Interview with Tenzin Tsundue and Dorjee Tseten: McLeodganj
Duration: 00:46:01; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 20.306; Saturation: 0.063; Lightness: 0.279; Volume: 0.224; Cuts per Minute: 0.543; Words per Minute: 98.181
The Identity project emerged as a result of our dissatisfaction at the nature of the debate that was emerging on the area of digital governance in India.
Over the past three years we have conducted numerous field visits in seven Indian states.These visits include numerous video-conversations, some short and others very long, with a diverse number of those who were involved with this entire process of participating in the emergence of a digital ecosystem of governance. These are interviews with people being enrolled into the Aadhaar programme, with district-level Panchayat and other officials, with numerous State government bureaucrats, with private enrollment representatives, representatives of various governmental services, with operators and other members of this digital workforce. Conversations are often long, spontaneous and deliberately unstructured: and the focus is mainly on a vérité style using amateur video.
Some key issues that we shortlisted for detailed inquiry were issues of migrants, both domestic and across international borders, homelessness in cities, and the financially excluded. Each of these areas was discussed in considerable detail at major public consultations held in Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore, in partnership with the CSDS, the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, and the Urban Research and Policy Programme Initiative of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. All videos of all presentations made at these events are also available here.
CSCS also has an extensive text archives of material on the field as a whole, available on http://eprints.cscsarchives.org
Interview with Tenzin Tsundue, poet, activist and writer and Dorjee Tseten, a Tibetan student in McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamshala in Kangra district, Himachal Pradesh in July 2011. This interview is divided into two parts. We approached Tenzin within the context of the Aadhaar enrolments, curious about the status of stateless citizens within this digital identity structure and what would be the problems faced by the Indian government in including refugees into this structure? Secondly, why was this huge demand for the Aadhaar number coming from within the Tibetan community? Tenzin demystifies some of the terminologies and stereotypes around foreigners, like him, in India. He categorically states that in India no one is legally a refugee, since India is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and the Refugee Protocol. Further, Tenzin describes the process by which Tibetans enter India, why and with what compulsions and how several identification regimes were put in place to limit their mobility in India. Notably, the Resident Certificate (RC) for travels in the country, Identity Certificate (IC) for travels abroad, and a ‘Green Book’ managed by the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala. The Aadhaar “card” however seems to be viewed by most Tibetans as an enabler, rather than something which will hinder their mobility. This is because, as Dorjee Tseten claims, is because of the country wide recognition of the Aadhaar card as opposed to the limited recognition of the RC or the IC within the country. This, they claim will help them prove their resident status in the country far more easily than any previous document. Further, and more importantly, Dorjee claims that Aadhaar while establishing a proof of residence does not impose citizenship on the Tibetan community in India, whose objective is a singular.
INTERVIEWER: The kind of shift the government of India is undertaking in terms of digitizing Basically what we were very interested was the very problem the Indian State would have with people who are stateless, refugees or people who are 'foreigners'.
We heard that there is a great demand for the UID in the Tibetan community in Dhramshala. We want to ask your opinion is of this initiative and the larger question as to what are the issues that such initiatives involving ration card,census etc.? Where the Indian government is recording it data.
We heard that the Dalai Lama was the first person to get an UID number. Some of us are going to Tashijong. There are refugees who are enrolled. We are trying to speak to some of them.
INTERVIEWER: Is there a category called refugee?
Speaker: Let me make this clear. I think there are a couple of larger questions that people among the Tibetan community have little understanding, and therefore there is confusion with the UID or the Aadhaar programme. In India nobody is legally a refugee, not even the Dalai Lama and Karmapa.
Whether it is the Dalai Lama who came from Tibet in 1959 or the elder generation like my parents who came from Tibet in 1959 and 1960 and later on stayed on even today. 52 years in exile in India.
Or whether the Tibetans like us born in India in the 70's, 80’s and 90's. Or those who came from Tibet in the recent years: in the recent one year, the recent 4-5 months. All Tibetans in India are foreigners, legally. We are all foreigners and our status is stateless!
Government of India does not recognize us a political refugees. And the most important reason for that is because India is not a signatory to the refugee convention and the refugee protocol.
There are two UN documents which are international treaties and whosoever have signed these documents in these countries like the United States, Nepal, Switzerland many other countries.
Those countries that have signed the documents have refugee laws and therefore there are refugees in those countries. In India legally nobody is a refugee.
But interestingly India is one country where there are a maximum number of foreigners residing in India calling themselves refugees. Including all the Tibetans, we call ourselves refugees.
It is more of a sentimental value, to say that I am a refugee. We say refugee because we have taken refuge in India because of political reasons. China has occupied Tibet, and there is an ongoing persecution of the Tibetans that’s going on. Large majority of Tibetans live in Tibet, 6 million. In India we are 1,20,000 Tibetans.
That’s our population here. We live in so many different refugee camps, schools, hospitals and monasteries and so many different structures. But legally all of us are foreigners. The government of India has brought various legal facilities together so that Tibetans could live in India with dignity.
The Government of India has leased huge tracts of land huge tracts for Tibetans to make a livelihood. In Karnataka there are 4 major refugee camps in Chamarajanagar District, Bylakuppe and Hunsur in Mysore district and Mundgod in Hubli district.
So these are the 4 major refugee camps. Also in Orissa, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Himachal, Uttarakand, Kalimpong, Dargeeling, Gantok and also the Northeast especially in Arunachal. And besides these government-designated refugee camps there are number of cities, towns and hill stations where Tibetans have been residing since 1959.
So that’s our legal status. To live in India all of us have a kind of an identity card called a Registration Certificate (RC). And on the Registration Certificate it is written 'Foreigners Registration for Tibetans'. And this is issued by the government of India.
Which says that you are these details - names, age, where you are living. And you are presently residing in India and your validity to stay in India is one year.
When you come to the end of the year then you can renew your stay. In the district you are registered to be residing. For example all of are registered to be living in Dhramshala which is in Kangra District.
So in Kangra District the main police station which also serves as the Foreigners Registration Office (FRO) is in lower Dhramshala. It is in Kothwalli Bazaar.
So all of us renew our stay in that office for one more year. So every day a number of people ranging from 5-100 go down there and renew their stay in India. That’s how we are.
INTERVIEWER: Are there any difficulties in getting the renewals?
Speaker: Depends on our relationship with the local police. Sometimes the relationship is bad so the local police are a little more stringent and make it difficult. In some places their relationship is better. And also some Tibetans feel that it is just one year if my date is getting expired in 15 days, actually the Government of India says within 15 days before the exipry date you can resume your stay...
Of course many have difficulties. If you are registered to be living in Dharamshala and if you are studying in a college in Madras. How do you come back to Dhramshala to get your renewal?
And then your parents are in Bylakupple for example and you are going for a pilgrimage in Bodhgaya and your registered in Dhramshala. So it is very difficult to go to all these places. And sometimes most young Tibetans are studying in different towns and cities in India.
They have examinations and various obligations so sometimes when they are unable to come. If you are sick and you are in the hospital and sometimes you have to help your mother or grandmother or somebody.
You are just tied up with some work. You have to come back to Dhramshala to show your face and say I am the one, renew my stay.
And you are unable to do that for 15-20 days and sometimes even a month. And they will scold you but somehow they will give you the renewal. Depends on the relationships.
INTERVIEWER: It seems that the RC is also a mode of identification. Are there any other governmental services attached to it?
Speaker: For the Tibetans it is the basic identity card. It serves as both your identity card and also your right to stay in India for one year, legally, and this become the basis of other identities.
Now you are a student and you have to register yourself in a college or a university. So your basic identity again goes back to RC. And then within the Tibetan community there is, for all political Tibetans, the basic Tibetan identity card called the Green Book. There is a 10 digit number that makes you a Tibetan recognized by the central Tibetan administration.
Which takes care of all the welfare and the politics of exiled Tibetans. When I say that it means that Tibetans not only living in India. It includes Tibetans living in Nepal,in Bhutan and anywhere in the world. Especially in Europe and America, Canada and Australia. Huge number of Tibetans live outside India.
So all of them are registered in that administration called the Central Tibetan Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. And now that His Holiness has devolved his power to elected leadership, it will now be simply called Central Tibetan Administration. So that takes care of the internal governance and administration. And all the accountability.
Now supposing a Tibetan wants to travel abroad for a meeting or to meet relatives or even to settle in some foreign county the Government of India issues another document called Identity Certificate ( IC). It is only a travel document it does not become your identity card. Earlier IC its make and paper and cover looked more like a ration card. It is very shoddily made. I have actually used that to travel to the United States and the United Kingdom twice for a number of meetings.
At the airport and the immigration offices when they look at these and they say what is this? They don’t understand it and have never seen these papers. All kinds of documents from India do not even remotely look as shoddily made as this. Now of course they have upgraded the IC, and now except for the colour and certain details, the look and feel and touch everything looks like the Indian passport.
Only thing is it is yellow in colour. This document the Government of India gives all Tibetans who want to travel abroad. It guarantees that the Government of India knows and is guaranteeing the details of the identity of that person. And then based on that one can seek a visa from whichever country you are travelling to. And then when you want to come back to India, again you go to the Indian embassy in that country whether it is the United States or United Kingdom or anywhere. You go to the Indian Embassy of that country and have to seek a return visa from India to come back because you are a foreigner.
And with that visa you are entering the Indian Territory from the airport. Once you land of India then your RC gets you the validity for you to stay in India. So this is how we function and live in India.
In most Tibetan refugee camps and Tibetans where every they live in South India or Delhi some Tibetans have availed the facility of using ration cards. Some Tibetans have. Because the ration card is not necessarily restricted to only the citizens of India. It is given to residents of that place. For example a foreigner many are a resident of Europe or America if they are living in that place for a long period of time.
Now of course the validity is 6 months. Earlier it used to give it for a period of one year and was extendable. So if you are able to understand the system, create a good relationship with the local administration then of course you can avail the facility to use the ration card. Some Tibetans in Delhi and Dhramashala and many other places have been able to use their ration cards.
Now ration card does not guarantee your citizenship. It does not say anything about your status. Now, ever since this UID number has been created and quite recently when the government if India started to issue these ID cards. I think due to some interpretation in the Tibetan community, some Tibetans have taken extra interest to get the ID card made for themselves.
Firstly, if you have the ID card then it is useful to carry that small ID card wherever you go rather than the booklet that is given to us. And some people thought that instead of the RC booklet you can now take that small ID card. Some people thought that you at least have an ID card to show if you are asked by the police. So some people thought this is a better identity card than the RC. But it will still be mentioned over there that you are a Tibetan national.
Interestingly from the time of the RC to the IC and now to the Unique Identity: three different papers issued by the Government of India. In all of them the language is different. In all RCs which have been made since 1959 onwards consistently the language of identity of the Tibetans is written as 'Tibetan National'. In some places where the local administration is a little less educated some of them have even written ‘Tibetan Refugee’.
Interestingly, maybe local administration officers are not aware that such refugee laws are not available in India and not in use in India, and so some have actually mentioned Tibetan refugees, but the correct language should be Tibetan national. In the IC which is issued by the Government of India, and a later document, and which is more used by officers - because when you travel abroad some of the Foreign Service offers are able to see that - there the status is written. Place of Origin-Tibet.
It does not talk about being a national or a refugee or anything. It only says place of origin - Tibet. It’s more like a story. They are not interested about the status. They only say you are here. We are guaranteeing your details of your identity by saying you may be born in India but your place of origin is Tibet. Therefore you are linked to Tibet, story wise.
It doesn't state anything about the status. I think it is a very cleverly worded statement. Now I am yet to get my UID card.
Interviewer: Is it a card or a number that is being given?
Speaker: It's a card being given.
The important thing is the 12 digit number.
For the Tibetans the 12 digit number doesn't matter. For them it is something that they can carry physically in their hands and say this my identity card. You see my face here? In the photo? Like that.
If you go to banks and all, and if you remember the number also, they can put your number and get your complete details.
Including your fingerprints, photograph, iris...
So there is a kind of rush in Dhramshala to get the ID card.
Many of my friends have been going to Kacheri to get that paper made. You spend the whole day sitting there in line. Most Tibetans feel that it is an easier way to identify yourself.
Interviewer: What are the issues around property ownership you are not allowed to own property?
Speaker: Because we are foreigners we cannot own any immovable property which will including land and construction.
INTERVIEWER: What documents are needed to open bank accounts?
Speaker: RC is useful to make your bank account, get married, etc. RC is the basis of all sense of identity.
INTERVIEWER: Has the fact that His Holiness The Dalai Lama was one of the first to get a UID number. Was it intended as some kind of signal that there was an official approval of this?
Speaker: Of course it does send that kind of a message to the Tibetan population. But I think, more than Tibetans, His Holiness's stature and meaning is much more global than just fir Tibetans, and for the Aadhaar Campaign they just got a good mascot.
INTERVIEWER: There is a Tibetan Parliament in exile here and they perform the political administrative functions of Tibetans in India?
Speaker: No, the Tibetan Administration in India, what we call the Central Tibetan Administration, is a democratically run administration and this administration has all 3 pillars of democracy. There is the legislature, which is a 44 member parliament. In that 44 member parliament, the parliament meets twice a year and the make all the rules, regulations and amendments. Then there is the administration: an 8 member cabinet which we call the Kashak, and then the Supreme Justice Commission that takes care of internal conflicts. In that way it’s a fully functional democratic system.
INTERVIEWER: We have been trying to see how the UID number is being generated across different places, and every place that we go to has a local eco-system emerging. In Dharamshala and Mandi the Panchayat is playing a pivotal role, it is though the functionaries of the panchayat that people are getting to know about this number. So I was wndering, for the Tibetan group is there a central body that is becoming the pivot through which information is being channeled? Is there an administrative body that is part of the UID generation?
Speaker: I am not sure about how the Aadhaar campaign has been able relate to the Tibetan community and being able to communicate the importance of that. What they have done is, they have worked with the leadership of the Tibetan community, which is the CTA which comes into the Kashaks and in the Kashak there are different departments which takes care of different issues like home, health, education, religion and culture, information, finance, security.
So it is the department of home that deals with these issues and communicates to all the Tibetan refugee camps. To all the Tibetan Welfare Offices. And all these welfare offices and settlements - all of them come under the administration of the Department of Home. If Department of Home sends this kind of directive to all the refugee camps or residences of Tibetans, and in all these residences there are what we call the Welfare Officers, who communicate to the population of that area.
Fo example, in Dhramshala there is the Tibetan Settlement Office. In that there is an officer called the Tibetan Settlement Officer. That Settlement officer is in charge of welfare of all the Tibetans living in Dhramshala. Which is about 12,000 Tibetans living here. So that person - as with the Adhaar campaign, if there is any other work that comes from the Government of India or various places - will communicate it to various group leaders. This is very systematically linked and coordinated under the CTA.
Speaker 2: It started with the CTA the secretary Mr. Dorjee. He is the person who use to lead these things and then it came to the Settlement Officer. She helped us a lot.
INTERVIEWER: Is there a substantial number of Tibetans who don’t have no documents or who have no proof of identity. What happens to those people?
Speaker: Since 2006 onwards there have been some cases of Tibetans who have escaped from Tibet and come to India through Nepal, and once they are recognized by UNHCR (Human Rights for Refugees) as refuges seeking asylum, then they are given a recommendation for asylum after which they can decide to stay in Nepal or in India. Most of them intend to come to India. They go the Indian embassy in Kathmandu and in that office they are given a 6-month permission to travel to India.
What we call the White Paper, where it gives the details of the person. And then he is asked, why do you want to come to India? Is it for pilgrimage, education or asylum? Most Tibetans say they are coming to India to seek asylum. Some say that they have come to India to study, and some for pilgrimage. Mostly it is asylum.
They come to India with a 6 month validity to India to Dhramshala, once they are in Dhramshala they apply for RC which has a validity for one year. Those who come with the intention only to study or for pilgrimage, if they seek an extension of their stay they are given another extension of 6 more months and they cannot stay any longer.
Sometimes it may be extended twice for education. Because for education they would want at least 2-3 years and after that they are asked to go back. And some have gone back after studying in India. Some people who come on pilgrimage have also gone back. For some, once they come to India the conditions in Tibet or with their parents, their relatives or Chinese intelligence, and police and various other things, it gets worse.
Now they are unable to go back, and if they go back they will be arrested, persecuted and beaten, tortured. So now the situation has changed, and now cannot go back. They have come with a document where the validity to stay is 6 months and one year. Then they are unable to get their papers changed from pilgrimage or education to asylum. They cannot do that.
Appeals have been made to the Government of India by the Department of Security of the Tibetan government that if there are some people who change their mind because of the situation in Tibet, cAN they be given asylum? The Government of India is still to make a final decision on this.
So there are some number of Tibetans. I still don’t know the number. It is being processed by the Foreigners’ Registration Office in lower Dhramshala. But there are some who are waiting for the government to accept the appeal for asylum.
Speaker 2: One thing we need to understand when Tsundue-la mentioned that those Tibetans like the young and old who come for pilgrimage or to study. It’s not like students of India who go to Australia. It is illegal for them. We are not sure whether they can go back or not. But most people want to come here see the Dalai Lama, study and go back.
I know people who cannot go back. They might ask for recommendations letters from the institutions from where they have studied but they don’t give it more than once or twice. The offices only renew your RC if you are a student. Then you become an illegal resident. For those people if they could make an Aadhaar card it becomes an identity.
Police in the way will ask what your identity is. It doesn't matter whether you show RC or Aadhaar. They only need an identity to show.
INTERVIEWER: The Aadhaar system has a structure called an Introducer, where any person who is registered with Aadhaar can introduce a person who does not have any papers. That's a good system because one person can introduce other people and help.
Speaker: At the same time you should be accountable to the person introducing you. Tomorrow if you did something funny and if I were the one to introduce you, perhaps is there a registration in it that I was the one who introduced you? Even the introducer?
INTERVIEWER: The Introducer gives his own biometric. Everybody cannot be an introducer. The person recognized by Aadhaar as introducers and they out their own stamp next to the person they are introducing.
Speaker: For the Tibetans the UID - because it is a docment of identity - helps Tibetans identify themselves with that paper.
Speaker: Also, the Tibetans born in India can have an Indian citizenship but they don’t have it because we feel that keeping your identity is very important for your struggle.
The card is only an identity card; you still remain a Tibetan, which is why people do not mind having it. And of course the Dalai Lama himself having an Aadhaar card makes people think that they can have it. With the RC, though we are legally foreigners, many people think of us as refugees.
We had legal training a few months ago and there are people who said that for 30 years we thought we were refugees and now ou're saying we are legally foreigners. For everyone their identity is very important and even some people in India - some of the regional officers who don't know - mention that we are refugees. We expect all the police around Delhi to know about us. Even if we show are RC they ask 'who are you?'
There are many incidents when educated Tibetan youth give TOEFL, the English exam. They register with their RC and there are certain places where Tibetans have given their exam before are allowed. But some of my friends went to a new place, first they accept it and in the middle of the examination they say that you are not allowed.
They don’t know what paper you have. You lose time and the Rs.8000 in fee.
But if you have identity that is accepted by everyone. It would be very easy for Tibetans. If a Tibetan has to go from Dhramshala to Delhi for more than 14 days I have to get permission from the government. These are the rules of the government for foreigners registration certificate. But since we haven’t created any trouble legally though we are engaged in a political struggle for 52 years.
There have been no incidents where Tibetans actions have caused serious trouble. We have protested and we are friends with the police. There have been no problems that of which we can be ashamed, like criminal activities.
In that that way the police trusts the Tibetans. But legally you have to take 14 days permission and this is not easy for a person who has lived his whole life here. Sometimes you have to move. People like us we go to a lot of places for meetings and training. So everyday if you have to go to government offices. You have to wait for permission for a day.
It is not easy for us. The time and resources that are lot. But Tsundue-la did serious political action then you are under the glare of the authorizes. He has a court case going on for 4 years for not taking the 14 days permission. If government wants it can make trouble.
When we informed the whole Tibetan community that were shocked to know so much has to be done every time you travel. If we had an identity card then these issues would have become a lot simpler.
INTERVIEWER: Is the perception in the community such that the Aadhaar card is going to remove these hurdles? Do they think that if they have Aadhaar they don’t need to get permission to go to Delhi?
Speaker: No, not the permission.
INTERVIEWER: But is the perception that?
Speaker: There are Tibetans who make a PAN card. They don’t make more than 10,000 or 20,000 a year but they make it just to use it as an identity because it works better than showing your RC which a lot of people do not understand.
INTERVIEWER: Apart from the three; RC, IC and Green Book. Driving Licenses would be from India? and Voters card?
Speaker: Driving License will be given by India though not many drive. You can only vote if you are a citizen so we do not get a Voters ID. Voting is a basic right of a citizen.
INTERVIEWER: So there is no other cards? What is the proof of address?
Speaker: No other card. Proof of address is the RC and the IC we use only for travel abroad. IC has no value in India; it can only be used abroad it is valid for 10 years.
IC is given for a period of 10 years but it used only when you travel abroad, out if India. In India IC has no value. IC is based on the details given by RC.
INTERVIEWER: Is there a community program to help the people of economically weaker sections? Are there services that the community is developing within itself to help such people?
Speaker: There are other things but in this case the community gives advice to get a UID card but mainly you have to go to the office to get the work done. I heard that it is quite easily done.
INTERVIEWER: That's the major point of the card, that it is that it is going to be linked to services which should be available to a large underprivileged section of society, overall. Is that the hope within the Tibetan community that they will get access to health services or anything else?
Speaker: No, we don’t have any fantasy like that, it is only an easy to carry identity card.
Speaker 2: Among Tibetans we have the Central Tibetan Administration and Home Department and Health Departments which give underprivileged people help for medical reasons, etc.
Speaker: The unique identity card is only an easy to carry identity card which is recognized all over India, unlike the RC which most Indian police officers do not recognize. And therefore the identification becomes much easier.