(Editorial appeared in the November-December 2014 edition of Tibetan Review.)
On Oct 20 this year, the government of India issued a document titled “The Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy, 2014”. It is a significant document which enables one to know what the policy status of the Tibetans living in India since 1959 is. With some long lists, the policy document also explains what welfare and other facilities may be, but not necessarily will be, extended to them.
To begin with, the document explains that “Tibetans in India are considered refugees and they are staying temporarily in India on Humanitarian considerations”. The term ‘refugee’, however, does not occur in the Indian statute books and should, therefore, be understood in its proper context. In the case of Tibetans, it necessarily means those holding the Foreigner’s Registration Certificate (RC) issued by the government of India and which they are required to get renewed annually or, as the case may be, every five years, unless their permit to stay in the country gets revoked before that.
The RC is therefore nothing like the permanent residence document that successful asylum applicants get in the USA or Canada or other Western countries. Such asylum grantees get almost all the rights that the country’s citizens are entitled to, short of voting in elections and possibly standing for election to the country’s highest office. India does not have a law or standard system or process for granting such kind of asylum.
Rather, as this policy document spells out, the RC issued to the Tibetans is a permit for them to stay temporarily in India on humanitarian considerations. This document is therefore somewhat like the “F Permit” issued by the government of Switzerland to unsuccessful asylum claimants who, however, cannot be sent back to their respective countries for various reasons. However, the Swiss government apparently considers it inhuman to keep such permit holders in a state of limbo forever even while keeping on granting them welfare payments and facilities. It therefore entitles them to apply for work permit after three years and for “B Permit” – the permanent residence granted to successful asylum applicants – after two more years.
It is perhaps too much to expect a developing country like India with truly enormous socio-economic challenges of its own to be as indulgent as the West in terms of granting anything like the “Green Card” in the USA or even the “F Permit” in Switzerland to asylum applicants. Countries evolve and formulate their policies on the basis as much of their humanitarian ethos as by the dictates and limitations of their prevailing circumstances. The Tibetan rehabilitation policy document apparently seeks to strike a balance between these two considerations. This is not to say, however, that nothing more could be done.
The policy document has three main parts. The first part deals with the lease of the lands on which Tibetans have been living in mainly agricultural settlements in ten or so states of India over the past several decades. The state governments are directed to fix the lease term on these lands at a relatively short period of 20 years. The document authorizes the Dalai Lama’s Central Tibetan Relief Committee, the registered body which coordinates issues relating to Tibetan refugees, to apportion the leased lands for residential, agricultural, commercial, religious or any such other purposes to enable Tibetan families to “follow their culture and religion unhindered” while being able to make a living out of the land.
The second part deals with the issue of extending the “various development schemes of the central government” to Tibetan refugees as well. The document names nine such schemes by way of illustrations and “suggests” that consideration be given for extending them, including state government schemes in the social sector, to all Tibetan refugees. However, the document notes that in the case of the Public Distribution System carried out under the National Food Security Act (2013) or the existing Targeted Public Distribution System, they are applicable only to citizens. The state governments are therefore asked to consider extending the benefits under these two schemes to Tibetan refugees “as a welfare measure on humanitarian basis, subject to the availability of food grains.”
The third part is a “request” to the state governments to extend other kinds of central and state government benefits as well to the Tibetan refugees. Fifteen items are listed under this category as areas of particular focus, dealing mainly with provision of education subsidies and vocational trainings and enabling Tibetans to pursue various types of self-employment occupations, professions, and private sector jobs. In this connection the states are requested to consider giving special permission and land to Tibetans to run Tibetan Bazaars and to issue to them relevant papers or trade licenses or trade permission on the basis of their RC. The RC is also asked to be accepted as the basis for issuing documents such as domicile certificates, shop licenses, driving licenses, and business permits to enable Tibetan refugees to undertake educational, employment or commercial activities.
The exile Tibetan administration has expressed immense gratitude to the government of India for this policy document on the apparent assumption that the state governments will extend to the “Tibetan refugees” all or many of the multitude of benefits that they have been urged to provide. It also hopes that given the graciousness of the government of India with regard to the settlements, the Tibetan refugee communities in India will thrive for the enduring future.
But given the fact that their rather odd status is that of refugees staying temporarily in India on Humanitarian considerations despite having lived in the country since 1959 or being raised in it since birth through generations, knowing no other homeland but only a distant dream of an independent or autonomous Tibet, the sense of alienation and vulnerability arising from lack of a normal legal status among the mainstream generations of Tibetans remain. It is only to be expected that they will therefore continue to seek to emigrate to the West to address these concerns of fundamental importance and relevance to their sense of being.
After all, no one can be under any illusion that Tibetans will be able to return to a free Tibet within the foreseeable future given the existing circumstances. Of course one can always fantasize that a sudden, totally unforeseen change will turn China upside down sooner rather than later and the Tibet issue will be resolved one way or another. “But dreams of miracles, bereft of any factual foundation, cannot be the basis for formulating policies or taking decisions about one’s personal future.”