Fifty-one-year old Tsering Youdon has lived in a Tibetan settlement in Hunsur Taluk in Mysuru district all her life. Her family of 10 has been surviving solely on the produce from the 5 acres of land on which they have been cultivating food crops. Like many Tibetan farmers in the area, her family too decided to grow cash crops several decades ago, as they can survive with little care.
But being a farmer in drought-prone Hunsur, is not easy.
â€śClose to 96% of the Tibetans who practice agriculture in Hunsur depend on the monsoon because they are not allowed to access groundwater. We used to grow banana, maize and potato, but now have also included cash crops like silver oak, as getting agricultural labour becomes difficult. Sometimes, expenditure is higher and we incur a loss. If the crop fails everybody goes into loss,â€ť Tsering said. What made it even more difficult for them is that they are, even after several decades, refugees. They are not Indians. They are Tibetans, who have been forced to leave their motherland by the authoritarian rule of Peopleâ€™s Republic of China.
A recent decision by the Karnataka government however could change the lives of the Tibetans.
The government has announced that they will lease land to Central Tibetan Administration in India, the Tibetan authority based in Dharamshala, which administers all Tibetan settlements in India.
This might just be the solution to the livelihood problems that Tibetan refugees in India face. The government will issue Rights Tenancy Crops (RTC) in the refugeesâ€™ name for a period of 100 years, which will enable them to avail benefits from the stateâ€™s revenue and agricultural department.
This comes almost a year after the Modi government finalised the countryâ€™s first rehabilitation policy for over 1 lakh Tibetan refugees, giving them access to welfare schemes and subsidies on a par with Indians. The policy also promised to make it quicker for Tibetan refugees to get identity documents.
Karnataka is the only state besides Himachal Pradesh to accommodate large number of Tibetan refugees in the rehabilitation camps at Mundagod in Uttara Kannada, Bylakuppe and Gurupura in Mysuru district and Kollegal in Chamrajnagar district. The refugees and the locals in Karnataka have lived in harmony and intermingled with each other, in the last few decades.
The RTC for Tibetans is not undeserved. Through agriculture and other activities, Tibetan farmers have been contributing to the stateâ€™s revenue for many years.
In recent years, however, many Tibetans are moving out of agriculture and going to cities for education and jobs. They are finding it difficult to sustain only through agriculture because of the lack of support and unavailability of subsidies.
â€śWe donâ€™t have any insurance cover nor do we get any subsidies from government like other Indian farmers do. Since we are not Indian citizens, it is difficult for us to avail a bank loan and that limits our livelihood options,â€ť Tsering said.
But the RTC could make their life easier now.
Forty-year-old Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan writer and freedom fighter feels that this step taken by the Karnataka government would help in providing basic security for Tibetan refugees. The government had demarcated land for the refugees, but there was no legal document certifying that the land had been leased to the Tibetans.
Ninjalingappa government in 1961 released forestlands to the revenue department, which subsequently leased those to the Tibetans. However the state government failed to de-notify the land under Karnataka Forest Act 1963.
Tenzin recalls an incident a few years ago in Mandagiri, Odisha, where land demarcated for Tibetan settlers was encroached upon, by local villagers. When the Tibetans approached the district commissioner then, he said there was no documentation to establish that the land was given to Tibetans for cultivation.
â€śThis could happen anywhere, even in Karnataka. So legally leasing land to Tibetan refugees would only make it easier for them to defend themselves legally during local aggressionsâ€ť, Tenzin said.
â€śWe own 2.5 acres of land in Kollegal in Chamrajnagar district for the last 50 years. We have been cultivating potatoes and maize in the land for many decades, but it was still being recognized as forestland. Now since the government has said it would regularise and recognize refugee settlement, it will give us a sense of security to run our fields,â€ť he added.
The governmentâ€™s decision might also open many entrepreneurial opportunities for youngsters, according to Tenzin.
â€śPeople who want to stick to agriculture can practice organic farming, do plant sampling. Many youngsters can set up BPOs. Through new entrepreneurial ideas, they can think of how to develop the place which can attract tourists,â€ť Tenzin said.