By Deepa Majumdar
Given this background, our historical moment demands a certain balance in our moral-political views of refugees. Although vilified on social media (the modern lynch mob) for these words (from Sep 16, 2018, Rotterdam, Netherlands), which have been taken out of context, HH the Dalai Lama, himself a refugee, has perhaps the most balanced of all views on the issue of refugee versus identity:
“When refugees from other countries have come to Europe, it’s wonderful that Germany and other European countries have given them help. However, I think that most of those refugees think of their own lands as home, but just now there is lots of killing, bullying and suffering there. That’s why they escaped. So, in the short term, European countries should provide them with shelter, and should particularly provide children with facilities for education and training, including mechanical training, for the young people. The aim is that they should eventually be able to return to rebuild their own countries. That has been my view right from the beginning.
“For example, we Tibetans took shelter in India, but most Tibetans want to return to Tibet when the situation there has changed. Each country has its own culture, language, way of life, and it is better for people to live in their own country. That is my view.”
Not only balanced, but the Dalai Lama’s words reflect our current historical context of recoiling nationalism. For, the greatest, most towering of human personalities (like the Dalai Lama) – that stand out as movers and shakers of History – obey the logic of History consciously – where others obey this logic unconsciously. Anything but unsympathetic to the plight of the refugee, yet, His Holiness is realistic – because he is driven by compassion – the source of objectivity – not by pity, which blinds, because it derives from the ego.
Cocooned by centuries of external sameness, the nativist, who attacks the other, whom he perceives as a threat to his existential nook in the form of the indigenous community, may not understand that his man-made cultural home is ephemeral, narcissistic, and temporally sedentary in the extreme. Paranoid before the other, he may not understand that the surest proof that his cocoon is ephemeral lies in the fact that his rage and racism against this other, who he fears as a source of demographic doom, is unjust in the extreme. That no refugee willfully plots the demographic extinction of his hosts is something he cannot fathom. Nor does he understand that the unrelenting purpose of modernity is to yank him out of his cocoon, to hone the “I” out of the “we” – sometimes through this very other he abhors. Yet by recoiling further into nativism, the nativist fulfills the principle banner of our current historical moment – namely, recoiling nationalism.
But from a higher moral standpoint nothing – absolutely nothing – justifies violence towards the other, for the sake of salvaging identities. A funeral pyre that immolates all identities is preferable to a pyre that burns a refugee for the sake of salvaging identities. One could understand (but not justify) violence over a piece of bread when starving people fight for food – but not violence over fear of extinction of identities. The New World stands as living proof that the individual does not die when his identity becomes extinct. For its immigration oath ceremonies sound the death knell of all prior identities. The new immigrant emerges from these ceremonies, a grand individual, washed clean of all prior identities.
To hate the Hindu Bengali, who fled neighboring Bangladesh into the Northeast because of circumstances beyond his control – for the sake of salvaging the indigenous identity – is morally untenable. Yet, the reality remains what it is. The Hindu Bengali refugee is unlikely in the near future to return to his original home, as the Dalai Lama suggests above. Therefore, the indigenous communities of the Northeast might be demographically overwhelmed by these “outsiders.”
But an indigenous community that salvages its identity by violating and killing the innocent other, commits suicide thereby. For the identity thus salvaged is never the same as it was before. After shedding blood, it becomes a source of internal extinction – withering away under the burden of its own moral toxins. Present day America is living proof of the fact that a community that murders innocent others, commits suicide thereby. For, unrepentant America has been spiraling downward morally, ever since it killed more than 100,000 innocent Iraqis in the 2003 pre-emptive attack on Iraq. Moreover, the Law of Karma applies equally to groups as it does to individuals. A nation that attacks innocent others is likely to be attacked in turn.
To say “Bye bye India, hello China,” as some might in the Northeast, in response to the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), is not so much seditious, as it is short-sighted. First, unlike China, India is a democracy – despite threats from Hindu fundamentalists who are clueless about the highest ideals of Hindu mysticism. Moreover, freedom in India is not only civic, but existential – given its unique spiritual history of mysticism and meditation, drawn not only from Vedāntic Hinduism, but also from Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Sikhism, and other valuable religions. Second, China may not offer the Northeast the advantages India has offered thus far. Third, China has a record of unparalleled human rights abuses in Tibet, which the whole world ignored, for fear of China.
As part of a futuristic dystopia, the Northeast might want to remember PRC’s record of torture in Tibet. It might want to anticipate the brutal brown-on-brown racism it might face as a colony of imperialistic China. What matters in the end, is not whether it belongs to India or China, but rather, which of the two ascending nations is more likely to offer the Northeast greater sovereignty and human rights.