From Sacred to Profane: The Many Dimensions of the 2016 Elections of the Tibetan Diaspora

Author Name

Dr.Joanna Coelho

Author Address

Joanna Coelho Assistant Professor Department of Sociology, Goa University


Democratisation, refugee, democracy, sacred, profane


The democratisation of the Tibetan political and social system has been the most important achievement of the Tibetan community in exile. It was bestowed on the Tibetan community as a gift by the Dalai Lama. In 1960, he saw democracy as a tool that could bring about parity, liberty, individual freedom and human welfare. Practically, democracy also facilitated the unity of the heterogeneous Tibetan populace and allowed them to preserve the culture of their exiled homeland. Democracy was meant to be an important mechanism which would guide Tibet’s freedom struggle.

Being in exile has added a unique dimension to the practice of Tibetan democracy. It has facilitated the practice of direct democracy. This in turn has strengthened struggle of the Tibetan diaspora to free Tibet from Chinese occupation.  At the same time, for an inherently hierarchical community that places the Dalai Lama on a plane higher than that of other mortals, internalising democracy remains a challenge.

 Given this context, in this paper I analyse the uniqueness of democracy practiced by Tibetans in the diaspora. My specific focus will be the 2016 elections of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). My analysis centres around the transitions that have taken place in the practice of Tibetan democracy.  Transplanting  Durkheim’s distinction of sacred and profane from the sphere of religion to the realm of diaspora politics, I attempt to argue how democracy practiced by the Tibetan diaspora in India, in addition to being a gift from above with noble objectives, also has moved on to incorporating many mundane worldly dimensions that are characteristic of any other democracy. My findings are based on personal observation of the 2016 election of the CTA as well as interviews with various categories of people.


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