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Legal Overview Of The Status Of Tibetans In India

India has been extremely liberal with the Tibetans. It has been permitting Tibetans to come in India and, in consideration to the first wave of arrivals, to develop settlements, schools, and medical facilities. Yet the awe-inspiring majority of Tibetans residing in India lack a defined legal status. They don't match up with the requirements as refugees in any authorized intellect.

Tibetan immigrants, as foreigners, to a mass of limitations affecting their ability to travel freely, either nationally or globally, to own property in their own names, to meet the requirements for government professions, and to vote in Indian elections. As immigrants, Tibetan's capacity to validate and express themselves politically is also constrained, mainly when Chinese notables are visiting India.

Even though in earlier years India had "carefully respected the principle of non-refoulement," and in spite of the apparent lucidity of the law, reports specify that some Tibetans have indeed been by force sent home to China.[1]

Historical Background
It all began with a powerful rebellion breakdown in Lhasa in contradiction of Chinese rule. Some regions of Tibet had by now have risen, but with mass rebellion immersing the capital, the People's Republic of China (PRC) deepened its suppression. Within days of the Dalai Lama's escape, thousands of Tibetans too were taking the road of exile. For those in Lhasa and eastern Tibet, the direct way to reach India was NEFA.

Three years later, a still greater crisis exploded: China occupied NEFA. The 1962 Sino-Indian War turned into one more humanitarian emergency. With Chinese forces capturing northern NEFA, Tibetan refugees went on the road once more. Many NEFA residents joined them. While locals ultimately went home, most Tibetan refugees did not come back when the conflict ended. There were stiffnesses with local inhabitants, and Indian establishments now considered Tibetan refugees too big a security threat. Some men, however, joined the new-fangled Indo-Tibetan Border Police, formed in October 1962 in the middle of the war to guard the border they had spanned into exile just a few years earlier.

Now, just a minority of Tibetan refugees still is in Arunachal Pradesh. The majority are dispersed across India, and the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan Government-in-Exile have made Dharamshala their dwelling. But for them and veterans of the NEFA administration, memories of 1959 remain.

Encounters Faced By The Tibetan Diasporas In India

  1. The job loss problem of educated Tibetan youth is the branch of the outstanding achievement of converting a large part of the illiterate society into a completely literate society within the span of two generations. In accordance with the Second Tibetan Demographic Survey of 2009, the general literacy rate is 79.4 per cent, and the effective literacy rate is 82.4 per cent 3. As the figure of Tibetan youths with a graduate's degree has improved, the government-in-exile could not hire them all in its establishment. The young generation people do not demand to follow the adult generation's profession of sweater-selling or running small shops in periodic Tibetan marketplaces in Indian towns. They are provoked with the challenge of searching for employment according to their prerequisite and skill.
  2. Another major challenge tells to getting travel documents for travelling in a foreign country. Tibetans wish to go abroad to meet their families or to study or for the purpose of running the monasteries spread over several parts of the world. The Government of India issues an "Identity Certificate" (IC) for Tibetans instead of a passport for travelling abroad. Apart from the long and complex process of acquiring the IC, they are also required to register for a permit to leave the country as well as for re-entering so that they could come back to India.
  3. The question of Tibetans applying for Indian citizenship has expanded currency, specifically after the enactment of the Indian Citizenship Act (Amendment) of 1986 which permits for the obtaining of Indian citizenship by any person who is born in India between January 26, 1950-July 1, 1987. The amendment has made a huge section of the second and third generations of Tibetan refugees entitled for Indian citizenship.[2]

Foremost Question Of Indian Citizenship As An Obstacle For The Tibetans

Although there are no official limitations compulsory by the Tibetan government-in-exile on Tibetan refugees looking for Indian citizenship, it has energetically discouraged them from taking this. There is also a strong feeling among the Tibetan people that taking Indian citizenship would fade away the Tibetan movement. As a result, they judge those of their nationals who have accepted Indian citizenship. But there are still numerous Tibetans who would like to take up Indian citizenship.

The government-in-exile seems to have been putting double standards. On one hand, it has been inspiring Tibetans living in other countries, specially those in the West, to take up the citizenship of their host countries and tags them as Tibetan Ambassadors to reserved lands. And on the other hand, it does not favour Tibetans in India in adopting Indian citizenship. This double standard is creating uneasiness and separation among the Tibetan community in refugee.

The recent policy of the Government of India is meant at easing the regulations on Tibetan refugees for travel and for studying abroad. It has been reported that this new policy was also aimed at depressing Tibetans from applying for Indian passports. Although this change might discourage Tibetans from applying for Indian passports, but, make it easier for them to leave the Tibetan settlements and travel to other nations.

Once they are be able to go abroad, many of them would try to get, if not citizenship but at least residential permits. This has been the normal practice amid Tibetan refugees so far. So, once they manage to become residents or citizens in Western countries, they would get retirement pension or allowance from the host nation's government. Therefore, for the time being India's relaxing of regulations on travel abroad may discourage Tibetan refugees from applying for Indian passport, there is no way to halt them from becoming citizens of other nations.[3]

Legislative Standpoint Of Tibetans In Indian Sub-Continent

  1. In 1959, the Indian government approved political refuge to the Dalai Lama and his followers. The Dalai Lama and his followers were viewed as refugees and were provided with all rights and conveniences by the Government of India. Tibetan refugees are viewed to be refugees in India and hence are a matter to residency permit regulations. This information was confirmed by the Indian High Commission in Ottawa dated on 20 July 1992. Non-violent and non-political actions were made provisional to the Dalai Lama residing in India. Refugees in India usually obtain a temporary residence permit which is renewable in consideration with the guidelines of the UNCHR 1992. There was no accuracy available on the period of permit's legitimacy.
  2. One more source mentions the integration of the Tibetans in India. Only recently, but did the Tibetans help from an integrated growth plan of their settlements. These settlements were decided to the refugee public by the Indian government. The refugees set up Tibetan schools and community services in the settlements and shaped a government-in-exile in Dharamshala. According to the High Commission of India in Ottawa, Tibetan refugees do not have the right to get Indian nationality, even if they were born in India. Please find attached the Nationality Act of India which provides more details on nationality but does not contain any specific section on refugees (Law of Citizenship and Aliens in India 1962). [4]

Judicial Aspects On The Matter

  1. Delhi High Courts Decision

    On 22 September 2016, the Delhi High Court delivered a ruling mentioning that "the nationality of Tibetans born in India between 1950 and 1987 cannot be interrogated under the Citizenship Act 1986" in answer to petitions filed by three Tibetans born in India: Lobsang Wangyal born in 1970, Lobsang Phuntsok Wangyal born in 1977 and Tenzin Dhonden born in 1992, who had made an effort to apply for Indian passports (IANS 23 Sept. 2016).

    Although Dhonden was born after 1987, "he was still eligible since his father was born in India. The petitioners went to court after they were told by the government that they needed a certificate verifying their nationality before they could apply for passports, in spite of holding other proofs of Indian citizenship including Voter identification, Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), a news wire service concentrating on India and South Asia, similarly reports that the petitioners were "asked to apply for, and receive, a citizenship certificate from the Ministry of Home Affairs" before a passport could be allotted. A copy of the 22 September 2016 Delhi High Court ruling in Phuntsok Wangyal v. Ministry of External Affairs & Others and Lobsang Wangyal v. Union of India & Others and Tenzin Dhonden v. Union of India & Others is attached to this reply.

    Lobsang Wangyal filed a petition for contempt of court in February 2017, after he was deprived of a passport despite High Court orders (Hindustan Times 31 Mar. 2017). The Times of India notes that the contempt petition was filed against "the government of India and police officials of Himachal Pradesh" (The Times of India 19 Feb. 2017). [5]

    Lobsang Wangyal stated that the petition for contempt of court filed in February 2017 was resolute later that month. Evidence on whether Phuntsok Wangyal and Tenzin Dhonden obtained passports following the 22 September 2016 ruling could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.[6]

    In an April 2017 article, the MEA notified Delhi High Court justice Sanjeev Sachdeva of its receiving of the High Court ruling and issued a new policy in March 2017 to all passport offices in India and abroad to process awaiting applications of Tibetan Refugee applicants born in India between 26/01/1950 to 01/07/1987 for the issue of passports, and treat them as Indian citizens by birth. The same source additional states the circular as mentioning that Tibetans born after July 1, 1987, either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of birth are also entitled to the same right as per the Indian Citizenship Act of 1955.[7]
  2. Meghalaya High Court On Indian Citizenship Of Tibetans

    Shillong, March 9:
    The High Court of Meghalaya just held that Tibetan refugees born in Shillong or somewhere else in the country after January 26, 1950, and before July 1, 1987, as per the Citizenship Act, 1955, will be considered as Indian citizens. It, therefore, held that they are therefore eligible to all aids and privileges available to the Indian citizens.
Having given thoughtful consideration to the rival submissions and having examined the material placed on record, we are clearly of the view that the respondents had been entirely unfair in denying the rights to the petitioners as citizens of India though such rights flow traditional and reliably by the procedure of the basic provisions of law, the Bench as well as Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice Ved Prakash Vaish detected. [8]

The Court was hearing three Writ Petitions, in which the petitioners had appealed that they were eligible to be acknowledged as citizens of India, in interpretation of Section 3(1) (a) of the Citizenship Act, 1955. This claim had been confronted by the State, claiming that they had obtained the process in the Electoral Rolls by overpowering the element that they were registered Tibetan refugees, and were not holding the citizenship certificate.[9]

Centre had trusted on a letter allotted by the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Election Commission of India, as per which all kids born to Tibetan refugees in India would not be treated as Indian citizens grounded on their birth in India prior to 01.07.1987. Such people, it had specified, shall have to submit applications individually under Section 9(2) of the Citizenship Act and afterwards the nationality status would be determined by the Ministry of Home Affairs, as per the procedure prearranged under the Citizenship Rules, 2009[10].

It had hence submitted that the petitioners cannot be considered to be Indian citizens inevitably and need to apply in terms of Centre's decision. Deciding against the Centre, the Court trusted on the verdict in the case of Namgyal Dolkar v. Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, in which the Delhi High Court had ruled that Tibetans born after 26th January, 1950 and before 1st July, 1987 are Indian citizens in terms of the Citizenship Act. This conclusion had later been relied on by the Delhi High Court in the case of Phuntsok Wangyal v. Ministry of External Affairs and others, and by the Karnataka High Court in the case of Tenzin Choephag Ling Rinpoche v. Union of India.[11]

The knot of relation between India and China becomes all the way more complicated due to the Tibet issue and continues to exist in misery and agony till date and will continue to be there in existence until and unless a solution is brought about.

The being of HIS HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA and his FOLLOWERS of the Tibetan refugee community has still kept the question alive. This conflict affects the Tibetans deprived of many rights and aids. China's increased relationship with Pakistan has led India to become stringent on the Tibetan issue. But India is continuously been at work on the circumstances and ways to deal with it in the finest way imaginable.

  1. Legal overview of the status of Tibetans, available at:, last visit on 21 march 2021.
  2. The Unintended Consequences of India's Policy on Citizenship for Tibetan Refugees February 23, 2018 available at last visited on 21 march 2021
  3. The Unintended Consequences of India's Policy on Citizenship for Tibetan Refugees February 23, 2018 available at last visited on 21 March 2021
  4. India:
    1. Legal status of Tibetan refugees;
    2. Rights of Tibetans to Indian nationality, 1 July 1992, IND11239, available at: last visited on 21 March 2021
  5. Lobsang Wangyal vs Union Of India & Ors on 22 September, 2016
  6. Ibid
  7. the Citizenship Act section 3, 1955
    the Citizenship Act section 3 (1), 1955
    the Citizenship Act, 1955(1)(a), 1955
  8. Shri Phuntsok Tashi vs State Of Meghalaya on 15 February, 2017
  9. Ibid
  10. The Indian Citizenship Act of 1955
    The Indian Citizenship Act of 1955 section 9(2)
  11. The Indian Citizenship A ct of 1955 section 3(1)

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Jhalak Bhargav

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Authentication No: JL219766803308-16-0722

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