Indian census inclusion of Tibetans 'overdue'
S. N. M. Abdi in New Delhi
Tibetan exiles - long regarded by Beijing as a major irritant in Sino-Indian relations - are being counted for the first time in India's census.
Analysts described the government's decision as overdue and a step in the right direction.
The exiled community falls into the category of 'other residents', covering foreigners residing in the country for more than six months. Under the new plan, Tibetans will be included in the National Population Register after they are counted and will be issued a Unique Identification Card with biometric identifiers such as fingerprints and pictures of the eye, which will be stored online for instant authentication.
On Friday, the Dalai Lama became the first Tibetan to be counted when census-takers called on the spiritual leader at his home in Dharamsala, headquarters of the government-in-exile.
After furnishing his personal details, the Dalai Lama issued an appeal to Tibetans scattered across India to fully co-operate with officials in the current census exercise. 'I am very happy to be included in the census, as I have lived in India for five decades,' the Dalai Lama said, according to the Hindustan Times. 'Inclusion in the census is an honour bestowed on Tibetans in their second home.'
Dr Subhash Kapila of New Delhi's South Asia Analysis Group, agreed. 'Inclusion in the census will give [Tibetans] at least a sense of belonging,' he said. 'The measure was long overdue. Tibetans are a peaceful, law-abiding lot who have never resorted to anti-Indian activities.
'As Tibetans are not entitled to citizenship, passports or to vote, there is a strong case for somehow legitimising their stay.'
Dr Manoranjan Mohanty, an expert at the Institute of Chinese Studies, said it was a step in the right direction. 'It's no doubt symbolic,' he said. 'But it will make Tibetans feel at home in a country where they have lived for more than half a century.'
The new high-tech ID cards will come in handy for Tibetans to prove that they are bona fide residents of India, a senior official said. 'The card will not entitle them to new benefits. It will be an official document acknowledging their presence, although they are not citizens.'
Tibetans who live in India are issued residence permits by the government. Once routinely granted, the permits are now automatically available only to the children of those who arrived before 1979.
Estimates of the number of Tibetans in India vary between 125,000 and 200,000 - the largest concentration of the ethnic minority outside the Tibet Autonomous Region . But there could be many more as there are no official records of arrivals and departures since the first batch of refugees followed the Dalai Lama into India in 1959.
Tibetans are concentrated in Dharamsala and 35 settlements across India.