Separating Tibetan families: Protected Area Permit for settlements

My background

I am a bonafide Tibetan born in Nepal who grew up in Dhondenling Tibetan settlement, Kollegal in South India, since its establishment in 1974 with my family in the midst of nature. I moved to the United States of America in 2001. After completing my schooling and College Education, I served my community as a school teacher for seven years. My wife is also from the same Settlement, and we are blessed with two sons with the ages of five and ten years, who are residing in the same settlement with their grandparents.

My 74-year old mother-in-law has a severe knee problem in the right leg, and my 83-year-old father-in-law has numerous medical issues including asthma and bronchitis. According to doctors, his days on earth are nearing their end.

Thus, Dhondenling Tibetan Settlement is the root of my family where we grew up with the same historical background — socially and culturally. All our relatives also reside in the same Settlement, abiding by the law of the land.

What is PAP?

PAP stands for Protected Area Permit. According to the website of Bureau Office of His Holiness, Delhi: All the Tibetan settlements established in India are classified as Protected Areas by the Government of India. Foreign nationals who wish to visit the Tibetan settlements in India for whatever reasons are required to apply for Protected Area Permit (PAP) as MANDATORY for visiting Tibetan Settlements in India.

The Foreigner PAP Act of India requires a foreigner to acquire PAP for two main reasons: for security reasons and to protect the native people from outside influence on their culture. Protected/ restricted areas are not necessarily dangerous to foreign travelers. Yet there is a requirement where tourist must travel at least in a group of fours for security reasons. However, in some places like Nagaland, this restriction does NOT apply to a married couple.

Since the movement of Tibetans to the west in the 1990s, many Tibetans have moved to different parts of the world for better opportunities and a better life for their families. They have become citizens of different countries with different passports. Likewise, many Tibetans who have their roots in Dhondenling Tibetan Settlements Kollegal have also become citizens of other countries.

During ‘Trungla Yarsol’, the birthday celebration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and ‘Losar’ the Tibetan New Year celebration, Tibetans who have gone away from the Settlement make it a point to visit their roots to be with their dear and near ones. This also serves as a family reunion period when all scattered family members out of compulsion come to their settlement to meet and rejoice with their loved ones.

In my settlement, there are about a thousand Tibetan-foreigners including the children. Around 30% of this population visit the settlement every year. Until now Kollegal Tibetans have not faced any PAP problem but from now on hell awaits them. Most of them are computer illiterate. The ability to assess the situation, gather facts and evidence and use them up the chain of command legally and through the media is beyond their grasp. They will be ripped off left and right. Lacking the spirit of adventure they shrink before the cops and intelligence agents. 99% of the Tibetan population in India are not even aware of PAP let alone apply for one.

Honestly, I can’t understand why I should need a permit to see my family, wife, and children in my own home.  That is an absolutely insane governmental regulation. Just imagine an Indian man visiting his family in a small village in the US and the next thing you know cops show up at your door demanding PAP because you carry a passport! What would go through your heart? Trump will be in trouble with the media for sure for gross human rights violations.

Many Tibetans with different passports have traveled to different parts of Tibetan Settlements to meet their family members and relatives over many years, and many will visit in the future. I wonder how many of them have awareness about the requirement of getting PAP before the visit. Here I would encourage Tibetans with different passports (other than Indian) to share their personal experiences if they ever applied for PAP to visit their family members in Tibetan Settlements, and what was the length of the stay. If you were unaware of PAP and if you had visited Tibetan settlements, what was the kind of experience you underwent during your stay?

The reason why I am putting this question is that I had a very adventurous experience for not having applied for PAP to visit my two children and their ailing grandparents in Dhondenling Tibetan Settlement, Kollegal, as a Tibetan-American. I am sharing this experience not only to build awareness among Tibetans with different passports about the act but also how this act impacts the lives of many Tibetan families who share everyday peaceful society with the same political, cultural, and social heritage. I wish to also describe my reservations on how my case was handled at whose behest or instigation.

My present status

I am a veteran Tibetan-American who works independently as a translator, blogger, voiceover, and document preparer for Tibetans with issues related to asylum, immigration, medical, and legal. I also teach Spoken English to Tibetans and Spoken Tibetan to Americans. I am the editor of Tibet Star, which is a news portal about anything that is related to Tibet, Tibetans, and the world. I am a critical analyst who keeps a close eye on the misconduct, nepotism, negative regionalism, and lack of transparency and accountability of the political authority of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).

Since both the Constitution of United States of America and the Charter of Central Tibetan Administration are framed on a democratic system of Governance, it gives me space and freedom to ask questions and reach to the bottom of the truth. Hence I write to shake up the consciousness of the everyday people not to take everything on face value but to cross-check facts and figures for the sustainability of the administration and society when it is never too late to question, and faith of people remain intact in the elected political leaders and the institution. I am clear in my heart and head not to be prejudiced or to have personal ill will towards any of the leaders apart from their accountability towards their people.

My vacation and the snitch

I was vacationing in India from January 2018 to June 2018, mainly to be with my loved ones strolling down memory lanes, and also exploring some new places with my family for pure pleasure and to share the experience. During those five months, I visited the schools and the colleges that nurtured me into what I am today and met some people who made a difference in my life. I also captured those precious moments in my camera for future keep.

One must understand that even without PAP you can visit those protected areas during the daytime, but cannot stay overnight. I visited Dhondenling Tibetan Settlement a few times during the daytime and returned to the nearest town for the night, which is entirely legal according to Indian law. But to my utter surprise the local cops and district intelligence came after me for PAP, and when they found there was no breach of rules from me, the next pretext was that I had overstayed in the Settlement by two weeks. My effort to reason out things failed because they were obeying the orders from the Home Ministry of India.

And guess what? Who is snitching the ears of Ministry of Home Affairs of India as if I were a double agent for both China and the USA? It is none other than the President of Central Tibetan Administration Sangay!

If my being a US veteran had raised this suspicion then I would argue that President Sangay also could be called an agent of PRC, because Chinese leaders hosted him during his visit to China before he was elected to power in CTA in 2011.

What triggered this malicious and baseless attack is
this informative piece

Fortunately, Sangay’s attempt to hurt me and to silence my dissent by poisoning the ears of the home ministry proved at the end of the day nothing more than a loud fart in the water.

How does PAP impact Tibetans?

The primary purpose of having a Protected Area Permit is said to be for security reasons.

How can a Tibetan-American pose a security threat to the India who has raised him? Or will a Tibetan with a foreign passport adversely influence the culture of the Tibetans in the Settlement? Tibetans are the most peace-loving community in the world, who share the same compassionate and forgiving culture to such a degree that there is no point in influencing the culture of the Tibetan Settlement adversely.

If Tibetans with foreign passports neither pose a threat to Indian security nor to the Tibetan culture in the settlements, the yardstick by which the availing of PAP is determined, why didn’t the concerned authorities in CTA review it with their counterpart officials of the Government of India?

What is the point of having these restrictions when we are accusing the PRC leadership of giving no freedom of movement for the Tibetans in Tibet, whereas the tourists who are non-Tibetans have more freedom to move inside Tibet itself?

How come the administration of President Sangay, instead of misusing PAP for his political vendetta, had not raised it with his Indian counterpart for the relaxation of PAP for a person of Tibetan origin (who is not a citizen of China or any Islamic countries) to visit their families and relatives in the Tibetan Settlements? Is this Sangay’s gift to Tibetan origin with a foreign passport and a legacy to their children for having elected him to power to serve their interests?

From now on the instruction from the district law enforcement officials to the Settlement Officer is, that anytime a Tibetan-foreigner visits his village he must produce copies of the PAP to the village leader. And the village leader, in turn, hands the documents to the Settlement Officer, and the Settlement Officer, in turn, informs the district police. If the village leader fails to report, the Settlement Officer will chew him out. And if the village leader did his part and the Settlement Officer fails to inform the police, the latter will chew out the former. And this is not going to be a pleasant experience.

Sangay’s vindictiveness hurts thousands of Tibetans when they visit to stay in the settlements with which they have a long history and a deep connection. He reinforced the cops’ knowledge of our weak-kneed situation, and his act of snitching on me reminded them of how much money they can make from each Tibetan-foreigner, and the settlements are now infested with informants both locals and Tibetans too! As we speak the district cops in all the 28 colonies are reading this piece with acute interest. The entire blame goes to Sangay for ratting on me.

PAP is killing tourism

This PAP requirement is also ruining the economy of the Tibetans living in these settlements, and even the locals living around them because tourism in these places is dead from day one.

Once tourism is allowed and promoted in these areas, with some renovation there is the possibility that every family, both Tibetans, and locals, living there can become multi-millionaires within a decade thereby eradicating poverty and becoming a contributing machine to the health of the local economy and also the economic health of the nation at large.

What can we do?

If the protection of Tibetan culture through non-assimilation is the number one objective because Tibetans are a different ethnicity and its culture even more unique, then the argument is flawed from the start. Matter of fact, the most significant influence on the Tibetan culture comes from local Indian culture, not that I am against it, but stating this for argument’s sake. Majority of the Tibetans in my settlement speak Kannada, smoke beedis, drink toxic white liquor, and eat with our right hand and wash our ass with the left hand whenever the shower is not available. Some of us wear longyi and local headgear. We hang around in the streets playing the state lottery eight hours per day as if this is our 9-5 job.

5% of the settlement people have love affairs and relationships and even marriages with the locals. For evidence, you need not dig deep. Just go and visit the Central School for Tibetans, Kollegal, and look at the 200-odd students gathered on the playground in the morning assembly and you will find that a good number of them are bi-racial.

If the non-assimilation of our culture with other cultures is the reasoning, then why did the CTA let over 50,000 Tibetans go to the West in the first place? In fact a few years ago the Dalai Lama begged the Canadian government to immigrate a thousand Tibetans from Arunachal Pradesh, and the process completed recently.

Thousands of Tibetans are living abroad who have their family members and relatives in India in the 28 Tibetan settlements where PAP is mandatory. This act separates Tibetans who share the same historical background and cultural affinity. It also separates husbands from wives, and wives from husbands, and parents from children. The Central Tibetan Administration headed by President Sangay, whose first job to solve the issue of Tibet, is duty bound to look into the grievances of Tibetan welfare works too. Hence we must urge the Indian administration to look into the relaxation of PAP to the Tibetans visiting Tibetan Settlements.

In the democratic set-up of governance, the difference of opinion is but natural with constructive criticism if only CTA President can understand. President Sangay cannot stab his critic with the dagger of PAP because Mila Rangzen, the Red Lamb of Utsang, will never cease to surface the hidden malice of power-greedy political leaders. If Sikyong refuses to straighten things up, I will from now on run my piece and more in both the Indian paper and the mainstream western media.

Till then dear reader, stay strong with a strategy and be determined to pay any price. Don’t succumb to a pitiful political vendetta, but instead make them pay an even more heavy price for treading on a king cobra taking care of rats that are destroying our crops!