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For China to chew on, a ‘stateless’ Tibet

New Delhi, Nov. 16: New Delhi’s official position on Tibet may be that it is a part of China, but it appears to treat Tibetans and Chinese staying in India as citizens of different countries.

Under the head “Country” in a home ministry document listing foreigners overstaying in India, Tibetans have been listed as “Stateless” followed by “Tibet” in brackets.

The documents were tabled in Parliament on Wednesday. Replying to Question 223 in the Rajya Sabha, junior home minister Mullappally Ramachandran said the number of Chinese overstaying in India had increased from 53 to 559 between 2005 and 2009, while the corresponding figure for “Stateless (Tibet)” had risen from 57 to 235.

The BJP’s Ram Jethmalani and Ravishankar Prasad had asked the question but the answer could not be discussed because Opposition protests stalled Question Hour.

Last year, a monthly report card released by home minister P. Chidambaram had mentioned construction “on the Indo-Tibet border” rather than the “Indo-China border”. After The Telegraph carried a report, the ministry promptly said it was a mistake.

It’s the home ministry that registers foreigners. A Tibetan entering India first contacts the Central Tibetan Administration, the office of the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile. After internal checks, he is given a “green book” or a de facto passport certifying he is “a citizen of Tibet”.

After that, all Tibetan refugees above the age of 16 must sign up with the foreigners’ registration officer under whose jurisdiction they live in India. Their stay is extended every six months because of “the peculiar situation in Tibet”, sources said.

But even the foreign ministry Ś often at loggerheads with the home ministry over neighbourhood matters and perceived to be “softer” on China Ś has a role in the confusion. It issues the refugees with identity certificates that distinguish them as Tibetan. The certificate virtually acts as a passport, enabling the holder not only to stay in India but to travel to a third country.

“Our nationality is mentioned as ‘Tibetan’ on our identity cards, which we get after due checks. The flow of Tibetans has slowed these days because the Nepal borders have been completely taken over by the Chinese and they can’t enter from there,” said Tenzing Norsang, joint secretary of the Tibetan Youth Congress.

Tibetans have been given refugee status in India since 1959 when the Dalai Lama and his followers were granted asylum. The tradition of the “green book” began after the monk established the “Tibetan Parliament” in India on December 2, 1962.

According to China expert Manoranjan Mohanty, India had tacitly accepted Tibet as a part of China even before 1960 although it was left to A.B. Vajpayee to articulate that stand as Prime Minister in 2003.

In general, New Delhi is extremely careful on the issue of Tibet. India had bent to Beijing’s wishes that there should be no Tibetan protests when the 2008 Olympic torch arrived in New Delhi. Not only was the torch taken out under unprecedented security, decoys were sent out in advance too.

On Monday, though, New Delhi allowed a protest by Tibetans. Six motorbike riders carrying an “Independence Torch” handed copies of a memorandum to embassies of Asian countries urging them to boycott the ongoing Guangzhou Asian Games.

Brahmaputra dam

China has dammed the Brahmaputra river in Tibet for the first time to build a 510MW hydroelectric project, according to a PTI report.

The state-run People’s Daily said the river was dammed on November 12 to help construction of the Zangmu Hydropower Station in south-east Tibet. Earlier this year, India had raised concerns over the possible downstream impact of the project.

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