Biography

A towering figure in the exile polity, Gyari Dolma’s portfolio may be too extensive for the public persona to encompass.

With much of her life spent toward the fulfillment of the Tibetan cause under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, her competence, hard work, and sincerity are well documented.

She rose through the ranks to become one of the youngest members ever to be elected to the parliament and the first woman to become a Deputy Speaker, the highest for a woman in the history of Tibet. 

Some of the better-known achievements, be it the landmark GoI Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy 2014, gathering significant local, national and international Tibet supporters or her problem-solving skills whenever a matter became too vexed, are not flukes, but an outcome                                                               of a much evolved, experienced, and astute leadership.

Education

Born in 1964 in Kalimpong,, she went to the Central School for Tibetans (CST) Darjeeling from 1972 to 1981. She studied BA in Political Science in Chandigarh and Bachelor of Legislative Law (LLB) in Delhi.


Young Activist


Politically aware since her teens, Gyari demonstrated leadership qualities while in school and was the founding president of Students’ Social Service League(SSSL) at CST Darjeeling. A brilliant student and a recipient of the best girl medal, she represented her school for RTYC Darjeeling, paving the way for the many roles she was to play in the organization in the near future.

While in university, she worked as the joint secretary of the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress (RTYC), as the president of the Foreign Student Association in her college, as the chairperson of the women wing of the Foreign Students Association in Panjab University, and the chairperson of Women cell of the Tibetan Youth Congress(TYC).

The cell worked to realize the silver jubilee commemoration of the Tibetan National Uprisings in 1959 and saw the presence of stalwarts of Tibetan Women freedom fighters, many of those who participated in the uprisings in Tibet in March 1959. 

By the end of the year, inspired by His Holiness’ speech, these women leaders collectively reinstated the Tibetan Women Association(TWA), destined to play a crucial role in the Tibetan struggle movement. Apart from that, she was also an executive member of the Global 86 Youth Anti-Apartheid Movement at the time.

Tibetan Youth Congress(TYC)

In 1986, Gyari was elected to the Executive Board of the Tibetan Youth Congress and served as the Information Secretary, and later as the Joint Secretary in her second term until 1991.

As the period, she visited Japan and Australia and attended international conferences while spearheading many political activities with her colleagues and members of TYC across the world.

The urgency and the scale of TYC led activism, in the second half of the 1980s, is a politically charged and favorable time for Tibet advocacy. As a young activist, being in the middle of it all further fueled her determination. 

She remembers her time in TYC as her most cherished experience. Like most Tibetans taking part in the protests, she was also jailed a few times and as a remarkable activist, detained for more than eighty times.

In 1991, she was elected to the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputy(ATPD) as one of the youngest legislatures at 26.

 

The Legislature & First Woman Deputy Speaker

 
 
Her acumen as a legislature in the 11th ATPD got her re-election in the12th ATPD. In the 13th ATPD and 14th Tibetan Parliament in Exile(TPiE), she served as the Deputy Speaker, a milestone in the Tibetan exile history as the first woman to hold the post.
 
As deputy speaker for a decade at the turn of the century, she played a key role in improving the visibility, democratic structure, and significance of TPiE. It was during the leadership of Kalon Tripa Kyabje Samdhong Rinpoche and throughout the nine rounds of Sino-Tibet dialogue led by her brother late Lodi Gyari Rinpoche and envoys.

Inspired by the Kalon Tripa’s specific guidance that TPiE should reach out to other World Parliaments, Gyari and the team mobilized to reorganize the All Party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet comprising of leading Indian political figures likes the former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ji, former Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani Ji, and former Defence Minister George Fernandes to catapult Tibet advocacy effort.

In 2005, the 4th World Parliamentarian Convention on Tibet (WPCT) was held in Edinburg after a gap of ten years. It was followed by the 5th WPCT held in Rome in 2009. Dharamshala saw the highest number of foreign delegations, especially parliamentarians visiting the exile capital during that ten-year period.

During the same period, she testified on a number of occasions before the human rights committee, and foreign affairs committee of several national parliaments and the European Parliament.

A campaign called ‘Knock on the Door of the Embassy’ was initiated wherein the delegates approached various governments through their embassies in Delhi to brief them on the political struggle of the Tibetan people.

Recognizing the need to mobilize the legislatures of the host country, a visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Himachal Vidhan Sabha was made possible leading to the formation of the HP Legislature forum for Tibet.  

Throughout the period, she worked closely with The Tibetan Parliamentary and Policy Research Centre (TPPRC) since its inception in 1992.

In 2011, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama embarked on further devolution of political power, Gyari was appointed to a three-member committee to chart the roadmap of the process and also to the five-member drafting committee to amend the Charter of Tibetan government-in-exile.

Minister

When the newly-elected Prime Minister Dr. Lobsang Sangay took office in 2011, Gyari was the responsibility of the most extensive department – home.

Although much impressed with the dedication and professionalism of the department, a debilitating financial concern soon emerged with the official audit report showing that the Central Tibetan Relief Committee (CTRC) would go bankrupt in two years if some arrangements were not made.  

Gyari was quick to make the decision to take the matter to GoI and the MHA who with their sympathetic hearing of the problem in hand, disbursed a generous grant in aid of Rs 40 crores (8 crores each for a period of five years). It was the first substantial grant in aid for the rehabilitation of Tibetan refugees in about four decades.

 

Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy-2014

Perhaps, the most visible achievement during her tenure as a minister is the formulation of Central Indian government’s Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy(TRP) of 2014, a long and winding process that not only solved the immediate problems leading up to it but raised much-needed awareness about the precarious situation of the settlements and need for policy clarity in the future.

 

The Welfare of Tibetans Settlements in India, Nepal, and Bhutan

Bhutan

For the welfare of Tibetans refugees in Bhutan, the department approached His Excellency the Bhutanese Envoy who gave the assurance that the Tibetan refugees would receive all help as any of their nationals in the same situation.

A request was also made to take up the pending citizenship cases with due consideration for the sensitivity attributed to the issue by the host country.

Nepal

As for the protracted dilemma of Tibetans in Nepal, the department under Gyari kept a close tab on active projects and tried its best to implement the social benefit schemes, among other things. 

With the lack of elbow room at the local level, senior officials were consulted and the Kashag duly informed that the department was ready to put in all the money it had towards a lasting solution for our people in Nepal because, in the absence of an official review of the situation by the Nepal government, our welfare schemes can do just so much in alleviating the uncertainties.

Karnataka

Implementing the Central’s Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy, the state government issued Rights Tenancy and Crops (RTC) record in Tibetan names making Tibetans eligible for benefits particular from the Revenue and Agricultural department in the state.

The home department under Gyari also obtained funds and approval for a 24-hour power supply to the settlements in Karnataka which has some of the biggest settlements in India.

Himachal Pradesh

When Rajiv Gandhi Anna Yojana was first implemented in Himachal Pradesh in 2013, Gyari managed to get the Tibetan refugees included in the specific list of beneficiaries as reflected in the official gazette document. As the home to a huge number of Tibetans and numerous Tibetan monasteries and schools, the availability of food grains at a minimal cost in the state considerably lightens the financial burden.

Ladakh

In 2015, during one of her many visits to the Tibetan Sonamling Settlement in Ladakh, she visited Jangthang in winter when life is at its hardest and met with Tibetan nomads living in several locations near the Indo-Tibet border.

Seeing their commendable fortitude and the importance of continuous inhabitation of these Jangthang plains, Gyari convened a meeting of local Tibetan representatives with the high level Indian government and defense officials at the border to address the plight of the nomads and the significance of their role. 

In this regard, a huge amount of funds was earmarked for future projects in the region.

Empowering the Staff

With the goal of empowering the leadership at the local level, continuous efforts were made to appoint/elect Tibetan Settlement Officers (TSOs) most in tune with the need of the region and to open a channel for the officers to work with local leaders. Working meetings chaired by key leaders of Indian and Tibetan administration were held to provide exposure to our leaders and an overview to the host leaders about our concerns.

TSOs were given workshops to equip them with the necessary information and skillsets.

In view of the important role played by the Federation of Tibetan Cooperative (FTC), it was officially brought under the purview of the CTA as an autonomous body and under the jurisdiction of the audit department. Working relation between TSO and the Tibetan Cooperative was strengthened.

Promotion of Tibetan settlements as tourist destinations

While funds from the host and supporting governments have helped us so far, Gyari’s long term goal is to create a financially sustainable economy for both the Central Tibetan Administration(CTA) and Tibetan people in exile. She had taken steps in this regard. 

The home department under her leadership organized an official celebration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in June 2015 in the set-up of a Tibet festival in Bangalore.

Similar Tibet festivals were held at Select Citywalk Mall, Saket, and Delhi Haat in the national capital. The primary objective was to mark the year 2015 as a year dedicated to His Holiness, to celebrate him among Indian brothers and sisters, and to simultaneously promote Tibetan settlements across India as tourist destinations. These events were funded by the tourism department of the Karnataka government.

Housing for all

Besides the formulation of TRP that sought to bring uniformity in the rights enjoyed by Tibetan refugees in India, it was felt that concrete actions needed to be taken within the Tibetan jurisdiction to address the gap in social benefits. A glaring issue remains the pending housing accommodation for the newly arrived Tibetans. Housing for all, as a basic public welfare need is endorsed by Gyari.

In this regard, the department worked throughout the time of her Ministry to realize the construction first-ever settlement for the newly arrived Tibetans in Bir, Himachal. Named lily after the main sponsor, it is a long-needed project brought to completion.

As Kalon, Gyari worked to reopen the communication channel with the central and state govt. in Uttarakhand to make necessary funds available to lay down the work for the construction of community housing named Gepheling at Dekyiling, Dehradun for the newly arrived Tibetans, and those living outside the settlement in the region.

Similarly, in response to the long-time request of the newly arrived Tibetan groups for housing in South India, the necessary circumstance and funds were created for the construction of the village for newly arrived Tibetans in Bylakuppe which was realized in 2019.

Indira Awas Yojana(IAY)first launched in 1985 and later renamed Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awaas Yojana (PMGAY)was the flagship housing program of the Ministry of Rural Development and worked toward constructing houses for the below-poverty-line (BPL) population in rural India. Gyari managed to get Tibetans included in the specific list of beneficiaries during her tenure. It has been removed and she looks forward to working on the same if elected Sikyong so to complement the housing for all endeavor of CTA.

Rescuing Tibetan residence from demolition

Majnu-Ka-Tilla and Ladakh Bodh Vihara, Delhi

When the Tibetan colony in Delhi – Majnu ka Tilla and Ladakh Vihara were faced with threats of demolition on few fronts, it was Kasur Gyari Dolma’s all-out effort that saved the day. The NH-1 highway in front of the colony was marked for a widening project while the National Green Tribunal(NGT) was all set to clear what it considers encroachment of forest area. NGT had formed the Yamuna encroachment removal committee headed by Justice Kusha Mehta who came down strongly and was adamant about clearing the area. 

When the Tibetan representatives in the case were dejected and checking out an alternative site for the people, Samyeling residents personally requested Gyari to intervene. Pushed in a corner and having much to lose, Gyari approached the concerned Indian leaders to salvage Tibetans from having to leave their home once again.

She represented the Tibetans as the spokesperson and put the humanitarian and legal case of the Tibetan refugees in front of Justice Kusha Mehta and others.

Assisted closely by the representative of the Bureau of His Holiness in New Delhi, Mr. Tenpa Tsering, she received the necessary support from TPiE, which accommodated many leaves she needed every time she traveled from Dharamshala to Delhi to attend dozens of meeting with the Indian leaders over the months, turned things around.

Kongpo cluster on TIPA Rd, Kullu, Rewalsar 

In 2013, the over 200 Tibetan households on TIPA Rd, Dharamshala, Dekyiling Tibetan cluster community in Kullu Manali, and the meditation huts around the holy cave of Guru Padmasambhava in Rewalsar were marked for demolition as the NGT alleged encroachment. 

The residence came to her after having received notice of demolition.  

It took similar grit and an exacting process of appeal and negotiation, that saw Gyari and team running from pillar to post. The hard work paid off when a lasting solution was found and the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy 2014 and the Himachal Pradesh Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy were formulated.

Notable Qualities

Troubleshooter

During the outbreak of the “Tibetan refugees go back” cry in Arunachal Pradesh and at the time of the stabbing of a Tibetan youth in Mysore, Gyari rushed to the respective states to represent the Tibetans and to avoid further escalation of the matter. On both occasions, she played a positive role in reaching mutually agreeable solutions and won the sincere appreciation of both the state governments. 

Likewise, when Orissa Tibetan settlement faced encroachment and wrath of the locals, Gyari rushed to Bhubaneshwar to speak to concerned state government authorities to de-escalate the issue and to find a lasting solution to the problem.

Similar instances and the number of times she had helped individual Tibetans, organizations, and entities over the years is too numerous to note.

Spokesperson

A natural speaker, her broad understanding of international politics and law, command over languages, and understanding of the Tibet issue and people inside out puts her in good stead as a spokesperson. She has spoken for Tibet on different occasions as an activist, legislature, minister, and in a personal capacity as Tibetan over the years. Be it one-on-one meeting with high-level political leaders, group meetings with organizations, public meetings, conferences, parliaments, or media interviews, she has maintained the highest integrity and standard as a spokesperson.

Unifier

Her focus on the larger Tibet issue and open-mindedness meant that she is able to bridge different sides, ideologies, and organizations within the struggle. Her deep-rooted faith in His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a great unifier in itself for all Tibetans. 

In her long years of service, she has worked with both the older and younger generation of Tibetans in exile.

She is known for her warm relationship with all, from senior leaders that she respects highly to many colleagues, fellow activists, NGO workers and people, old and young, girls and boys, lay and monastic.

She has also made a conscious effort to look after the welfare of the newly arrived Tibetans whom she has high regard for, for their lived experience and their ability to connect us with Tibetans inside Tibet.

She is also averse to regionalism and sectarian inclinations and hopes to work for and with all Tibetans. 

 

Conclusion

Besides serving in the roles that she was formally assigned, she worked closely with many organizations and NGOs, including the Tibetan Women Association(TWA) over the years on issues ranging from advocacy, empowerment, cultural preservation, policy framing, etc.

In recognition of her service, she was awarded the Uttam Nagrik Puraskar by Bharatiya Dalit Sahitya Academy, Nari Shakti Award by the International Nepal Sanskritik Parishad, and the Peace of India award, among numerous other recognitions.

Her works and experiences are too numerous to be enumerated in detail as she has worked each day of her life in the service of Tibet.

The time is right for Tibetans to give her the much-deserved opportunity to deliver at the highest level and serve His Holiness closely once again.