Tibetan Women: off field, on field….

photo@Wen King and Jampa
photo@Wen King and Jampa

This topic gained visual depiction when I sat watching the fitting finale of ‘Dhasa Women’s Basketball Tournament’ on the evening of October 27 this year.

Two reasons why I accepted this genial invitation to be the chief guest at the final series are-firstly, my dear friend Tseyang [1], backed by her devout friends had taken the onus to organize a series of civic initiatives in Dharamsala [2] oriented towards enhancing female participation in myriad avenues, and this basketball match for which she had worked painstakingly hard is a point in case. Secondly it’s a women’s match and I, for one would not miss witnessing women’s mastery descend on men’s field.

photo@Ngawang Sherab

Sitting at a special custom-made guest’s podium along with Tenzin Jigme, president of Tibetan Youth Congress, the largest Tibetan NGO with a predominantly male stronghold, at the famous Gangkyi[3] Basketball ground, the only leisure spot in the otherwise solemn space that hosts the Central Tibetan Administration[4], I felt ecstatic and excitable upon seeing hundreds of male spectators throng the ground. As the match progressed with the two male referees frisking about and ten women warm-up, I realized that this was going to be unique evening, beholding a spectacle, showcasing a hitherto latent talent of women, while men watched chanting boosterish slogans, thus shoving the usual flagrant reaction of booing into oblivion.

Prior to the match, four young, beautiful and talented women led by Dolkar [5] put up a spectacular Bollywood dance performance, grooving to the rhythm of the songs-Taal se Taal Mila, manifesting the graceful demeanor Aishwarya Rai embodied in the film Taal [6]and Maya Maya, an enchanting belly dance number from Guru.[7] Seeing that the scintillating show staged right in the middle of a ground guarded by men, was being received with the much gusto and grace and this left me feeling elated. The usual barbs and jibes gave way to applause, accolades and adulation. Looking at the performers, my friend Victoria who had accompanied me to the event, commented amidst the jarring cheering noise… ‘this is women’s leadership.’

photo@Ngawang Sherab

Ensconced on the edge of the lower terrain of Dauladhar hills, the basketball court measuring the dimensions 8.65m x 15.24m, has witnessed countless matches played on its terra firma, but between men. A comment by an expat Tibetan attests to this. “When I was a young man at Gangkyi, there was neither a basket court nor enough young ladies to field a team! I call it progress! Keep it up, ladies,” he posted online under a Facebook photo of the winning team holding the trophy, a photo that rightfully went viral.

The magnitude of this milestone event went notches higher when Radio Free Asia’s[8] Tibetan section reporter Yangdon Demo hosted a feature-length interview on this. Along with Tseyang and two players, I took part in the discussion. Tseyang presented a deeper insight into how sports and recreation bolsters a woman’s psychological and physical wellbeing and how this should be a daily feature in a woman’s life. I spoke about the significance of this event, and ended up deliberating, although inadvertently, on how this particular event actually effectuates the three guiding principles of a non-violent movement: unity, planning and discipline, as espoused by numerous strategists and visionaries. I concluded saying that this could potentially serve as a runway for a future events such as National Tibetan Women’s Basketball League (NTWBL) or an International Tibetan Women’s Basketball League (ITWBL).

During the course of watching the vigorous match, I realized that my mind was diverted, away from the match, away from being in the present to journeying between the past and the future. Besides the resounding cheers and the scoreboard carrying varying scores, I struggled to concentrate, as my usual dreamy side took over and I envisaged the recreation of this momentous equation at every spectrum of the exile Tibetan Diaspora: at grassroots, civil society, monasteries, workforce, education and matrimony.

My mind rattled between imagining the imposing vignettes of film footages, book excerpts and news headlines, all-encompassing the portrayal of women rising above their domain. A strikingly powerful resonation is a tagline from a Bollywood film Lajja [9] – ‘where tears stop, there, a revolution begins.’

A part of this euphoric feeling could be attributed to the changing global trend witnessing a palpable shift in recognizing women’s status as precipitant of a society’s commitment towards progress and prosperity. I have been particularly inspired by an increase in atypical news narrating women’s rise in the society, particularly in the religion and male dominated societies. The recent appointment of Isra al-Modallal, a 23-year-old female as a spokeswoman for Hamas, by the male Gaza authorities in Hamas, speaks to the effect of the invigorating movement, wherein men are being the catalyst in this social and political transformation.

A sense of accomplishment ran through me as I basked under the prospect of being in both the center and the periphery: in the center of powerful developments taking place in the Tibetan community and in the periphery of a global transfiguration, witnessing the end of an era, where females are treated as a chattel and considered a collective liability. The ushering in of a promising epoch, where women are recognized as forces to reckon with, is impending and inevitable.

Reverting back to my senses of being a guest at a match, and entrusted with the responsibility of giving away the trophy to the winning team, I felt bemused and wore a smile that didn’t wane down with the evening sun. My smile was sustained by a sense of infinite pride and hope, because I was not just merely watching a women’s basketball match but I was, bearing witness to a significant unfolding in the Tibetan community, for and of women: women at the forefront of unchartered territories and essentially women’s footsteps becoming visible and pertinent…….. from off field to, now, on field.


[1] 30-year old Tseyang is also the chief of Women’s Empowerment Desk of Central Tibetan Administration

[2] Home to over 10,000 exiled Tibetans is also the seat of exile Tibetan Government.

[3] Abbreviated name for Gangchen Kyishong, a Tibetan name for the Secretariat campus of Central Tibetan Administration

[4] the recognized name for Tibetan Government in exile

[5] 28-year old professional dancer, runs the D’shala Dance Arts in Dharamsala

[6] A 1998 Hindi love story film directed by Subash Ghai

[7] A 2006 Hindi drama film directed by Mani Ratnam

[8] A private, non-profit corporation broadcasting news and information in 9 languages.

[9] A 2001 Hindi drama film directed by Rajkumar Santhoshi.

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