//Building Identity in a Hostel: The case of the Tibetan Youth Hostel in Delhi

Building Identity in a Hostel: The case of the Tibetan Youth Hostel in Delhi

By Malica Mishra, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Refugeeism & identity

For all groups of refugees the world over, the necessity to preserve; to hang onto segments of their original, native identity (which is seen as evolving from their  native place of birth or origin) in the country of migration, is seen as essential. The older generations of people are specially loathe to give up their native identity and try to socialize their children through patterns of upbringing and social control to enable them to have within their personalities, elements of

their original culture, tradition, language and identity, to the extent possible.

Specific strategies are also incorporated and institutionalized by refugee communities for preservation of their cultures; languages and identities in exile  through the mechanism of education (schools); religion   (church/monasteries etc); political and economic organizations and other committees. Refugees, in this respect, need to be looked as active agents who
strategize and negotiate in their place of migration to retain their essential and core identities.
Identity is to be seen  here as more than the basic idea(s) about the definition of the self and others categorization of the self or ‘Me and Myself’

lf it is to be seen as encompassing social; cultural; economic; religious; regional and  political identity. Rather than taking identity as something given; it is to be  seen as a process, which is socially and politically constructed.   Identity, especially in the context of the Tibetan youth in Delhi seems to me to be an ongoing construction of a process taking place within the environs of a building, the Tibetan youth hostel in Rohini, Delhi which houses a substantial number of outstation Tibetan students pursuing graduation in Delhi University.

Many of the youth I spoke with agreed that it is because of the stay of three years within its environs that many Tibetans are able to ‘retain’ their  ‘Tibetanness’  that is seen as in danger of being washed away by the tide of external (Indian and global) cultures and influences of the city of Delhi. It is  this essential connection between the identities of Tibetan youth and the place of their residence (in this context the Tibetan Youth Hostel) that I seek to explore in this posting.

Setting up of the Tibetan Youth Hostel:

Preserving of roots in the city   The Tibetan Youth Hostel was set up in the late 1990′ s (probably 1997) because, alongwith other reasons like expensive stay in rented accommodation etc, it was believed that the Tibetan youth was ‘losing touch with Tibetan related studies’.  The project proposal (for the setting up of the hostel) states in unequivocal  terms that the Tibetan education that children receive in Tibetan schools was getting eroded with the children receiving higher education in Delhi University  and other Indian universities after school.

The project proposal clearly states this saying that ‘In order to preserve the Tibetan identity, the Tibetan children are diligently taught Tibetan language, religion, history and culture as part of their school curriculum. However in  Indian colleges, Tibetan related education is not available. Hence during their 3 to 7 years in college, the Tibetan students are totally out of touch with Tibetan related studies. This puts a stop (to the former) and many forget what they had
diligently learnt in school. Since preservation and promotion of Tibetan culture amongst the new generation of Tibetans is crucial for the survival of the Tibetan community as a whole, we need to address this problem’.

It was believed (by the Department of Education of the Tibetan government in exile, the implementing agency of the project) that the setting up of the hostel  in Delhi would solve the above problem and it would be a major step towards preserving and promoting Tibetan language and culture in the city of Delhi, a  place with the largest concentration of Tibetan students alongwith Chandigarh and Bangalore. The project proposal envisages the provision of ‘Tibetan related education’ in the hostel, with classes in Tibetan language and history ; organizing of Tibetan dance and music competition; discussions on latest political  developments on Tibetan issues in the hostel etc. In this way, it was believed that the Tibetan students ‘can keep in touch with their language, religion, culture and Tibetan way of life while receiving a modern education in the colleges’.

The Tibetan Youth Hostel in Rohini(East)   It is located in a quiet neighbourhood (even though the main road and metro station is located a little distance from hostel and the local fire station also  emits noises of sirens and occasional drills ). The rickshaw-wallas know the hostel as a place where the ‘Nepalese’ stay.  There is a small market nearby which the students have named as ‘chota Prashant Vihar’ (the ‘bada’ or the normal Prashant Vihar is a proper shopping complex at a larger distance from the hostel). This is the place where they hang around sometimes in the evenings (girls always in groups) to have tea and snacks or to buy knick-knacks etc.
Just outside the hostel, there is a small shop of a chai-wallah who also gets the students as customers in the evenings.

Religion & Identity in the hostel

 The building is huge and impressive to look at and very aesthetically done. The architecture of the building is very ‘Tibetan’ and one is struck by the sheer visual appeal of it as soon as one steps inside the hostel gates .It is brightly  painted with the traditional colors of things denoting ‘Tibetanness’: red; yellow; blue and green.

The religion of Tibetan Buddhism and particularly the institution and persona of His Holiness The Dalai Lama seems to emerge as the most important element, which constitutes the core of Tibetan identity in exile in India. This is also visible  in the structure and ambience of the building that seeks to preserve Tibetan identity and to ‘protect’ the students from outside influences, as a cocoon would do to larvae of a butterfly.  In the lawn there is a huge pole with prayer-flags
attached to it fluttering in the breeze. These prayer-flags called ‘therchock or tarchok’ come in various colors and with prayers embossed upon them, are hoisted aloft to drive away evil spirits and to bring plenty and prosperity’. They also  ‘symbolize the undying continuity of the hoary Tibetan tradition'(Saklani,1984:441). The building is spruced up during festivities like
losar (Tibetan New Year).There are also huge urns made of concrete in the premises used for burning traditional Tibetan  incense during festivities like Losar During my visit to the hostel during Losar ,I saw ceremonial Tibetan scarves called Khartak or Khadar tied around these urns.