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Why Not Indian Tibetans?

posted Mar 23, 2011, 6:04 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
By Tenpa Dhargyal Gashi

January 31, 2011 - Even before this legal battle was waged and won by one of our own (I would like to call it a watershed moment), Namgyal Dolker Lhagyari, I have had numerous discussions on this very subject with my friends in Magnuka Tilak and Dharamshala.  Most will lament that they couldn’t purchase land even though they have been born and raised in Dharamshala and they find this process of application for RC quite annoying and stressful, what with the exhausting process we have to put up with, with lines and dismal service.  It is not far-fetched to go to the IC office and wait for the longest time and then told to come back some other day leading to frustrating waste of time and having to make special arrangements.  The question about our eligibility for Indian Citizenship would inevitably arise since we were born in India and the obvious question of Tibetan Government’s stand on it.  Most seem to be under the assumption that the Tibetan Exile Government is against that initiative.  Although I am made to understand that the Tibetan Government has no aversion to Tibetans getting Indian citizenship, the most recent statement made by MP Dolma Gyari seemed to confirm that public sentiment.  I am not belittling why Dolma Gyari made that statement because I do understand where she is coming from as we receive a lot of foreign aids based on the fact that we are refugees.  And whether we like it or not, most of us have benefited greatly from those aids in one way or the other.  But I have always felt that we should now think about moving away from the most successful refugee status to a more acceptable legal status - Citizens of India.

Of course, while those two issues are quite legitimate and important on their own, we have other issues we need to take into account that I believe are just as important.  The most important factor of course is the fact that we are stateless and as such we will not enjoy the full rights of a citizen in India.  Aside from facing various difficulties in even the most mundane issues in our regular lives, there is the over-arching concern about the precarious nature of the status itself.  If and when will we be denied stay and when will Indian Government change their policy?  Nobody wants to live with the sword of Damocles hanging over their head.   Right now, we are enjoying a lot of sympathy and international recognition due to the tireless efforts of His Holiness.  What will happen when he is no longer with us and when the exile community will have to go through a difficult transition with China breathing down our necks with their own 15th Dalai Lama?  Some people are under the assumption that there is no way the Indian Government will change their mind and it is just needless worry.  Well, it will be all good and dandy if it played out exactly like that but I rather we don’t even play that game if we don’t have to.  Now is the time to think seriously about such issues.

To add to that, there is also the growing realization and concern we are getting addicted to foreign aids and there must be a time for us to be self-sufficient and self-reliant.  It would have been quite difficult before 1000 immigration to US and the subsequent exodus of fellow Tibetans who went there on family visas, business visas or simply through marriage or other creative means.  We now have very strong communities on either ends of North America with well over 10,000 Tibetans and quite possibly more than 20,000 Tibetans living abroad if we are to also count Europe and Australia and other developed countries.  Coupled with Tibetans in India adopting Indian Citizenships and steadily embracing more opportunities and relying on themselves, I strongly believe, Tibetan people in the west, whose lives are greatly intertwined with their brethrens in India, would definitely help out in making our exile community stronger and self-reliant by taking responsibility and providing the core funding for most of our exile projects and to keep our government running.  If we could make some sort of fund in the west akin to the highly successful Tibet Fund project with Tibetans in the west as core sponsors and if we could built on it regularly through individual donations yearly, monthly, or through deduction of a percentage through their pay check (like regular donation to Charity we do here), it is a dream we can definitely realize.  Building on the model like Tibet Fund, if we also offer accountability,  transparency and yearly update easily accessible on the net of where the donation have gone to and moreover provide the list of individuals who have donated, we could go a long way into convincing a lot of people into being valuable contributing members of our society.  There is nothing spectacular about the idea itself but the issue has always been about sustainability and the implementation of the idea.   Tibetans helping Tibetans should be the next development phase in exile.

The issue about a citizen’s right to purchase land in India and enjoy basic rights and opportunities applicable therein is also very important.  We have lots of properties tied up under somebody else’s name, some are government related but most are private based.  You can pretty much ascertain the nightmare it could amount to if anything should happen between the cup and the lips.  Even if gaining Indian citizenship will help with such basic needs of an individual, it will relieve a lot of stress from a lot of people’s back and we wouldn’t have to be get dragged into Indian courts by some miscreant who has a bone to pick with us and may or may not have unsavoury connections with you know who.  One of the reasons why I believe we have been quite successful in the west, considering the short amount of time we have been here is because we enjoy the same rights and opportunities as any other person in that country.   If we had remained as another stateless person, as some us still do, fearing deportation every time a police car whizzes by or every time there was a road block, and been legally barred from obtaining employment with equitable pay, benefits and insurance, we wouldn’t have come so far.  Gaining citizenship in these countries are actively sought out and duly encouraged and even seen as a positive achievement in one’s life.  Why can’t it be the same for those who are left in India?  What is so wrong about them gaining something that will also provide them with previously unknown benefit, recognition, and opportunities in India as a de facto citizen?  We have had few Tibetans make use of schedule class opportunities before and that had led them to great opportunities in the best Universities in India leading to successful careers which have greatly benefited our community.  I am sure our Tibetan community will definitely get classified as one if the right buttons are pressed.  Even if that is highly hypothetical, we will still be able to take advantage of various incentives as a citizen and as more opportunities open up, we would have a more prosperous community  less dependent upon foreign aids and be able to take care of our own people.  And the more Tibetan Indians we have, the better position we will be in assisting the most vulnerable portion of our community; the new arrivals from Tibet.  They won’t be so easily bullied in every facet of their lives because now they will have the full backing of their brothers and sisters and there will be numerous ways we can assist them on that front.

By our recent estimation provided by Tibetan Exile Government, Tibetan born between 1950 and 1987, should amount to 35,000 if they can prove they were born in India.  That is one third of our Indian Tibetan Population.  Of course, the final tally will be much higher as these Indian citizens will have children who will automatically be Indian citizens themselves and so will their spouses if they didn’t qualify before.   I am personally thinking upwards of 50,000 Tibetans eligible for Indian Citizenship but I have no data to back that up and that number should classified as my personal wishful thinking.  Before this watershed legal boon, Tibetans have been denied on grounds of declaring citizenship of another country, no matter that they do not recognise Tibet as a legitimate state anyhow.  Now, with this judgment, Tibetans should and must take this opportunity and pursue their birthright provided under the Indian Constitution.  We now don’t have to worry about losing our culture and traditions like before because we are fully established with our own communities and establishments.  The long term benefits overwhelmingly outweighs the present difficulties.  The cake is there in front of you and all you have to do is open your mouth and bite it.  So, what are you waiting for?