Tibetans in India

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


Citizenship status

2017: Indian passports

Abhinav Garg, Tibetan refugees to get desi passports, April 18, 2017: The Times of India

Tibetan refugees born in India during 195087 will soon be able to get Indian passports, according to a new policy by the Centre.

The ministry of external affairs (MEA) accepted a Delhi high court ruling from last year that had asked for Tibetan refugees to be considered Indian citizens. The government informed Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva that it has accepted his September 2016 verdict that nationality of Tibetans, born in India during the specific period, cannot be questioned under the Citizenship Act.

The policy change came into effect from March 2017 and is expected to benefit thousands of Tibetans living in India in forced exile.The MEA directed all passport offices in India and abroad to process pending applications of Tibetan Refugee applicants born in India between 26011950 to 01 071987 for the issue of passports, and treat them as Indian citizens by birth.

Latest rules also specify that if the police verification report in the cases of such applicants from local police or security agencies of the government is received as “adverse“ because the refugee is not an Indian citizen by birth, it will be treated by the authorities as “cleared.“

Earlier the home ministry had argued that it considers requests for citizenship by Tibetans residing in India on a case-by-case basis, but the HC ordered it to consider applications of all Tibetans and not ask them to certify their nationality . Till then the MHA was issuing identity certificate residential permit instead of passports to the Tibetan Refugees.

With MEA issuing new rules, HC declared five petitioners before it to be Indian citizens and entitled to a passport, asking the government to issue them travel documents in four weeks. The petitioners had gone to court arguing they were wrongly denied passports despite having other proofs of citizenship including voter ID cards.

Tibet's Govt in exile

2016: 1st elected head boycotts Govt in exile

The Times of India, Mar 21 2016

S Gopal Puri

1st elected head boycotts exiled Tibet govt election

There are signs of resentment against the way elections are being fought for the top democratic post of the Tibetan government in exile. On a day when nearly 90,000 exiled Tibetans voted to elect their new leader for sustaining the demand for a free Tibet, the first elected head of the exiled government, Samdhong Rinponche, refused to cast his vote, giving the argument that the entire election process was moving away from the ideals of a party-less democracy . Samdhong Rinponche (77), who fled Tibet just after four days the Dalai Lama, said he was hurt by the practices being adopted by exiled Tibetan leaders to compete in the elections.

“I didn't cast my vote as the exiled government was based on the principles of Swaraj of (Mahatama) Gandhi Ji. It didn't involve competition or opposition. But, nowadays, representatives are involved in opposing each other through their individual campaigns. Therefore, I think, the exiled government is not heading in the right direction,“ Rinponche told TOI over the phone from Mysore.

Rinponche was first elected the Kalon Tripa (head of the Tibetan cabinet in exile) in 2001. The post is now known as that of the Sikiyong, or prime minister. “I had left Tibet on March 21, four days after the Dalai Lama fled to India on March 17, 1959,“ he said.

The post of Sikiyong was a low-profile role before the 80-year-old Dalai Lama devolved power in an attempt to lessen his own status and fos ter a democratic set-up to keep Tibet's freedom movement alive after his death.

Rinpoche said the views on how the elections were being fought were his own.“The next generations of Tibetans, however, must know that the exiled set-up, which was founded in April 1959, was based on the principles of co-operation and not of competition. The practices being adopted by our contenders now are the same as regular political parties. These are not going to benefit in anyway ,“ he said.

Tibetan Refugee Settlements

In Ladakh

Dr. Mohinder Kumar, Tibetan Refugee Settlements of Laddakh "Daily Excelsior" 8/11/2015

Settlements of Tibetan Refugees

Tibetan refugees in Ladakh are located in 10 settlements –one settlement is near Leh city and nine settlements are in Changthang cold desert. Sonamling Leh settlement comprises 10 Refugee Camps; Sonamling Changthang settlements are scattered across Changthang tribal region, bordering Tibet, and each spread out at a distance of 100-300 km from Leh. Contrary to common perception, majority of Tibet’s population still lives in Tibet –only small minority migrated to India in 1960-61. Sonamling Leh settlement is located in village Choglamsar, 8 km from Leh city. It is mixed with other so many colonies and settlements, viz., Kharnakling, Thokmona, Choglamsar, Agling, Spituk, Police Colony, Solar colony, etc.

Total population of Sonamling Leh settlement is 7000 persons living in 1200 households. All of them were originally settled as refugees migrating from Tibet in 1960. Like Ladakhis they are Buddhists though speak Tibetan language. Both Tibetan and Laddakhi languages are similar since they use same script, named differently –‘Uchen’ in Tibetan (using capital letters) and ‘Umet’ in Laddakhi (using small letters). Tibetan refugees originally arrived at Sonam-Ling (Leh), but excess numbers who could not be accommodated and settled at Leh were diverted to Mysore (Karnataka) and Changthang mountains of Nyoma block. Sonamling Leh has Tibetan Monastery overlooking Ladakhi Monastery of “Solar Colony”. Solar colony is a settlement of internally displaced Ladakhi households settled by District Administration after the great devastation caused by flashfloods and cloudburst in August 2010. Nearby stands a grand, spacious, residential institution of higher Buddhist learning called Central Institute of Buddhist Studies (CIBS). Entire area around Sonamling Leh is scattered with colonies of displaced people –tribal Rabo nomad migrants (from Kharnak), internally displaced settlers (from Leh city Choglamsar) due to cloudburst and Tibetan refugees (from Tibet).

Literacy rate in Tibetan youths at Sonamling Leh is 100%. They are progressive though lack opportunities. Female literacy is 100%. Most of the women work in job/ service. Tibetan women have higher social status, freedom and equality as compared to Ladakhi women. Tibetans settlers have great faith in His Holiness Dalai Lama. Their local community or assembly is called “Sathue” whose function is religious and political organization of Tibetans. Tibetan refugee settlers are mutually cordial, helpful and cooperative. They live in Leh on Tibetan passport, renewed periodically. Tibetan refugees do not have voting rights for State Assembly or Parliamentary elections since they do not have citizenship rights. They hold elections to elect “Settlement Officers”, “Local Assembly Members” (Sathue), Sarpanch and Panches.

There in hilly Changthang (Nyoma), 200 km from Leh, 3000 Tibetan refugees are settled; they are spread-out in nine regions/settlements comprising two Refugees Camps. They have these features: (i) They are called “Dokpas” (nomads) and got settled earlier during 1960s; (ii) Their life style resembles with Rabo tribal nomads of Ladakhi origin; (iii) “Dokpas” are not happy with quality of life there even as they requested Camp Leaders to shift them elsewhere since they could not live in mountains anymore since originally many of them were not nomads in Tibet; soon they will be shifted from Changthang; and (iv) a big question looms large i.e., finding new place for their re-settlement. There are issues of “emotional setback” of displacement and economic cost of re-settlement plan. Main occupation of Tibetan refugee settlers in Changthang is sheep and goat rearing. Like local Rabos (domestic nomads) refugee Dokpas are reported to be in great trouble and eager to abandon that region due to hardships of life and living conditions. What shall happen to their life style of “Dokpa” nomads is not known to even the elected “Camp Leaders” in Changthang.

Sonamling Leh settlement has 3500 youths, of which 70% are employed or working. Main occupation of Tibetan refugee settlers in Sonamling Leh is small trade, shop and service in Government of Tibet in exile. Allied occupation of youths is wage labor. Their main and allied occupations keep changing. A few Refugees had worked in “Special Frontier Force” and provided intelligence services during Kargil war. Sonamling Leh has set up a Consumers’ Cooperative Society at Leh with 1300 members. Membership fee is Rs.100. However, it is registered by the name of “Primary Agricultural Cooperative Society” (PACS) on the pattern of PACS in Indian States. Its main function is provision of goods for selling to the members at reasonable price and on credit basis during winter season (four months) when supply lines are choked due to snow. It sells grocery on credit. Its credit outstanding is Rs.15 lakh.

Streets of Sonamling Leh refugee colony are kutcha and dusty. Sanitation is not so good. Drains are kutcha. Overall ambience and ethos of Sonamling colony resembles typical village of Laddakh, without basic amenities. Streetlights are not installed. Houses have power connection but supply is irregular, limited and maximum for 10 hours. There are hand pumps in streets. Tibetan refugee settlers have their own dispensary, which distributes allopathic and Tibetan system of medicines. Facility of private doctor and medical shop is available. There is a Tibetan Children Village School (TCVS) up to 10th class. No school fee is charged. Uniform, meals, books, etc. are provided free of cost. After studying in TCVS, students are shifted to Dharamshala for senior secondary schools for 10+1 and 10+2 classes under CBSE where Tibetan language is compulsory. Then they can join any college and university. Government of Tibet in Exile at Dharmshala provides scholarship to meritorious students.

Houses in Sonamling colony are mixed –kutcha and pucca. They have got ration cards. Ony 10% Tibetan households are poor/BPL. However, 80% households have no access to bank loan. All depend on personal loan from each other. Tibetan youths in Sonamling Leh have become prone to sexually transmitted diseases (STD), i.e. their main concern. Tibetan refugees in Sonamling Leh receive no financial assistance from Govt. of India or Govt. of J&K or international donor and funding agencies. There are two Tibetan Monasteries, which also do not give financial help to the refugees. Sonamling refugee settlers tell their heart is in Tibet since they feel their real home is Lhasa. They have reminiscences of good idyllic old days in Tibet and long for return to the homeland. Even younger generation sees its future in safe return to Tibet.

If solution to their problem is not located, Tibetan Refugees can foresee a big crisis brewing in Ladakh that started in 1960s. The crisis of Tibetan refugees of Sonamling Leh and Sonamling Changthang settlements has been gathering strength for over five decades and expanding invisibly every day. Tibetan refugees and local Ladakhis, viewed closely, do not gel well together despite same culture, same religion, and similar language. There are reported minor though effective subterranean undercurrents of lack of social assimilation, exclusion, and maladjustment in colony, public functions, school-functions, and public space. Tibetan refugees often complain that they are given unfair treatment and treated with discrimination. Rabo migrants of adjacent Kharnakling have grudge, and complain that they had to pay price to Tibetan refugee settlers of Sonamling Leh to “buy” land from them for settling after migration from Kharnak-Zara during 1980s. There is a sense of separateness thriving on flimsy grounds between the two communities.

On the other hand 3000 Tibetan Dokpas immediately want to return from Changthang since unable to adjust there. Local Ladakhi population of Kharnakling and Choglamsar apprehend that already 3000-4000 local migrants and refugees are settled in Choglamsar and they are reeling under economic pressure. The likely shifting of 3000 Tibetan “Dokpa” nomads in Choglamsar may possibly aggravate the situation of managing more refugees at Leh. Changthang is under migrants’ pressure. Local office of “Central Tibetan Relief Committee” (CTRC) Choglamsar is unable to diffuse the crisis at Sonamling Leh, since its role is limited to socio-cultural and religious interests.

Tibetan refugees face difficulties due to economic and financial scarcities to invest in business and occupations, and extraordinary efforts required to transform the way of life. They have set up two Monasteries: Ruthok Monastery and Kagui Monastery at Sonamling, instrumental in controlling their passion for economic expansion and accumulation –greed, avarice and urge for capital accumulation. Tibetans at Leh are struggling to maintain balance between Buddhism on one hand and capitalism on the other. Their counterparts settled at Changthang as Dokpa nomads are similarly struggling in prolonged period of transition of life still unsettled. In February 2013 Dokpas faced massive snowfall as their cattle perished. This created problem for nomadic survival. Changthang is known as “Third Pole” on the Earth –it is so cold. Changthang has also problem of food and fodder. Tibetan Dokpas refugees have no access to adequate food, vegetables and grasses. These refugee nomads get food, feed and fodder quarterly from state government free of cost. Moreover they have acquired habitation skills to survive in extreme cold conditions. They live on meat for survival in cold conditions. They have no option but to survive.

They want help from banks and government. No development scheme of Govt. of India or State Govt. is applicable in refugee settlement. Without financial assistance, public amenities and infrastructures are in bad shape. Banks are reluctant to finance them since not Indian subjects and hence ineligible. Local Ladakhis differentiate between “Indians” and “Tibetans” –calling the latter as “refugees”–a term which, they feel, is insulting. They are discriminated in public functions and schools. They feel they are given second class citizen treatment. Tibetans at Sonamling Leh demand permanent government jobs, preferably school teacher or doctor, considered by them as “social service”. They demand critical basic facilities of: (i) streetlights; (ii) regular power supply to households; (iii) safe drinking water at doorstep since fetched by head load from hill/nallah; (iv) pucca link-road and streets; (v) schools; and (vi) separate college for Tibetan youths. Tibetan refugees have dismal future at Sonamling Leh despite education. As refugees, they feel they are captives, not free.

(Author works for NABARD. Views expressed are personal)

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