(TibetanReview.net, Jun27, 2017) – Following a series of High Court rulings, the latest of which was given by the High Court of Delhi in Sep 2016, the government of India has agreed to let Tibetans who are citizens by birth to apply for passport, subject, however, to conditions many may find difficult, even impossible, to fulfil. India is home to around 90,000 exile Tibetans, with only a section of them being citizens by birth.
The bulk of exile Tibetans in India live in several agricultural settlements on land leased by the government of India at different places in the south Indian state of Karnataka. A Jun 6 letter from the Bengaluru Regional Passport Office lists four conditions for Tibetans to apply for an Indian passport:
“Registration/refugee certificate (RC) and identity certificate should be cancelled; the applicant should not be staying in designated Tibetan refugee settlements; an undertaking that he/she no longer enjoys CTA benefits; and a declaration that he/she no longer enjoys any privileges, including subsidies by being an RC holder.”
These conditions were laid down by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
The renewable Foreigners Registration Certificate (RC) allows Tibetans, including those who are otherwise citizens by birth, to temporarily live in India on humanitarian ground. There have been cases of Tibetans, including school children, being jailed for failing to renew their RC on time. The Identity Certificate (IC) is a permit system, in place of passport, issued by the government of India for Tibetans for their foreign travels. Tibetans travelling on IC are required to obtain an Exit Permit before leaving India and to apply for a Return Visa before they can re-enter the country. Not all Indian missions abroad, it turns out, are aware of this rule, complicating the return travel of many such Tibetans.
Mr Lobsang Wangyal, a judgment holder in the Sep 2016 Delhi High Court ruling and who has since obtained his passport, is crestfallen by the MEA’s issuance of the new conditions. “The MEA’s riders have put Tibetans in a dilemma. Getting a passport may make us homeless. This is like asking a Tibetan to become homeless for a second time. We have been asked to leave the home where we were born and have lived our life,” hindustantimes.com Jun 26 quoted him as saying.
He has said two Tibetan women from Karnataka’s Bylakuppe town, home to the biggest exile Tibetan settlements in India, who applied for a passport in Bengaluru, were told that they must provide addresses other than their settlement homes if their applications were to be processed.
India’s citizenship law says – as upheld by a number of High Court rulings, including those of Karnataka, Delhi, and Meghalaya – that all persons born in India from Jan 26, 1950, to Jul 1, 1987, are Indian citizens by birth, and Tibetans falling with this ambit are entitled to be issued passports.
Wangyal says his lawyer, Simarpal Sawhney, feels that the new MEA rules for Tibetans violate Article 14 (equality before law) and Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) of the Constitution and can be challenged in court.
Wangyal further says irrespective of the MEA conditions, Tibetans willing to fulfil the difficult MEA conditions are still having a mixed luck in getting their passport. While some have obtained it, others have been denied it on grounds explicitly struck down by the High Court rulings, as well as due to absence of rule on surrendering their RC and IC.