Kalon Chhyang

[Guest post by Tenzin Sudip Chogkyi]

One of my female friends messaged me in a rather perplexed manner to ask what I thought about Kalon Dicki Chhoyang’s ‘sudden’ resignation. She was disappointed for obvious reasons: that an able and dedicated Tibetan female politician would resign in a huff just before the elections. In a short statement, Kalon Dicki Chhoyang said she had submitted her resignation letter to the CTA. Shortly thereafter, the incumbent Sikyong, in a statement said Kalon Dicki Chhoyang’s decision to resign is rather sudden and the reason for her resignation is so that she can take part in the coming Sikyong election debate.

With only a few months left before her term is over, it is understandable when everyone asks, why now? The news may have come out officially as sudden, but the whispers of her possible resignation have been doing social rounds for a while. Of course, the timing of her resignation is significant. To choose such a politically sensitive time, just before the Sikyong election, to come out and say I have resigned, must have been prompted by a little more than the Sikyong debate. She said her decision was well thought out.

I think if Kalon Dicki Chhoyang had started hinting openly at her disappointments with the internal workings of the CTA well in advance, it would have strengthened her case and might have saved her from some of the backlash. Regardless of the timing of her resignation, I am upset at the manner in which we are responding to her stepping down, first, as a votary of decency and etiquette in public discourses. And as a woman, I feel wronged and vilified by this barrage of personal attacks on her, a Kalon.

When the official resignation announcement came, it deeply upset me. I felt we let her down. Irrespective of our political allegiances, I think we need to reflect on the significance of this resignation and what it tells us as a society.

Leaders at the helm of Tibetan affairs in exile have traditionally always been men with rare exceptions of women from affluent families either being chosen or elected. Dicki Chhoyang is the first ever independent Tibetan woman appointed to the cabinet without a family pedigree to prop her up. Her appointment came as a breath of fresh air to many. Seeing her occupy an important political leadership role made her an instant role model for many, especially women.

She is a strong, independent and well-educated woman. Dicki Chhoyang, who grew up in Canada is modern in her outlook and yet she is deeply rooted in Tibetan culture. Her proficiency in Tibetan, Chinese, English and French is a rare asset among Tibetans. She also spent ten years studying, working and researching in Tibet and China to enable herself to be a better advocate for Tibet.

As the Minister of Information and International Relations, she became a forceful voice of the struggle of Tibet and Tibetan people everywhere. And whenever you heard her talk about Tibet, she was eloquent and persuasive. She introduced a new medium of strategic communication in Tibetan and international affairs, making the Tibetan issue current and topical. Her gentle but robust discourses on perils of climate change and abuses of human rights resonated with people. And because she is multi-lingual, she was able to convince people to support our cause in the language they knew best. Her talks in English on the Middle Way Approach and Genuine Autonomy for Tibet are one of the most articulate ones I have heard.

But did she get to utilize her full potential?  If you watch her during the Parliament Session Q&A, she appears hesitant. She seems to be held back.  And then there are reports of her being openly disregarded by certain staff members with access to power within CTA. Knowledgeable sources say that she was often sidelined or brusquely overruled during her tenure.

Why should her resignation bother us? I think if you are not upset yet, you should be. Her resignation is a desperate call for attention to the seamy side of politics and what she had endured, even while holding such an important office of a Minister. I have often wondered if she would have been treated so shabbily, slighted and often bullied had she carried a famous surname or had the blessings of a godfather, or if she had fallen in with the powers that be.

I met her on Parliament Hill when the Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Tibet hosted her. I wanted to ask her about her possible resignation and specific challenges one face as a woman leader in CTA. I felt she would be the best person to tell us on navigating in a man’s world with utmost dignity and integrity. But because the day’s event was full, we just managed to get snatches of conversation.

I first saw her in a Canadian documentary called A Song for Tibet. Ali Kazimi, the cinematographer of this beautiful documentary gave me a VCR copy of the film and said; “you must watch this. Dicki, the girl in this film will inspire you.” Inspire she did. Very few people you watch and listen to assure you of their promising tomorrow. So it didn’t come as a surprise to me when she was elected Tibetan Member of Parliament for North America and soon after, appointed to the Cabinet.

But her political career was short lived– just four and half years. What is even sadder is that a lot of us seemed to have forgotten her contribution and service to the Tibetan cause even when the circumstances were not in her favor. If you check social networking sites, attacks on her are harsh and ugly. Those who throw insults on women politicians and women in general automatically forfeit their allegiance to His Holiness. It is sheer opportunism and downright venal to invoke His Holiness’s name for furthering personal interests but in reality to work against all the values His Holiness upholds and lives by.

Moreover, it would be an act of utter disrespect and affront particularly when His Holiness is undergoing treatment. Even though his spiritual attainments raise him above mundane concerns, imagine what he might be feeling, watching from his hospital bed, the descent into outright pettiness and calumny in this election season. How are we to explain our dogged pursuit of ruining his glorious legacy?