Exiles hail Indian citizenship for Tibetan as landmark

Thursday, January 20, 2011

DHARAMSALA - Thousands of Tibetan exiles who live in India are cheering a high court judgment that ruled in favour of a Tibetan woman saying she is an Indian citizen by birth and could not be denied a passport.

While the ruling had come last month, it has come into spotlight only now. The government-in-exile based in this north Indian hill town has welcomed it, saying “it’s a landmark judgment”.

“We welcome the court decision. It’s a historic one… it was for the first time that any Tibetan exile has been granted Indian citizenship,” Thubten Samphel, a spokesperson for the Tibetan government-in-exile, told IANS.

Delhi High Court, in its ruling Dec 22, 2010, said 25-year-old Namgyal Dolkar, a Tibetan born in India, is entitled to claim Indian citizenship by birth, as per the Citizenship Act.

Namgyal, who was born in Kangra town of Himachal Pradesh in 1986, had challenged the decision of the Regional Passport Office (RPO) in Delhi to deny an Indian passport to her. It had said she could not be considered an Indian citizen. She had challenged the decision.

High court judge S. Muralidhar observed: “Namgyal is an Indian citizen by birth in terms of Section 3 (1) (a) of the Citizenship Act. She cannot, therefore, be denied a passport on the ground that she is not an Indian citizen in terms of Section 6 (2) (a) Passport Act.”

The court said the RPO’s argument against granting of a passport to Namgyal was “erroneous” and asked it to start the process of granting her a passport.

It also said the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) “policy decision not to grant Indian citizenship by naturalisation under Section 6 (1) of the Citizenship Act to the Tibetans who entered India after March 1959 is erroneous and hereby quashed”.

The court ruled: “The holding of an identity certificate, or the petitioner declaring, in her application for such certificate, that she is a Tibetan national, cannot in the circumstances constitute valid grounds to refuse her a passport.

“The petitioner’s prayer to be declared an Indian citizen is allowed.”

Counsel for the government had pleaded that a person is eligible to hold either a passport or a travel document.

“The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) was consulted and it had opined that Namgyal was a stateless person and was already holding an identity certificate issued under the Passport Act and, therefore, she could not be treated as an Indian citizen,” said the counsel.

The counter-affidavit of the MEA also stated that according to a policy decision taken by the MHA, a Tibetan national who entered India after March 1959 will not be granted citizenship by naturalisation under Section 6 (1) of the Citizen Act. However, Tibetan nationals married to Indian citizens would be considered for citizenship under Section 5(1) (c) the Citizen Act.

Namgyal, who currently resides in Dehradun in Uttarakhand, has blazed a trail for other Tibetan exiles.

Nobody in the Tibetan government-in-exile, even members of the exiled parliament, has this privilege.

According to a report titled “Demographic Survey of Tibetans-in-Exile-2009″, the total population of Tibetans outside Tibet stood at 127,935, comprising 70,556 males and 57,379 females.

“There are 94,203 Tibetans living in India, 13,514 in Nepal, 1,298 in Bhutan and 18,920 elsewhere,” said the report.

The Dalai Lama, who along with many of his supporters fled to India in 1959, heads the government-in-exile based here.

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