Title

× Close
refugees in india

Tibetans born in India get voting rights, but many don't want to take them

Tibetans born in India between 1950 and 1987 are already legally considered citizens of the country. But some fear that applying for papers will dilute their identity.

Last week, the Election Commission ordered state commissions to include all people of Tibetan origin born in India between 1950 and July 1987 on the electoral rolls. But many Tibetans don't want this privilege.

“We are very grateful to the government of India, but we don’t want to fight for any right other than what we have," said activist and poet Tenzin Tsundue. "Our legal status is ‘foreigners registered to be living in India.’ That is all.”

India is thought to be home to around 120,000 Tibetans, approximately 48,000 of whom are eligible to vote. The community has lived in India in large numbers ever since their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, crossed the border in 1959, fleeing repression by the Chinese in their homeland.

At present, Tibetans not born in India are considered foreigners and have to apply periodically for registration certificates from their local Foreigner Regional Registration Office. The Citizenship Act of 1955 states that all people born in India are legally considered citizens, which allows Tibetans born in India since then to claim Indian citizenship. However the act was amended in 1986 and the provision that conferred Indian citizenship on any child born in India was removed.

Since many Tibetans are already considered Indian citizens by law, the Election Commission is not unduly extending franchise to people who are not citizens. “We are only implementing existing court orders,” said Deputy Election Commissioner Alok Shukla. “Only Indian citizens have voting rights in India. Who is considered a citizen is a matter of adjudication.”

The question of Indian citizenship for Tibetans began to be debated in 2010, when the Ministry of External Affairs denied a passport to Namgyal Dolkar Lhagyari, a Tibetan born in India in 1986. She challenged the order in the Delhi high court. The ruling in December 2011 reminded the government that when the Citizenship Act of 1955 was amended in 1986, home minister P Chidambaram categorically stated that it would not be retroactive and that all those born in the country before July 1987 would still be regarded as Indian citizens. The court also said that unless citizens took active steps towards renouncing their citizenship, they could not be deprived of their rights. A Karnataka high court confirmed this ruling in a similar case in August 2013.

Lhagyar has welcomed the Election Commission order. “I really appreciate that the Commission is clarifying this,” she told Scroll.in. “They are just confirming a right that already exists. All my case did was to bring visibility to the issue because nobody knew the legal status of Tibetan refugees at the time.”

The issue of accepting foreign nationalities has also been the subject of heated debate within the Tibetan community. It was only in August 2013 that the Tibetan government-in-exile, based in Dharamshala, declared that it would not prevent any Tibetan from seeking Indian citizenship. This was a change from its earlier insistence that Tibetans retain their status of ‘stateless’ refugees.

But Tsundue and other activists fear that accepting foreign citizenship will dilute the already weakening identity of Tibetan refugees, who aim to return home one day. “There may be some people who have taken citizenship, but these are very few,” he said. “I don’t think any Tibetan would take advantage of such schemes.”

Not all Tibetans in India agree with him.

Every year, Tibetans across the country have to spend time and money to travel all the way to their local FRRO to renew their registration certificates. Their travel within India is also restricted and they are technically obliged to report to an FRRO every 14 days, though the rule is often observed in the breach.

“While of course I cannot speak for the community, I think this will make many of their lives much easier,” said Shibayan Raha, a former Grassroots Director at Students for a Free Tibet, an activist organisation campaigning for Tibetan rights.

The reason very few Tibetans have asserted their Indian citizenship is the lack of legal awareness, Raha said. Once younger Tibetans realise they are actually Indian, many will apply for citizenship proofs such as voter identity cards and passports.

There are many benefits for doing so. “At present, they can work only in the private sector wherever they get employed, at places like call centres," Raha said. "They have to pay higher fees at universities because they are not from this country. This will entitle them to more benefits such as government jobs and less harassment by officials who have never heard of registration certificates.”

Indian officials clarified that Tibetans of any age or place of birth will remain free to retain any identity they please. They will not face any official interference and may continue to apply for registration certificates annually. However, if they want to assert their Indian citizenship, they will have to apply for official papers.

“Only when someone wants to get enrolled on the voters list, do they have to categorically state that they are citizens of India,” reminded Shukla of the Election Commission. “Until then, they need not clarify anything.”
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BULLETIN BY 

Five foods that could be included in your balanced breakfast today

It has become a cliché to say that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’, but like all clichés there is a ring of truth to it.

Starting the day with breakfast is a simple way to make a difference to the overall well-being of an individual. In spite of the several benefits of breakfast consumption, the phenomenon of skipping breakfast is widely prevalent, especially in an urban set-up where mornings are really rushed.

The ‘India Breakfast Habits Study’ has revealed that one in four urban Indians claim to skip breakfast and about 72% skimp by having a nutritionally inadequate breakfast. Isn’t it alarming? Over the years, numerous studies have demonstrated that eating breakfast has several health benefits and can impact future health of an individual. But given today’s fast-paced life, Indians are increasingly undermining the importance of a well-balanced breakfast.

So what makes for a balanced breakfast? A balanced breakfast should consist of foods from at least three essential food groups, e.g one serve of whole grains, one serve of dairy (milk or curd) or lean proteins and one serve of fruit or vegetables. It should provide essential nutrients like protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals besides energy.

Here are some nutrient-rich foods you could incorporate as part of your balanced breakfast:

1. Oats. Oats are cereal grains that are high in protein and are a great source of fibre, especially soluble fibre. Oats contain beta glucan, a soluble fibre which has cholesterol lowering effects and therefore considered heart healthy. It also provides some minerals like iron, magnesium and zinc.

2. Barley. Barley is one of the first cultivated grains in the world, dating back nearly 13,000 years. It has the distinction of having the highest amount of dietary fibre among the cereals. Barley is chewy with a distinct nutty flavor, and is a good source of B-complex vitamins like vitamin B1, B3, B6 and biotin as well as minerals like phosphorus and manganese. Barley is also low in fat, and scientific research has shown that consumption of barley can help in lowering blood cholesterol levels.

3. Wheat. Like barley, wheat too is among the world’s oldest cultivated grains, and a source of vegetable protein. Its easy availability makes it a vital ingredient in many dishes. Whole wheat is a good source of protein and is stocked with vitamin B1, B3 and B6 making it a healthy addition to one’s diet.

4. Dried fruits. Dried fruit is fruit that has had almost all of the water content removed through drying methods. The fruit shrinks during this process, leaving a small, energy-dense dried fruit. Dried fruits are a good source of micronutrients and antioxidants (phenols) in general. Raisins, for example, contain iron and magnesium that are essential for normal functioning of the body.

5. Nuts. Nuts provide healthy fats, protein and fibre. They also provide vitamins and minerals and are a versatile food that can be incorporated in various recipes. Different nuts are rich in different nutrients. Almonds, for example, provide fibre, calcium and vitamin E.

Kellogg’s Muesli with nutritious grains including wheat, barley and oats and delicious inclusions such as almonds and dried fruits (grains and inclusions differ for different variants) along with milk or curd can be a tasty, nourishing breakfast and a great way to start your day. To explore delicious variants, click here.

This article was produced on behalf of Kellogg’s Muesli by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.

× Close
PrevNext