Breaking News: Dalai Lama’s Flight To Safety

How a journalist with The Assam Tribune got the exclusive scoop on one of the world’s most significant events

5/8/2017 1:37:27 PM
written By : Ruma Phukan Print

It is a mild March afternoon. The year 1959, the place, Shillong. Naresh Rajkhowa. A Reporter with The Assam Tribune is typing out the stories that he must send to the Gauhati office of what is the premier English daily of North-east India. He is working in his room in his office-cum-residence, which happens to be just opposite the office of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Assam.

Meanwhile, in another country not too far away a young Lama, held in the greatest esteem by his followers as the fourteenth reincarnation of the Buddha, has disappeared from Potala Palace in Lhasa. In 1950, China had invaded Tibet and though the small nation had pleaded for assistance from the Government of India, among others, it did not receive any. For refusing to come to Tibet’s aid, Jawaharlal Nehru had come in for much international criticism. In 1959, a Tibetan uprising was ruthlessly crushed by the Chinese and the leader of the theocratic Tibetan government had to flee along with members of his family and a small group of loyal attendants that included six cabinet ministers. No one knew where the group was and there were fears that the young Lama may have been killed. The news made headlines in the international media, and locating the Lama’s whereabouts became a major challenge for the international press corps. In fact, a number of them were already camping in the small town of Tezpur, Assam, in anticipation of the fact that the Lama and his followers may enter India through what was then the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA).

But back to Shillong. From his room, Rajkhowa sees a man dressed, as he thought then, like a Bhutanese. He watches as the man comes somewhat nervously towards his office. He speaks a language that Rajkhowa cannot follow and seems to know neither Hindi nor English. They communicate in sign language, and the man who seems tense brings out a letter from an inner pocket while uttering the words ‘Dalai Lama’. Rajkhowa is surprised but he takes the letter, which he notices is addressed to the IGP, Assam. He convinces the man that he has handed the letter to the right person, gives him a written acknowledgement and sees him off.

A shrewd journalist with a nose for a good story, Rajkhowa carefully unseals the letter. Its contents leave him flabbergasted! It is from the Dalai Lama himself, requesting the authorities in the state to provide him asylum in Assam on his way to New Delhi. The letter is copied and resealed and sent immediately to the IGP’s office. A little later, Rajkhowa goes across himself to meet the IGP, Mr S M Dutta.

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