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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Why Not Indian Tibetans?

February 2, 2011

Phayul [Tuesday, February 01, 2011 10:01]
By Tenpa Dhargyal Gashi

Even before this legal battle was waged and won by one of our own (I
would like to call it a watershed moment), Namgyal Dolkar Lhagyari, I
have had numerous discussions on this very subject with my friends in
Magnuka Tilla 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 Deputy Speaker of Tibetan Parliament 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?

The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the
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