Is Indian citizenship for Tibetans a threat to the Tibetan cause?

Mila Rangzen

Mila Rangzen

By Mila Rangzen

NEW YORK CITY, US, 7 August 2017

Tibetans have been living in India as what they call themselves “refugees” since 1959, after the original Middle-Way Approach that began in 1951 and which was subsequently rejected by China with a barrage of guns, artillery, and bombs.

Does India regard Tibetans in India as refugees? No. Are the Tibetans considered Indians? No. Then what are they to the Indian government? Stateless foreigners. If that is the case, then on what grounds are Tibetans given separate settlements on lease in many parts of India? On stateless foreigners ground? No. Then on what? On humanitarian ground. Well, that is the definition of the Tibetan situation in India.

Tibetans in India have no rights whatsoever, including no land or property ownership, no administrative or political positions, no jobs in the civil sector or corporation business, no election. Although things have started to change recently with initiative from the Indian government as far as the policy of rights for the Tibetans in India are concerned, on the ground not much has changed. Most state offices are not even aware of this change, and that drags the process hard and long, often ending in denial.

The majority of the Tibetans in India are surviving on a small piece of land with a few huts on it, and doing mainly footpath business selling Ludhiana sweaters in Indian cities. Obviously, Tibetans are dying to get out of this sorry state by moving to the West, particularly to the US, and also by applying for Indian citizenship for growth, security, and equality. India has started issuing Indian citizenship to those Tibetans born in India from 1959 to 1987 and their children if they choose to apply.

An obstacle

But there is an obstacle on the path. It is the Central Tibetan Administration!

On the surface, CTA has said time and again that it would help by giving supporting documents to those Tibetans who want to apply for Indian citizenship, and that at the same time it would not compel Tibetans to take to Indian citizenship. Fair enough.

But the fact is, CTA is dead set against Tibetans becoming Tibetan-Indians. Why?

One major argument put forward is that once Tibetans in India become Tibetan-Indians, we will lose the legitimacy of fighting for Tibetan freedom. At face value, this seems like a good reason, but underneath the surface it is a pure lie, and double standard too. For example, Tibetan-Americans, Tibetan-Canadians, or Tibetan-English face no such problems. They are actually at the forefront of peaceful street protests. Jews around the world fought for freedom with foreign passports in hands, and today they have an independent state of Israel.

Two, Tibetan-Indians will lose access to all the CTA benefits, including the right to live in Tibetan settlements and political positions. Again, this does not apply to Tibetans with foreign citizenship other than Indian citizenship. Those Tibetans who are Americans, Canadians, or even Nepalese, have the right and access to all the benefits mentioned above, but once you become Indians, it’s another story. Do you see the double standard here?

For instance, Lobsang Sangay, the president of the CTA, is a US citizen. Gyari Dolma, who enjoyed CTA positions such as that of Home Ministry, is an Indian citizen. She did not go through the citizenship process like the Tibetan journalist Lobsang Wangyal did. She bought it for Rs 50,000 twenty years ago, which is illegal. There are many such examples.

Three, the Indian government does not accept dual citizenship. That may be the case, but there is a way already in place such as Non-Resident Indian (NRI) status. And Tibetans with Indian citizenship living in the west, for example, can get Overseas Indian Citizenship (OCI) status. Some Tibetans have already got it. With this status, you have every right that an Indian citizen has except voting. And it does not stipulate that you cannot fight for the Tibetan cause, however vague that might be. There is no international law set in stone that with foreign passports, you cannot fight for the freedom of your home country. As long as you don’t collude with the enemy of your adopted country, it’s all well.

Now what is CTA’s strategy to prevent us everyday Tibetans from becoming Tibetan-Indians?

  1. It has recently ordered all the offices under its wings not to issue any Indian citizenship supporting documents to those Tibetans who reside in India. This is simply unbelievable.
  2. It has also manipulated the Indian authorities to kick all Tibetan-Indians out of their Tibetan settlements on the pretext that they are no longer refugees. Are Tibetans then given settlements because they are refugees? Hell no. But on humanitarian grounds.

This pre-emptive strike from CTA is what Tibetans aspiring to be Indians fear most. You lose:

  1. Rent-free eight acres of land in the Tibetan settlements for a family of 10.
  2. And a rent-free four-bedroom hut on an 18,000-square-foot plot with backyard and front yard.
  3. And also, all the new brick modern two-story homes, gardens, garages, and swimming pools they built with money from their relatives in the west.
  4. Cheap electricity and water bills.
  5. And tons of fresh air in the rural areas.
  6. Also, Tibetan-Indians will lose the right to enjoy any benefit from CTA, be it political or administrative positions, jobs, aid, scholarship, election, etc., simply because they are Tibetan-Indians.

However, CTA or Indian authorities should not remove Tibetan-Indians from the settlements because

  1. They are still humans.
  2. And they are still very poor. As much as we hate to admit it, this is a fact. This is not about driving a Mercedes around and collecting welfare cheques. If you go to any Tibetan settlement and ask a Tibetan to produce Rs10,000 ($150) you will only find him scratching his head looking up toward the heavens for help.
  3. Besides, Tibetans have worked the land, have a social history and connection to the land they have lived on for nearly six decades.
  4. The Tibetan population who are eligible for Indian citizenship is less than 50,000 which is a drop in the ocean of Indian population.
  5. Not heeding this demand will result in thousands of Tibetan-Indians going homeless. Obviously, such a state of affairs will not contribute anything to the Tibetan cause.

In defence, CTA parrots several major excuses for its discriminatory policy that:

  1. Tibetans in India enjoy all the rights that an Indian citizen enjoys except that Tibetans cannot participate in elections.
    This is absolutely not true. If this is true, why would Tibetans in Dharamshala buy land through benami deal which is a shaky deal? But desperation makes humans capable of doing anything because there is nothing to lose at rock bottom.
  2. Tibetans in countries other than India have no choice but become citizens.
    This is not true either. If Tibetans choose, they can hold on to their asylum status or to green card for life. Just don’t take the citizenship test, and you remain as you are.
  3. That it is Indian government’s policy and that CTA can do nothing but respect it.
    This is how CTA washes its hands off the Indian immigration policy, which was manipulated by CTA in the first place.

This is not only discrimination to Tibetan-Indians, but racism towards Indians — our host.

A case in point, Tibetans who marry Indians or have an affair with Indians are looked down upon, sometimes paraded naked in public like the case in Majnu ka Tilla, Old Delhi, some years ago, and beaten up and socially ostracized. Tibetans hate dark skin. And once the makeup gets washed off by rain, Indians generally are dark. But when Tibetans marry white Americans or English or Canadians of European stock, Tibetan authorities have no problem. If this is not racism, then what is?

Denying Tibetan-Indians any CTA benefits, while letting Tibetan-Americans and Tibetan-Canadians gorge on CTA benefits, is a classic case of top-down discrimination based on citizenship. It is unacceptable and should never be tolerated.

What to do?

What the Tibetan-Indians can do now:

  1. Form an organization called Tibetan Indian organization (TIO) and do the following, soon.
  2. Create a community of strong bonding through mutual help and understanding.
  3. Petition CTA for a change in the policy.
  4. Contact media and organize street protests.
  5. Organize unto-death hunger strikes to draw the attention and support of the Indian public.
  6. Let the international community and world leaders know what the CTA is doing to them, through all means available, including constant use of social media.
  7. As the organization grows bigger and bigger over the coming years, and if by then CTA refuses to budge, issue an ultimatum: Be fair and fulfill the demands or two things can happen. One, that CTA will be seen as an agent of China and therefore fit to be booted out by any and all means. Two, sever ties to anything CTA completely. This may seem like the old woman mad for nine years at the pre-1959 Tibetan lama government and when she died, the then Tibetan government didn’t even know it! But when you do it in large numbers, CTA will be left with no choice but to fulfil your demands. CPC or CTA, an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. Zero tolerance!

Following are the reasons why Tibetans in India want Indian citizenship:

  1. CTA shipped 1,000 Tibetans to the US in the early 1990s.
  2. CTA shipped 2,000 Tibetans to Switzerland in the 1970s.
  3. Over 40,000 Tibetans are now living in the West.
  4. Tired of surviving on a tiny farm that witnesses loss every other year.
  5. Tired of rearing cattle because milk is cheaper than bottled water and therefore no profit.
  6. Tired of selling sweaters in the dusty dirty streets of scorching Indian cities.
  7. Tired of being treated as second-class citizens because you have no citizenship from any country.
  8. Hard to travel on IC (Identity Certificate) when it could be changed to TD (Travel Document).
  9. Many in the exile Cabinet and the Parliament have foreign passports.
  10. CTA abandoned the independence struggle since 1974, and officially in 1988.
  11. No so-called “Genuine Autonomy” is in sight.
  12. No secular multi-party system is implemented, and therefore there is no proper representation for the public. It is still a government of, for, and by the monks.
  13. The status of the Tibetan Government in Exile is reduced to Central Tibetan Administration.
  14. The status of Sikyong or Prime Minister is reduced to the President of a Taxi Union and thereby undermining the political status of our movement.
  15. Remaining stuck in grinding poverty in India is not helping the cause nor our families.
  16. Last but not least, it is CTA’s policy to keep us poor and dependent on the CTA so it can control us and use us — for their world view at best, and for their ulterior motives at worst.

NOTE: This piece has been edited, and the suggestion for self-immolations has been removed (Item 6 of "What to do?").

About the author

Mila Rangzen is a US armed forces veteran serving the New York Community as an immigration translator. He can be reached at [email protected]

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