In the backdrop of shifting dynamics of Indian citizenship, Ms. Dickey Choeden's PhD thesis conducted at The Gandhigram Rural Institute delves into the experiences and perspectives of young Tibetans in India, who grapple with the complexities of identity, belonging, and integration. In an interview with us, Dickey Choeden la elaborated on various aspects of her research. She discussed the intricate dynamics of Indian citizenship and how these dynamics are perceived and experienced by young Tibetans in India.
1. What prompted you to conduct a survey of Tibetans seeking Indian Citizenship?
Well, one of the important reasons is the growing number of Tibetans taking Indian passports in Majnu-ka-Tilla, Delhi. There are many young Tibetans, who have taken an Indian passport over RC and who are willing to take it in the future. Thus, there was a need for a survey to briefly understand the socio-economic and political status of the Tibetan diaspora living in Delhi, India.
2. What are your opinions on Tibetans obtaining Indian passports, and how do you believe they would benefit?
There are several social, economic, and political reasons to obtain a passport but, the subjective experiences of each individual add the most to the legal mobilization of Tibetans in India. I cannot confirm that Indian passports benefit all the Tibetans, who seek citizenship in India, but I believe it may help to some extent for marginalized ones. Tibetan refugees, who have lived as a minority would benefit from some social and economic benefits that would uplift their self-esteem as an individual.
Many young Tibetans do feel that they have no residency rights in their settlement which is due to unchanged names in the record, which is still in the name of their grandparents or parents. Therefore, they feel that Indian citizenship can give them residency rights in India without any hindrance if they can afford to own it.
3. What is your message to Tibetans, particularly Tibetan youths?
I do not have any specific message to younger Tibetans. Concerning claiming an Indian passport, I would like to send messages to young Tibetans to be wise and decisive in every decision that they make. Young Tibetans must try to find different opportunities given to refugees in India and then look forward to other alternatives, if not granted under Indian policies. For Instance, there are many educational opportunities that very few Tibetans have made use of, and many Tibetans remain unaware of existing policies.
4. What challenges, if any did, and did you face in the process of conducting this survey, and how did you address them?
The topic of “Tibetan claiming Indian passport” is considered sensitive among Tibetans and many of them did not want to be filmed for a video interview. Hence, the survey was conducted with audio interviews and many Tibetans refused to be interviewed. Another difficulty was finding the right person for the interview. Due to internal social stigma among the Tibetan community, many of them did not want to be addressed as Tibetan-Indian and sought assurance of confidentiality of the survey.
5. In your opinion, what role does the acquisition of Indian passports play in preserving the Tibetan identity and culture?
It is an individual choice as well as the policies of India associated with their identity and culture. The existing community spirit among these individuals is one of the reasons to keep their identity, tradition, and culture. Those who have claimed Indian passports are living within the Tibetan community and actively participate in cultural and political activities of Tibetan. Another reason is the upbringing of these individuals. Some of them are highly influenced by their grandparents, who have come from Tibet, and their narratives about Tibetan history.
6. What, in your view, are the key social, economic, or political advantages for Tibetans in obtaining an Indian passport, and how might this impact their lives positively?
It was important to bring out the primary data that would help in clearing existing misinformation associated with Tibetans claiming Indian citizenship. The advantage of having an Indian passport comes with its pros and cons as Tibetan refugees should not access the rights given to them once they claim an Indian passport. In the survey, it was found that the best-owned advantages for a few individuals are the ownership of property and expected access to other economic and political circumstances that would benefit them. Many participants feel that the policies that provide positive services to Indian citizens would also open several opportunities to Tibetan refugees. For example, one of the participants in my survey has bought property outside the Tibetan community and has expanded his business to another city. The document of IC is also one of the most considerate ones in claiming a passport to smoothen their exit and entry to other nations. In my opinion, the political participation of young Tibetans in the Indian political system through voting rights would change the face of the Tibetan diaspora in India.
7. Can you provide an overview of your research paper, “Changing Legal Identity: Tibetans’ View on Indian Citizenship”, and its main findings?
The changing identity of young Tibetans in Delhi cannot be generalized as common among the Tibetan diaspora in India. The study is associated with a particular geographical space within a given political influence. The current changes that are occurring among young Tibetans in Delhi are influenced by political, economic, and subjective experiences. The drive that pushed them towards the Indian passport is to reduce the existing obstacle that bars refugees from exercising their particular rights. For Tibetan refugees, they lack access to social, economic, political, and citizen rights. Some of the participants feel that they are barred from housing rights within the refugee policy and are forced to claim Indian citizenship to fulfill their search for belongingness.
One of the common ground reasons to claim Indian citizenship among Tibetans is based on their experience with IC. Many of them have been rejected in their visa process to travel outside India for vacation, tour, and business purposes.
8. What motivated you to choose this specific topic for your research, and how does it contribute to our understanding of Tibetan identity and the Tibetan diaspora in India?
It was partiality out of my curiosity and finding a lacuna in this area of research that was the driving force behind this study. Tibetan identity is not a single entity that was forced by the outer physical forces. It is something that one feels for self and how they identify themselves as Tibetan. For young Tibetans, an identity beyond the documentation of an Indian passport or voter ID. The Tibetan identity is expressed through their Tibetan language, way of living, and feeling of being Tibetan. In the modern world, one’s association of identity is often expected in the form of documentation. Young Tibetans find this association from their Green Book and their contribution towards CTA is the expression of their Tibetanness.
9. How do the perspectives of young Tibetans differ from older generations when it comes to Indian Citizenship?
The differences in perspective between the generations in taking Indian citizenship are seen in how young Tibetans see long-run social, economic, and personal interests, considering their identity and survival in the host country. The younger generation has had more novel experiences than the older ones. Young Tibetans share unique ideas of Indian citizenship based on the dialogue between the existing cultural and political knowledge of the communities. The way young Tibetans perceive citizenship does not signal a conflict or threat; instead, it is a learning opportunity between the two different viewpoints. Therefore, citizenship from young Tibetans' perception is thriving with changes in their views, which means looking at it from different angles of experience. This shift in the viewpoint occurs through the intersection of the individual's experiences and other social factors.
10. What message or insight would you like to leave for young scholars and researchers interested in studying issues related to Tibet and China?
I am not an expert on the Tibet-China study but would like to read some interesting from research scholars. It would be brainstorming for an individual like me to read about the geo-politic interconnecting between China and India to understand the future of the Tibetan struggle. Such research could help young Tibetans understand the political interest of India to benefit the survival of the Tibetan struggle and the future of Tibetans in India and Tibet.