The Election Commission’s recent directive allowing Tibetan refugees to register for voter identity card for Delhi Assembly elections, which will help them acquire Indian citizenship, has not been welcomed by all and created a deep chasm within the exiled community.
Those against acquiring citizenship rights argue that the Tibetans living in India must remain refugees as becoming an Indian citizen would “dilute the struggle” for a free Tibet.
N K Trikha, national convenor of Core Group for Tibetan Cause, a pan-India group which advocates Tibet’s independence from Chinese rule, said, “Acquiring Indian citizenship will knock the bottom out of their reason for living in exile with a determination to return to their motherland or see her become free at some point in time.”
He said that by taking any other country’s citizenship in search of greener pastures, the exiled community would lose its sovereign identity as Tibetans for a few “mundane” advantages.
“The cost will be too heavy for the overall Tibetan cause,” he warned.
Tenzin Tsundue, a well-known Tibetan activist and writer, thanked the Indian Government for granting voting rights to his compatriots living in India but said, “it dilutes the struggle for a free Tibet because it naturally sets in complacency in the life of people and the urgency is lost in the process.”
He said the moment Tibetans give up their nationality and swear loyalty to another country, they lose their authority to speak as a Tibetan.
“Of course they can continue to be culturally Tibetan, but now they can be supporters not claimants for Tibet,” he said.
What claim will citizens of other countries have on Tibet when it would be a free nation, he asked.
Tenzin Lekshay, a media coordinator in the Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, said that according to the ‘Demographic Survey of Tibetans in Exile’ by planning commission of Central Tibetan Administration, a total number of 94,203 Tibetans reside in India.
When asked how many of them have been accorded citizenship by the Indian government, he said that he did not have an exact number in this regard. “I presume it would be very less,” he said.
According to Indian citizenship laws, anyone born in India between 26 January 1950 and 1 July 1987 can be its citizen. As such, a large section of the estimated 1,00,000 Tibetans living here and their children can claim citizenship.
Tsundue rejected the theory that Tibetans born in India between 1950 and 1987 are natural citizens of the country.
“Tibetans living in India are recognized as foreigners. All of us have been procedurally issued registration certificates (RCs) which is our stay permit in India.”
The RCs have to be renewed, and an Identity Card (IC) is required while travelling overseas. As foreigners in India, Tibetans are not permitted to own land and cannot avail of most job opportunities.
The Tibetan government-in-exile (TGIE) issues each Tibetan a Green Book as a proof of their original nationality.
“And unless the RCs are submitted and citizenship claimed at the court individually, the one lakh Tibetans in India cannot legally vote in India. And examples of Namgyal Dolkar has shown that the process takes one and a half years,” Tsundue said.
Namgyal Dolkar is a Tibetan princess and a descendant of the great Dharma kings of Tibet, whose empire in ancient history extended from parts of Bengal in the south to Mongolia in the north.
She was born in Dehradun in 1986. Namgyal had applied for an Indian passport but was denied. Later, she took the matter to the Delhi High Court, which eventually ruled in her favour in December 2010.
Some of Tibetans in India are now using this case as a precedent to apply for Indian citizenship.
Many believe that given the uncertainty about India’s policy about TGIE after the present incarnation of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, asserting Indian citizenship may provide for secure status and safer ground in India.
Loden Phuntsok, a young Tibetan poet and author, says that seeking Indian citizenship was a matter of individual discretion.
“Central Tibetan Administration has categorically put forward to the Tibetans in exile that it is a matter of individual discretion,” he said.
“The issue will not effect the Tibetan cause. Tibet is no longer a matter of Tibetans only but has wide implications on the whole world, particularly on Asia,” he added.