A very rare document, the translation of a letter sent by the Dalai Lama to the Prime Minister of India on March 26, 1959.
The letter is written from Lhuntse Dzong in Southern Tibet where the Tibetan leader had originally planned to take temporary refuge.
To give the background of the letter here what the Dalai Lama wrote in his autobiography, Freedom in Exile:
At first, it was my intention to halt at Lhuntse Dzong, not far from the Indian border, where I would repudiate the Seventeen-point ‘Agreement’, re-establish my Government as the rightful administration of all Tibet, and try to open negotiations with the Chinese. However, on about the fifth day [after he left Lhasa], we were overtaken by a posse of horsemen who brought terrible news. Just over forty-eight hours after my departure [on March 19, 1959], the Chinese had begun to shell the Norbulingka and to machine-gun the defenceless crowd, which was still in place. My worst fears had come true. I realised that it would be impossible to negotiate with people who behaved in this cruel and criminal fashion. There was nothing for it now but for us to get as far away as possible, though India still lay many days’ journey distant, with several more high mountain passes in between.
When eventually we reached Lhuntse Dzong, after more than a week’s travel, we paused for only two nights, just long enough for me formally to repudiate the Seventeen-Point ‘Agreement’ and to announce the formation of my own Government, the only legally constituted authority in the land. Over a thousand people attended the ceremony of consecration. I wanted very much to stay longer, but reports informed us that there were Chinese troop movements not far away. So reluctantly we prepared to move on to the Indian border, which now lay just sixty miles away in a straight line, though actually about double that on the ground. There was still another range of mountains to cross and it would take several more days to cover the distance, especially as our ponies were already worn out and there was very little fodder to give them. They would need frequent halts to conserve their energy. Before we left, I sent on a small party of the fittest men, who were to reach India as quickly as possible, find the nearest officials and warn them that I was planning to seek asylum there.
From Lhuntse Dzong we passed to the small village of Jhora and from there to the Karpo pass, the last before the border. Just as we were nearing the highest point of the track we received a bad shock. Out of nowhere, an aeroplane appeared and flew directly overhead. It passed quickly – too quickly for anyone to be able to see what markings it had – but not so fast that the people on board could have missed spotting us. This was not a good sign. If it was Chinese, as it probably was, there was a good chance that they now knew where we were. With this information they could return to attack us from the air, against which we had no protection. Whatever the identity of the aircraft, it was a forceful reminder that I was not safe anywhere in Tibet. Any misgivings I had about going into exile vanished with this realisation: India was our only hope.
A little later, the men I had sent on from Lhuntse Dzong returned with the news that the Indian Government had signalled its willingness to receive me. I was very relieved to hear this, as I had not wanted to set foot in India without permission.
For some unknown reasons, the Dalai Lama does not mention the letter that he had sent to Nehru on March 26 from Lhuntse Dzong.
Here is the translation of the original letter in Tibetan:
To Pt Jawaharlal Nehru
Prime Minister of India
Ever since Tibet went under the control of Red China and the Tibetan Government lost its powers in 1951, I, my Government officers and citizens have been trying to maintain peace in Tibet but the Chinese Government has been gradually subduing the Tibetan Government.
The Tibetans have great love for and faith in Buddhism and their religion is more precious to them than their lives. In order to root out Buddhism, the Chinese published some articles in the press against Lord Buddha’s teachings and circulated them widely. This has created unhappy atmosphere amongst the Tibetans and they have started disliking intensely the Chinese Administration.
On 10.3.1959, I, members of the Kashag and other high ranking officers were invited to the Chinese Army Headquarters in Lhasa ostensibly to attend a cultural show. The people of Lhasa came to me and requested me not to attend the function as they suspected foul play. They announced openly in the streets that they would not remain any longer under China and would become independent. After this a large armed party came to my residence to guard me.
The Government of Tibet have tried their best to maintain good relations with China but the Chinese have been trying to take away powers from the Tibetan Government and in some areas they are making preparations for war.
On 17.3.1959 at 4 p.m. the Chinese fired two shells in the direction of my residence. They could not do much damage. As our lives were in danger, I and some of my trusted [word missing] manage to escape the same evening at 10 p.m. and moving south to reach Lhuntse Dzong on 26.3.1959.
India and Tibet have had religious relations for thousand years and they are like brothers without any differences. Moreover Pt. Nehru as also the Indian people are known throughout the world for their support of humanitarian causes.
In this critical situation we are entering India via Tsona. I hope that you will please make necessary arrangements for us in the Indian territory.
Confident of your kindness and with good wishes,
A Government of India report brings light on the momentous event:
On the 27th March, 1959, Shri T.S. Murthy, Assistant Political Officer, Tawang, received instructions about the possibility of the Dalai Lama seeking entry into India. He reached Chuthangmu to receive the party at 09:00 hours on the 31st March, 1959.
The advance party of the Dalai Lama under a comparatively junior officer had already reached Chuthangmu on the 29th March. They stated that the main party consisting of the Dalai Lama, his family, ministers and tutors were expected to enter our territory at 14:00 hours on the 31st March, that there was no sign of the Chinese pursuit and that the party was bringing a small number of porters and would be needing many more from our area.
At 14:00 hours on the 31st March, the Dalai Lama and his party reached Kenze Mane [Khenzimane] which demarcates the frontier in Chuthangmu area. His Holiness was riding a yak and was received by the Assistant Political Officer, Tawang [Murthy]. They proceeded to the checkpost without halting at the frontier.
I take this opportunity to inform my readers that I have posted a large series of historical documents related to the arrival of the Dalai Lama in India in March/April, on my website. Click here to read…