desolated the monks. 

Moreover, rather than heeding to the grievances of the citizens, those in power are adding into their misery by eschewing the issue. Various Bhutia Lepcha Buddhist organisations of Sikkim and a Joint Action Committee (for restoration of Democracy in Sikkim) submitted the memorandums on 10 and 11 august respectively to the Governor requesting him to look into the matter. To date no reply has been received from the gubernatorial office.  

While governor maintained the silence and ignored the issue, representatives from the government visited the protestors on 11th August 2016. But the insensitivity and callousness attitude of the government towards their demand was increasingly leading to desperation. The protesters have been sitting on a hunger strike since 33 days in the Bhutia-Lepcha House in the Tibet road, Gangtok. According to the protestors when the ministers visited them they had shown concern on water and electric supplies in the BL house than discussing the issue for which they were protesting.

However, even such attitudes of the authorities could not deter the monks from their steadfast protest. And on 15th of August more monks joined them to celebrate Independence Day with a black armband. They are now planning to the march towards the Nathula, Indo-Chinese border and one of the favorite tourist spot in Sikkim, if authorities continued such attitudes. And for the government the need of an hour is that it should understand the situation and start the real dialogue with these monks rather than beating around the bush.



Ugen Bhutiya  

(Ugen Bhutiya is a Doctoral Fellow at the Department of History, Sikkim university. He can be reached at bhutiaups@gmail.com )


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