217 Tibetans to vote for first time in India

S Gopal Puri TNN | May 2, 2014

DHARAMSHALA: History will be scripted in Himachal Pradesh on May 7 when the state goes to polls. 217 Tibetan youths in Kangra would be casting their ballot in the Lok Sabha elections for the first time.

Following the Election Commission of India (ECI) go-ahead for registration of India-born Tibetan youths as voters, 243 applied in Kangra. According to the ECI guidelines, those Tibetans born in India on or after January 26, 1950, but before July 1, 1987, have the right to exercise their franchise.

Giving voting rights to Tibetans marks a transition from being a refugee to an Indian citizen. Caught between two cultures and lands, their hesitation to enrol stems from the fact that there is a debate within the exiled community that it would weaken their freedom struggle and lessen the chance of returning to their homeland Tibet.

Out of the 50,000 strong Tibetan population in Himachal Pradesh, majority of the youth have been born in India and are eligible to be registered as voters.

Kangra, Mandi, Kullu, Shimla, Solan and Sirmaur districts have the largest concentration of Tibetans. Kanga district has the maximum number of Tibetans as the headquarter of the government-in-exile is located in McLeodganj, near Dharamshala, which is also home to Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama.

Those having refugee status are issued a registration certificate by the Indian government and this has to be renewed within five years. Becoming voters and acquiring Indian citizen status would mean an end of their refugee status, but there are some who are not ready to give up their identity.

Kunsang, a Tibetan journalist based in Dharamshala, is one such eligible voter, but he hasn’t sought voting rights. “I have not applied as I believe that we may return to Tibet in the coming time. If not complete freedom, we would get genuine autonomy from China.” Asian director of a prominent freedom group for Tibet based in McLeodganj said the Election Commission move to give voting rights to Tibetan youth is under consideration of the top leadership.

“There are many viewpoints on this issue, but our government or any freedom group can’t restrain any Tibetan from seeking their right,” he pointed out.

Karma Yeshi, member of exiled parliament, said that their aim is not to settle in India but to eventually return to Tibet. “But we cannot stop people from asserting their citizenship rights,” he added.

Kangra deputy commissioner-cum-district electoral officer C Paulrasu said 243 Tibetans in exile applied for registration as voters in Kangra, of whom 217 have been registered.

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