The Weekend Leader - Tibetans thrilled by participation in Indian electoral process

Tibetans thrilled by participation in Indian electoral process

Vishal Gulati   |  Dharamsala


 For the first time in Indian history, Tibetan residents in this north Indian hill town had their say in the democratic process to elect the local parliamentarian.

No less than 200 Tibetans had enrolled themselves as voters for the Kangra parliamentary seat in Himachal Pradesh that went to the polls Wednesday.

As of now, data on how many Tibetans exercised their franchise is available neither with the state election department nor with the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Indications are that less than one percent of the total population residing in and around this town, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, participated in the process. Still, their participation is being termed as historic as it was for the first time that "outsider" Tibetans were given a right to be part of the process to elect people's representatives in India.

"I was happy to have voted for the first time today (Wednesday) in the Indian general election. It was an opportunity as well as a learning experience for me," Lobsang Wangyal, who was born and brought up here, told IANS.

He said it made him feel that he had a voice in India now.

"My voice will now have power and value," added Wangyal, producer and director of the Tibetan Music Awards.

Tibetan Settlement Officer Sonam Dorjee, who is settled in Dharamsala, also home to Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, said lack of clarity about enrolling as a voter in India was mainly responsible for poor enrolment.

"Moreover, our aim is not to settle here (in India) permanently. Ultimately, we have to go back to our homeland," he said.

Dorjee said the voter card application process didn't clarify whether surrendering both registration certificate and identity certificate documents to the Indian authorities is necessary or not.

But officials of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) admit that the longing to return to their homeland was the main reason discouraging them from enrolling as Indian voters.

However, those who exercised their franchise said this was no hindrance.

"My Tibetan roots and the quest for a free Tibet will not change (with the casting of vote in the Indian system)," said Wangyal.

The Election Commission of India has allowed registration of India-born Tibetans as voters. Those Tibetans born in India on or after Jan 26, 1950, but before July 1, 1987, have the right to exercise their franchise.

Dharamsala and its nearby areas support 16,000 to 18,000 exiled Tibetans.

Kangra deputy commissioner-cum-district electoral officer C. Paul Rasu said 243 Tibetans applied for registration as voters in Kangra and 217 were registered.

CTA officials said there has been a debate within the community whether the Tibetans born in India should opt for Indian citizenship or not, to which they are entitled by birth.

Tibetan prime minister-in-exile Lobsang Sangay has already clarified that any Tibetan in exile in India could apply for Indian citizenship and his administration was not compelling anyone.

"The decision to apply for Indian or any other country's citizenship is a personal choice," Sangay said in August last year.

The Indian Citizenship Act of 1986 grants citizenship rights to Tibetans born in India between 1950 and 1987 and to those born after 1987 if "either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of his/her birth".

The Dalai Lama has lived in India since fleeing his homeland in 1959. The Tibetan administration-in-exile, which is not recognised by any country, is based in this town.

India is home to around 100,000 Tibetans. - IANS 

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