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Tibetans Emphasize Cultural Identity Through 'Lhakar'


((INTRO)) [[In recent years, Tibetan communities worldwide have embraced a protest movement called "Lhakar" that emphasizes Tibetan culture and identity, which exile leaders warn is under threat of being destroyed by Chinese policies. Anjana Pasricha visited a junior school in Dharamsala in India where a third generation of Tibetans growing up in exile are working to stay rooted to the homeland they have never seen.]]

((NARRATOR)) It's Wednesday: the day students at the Tibetan Children's Village School in Dharamsala pray and participate in an important ritual.

Instead of their usual uniforms, girls come wearing an ethnic tunic and boys a traditional shirt.

Wearing the "chuba" connects 10-year-old Tsering Paldon to the homeland she only knows through tales.

(( TSERING PALDON, STUDENT (in English) )) "I feel when I wear this dress, I feel I am in Tibet."

((NARRATOR)) This is the spirit of "Lhakar," a weekly ritual that emerged inside Tibet following the mass protests in 2008. Now, many Tibetans worldwide have embraced the Wednesday practice of dressing, dining or buying "Tibetan" in what is considered a silent defiance of Chinese rule.

"Lhakar" contains not only an educational component that reinforces Tibetan's ethnic identity, it also can be a potentially powerful political force, says Jyotsna Sarah George of Students for a Free Tibet.

((JYOTSNA SARAH GEORGE, STUDENTS FOR A FREE TIBET (in English) )) "This was like a decollectivization of protest, where it became about individual expression of your identity as a Tibetan, of your assertion as a Tibetan - that I am now taking charge of the way my culture is going to be viewed, and the way my culture is going to be a means of resistance to assimilation to the Chinese culture."

Just as important, the practice helps connect younger people with their fellow Tibetans living inside China, and those scattered across the world, says Lobsang Tseten of the International Tibet Network.

((LOBSANG TSETEN, INTERNATIONAL TIBET NETWORK (in English) )) "For every freedom struggle to sustain you need the younger generations, you need to keep their roots, and I think this is one example that we saw how younger generations praying and celebrating Lhakar."

((NARRATOR)) Here in Dharamsala, the campaign appears to be working among students like Tsering Paldon and Tenzin Rabgyae.

(( TSERING PALDON, STUDENT (in English) )) "I want to visit Tibet."

((TENZIN RABGYAE, STUDENT (in English) )) "I want to go."

((NARRATOR)) Thousands of Tibetans fled to India after Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950 and announced what China called Tibet's "peaceful liberation."

Although Chinese policies are remaking Tibetans' historic homeland, diluting their culture, the Lhakar movement tries to keep the dream of a return alive among these children.

(( SIGNED ))

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