- Editor's Note
In 1959, a young Tibetan woman named Dolkar gathered up her seven children to begin their escape over the frigid Himalayan trails to take refuge in India. More than 100,000 Tibetans were making a similar journey that year, driven into exile by the Chinese invasion of their country. In 1951, the Chinese army had easily overpowered the poorly armed Tibetan defenders, then occupied and claimed sovereignty over the kingdom. In the guerrilla war that followed, the invaders killed tens of thousands of civilians, executed monks, and destroyed monasteries. In 1959, the Chinese plotted to kidnap the Dalai Lama; in response, the twenty-three-year-old Buddhist leader escaped across the border into India, trekking two days and nights without stopping.
One of Dolkar's children died in the harsh weather on the dangerous journey. With her remaining children, she eventually reached the Indian hill town of Mussoorie, where the Dalai Lama had established the first center for his government in exile. Unable to support her family there, she moved to Shimla, in the forested foothills, then to Majnu Ka Tilla, a hamlet of Tibetan refugees just outside Delhi.
A portrait of Dolkar, opposite a diary page describing her escape, is among the images by photographer Serena Chopra in Displaced Lives.
Like Tibetans, millions of people were displaced in the last century by violence, persecution, and economic hardship. In the two decades between 1940 and 1960, over 81 million people were made stateless or were permanently up-rooted. In 1947, as many as 15 million were forced from home by the partition of India and Pakistan; and in 1971, over 10 million were displaced by the war in Bangladesh. Conflicts in such places as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Mozambique, and Rwanda displaced millions more.
These statistics might be understandable in a century that experienced two world wars, brutal regional wars, and bloody revolutions. Dislocation in the twenty-first century, however, is on pace to be greater. At the end of 2019, over 260 million people were living outside their countries of birth. More than 71 million people have been forced into exile by conflict, persecution, extreme [End Page ix] weather events, and other factors. By 2050, climate change alone is predicted to create another 140 million migrants.
Statistics tell us almost nothing about the lives of these individuals. The memorable language and images in Displaced Lives help us see them as our neighbors and family. Many of the authors are themselves immigrants, exiles, or witnesses to the effects of displacement.
Masud Mufti's "Yesterday and Today," for example, concerns a young Hindu woman whose family fled Bangladesh during the country's war of independence in the 1970s. By chance, decades later, in an airport terminal she recognizes an elderly Muslim man who had played a vital role in saving her family at that time. The young woman stops him to express her gratitude for the kindness he showed when Hindus and other minorities were being brutalized by the Pakistan army. She asks what she can do to repay him. But he wants nothing from her in return, just as he had wanted nothing from her family many years before. Mufti writes:
In beseeching tones, the old man replied, "Just pray for me, my dear."
"That we do already—our whole household. But good people don't need prayers."
"No, my dear, that's been the tragedy of our country: only the good need payers; the wicked thrive without them!"
Like so many instances of forced displacement in South Asia—as in other places—the resentment and prejudice created by sectarian violence have not gone away. They are deep and easily inflamed.
In his short story, "Bhasha India," Siddharth Chowdhury depicts the cruelty of prejudice just below the surface in Prime Minister Nerandra Modi's India today. The story's narrator gives a lift to a Hindu husband, wife, and son he finds stranded on a highway some forty miles from their home. Soon, they come upon Hindu mobs blocking the road, burning buses, stopping cars, and attacking Muslims at random. Shortly afterwards, the narrator and the family come upon a couple walking by the side of the highway...