Tibetan school children in Kashmir; Year 2007 (Photo: Crtsy Adfar Shah)

OPINION: Tibetan Muslims in Exile: A Sociological Profile

Tibet is the highest country of the world and commonly known as the roof of the world, lying west of china, north of India, Nepal and Bhutan, east of Iran, south of Russia and Mongolia, situated about 16500 feet above the sea level, bearing total land area of 2,33,3125 square kilometers.

Adfar Shah

Tibet is also known as the “Abode of snow,” “The cool climate land,” “Forbidden land fortified by snow mountains,” “Land of Lamas” etc.

The country is a great vehicle of Mahyana Buddhism with Islam and Bon religious faith holders in thin minority. It was known to Muslims from the earliest period of recorded history. It is believed that due to the advent of Arabs, Chinese, Turks, Yemnis, Nepalese, Ladakhis, and Kashmiris, Islam reached Tibet.

Merchants from Kashmir entered Tibet around 12th century A.D, settled in different areas, married Tibetan women, converting them to Muslim faith. During the reign of fifth Dalai Lama (Nwang Labsong Gyatso) in 1617, Muslims got citizenship of Tibet. It is believed that Tibetan Muslims trace their origin to the immigrants from four main regions: Kashmir, Ladakh, China and Nepal.

Tibetans in the world are also distinctly defined by the kind of land they live in as the Tibetans. Tibetans national identity has not been created by history, nor by religion alone but has its roots deep in the Tibetan land. Tibetans are people who live and have always lived on the great Tibetan plateau, high above and apart from the rest of the world.

History of Tibet

In 1913 Dalai Lama and the Tibetan National assembly (TSANGDU) proclaimed Tibet’s independence, but China declined recognition and on October 7, 1950, about 40000 Chinese PLA troops attacked Chamdo, eastern Tibet’s provincial capital and defeated the Tibetan army after 12 days of fight. India Foreign Ministry sent a protest letter to Chinese government. British and US expressed support to the Indian position. In November 1950 Tibetan National Assembly requested 15-year-old 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, to assume full political control as Head of the State of Tibet. On May 23, using military threat, China forced Tibetan delegations in Beijing to sign the famous 17-point agreement which included that external affairs and defense of Tibetan administration will lay with Chinese authorities.

In 1956 Dalai Lama visited India to discuss possible asylum and finally on March 10, Tibetan uprising in Lhasa against the Chinese brutality started and thousands were killed. Here begins the pathetic and woeful tale of a nation, annexed in 1959, its political and spiritual head, an asylum seeker in a neighboring country on 16 March 1959, Dalai Lama left Potala Palace and came to India, accompanied by his mother, brother, two sisters and later his 72 companions also.

The Communist Chinese oppression took thousands of Tibetan lives, and an ample number of comrade preachers were brought to Tibet in the guise of craftsmen, teachers, social and policy makers, etc.

Tibetans in Kashmir; Year 2007 (Photo: Crtsy Adfar Shah)


The then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru let Tibetan’s migrate to India but before they could migrate, different taxes were levied on them by Communist Chinese authorities and much of their property was seized and many of the Muslim religious heads were given life imprisonment, and around 120 Muslim families reached Kalimpong in Assam and then Darjeeling in West Bengal and resided there for five or six months, from Darjeeling around 70 families reached Kashmir. Idgah in Kashmir was their first camping spot.

Tibetan refugees began to enter India in 1959 after Communist Chinese invasion and annexation of Tibet. The two phases of displacement have been noted. The first was the displacement in 1959 and the second was the exodus in the early 80s. The first batch of Tibetans crossed over to India on March 16, 1959 when 85 Tibetans followed the spiritual and temporal leader the Dalai Lama. The second exodus started in the early 80’s during the period when Tibet was open to trade and tourism between 1986 and 1996. 25,000 Tibetans arrived in India. In 1999 another 2200 Tibetans arrived and majority of them have been granted legal residence. Government of India has recognized all of them as citizens. The Indian government allows the entry of any Tibetan refugee on the Dalai Llama’s pledge that they personally abstain from violent and political activities. The democratic administration in exile was setup in Dharmshala, Himachal Pradesh.

Persecution by the Chinese

The communist indoctrination started with individuals at two levels, at physical and spiritual level. At the physical level it meant that every citizen of the country whether poor or rich or from any religion and ethnic background is supposed to perform every task himself because every human is equal and no one is superior. It was simply to degrade Tibetan nobles, riches and spiritual leaders, but to ignorant masses and youth it seemed good and reasonable and led to multiplicity of group formation in Tibet which ultimately led to disintegration. The second was the change at spiritual level, which led to the loss of significance of religions, natural power, fate, traditional customs and traditions, etc. It was done by opening schools and colleges where new generation was indoctrinated with communist ideology in the guise of modern education.

Another phase started by stopping people forcibly to perform religious rituals and rites. On the one hand Buddhists were stopped from performing their religious duties and on the other Muslim minority was not saved too. Muslims were not allowed to perform prayers, and mosques were locked and used as party spots, where wine was served and consumed. People realized it and protested, demanded closing of communist based schools and colleges. Political and spiritual leaders were jailed, tortured and humiliated in public. Muslim religious leaders too suffered a lot and were tortured to death in jails. People were forced to break statues and other sacred objects, and who so ever denied, was mercilessly killed which led to mass suicides of people. For Muslims it remained no longer a place to live in as they could hardly afford to renounce their religion.

So the Muslim community requested to the then Indian ambassador, and by the intervention of the then PM of India, India gave preferential treatment to Tibetan refugees over others. This is mainly because His Holiness the Dalai lama sought shelter for himself and his people: India allowed the Dalai Lama to establish a Tibetan government in exile called the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). It is based at Dharmsala. Yet India has not officially recognized it. Although no foreigner can own property in India, the Indian government provided land and housing to establish Tibetan farming settlements. The Indian government granted Tibetan refugees, who entered India in the 1970s, Indian residency (or resident status) for purpose of identification, employment and domestic travel.

Tibetan community in Kashmir has now been residing here since 1959 and has been influenced by Kashmiri community, have learned Urdu and Kashmiri languages, especially youngsters. They also experienced social mobility in terms of education, cultural development, and economic development. But in all this have been able to sustain and preserve their ethnic, national and cultural identity as well. They do interact with locals and have also developed limited relations with them. They have from the very beginning faced tremendous problems and difficulties, like the problem of land, adequate housing, unemployment, low income and poverty, cultural and social encounters, fallen prey to negative stereotypes, discrimination, negligence and ignorance by state governments. Despite all these hurdles they are moving forward and struggling with the conditions to improve their lot in Kashmir.

Population as on March, 1st 2007

Years)                                  Males                             Females

(Years)                                  Males                             Females

(Years)                                  Males                             Females










Above 48



No. of Total Males 539; No. of Total Females-529; SEX RATIO-981

(SOURCE:  Tibetan Muslim Youth Federation, )

Literacy and Education

Tibetan school children in Kashmir; Year 2007 (Photo: Crtsy Adfar Shah)


As far as the education of Tibetans in exile is concerned, total school enrollments is 85-90 percent of school age at present there are 106 kindergartens, 87 primary level, 44 middle level, 21 secondary level, 13 senior secondary level schools with the total enrollment of over 25000 students. According to 1998 figures by Department of Education, Govt. in exile at Dharmsala, the effective literacy rate of the Tibetan exile population stood at 74.5%, while the general literacy rate is 69.3%. But only 2.6% of total population achieved higher studies with professional courses.

As far as the literacy of Tibetan community in Kashmir is concerned, majority of the people are educated, especially religious education is high. About 40% of the people, especially youth, have received Islamic religious education. Most of them are Hafiz, Aalim, Moulvi’s and pursuing other Arabic courses. General academic education is improving too. Tibetan Public School is a big source of imparting education to the Tibetan younger generation. Concluding on the basis of generalizations of educational and literacy inquiries it has been estimated that the literacy rate of Tibetan community in Srinagar is 61.33%in general. Literacy rate for males stood at 62.8% and for females it is 59.7% generalized for 220 families of the Tibetan community.

There is to a greater extent the scholarly disinterest to dig out and explore this Tibetan, Kashmiri origin mystery, though Tibetans claim so. They live in Srinagar but on the land provided by the government for few definite colonies and are also deprived of various socio-economic benefits. There is a dire need of a exploratory kind of research in this regard and to find facts, which can help in building policy inputs for this diaspora chunk.

They are extremely hard working people, simple, sincere and very sober to talk to. Much of the elderly stock is emancipated and well-read especially in the area of religious education. The life style is simple and all the occasions are celebrated with religious fervor.

Talking of marriages, festivals, and other rituals, only those practices are followed which fall in Islamic purview. However it may not be wrong to say that Tibetan community is in transition, especially youth are vulnerable to every new pattern of change. Despite separate cultural and ethnic identity, expert observations reveal that identity crisis and personality crises, problems of recognition are some of the factors which prompt Tibetan people especially youngsters to change with the new advent of modernity and to keep themselves at par with natives and their neighbors.

Contemporary discourses on Tibetan’s in Kashmir as Tibetan Kashmiri’s tends to depict realities in black and white where despite many evidences they lack many aspects, like governmental administrative consents, issues and suspicious on their very origin and ancestry claims. Their lazy attitude to fight for their rights with enthusiasm and full spirit protection and promotion of traditional cultures was an important element and a big challenge for Tibetans but they have been successful to do so.

Despite the long Kashmiri cultural encounter, Tibetans passionately feel they are different in every way: culturally, linguistically, racially and even temperamentally from the Kashmiris. Though they claim Kashmiri ancestry and origin and in the local context they have proved it by many evidences like resembling of names which are Kashmiri type, castes which are again Kashmiri type like Bhat, Ganie, Wani, Shah etc, some prior relations in Srinagar and the government white paper which contains 129 names of families.

They have improved markedly in comparison to the preceding period. Majority of the Tibetan youth are in business and stitching work, needle work, brocading and other embroidery works, they have also set shops in different areas in Srinagar. They also do business in Nepal, Ladakh and other neighboring regions.

Tibetans have a strong sense of their national identity and retain their cultural identity despite living in an alien environment and even after the settlement of more than 40 years in Kashmir, they still love to speak Tibetan with one another, have Tibetan furnishing at homes, Tibetan dress pattern occupational by new changes, and still retain Tibetan material culture like pictures, utensils, vessels, crockery, bedding, food habits etc.

Tibetans in Kashmir; Year 2007 (Photo: Crtsy Adfar Shah)


Young Tibetans are fed up with the word refugee. They never like to be called refugees whether in India or Kashmir or in any other place. Youth are very optimistic of freedom of their country. According to them, the law of the land shares a very strange and peculiar relation with Tibetans living over here. They believe inside Tibet after decades, if soul destroying communist indoctrination and one of the most cruel and unrelenting systems of repression in the world, the Tibetan hope for independence, “Rangzen” still stubbornly refuses to be crushed, but Tibetan youth in Kashmir are less concerned about the freedom of Tibet they are ideologically poor and self centered as revealed by observations.

Problems beset to Tibetan community are mostly rooted in governmental policies. They demand domicile certificate and resident status of J&K state. Their Ration-Card are temporary and hence the community is discriminated on many grounds as compared to the natives.

Talking of origin issue, it has not been proven beyond a doubt. The case of citizenship is yet to be solved and many of them are still enjoying refugee status.

The community is more or less homogeneous in nature and assets, literary and education is about 70% gender differentiation is marked by occupations. Women generally remain inside the four walls of the house. Caste is present and resembles Kashmiri castes like Bhat, Chasti, Shah, Qazi,Malik,Nawajoo etc but not caste consciousness and casteism as such.

Food habits are mainly traditional and Tibetan, not any specific and different as compared to others. Language is Tibetan but can speak Urdu, Kashmiri and few of them can speak English as well.

Most of the Tibetan Muslims want to return to their home land along with their Buddhist Tibetan brothers and few of them are slowly migrating to Nepal and other regions from Kashmir and many of them are even now getting married to local Kashmiri girls, and also tying wed knots in Ladakh, to avail state benefits, which they were deprived of till the recent past.

I will conclude by quoting what the former prime minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said on 17th March 1960 in the Loksabha, on the subject of Tibet: “From the point of view of national interests, the fact that Tibet is being annihilated cannot be for the good of India in the long run.”

[Adfar Rashid Shah is currently a doctoral candidate at The Department Of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi and this Sociological Profile/Research Report is based on the comprehensive field study and investigation of the Tibetan community in Srinagar, Kashmir, conducted by the author in 2007, under the guidance of valley’s eminent sociologist Prof. B.A. Dabla, the current Head Of The Department Of Sociology And Social Work, University of Kashmir. And Dr. Tariq A. Rather. Mail at [email protected]]

[Views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Jamia Journal’s editorial policy]

About Adfar Shah

Syed Adfar Rashid Shah is a contributing writer and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology. He can be reached via email at: [email protected]

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  1. Sir,
    It’s a nice and informative article covering all information about this community like identity crisis and changes among the youth in that community as my classmates have done their fieldwork in that community so this all seems having a visit to that community and surely they face problems in pursuing higher education as they don’t have state subject but in place of that they are using their ration cards as proof of being residents of Kashmir.

  2. Sir,
    It is nice hear and read articles about tibetan muslims residing in various parts of the world and about their customs and their ways of life.Me a Tibetan Muslim born and brought up in darjeeling did my schooling from st. josephs darjeeling and pursing my higher education in delhi university.Tibetan muslims face a lot of identity problems especially in kashmir as they don’t have the citizenship and various rights.

  3. dear sir,
    i am tibetan bhudhism and i am really happy to know the history of the tibetan muslims and even feel sad about the tibetan muslims settled in kashmir for there identity problems.i am always ready to mingled to any tibetans if there are in my areas, i respect your religion and i love you all…

    • First of all, i would like to thank Adfar Shah for such a nice artical, no doubt that after spending so many years in Kashmir still we are struggling in terms of kashmir citizen, in the result most of our Tibetan Muslim Youth left education in the middle and some went outside for job purposes. Thanks Lhakpa la for such a nice comment!!

  4. I feel proud by being the citizen of kashmir which gave tibetians place to live…..
    But i feed very sad when i see them being deprived of the basic necessities…..
    The local administration should look into their problems,to make their life good to live…..
    The leaders of the community should put their griviences to the local or indian administration and the govt should respond positively.

  5. Hello Sir,

    A very nice article, Insha allah and let hope Tibetan Muslim’s get their rights.
    I am interested to know about Tibetan Muslim’s culture do u recommend anything to me?


    • It was very nice going through this article.I always used to know more about tibetan muslim .Once again thank you very much for the this article.

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