By: Tenzin Sangmo
DHARAMSHALA, Jan. 10: The Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA) decennial population census this time has led to a public outcry online and offline for the use of the words ‘Overseas Tibetan’ to categorize the Tibetans living abroad.
The reason for the outrage is the general observation that Communist Party of China (CPC) fervently uses the same words to undermine the Tibetan political struggle outside Tibet, by reducing the Tibetan government-in-exile led political struggle to a mere neutral group of people who are living outside Tibet.
Dhondup Lhadar, a former vice-president of Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), now residing in the US has posted a lengthy argument against it on his Facebook page that can be accessed here.
He argues that when CTA first collected the demographic survey in 1998 and the second one in 2009, there was no usage of the words ‘overseas Tibetan,’ which makes him think that it is not inadvertently inserted.
“By using these words to identify the Tibetans not living in India, Nepal and Bhutan, it implies by connotation that Tibetans living outside these three countries are not Tibetan. Staffs assigned to carry out the survey were told to refrain from making any changes to the form.”
“If this is the case, that means these Tibetans are outside the purview of the charter of the Tibetan government-in-exile, how then will we go about future general elections and collection of green book contributions?” he asked.
The post states that there are two major reasons why China calls exile Tibetans ‘overseas Tibetan.’firstly, to hide the blame levied internationally for its occupation, arrest and killing that drove Tibetans away into exile, and secondly, the use of the right words ‘exile Tibetan,’ acts as a reminder for the Tibetans to seek what was snatched from them. The usage of words ‘overseas Tibetan,’ therefore, is a deliberate attempt to induce forgetfulness and imply that these Tibetans have gone abroad on their own volition, Lhadar argues.
“China, last November has opened a new office for the overseas Tibetans in a bid to further undermine the Tibetan political struggle,” said Sonam Topgyal, a PhD student and researcher at Tibet Watch.
Lhadar concluded by saying it is the moral and political responsibility of the members of the Tibetan parliament to raise the question to the Kashag in the upcoming budget session, to debate and protect the Tibetan struggle and charter of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
“I will never be able to accept it,” said Lhadar, whose sentiments are widely echoed by other Tibetan activists.
Dr. Kunchock Tsondue, the Chief Planing Officer of CTA spearheading the survey was quoted by Tibet Express as saying, “There is no political background. Usage of words like Tibetans in Tibet, Tibetans who reached later, refugees, exile, overseas Tibetan will come one by one.”
The usage was driven purely for its functional purpose, and nothing political should be derived from it, he asserted.
He also said that it had been months since the forms were distributed and that the CTA has received no complaints about it.
Wangden Kyab, a senior researcher at Tibet Watch countered the claim saying, “the forms were distributed to the welfare offices and offices of representatives of CTA and they would, of course, take it like any other instructions. It was not distributed for public opinion.”
Kunchok also remarked that since almost half of Tibetans have gone abroad and have taken up citizenships, we need a specific term for the group, we cannot go about calling them refugees as it poses difficulties when carrying out works for Tibet. “I am not sure if China uses the words that often,” he added.