National Links

Tibetan Settlements


Besides the Sakya Tibetan Society, popularly known as Puruwala Zichag, with which I am most familiar, I visited in January 2000 the oldest Tibetan settlement in Bylakuppe, South India, much larger and more complex than the one at Puruwala. Therefore in what follows, I attempt a background history and general picture of the settlements in Bylakuppe and Mundgod, both in Karnataka , which will give the reader some general ideas and information about the Tibetan settlements in India.

Historical Background

Today there are 46 Tibetan settlements in India, Nepal and Bhutan, home to most of the 100,451 Tibetan refugees in South Asia (Planning Council 1998 figures).  It has been said that the Tibetan leadership, anxious that the Tibetan refugees should retain their culture and identity, did not want then to be scattered all over the subcontinent, but wanted them to live together in settlements.  As early as 1959, the Dalai Lama and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru agreed on this principle and Nehru wrote to the governments of the Indian states, requesting them to make land available. The Government of the State of Karnataka was the first to send a positive reply to New Delhi’s request for land on which to settle the refugees. An agreement was reached between the state and central governments ( in consultation with the Dalai Lama’s representatives) to settle 3,000 refugees on a 1,500 – hectare tract of uninhabited jungle land on lease at Bylakuppe, 80 kilometres west of the town of Mysore in Karnataka. Other Indian states followed. In June 1962 the Government of Bhutan also granted enough land to settle about 3,000 refugees with funds from the Indian Government in two separate settlements.

In the beginning it was not easy.  The jungle had to be cleared, infrastructure laid and houses built. Adaptation to lower altitudes and a different climate caused health problems for the Tibetans. Moreover, a large number of refugees were nomads, unfamiliar with settled agriculture.  Thanks to the combined efforts of the Government of Mysore, the Indian central government, the UNHCR and , of course, the Tibetan themselves, villages were established in a comparatively short time. Groups of five persons were allotted two and half hectares of land and a one –room tenement.  Soon international NGOs committed themselves to the rehabilitation work, the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC) arrived first.

Within a span of few years, the refugees from Tibet became self-supporting and emerged as ‘one of the most successful refugee communities in the world.  This self-estimate is corroborated by social scientists such as Melvyn Goldstein, an American anthropologist, Girija Saklaini, an Indian Sociologist, and Tanka Subha, a Nepali anthropologist.

The Tibetan refugee achievement is not confined to relative economic success in a country where  40% of the host population lives below the poverty level. Finally the refugees’ preservation of their cultural identity and religious institutions has been so successful that a well-known European anthropologist, Christoph von Furer-Heimendorf, has termed it the ‘renaissance of Tibetan civilization’ in exile.  After studying the cultural scene among the Tibetan refugees in India & Nepal, he concluded:

The ability of homeless and impoverished groups of refugees to build and fund in foreign lands numerous monasteries of a remarkably high architectural standard and their success in developing viable monastic communities similar to those of Tibet is one of the miracles of the 20th century.

Right from the beginning in 1959, Jawaharlal Nehru showed keen personal interest in the Tibetan refugee problem. One of the main reasons was that his China policy was severely criticized in India throughout the 1950s, and his critics took the Tibetan crisis as proof of his policy failure.  Moreover, in India there was widespread sympathy for the Tibetan cause, because of India’s cultural affinities with Buddhist Tibet. It was probably to compensate for his political inability to do anything for Tibet at the international level that Nehru sought to put the Tibetan refugee problem high on India’s domestic agenda in the 1960s.

On 31 March 1959, the Government of India granted asylum to the Dalai Lama. On April 4, 1959 Nehru stated in public that India’s policy was governed by three factors:  the preservation of the security and integrity of India; India’s desire to maintain friendly relations with the People’s Republic of China; and India’s deep sympathy for the people of Tibet.   India’s deep sympathy for the people of Tibet was translated into its concrete concern for the refugees.  Though it was the last component of India’s foreign policy, the fact that the Tibetan people figured in that official policy statement meant that the question of Tibetan refugees was high on India’s agenda. It made a tremendous difference to the Tibetans.  In this way, Nehru’s political guilt was compensated by his deep personal concern for the refugees from Tibet.

When the refugees  first began to arrive India in 1959, the responsibility for them was placed not with the Home Ministry but with the powerful Ministry of External Affairs where Nehru himself was also Foreign Minister.  In June 1962, at Calcutta, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, the Indian Political officer of Sikkim and representatives of the Government of India and the Dalai lama met and agreed that about 3,000 refugees should be settled on land given by the Government of Bhutan. All these incidents demonstrate that in order for a refugee community to be successfully resettled, the highest echelons of the host government’s political decision-making, involvement and interest are necessary.

Indigenous Leadership & Organization in Tibetan Refugee Society:  
Organized Participation

Although co-ordination and co-operation among NGOs may not be unique to the Tibetan case; it was, however, more striking and persistent throughout the rehabilitation period, which  undoubtedly contributed to the overall success of the Tibetan settlements. But by far the most fundamental features of the Tibetan success lay in the indigenous leadership and organization that emerged out of the traditional social and political structures.  Such leadership and organization, especially during the initial and critical years were instrumental in the successful implementation of various projects. They ensured that the NGO funds went beyond mere relief operations to the building of an infrastructure.

When the Dalai Lama escaped to India in 1959, a number of aristocrats ad monk-officials (rtse-grun)who ran the Tibetan government at Lhasa, came along with him. It was the nucleus of such ex-officials, and some new recruits who, under the aegis of the Dalai Lama, re-established the Tibetan government (bod-gzhun) in Dharamsala.  The legal fact that no state in the world recognizes this ‘Tibetan Government in –Exile’ headed by the Dalai Lama, does not alter the social fact that it provided legitimate leadership to the refugee community as a whole.  Its social function, and not so much its international legal standing, is relevant to refugee studies.  The fact is, this bod-gzhun has all the basic features of a complex political organization.

As far as refugees from Tibet are concerned, the Dalai Lama’s complex organization in Dharamsla has performed three vital and integrative functions.  It has assumed a virtual monopoly to represent and act on behalf of the refugees in negotiations with the Government of India and the NGOs concerning relief, rehabilitation and settlement of Tibetan refugees in India and to a lesser extent in Nepal and Bhutan. At the same time it organized the scattered refugees into several settlements and established its direct control over them.

From the beginning the Dalai Lama and his officials interacted with the Government of India on behalf of the refugees. They immediately set themselves up as the sole spokesman for the refugees and even maintained offices in the transit camps. The Government of India tacitly accepted the Dalai Lama’s assumption of leadership over the refugees from Tibet partly as a mark of respect for the institution of the Dalai Lama and partly as a concession of India’s inability or unwillingness to recognize the ‘Tibetan Government in-Exile’, despite persistent pleas and considerable Indian public support for such a recognition, especially after 1962. In any case it was more convenient and effective for the Government of India to recognize the moral authority of the Dalai Lama and the leadership role of his organization within the Tibetan refugee community. Such a policy resulted as far as Dharamsala was concerned, in the Indian affirmation of the Dalai Lama and his organization’s right to exercise administrative control over the refugee settlements in India. Moreover, this policy was in line with India’s desire that settlements should be designed in such a ‘non-assimilative’ way as to enable the Tibetan refugees to preserve their cultural identity and religious institution while in exile.

Most of the NGOs tend to recognize the Dalai Lama as the legitimate leader of the refugees from Tibet and accordingly include his representatives in their discussions on rehabilitation projects. Most refugee matters were conducted on a tripartite basis:  Indian, NGOs and Tibetan representatives. And in most cases this worked well.

The settlements are not completely identical in their organization, but they follow a pattern, the terms for the functionaries and levels may differ.   In principle there are three layers of decision-making.  At the head is the settlement officer, who belongs to the Tibetan Central Administration. The settlements----nowadays comprising between 1,000 to 8,000 people----are divided into camps also called villages.  The inhabitants elect a camp leader called chimie.  These are assisted by four spokespersons called chupon, representing approximately 250 inhabitants.  Originally the chupon represented ten households, but as the population has increased, this number is nowadays not strictly adhered to.  This echoes the traditional Tibetan decimal organization, hence the refugees had no problem accepting this system. Every settlement has a cooperative society.

In Bylakuppe, where about half the Tibetan refugees in South India live, there are two settlements: Lugsung Samdupling, founded in 1961, therefore also called the ‘old settlement’. It has a population of 7,631 according to 1998 Tibetan census.   The second Dekyi larsoe, founded in 1969, with 3,096 people, is the ‘new settlement’.  In addition there are about 7,000 inhabitants of the monasteries:   monks, novices and staff.  The four sects in Tibetan Buddhism have rebuilt their famous monasteries, namely Sera, Tashilhunpo, Kargyu and Namdrolling next to the settlements. These monasteries and monk population follow their own organization and have to find their own funding; they are not part of the settlement administration.  There is a liaison officer though.  Only at elction times do electoral officers carry out their duties inside the monasteries.  Monks perform Religious ceremonies in the settlements, play a major role in festivals and the settlers participate in some of the events in the temples.

The structure of the two Bylakuppe settlements mirrors the three-layered hierarchy with the chuponor ‘head of ten’ at the base. This is a traditional Tibetan form of organization, but nowadays there is flexibility regarding the number of households.  The chupon’s duty is to organize labour for community projects, call for meetings, organize festivals, hear grievances. Such deputies, numbering for in each camp, are annually elected. The most important functionary is the chimie or ‘ general leader’  nowadays called camp leader.  He/She is the link between the administration and the settlers. Camp leaders are elected for one year and receive meager salaries from Dharamsala. Camps comprise about 1,000 people, thus the Lugsung Samdupling Settlement has six camps, but given the size two camp leaders--chimie-- per camp.

Above these democratically elected positions, are the appointees of Dharamsala, and chief among them is the Settlement Officer, sku-tsab or  dbu-‘zin.  He heads a fully staffed office and is accountable to the Department of Home of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).  Bylakuppe having such a large population, one of the settlement officers is a ‘Representative’ of  the CTA. 

The  settlement officers and their staff plan the policies for the settlement as a whole with respect not only to economic matters but also to socio-cultural ones.  Such policies and projects are implemented through the useful offices of the chupon after consultations with the chimie.  Internally, the settlement officers seeks to integrate diverse subcultural units by articulating pan-Tibetan identity and ideology. The settlement officer also uses the prestige of his office to mediate disputes, but only if efforts at the lower levels fail.  Externally, he often acts on behalf of his settlers in their dealings with Indian legal and political officials. 

The two settlements are well provided with schools: there is a CTSA school, going up to class 12 and five elementary schools up to class 5.  The SOS Children’s Village also has a secondary school for their 1,160 children, and the Sera Monastery runs its own high school for the novices.

The Tibetan refugee organization at the Mundgod settlement seems slight different. However, we cannot fail to observe the centrality of the Dharamsala-appointed settlement officer and the organizing principle of the social organization. They are characteristically Tibetan.

The economic and political nerve-centre of the Mundgod Tibetan settlement –as in other settlements --- is the Tibetan Cooperative Society whose membership is open to all the male heads of all the households in the camp.  At the head of the cooperative society is the Secretary, a representative of the CTA.  The Secretary and his staff, who operate the settlement’s  secretariat, are directly paid by Dharamsala.  The Secretary acts as an administrative link between the Dharamsala administration and the Mundgod settlement. He is also the proper channel between the settlement and the respective Indian governments, both at the state and centre levels.  Moreover, all the foreign charitable organizations operate through the cooperative society and its secretary.

The Mundgod settlement consists of nine villages, and each village elects a leader called gambo meaning ‘ the elder’ ( corresponding to the chimie at Bylakuppe).  The village leader acts as a link between the village and the Secretary of the Co-operative Society.  The Secretary delegates authority to the village leader and the latter transmits messages and policies from the cooperative society;  he Tries to solve his villagers’ problems such as getting loans from the bank, mediating in civil disputes, getting fertilizer from the cooperative;  and above all he gets tasks and projects ordered by the secretary done by all the villagers.

Here too the village leader is assisted by group leaders (chupon). The group leaders are subordinate to the village leaders and are in constant touch with him. They report to the village leader about the needs and problems of families whom they represent and who have elected them.  Communication and command flows through hierarchy: from the Secretary to the village leaders, from village leaders to group leaders and from group leaders to individual households.

The Mundgod settlement has an executive committee consisting of all gambo, the village leaders, and headed by the Secretary of Co-operative Society. The committee is an apex policy and planning board for the entire settlement.

Although Mundgod and Bylakuppe settlements share certain essential characteristics, there are some differences too.  The Bylakuppe settlement reflects the vision of a traditional Tibetan government official as its head; at Mundgod, the settlement officer located his ‘office’ in the centre of economic activity, namely Tibetan Co-operative Society.   Although the ultimate power was retained by the secretary, he attempted to encourage democratic participation in the decision-making process by inclusion of village representation. There is also more pluralism in the terms and conditions of gambo and  chupon ;   either through election or rotation. More such flexibility and modification are evident in Bylakuppe in recent years, where in the early years the decimally-based Tibetan social organization was rather rigorously applied.

The Impact of Refugees on the Host Population

Tibetan refugee settlements in India were deliberately designed in such a way as to recreate Tibetan society with its core values intact.  Such a re-creation of pockets of Tibetan culture and society in India was not only the popular desire and determination of refugees from Tibet;  it was to a large extent, endorsed and even encouraged by the Government of India as a matter of policy Two critical aspects of India’s policy towards the Tibetan refugees are --- (1)  the liberal ‘non-assimilative’ framework as reflected in the separate settlements, and  (2) the board ‘delegated’ authority of the Tibetan leadership headed by the Dalai Lama over the Tibetan settlements in India.  Such a benevolent policy ensures Tibetan cultural identity and social autonomy in a sea of host population. This seemed understandable in the 1960s but it is now coming under increasing criticism.  This criticism centers around the argument that Tibetans in India should no longer maintain their social. And cultural boundaries from the host society;  it implies that Tibetans should ‘ integrate’ with the Indians.  Some Tibetan critics on the other hand maintain that the Hindu caste hierarchy permits the maintenance of caste communities and their identity within each caste.  Hence the Tibetans might socially and culturally constitute a  jati and be permitted to  maintain their cultural identity and religious institutions.

As we stated before, one of the motives behind the forced migration from their homeland was the Tibetan apprehension that their cultural identity and religious institutions were in danger of disappearing under Chinese rule.  Most Indians sympathized with their concern.  The creation of separate settlements for Tibetans meant in effect maintaining social and cultural boundaries vis-à-vis the host society. This in turn means that the interaction between the refugees and the host population is limited to economic transactions in the market.

It may be surprising but true as observed by many social scientists such as  Goldstein and Palakshappa  that Tibetans have provided considerable job opportunities for the host population.

In agricultural settlements most Tibetans employ rural Indian laborers to till the soil, sow the seeds, and son on. It deserves mention that the monasteries also employ Indian labor.   Many members of the host population are engaged by Tibetan refugees in other spheres such as carpet factories, running restaurants and hotels, selling seasonal woollen garments etc as can be seen in Delhi, Dharamsala, Darjeeling, Kathmandu and other places.

The other beneficial type of refugee impact on the host society is the extension of Tibetan facilities to the host population.   Most of the Tibetan settlements are located in remote parts of India, which had not received much attention from New Delhi in terms of developmental funds and projects.  With the Establishment of Tibetan settlements in such areas, the surrounding India or Nepali villages began to receive side benefits.  Tibetan schools and hospitals are open to the host population as well. While digging tube wells or making irrigation canals for the Tibetan refugees, foreign voluntary organizations have sponsored similar schemes for the surrounding local villages as well. To such remote and poor villagers in India or Nepal, the establishment of a Tibetan colony in their locality means new jobs, more business opportunities and new modern facilities. In fact most settlements have linkages with international donors, i.e. with NGOs as well as with individual sponsors, who support children in the SOS Tibetan children’s villages or individual monks in the monasteries. Indirectly the local people too profit from this inflow of foreign exchange.

Economic Integration

The Tibetan refugee settlements in India were build in the 1960s and early 1979s with a specific purpose in mind. They were designed as self-contained cultural units sustained by self-sufficient agro and handicraft economies for a limited rather then an unlimited period of time. This plan proved to be more than sufficient for the first generation of refugees. In fact they, during their life-time in exile, creatively deviated from the planned agricultural economy to the sweater-selling business which they find more lucrative, and less time consuming, though more intensive. As it stands now, the new generation of exiles born and brought up in India or Nepal appears to face a dilemma in both their education and economy. They have reached the limits of educational levels and economic choices offered in the settlements.   Where to go from here?

The Tibetan exile population in India and Nepal is 100,490 according to the 1998 census.   Of this, literacy defined as those literate up to the primary level in India & Nepal is 69%.  But the generation between 19 – 25 years is 97% literate.  And by the late 1990s there were 2,628 higher secondary graduates, a number likely to increase year by year.  Where can they find employment?

Because the establishment in Dharamsala or the settlements in rural India are already saturated, will they be contented with the sweater-selling business, which their non-literate parents pioneered? 

The core of the Tibetan exile economy is by all accounts its informal sector, namely the sweater-selling business which official publications never acknowledge or mention.   This business takes place in the winter season roughly between October – February. It started with the sale of hand-knitted colorful sweaters of the type which can still be seen in handicraft centres in India & Nepal or in so-called One-World shops in the West. The fact that people from the cold peaks of the Himalayas marketed those sweaters lent them great credibility.  Soon the demand for these hand knitted woolens outgrew the supply.  So Tibetans started buying machine-made sweaters in bulk from factories at Ludhiana (Punjab) and spread all over India, targeting especially small towns and industrial cities.  The relations between the producers and the Tibetans are  said to be most cordial and based on mutual trust, they get their ware on very easy terms.  It is essentially this business, which has made the former Tibetan peasants and nomads better off then  the average Indian peasants are today.   Tibetans are culturally and economically free to engage in diverse economic activities. Hence the entire able-bodied population of the settlements engage in sweater-selling business in winter. However majority, after the winter season, resume their settlement routine such as agricultural work and various handicrafts.

While transacting and participating in the larger, though lower levels of the Indian economy, Tibetan commoners have learned the value and utility of elementary lessons of democratic functioning in their business relations with local Indian municipalities and Panchayats. The sweater sellers organized themselves almost spontaneously using their age-old tradition of decimal based organizations called  chu-shog or  rgya-shog.    Having thus organized themselves in groups, then they directly elect their leaders or members to act on their behalf in dealing with the local Indian authorities and to maintain discipline among the sweater sellers themselves.   This daily necessity of functioning outside the settlement environment might have taught the average Tibetan in exile more practice of democracy at the grass-root level in terms of popular participation than from the formalized and stylized democracy that is coming from Dharamsala.

During my visits to Bylakuppe (January 20000 and Puruwala (February 2001)) I saw a whole new generation of Tibetans who are literate yet engaged in the same sweater business that their non-literate parents pioneered.  This new generation is increasingly likely to face serious problems of  employment   and economic activities suited to their education and skills unless they integrate their economy with the larger economic systems beyond the settlements.

*This shortened article by Dr. Dawa T Norbu is  taken from the book titled “Exile As challenge – The Tibetan Diaspora”  ( 2004 ) edited by Dagmar Bernstorff & Hubertus von Welck .   Dr. Dawa T Norbu  was a Professor at the Centre Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.   He passed away in May 2006. Professor Dawa Norbu  was a prolific writer and  had authored  several books including ‘ Red Star  over Tibet’,   ‘Culture and  the Politics of Third World Nationalism’,  ‘ Tibet: The Road Ahead’, ‘ China’s Tibet Policy : Creating Confucian Consensus’.  His other publications include scholarly papers in several reputed journals as Asian Survey, China Quarterly, Royal Central Asian Society Journal, etc.

Brief Introduction to Tibetan Government In-Exile

A Brief Introduction to the Tibetan Government In-Exile


In 1949 the People’s Liberation Army of China marched into Tibet’s northeastern province of  Kham and Amdo, thus setting in motion the forcible occupation of the country which culminated  in the flight of its young leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama to India and the crushing of the Tibetan National Uprising in March 1959.  Tibet’s leader was followed by some 80,000 Tibetans, who sought refuge in India, Nepal and Bhutan.  The influx of refugees continues even today. Currently, the Tibetan exile population is over 145,150 of which about 101,242 are based in India. ( Planning Council’s projected population in 2007, based on annual percentage growth rate – CTA ).

On April 29, 1959, His Holiness the Dalai Lama established the Tibetan exile administration in the north Indian hill station of Mussoorie.  Named the Central Tibetan Administration ( CTA) of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, this is the continuation of the government of independent Tibet. In May 1960, the Central Tibetan Administration was moved to Dharamsala, situated in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. 

The Tibetan people, both inside and outside Tibet, recognize Central Tibetan Administration as their sole and legitimate government.  CTA is also being increasingly recognized as the legitimate government and true representative of the six million Tibetan people by parliaments around the world. 

Right from the beginning, the Central Tibetan Administration has taken upon itself the task of   rehabilitating refugees and restoring the freedom of Tibet. Education has been on top of the rehabilitation agenda. 

Alongside rehabilitation, CTA decided to experiment with modern democracy in preparation for a future, free Tibet.   On September 2, 1960, the Tibetan Parliament in-Exile came into being.

In 1990, His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced further democratization, by which the composition of the Tibetan Parliament was increased to 46 members.  It was empowered to elect the Tibetan Kashag or Council of Ministers, who are made answerable to it.  Similarly, the Tibetan judiciary known as the Supreme Justice Commission is instituted.  Today, the Parliament has 43 members (instead of 46 members) as His Holiness the Dalai Lama has decided not to exercise his power to nominate three members. 

The newly empowered Tibetan Parliament in-exile en acted the present constitution in June 1991 under the title of The Charter of the Tibetans in-Exile. 

Today, the Central Tibetan Administration functions as a veritable government and has all the attributes of a free democratic government. It must be noted, however, that the CTA is not designed to assume power when Tibetan becomes free.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama has clearly stated in his manifesto entitled ‘ Guidelines for future Tibet’s Policy and the Basic Features of its  Constitution ' that the exile government would be dissolved as soon as Tibet regains freedom. His Holiness the Dalai Lama would then transfer his power to a transitional government headed by an interim-President. The interim President, in turn, will be required to hold general election within 2 years and hand over power to the popularly elected government.


The Constitution of the Tibetan exile community is known as ‘ The Charter of Tibetans in Exile’.  It is the supreme law governing the functions of the Central Tibetan Administration.  The Charter was drafted by the Constitution Redrafting Committee in 1990 and referred to the Tibetan Parliament.   After careful deliberations, the Charter was unanimously passed by the X1th Tibetan Parliament in-Exile on June 14, 1991.  It was approved by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on June 28, 1991. 

The Charter professes to adhere to the universal Declaration of Human Rights as specified by the  United Nations and to provide to all Tibetans equality before the law, enjoyment of rights and  freedom without discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, language and social origin. It  clearly states in the preliminary that all Tibetans will strive to bring about future Tibet comprising   the whole province of U-tsang, Do-Toe (Kham) and Do-Mey (Amdo) as a democratic, federal, republic state and a zone of peace.

The Charter provides for a clear separation of power among the three organs of  government:

Judiciary, Legislature and Executive.  Before the Charter was adopted, the Central Tibetan Administration functioned along the lines of the draft democratic constitution for a future Tibet, promulgated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1963. 


The Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission is the highest judicial organ of the Tibetan community   in-exile.   It was formally inaugurated on March 11, 1992 with its office in Gangchen Kyishong,  seat of the Central Tibetan Administration. 

Judiciary is one of most important organ of a democratic institution.   Whenever an issue of contention arises in the course of the Executive’s implementation of any law enacted by the Legislature, the judiciary interprets, or makes decisions thereof; thus protecting the rule of law by guaranteeing justice to all and making the whole of the institution of democracy vibrant and meaningful. 

According to the Charter,  The Supreme Justice Commission (SJC) is responsible for adjudicating all civil disputes in the Tibetan settlements.  It, however, does not entertain any case if the doing of so in seen to transgress the authority of the host countries. Similarly, the SJC does not handle criminal cases as this is the preserve of the host government. 

The Supreme Justice Commission is headed by the Chief Justice Commissioner (CJC) and two  Justice Commissioners, all of whom are nominated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and referred for the approval of the Parliament. If the Parliament does not reject the nomination by two-thirds majority, His Holiness the Dalai Lama will confirm the appointment.


Instituted in 1960, the Tibetan Parliament in-exile is the highest legislative organ of the Tibetan  Community in-exile.  The creation of this democratically elected body is one of the major changes that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has brought about in his efforts to introduce a democratic system of administration.

The Parliament comprises of 46 members.  Tibetans from the traditional provinces of U-Tsang, Do-Toe and Do-Mey elect 10 members each, while four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon faith elect 2 members each.   Three members are elected by Tibetan living in the West, 2 from Europe and one from North America. In addition, on to three members with distinction in the field of art, science and literature and community service are nominated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Tibetan Parliament in-exile is headed by a Speaker and Deputy Speaker, who are elected by the legislators themselves. Any Tibetan who has reached the age of 25 has the right to contest elections to the Parliament. Elections are held every five years and any Tibetan who has reached the age of 18 is entitled to vote.

Sessions of the Parliament are held twice a year, with an interval of six months between sessions.  However, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as head of the state, can summon special sessions of the Parliament in case of national emergencies. When the parliament in not session, there is a standing committee of 12 members; two members from each province, one member from each religious denomination, and one member nominated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

As representatives of the people, the members of Parliament undertakes periodic tours of Tibetan settlements to make as assessment of their overall conditions. On their return from such trips, they bring to the notice of the administration any specific grievances and matters needing attention.

Additionally, the Tibetan Parliament in-exile keeps in touch with the people through Local  Parliaments established in 38 major Tibetan settlements as is provided by the Charter of Tibetans  In-Exile.


The Kashag ( Cabinet ) is the apex executive authority of the Central Tibetan Administration. It is headed by a popularly elected political leader known as Kalon Tripa ( chief of the Council of Ministers).

Kalon Tripa is empowered by the Charter to nominate a team of up to seven Cabinet colleagues or Kalons. However, their appointment requires approval from 51% of the members of Parliament present and voting.

In the event of Kalon Tripa’s resignation, or inability to continue in the office, the Tibetan community in-exile will have to go to the polls again to elect a new Kalon Tripa.

The Kashag is serviced by its secretariat and the Planning Council. While the secretariat provides the Kashag with secretarial and logistical services, the Planning council serves as a consultation in matters relating to socio-economic development of the exile community.  As well as scrutinizing the project proposals, the Planning Council evaluates the performance of project activities undertaken by CTA departments.


Department of Religion and Culture

It seeks to preserve and promote Tibet’s spiritual and cultural heritage which is on the verge of extinction in the Land of Snow.

For more then four decades Tibetan community in exile has established over 200 monasteries and nunneries with enrollments of over 20,000 monks and nuns. The Department gives back-up services to these cultural institutes. It maintains close contact with the Buddhist centers throughout the world.

Additionally, there are cultural centers for the study of both spiritual and cultural traditions of Tibet. While some of these centers are autonomous bodies, financed by the Government of India, others are financed and administered directly by the department.  The best known of these cultural centers in India are :   the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, Dharamsala, The Tibet House in New Delhi, Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies at Sarnath, Varanasi, Norbulingka Institute for Tibetan Culture at Sidhpur, Dharamsala.

Department of Home

It is responsible for all rehabilitation efforts for Tibetans in-exile.  Employment generation and promotion of self-reliance among the Tibetan populace has been the chief task since its inception.

The Department of Home looks after the welfare of 21 agricultural settlements, 11 cluster units, 8 agro-industries and four carpet weaving co-operatives in India.  It also looks after 20 Tibetan settlements and handicraft societies in Nepal and Bhutan.

Local representatives of the department in the Tibetan settlements are known as Settlement officers or Welfare officers depending on the organizational structures. These officers may either be elected by the local Tibetan residents or appointed from Central Tibetan Administration, depending on popular wish of the local Tibetan residents.

Thus far, most settlements have decided in favor of appointees from the CTA.  But, the CTA is making concerted efforts to encourage Tibetan people to elect their own administrative head as this is seen to be an essential milestone toward village self-rule and political maturity.

Department of Education

It administers 77 schools in India, Nepal and Bhutan, serving 30,000 children, which form 70 percent of children in-exile.  A further 15 to 20 percent attend private schools.

Out of 77 schools administered by the Department of Education, 28 are directly run and financed   by the Central Tibetan School Administration (CTSA) of the Government of India.

The Tibetan Children’s Villages in Dharamsala and Tibetan Homes Foundation in Mussoorie are autonomous bodies under the Department of Education.  While TCV administers 17 schools and cares for a total of 11,500 students, the Tibetan Homes Foundation runs two schools with 2,200 students.

The education policy of the Tibetan in-exile is aimed at imbuing children with a sense of responsibility for the happiness of others.  Towards this end, it has developed a system to impart an education which judiciously blends smaller skills and knowledge with the “others-before-self”  motivation of traditional spiritual value system.

Department of Finance

It formulates the annual budget of the Central Tibetan Administration and submits budget proposal to the Tibetan Parliament in-exile. The department also monitors CTA’s spending and generates revenue for running the administration. The mainstay of its revenue is the annual voluntary contribution from the Tibetan community in-exile.  The annual voluntary contribution is more widely and loosely known as the Green Book contribution.

The Green Book proposal came first in the form of a resolution passed at the general body meting of a grassroots level exile organization known as the Tibetan Freedom Movement in July 1972.  Western educated activists and members of the movement proposed that if the CTA was to truly become a government of the people, by the people and for the people, it is necessary for people contribute running expenses of this institution.

After twenty years, the Tibetan Parliament in-exile passed a legislation stipulating that the payment of this contribution is one of main responsibilities of Tibetan nationals in-exile.

Any Tibetan wishing to apply for a service of CTA – such as admission to school, scholarship for higher studies, job with the exile administration - needs to produce the Green Book.  Similarly, Tibetans wishing to exercise franchise or stand election for Tibetan public office must produce their Green Book.

Department of Security

The primary responsibility of the department is to ensure the security of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  It has a Branch Security office which arranges pubic audiences with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and helps Tibetan refugees in seeking renewal of their refugee registration certificates from the Government of India. It also runs a research unit to monitor developments in Tibet and China.

In addition, the department runs three Reception Centres to look after the growing number of new refugees arriving from Tibet.  The refugees usually arrive first in Nepal, from where they make their way to Dharamsala and other Tibetan settlements via Delhi. There are branch reception centres in Kathmandu and Delhi where new refugees are provided food and shelter, and guided to their onward destinations. The reception centres also help new refugees jobs, join schools and monasteries.

Department of Information & International Relations

The Department of Information and International Relations educates the Tibetan people and international public opinion to the political, human rights and environmental conditions in Tibet. Towards this end, it publishes books, print and electronic materials on Tibet.  The periodicals come out in three languages: Tibetan, English and Chinese.

The department serves as a protocol office of Central Tibetan Administration and liaises with the  International media and Tibet support groups throughout the world.

There are 12 CTA foreign missions under the department. They function as the embassies of the  Central Tibetan Administration. They are based in New Delhi, Kathmandu , New York, Geneva, Tokyo, London, Canberra, Paris, Moscow, Pretoria, Taipei  & Brussels.

Department of Health

The department of health runs 5 Primary Health Care Centres, 7 hospitals, 47 clinics and 2 mobile clinics in the Tibetan settlements of India and Nepal.  It meets the cost of emergency health care needs of new refugees and other needy Tibetans in-exile

The Tibetan Medical and Astro-Institute in Dharamsala is an autonomous body under the auspices of the department.  The Medical Institute has 47 branch clinics in various parts of India and Nepal to provide traditional Tibetan medical care to Tibetans in-exile and the local inhabitants.


Election Commission

The power and functions of the Election Commission are to conduct and oversee elections of the Tibetan Parliament in-exile, Local Parliaments, the Speaker & Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, members and Chair of the Kashag ( Council of Ministers).

If the Central Tibetan Administration decides to call a referendum to secure people’s verdict on  a matter of extreme importance, it will fall upon the Election Commission to conduct referendum. Although the settlement/welfare officers of most the Tibetan Settlements are appointed by the CTA, Tibetan inhabitants have the right to elect them if they so wish or choose. In such a case, the Election Commission will conduct the election of the Settlement/Welfare officers as well.

In order to ensure the independence of the Election Commission, the Charter provides for the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  Two additional Commissioners are appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the general elections of the Tibetan Parliament in-exile.

The Chief Election Commissioner holds the office for  a term   of five years unless the Tibetan  Parliament in-exile impeaches him/her by two-thirds majority.

Public Service Commission

The Public service Commission is responsible for recruitment, training, appointment and promotion of the civil servants of the Central Tibetan Administration. The Chair of the Commission is appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a term of five years. It came into existence on February 11, 1992 with the promulgation of the Charter of Tibetans in-Exile, which named it as a constitutional body.

Prior to that the civil servants of the Central Tibetan Administration were recruited by the erstwhile Department of Personnel, which was set up in 1973.

Office of Auditor General

The Office of Auditor general (OAG) was established in 1962 to audit & look after the financial management of various governmental and non-governmental welfare organizations under the Central Tibetan Administration.  As the activities of the Central Tibetan Administration expanded/increased, the importance of the Office of Auditor General grew at the same time.

In view of the importance of the functions and responsibilities of OAG, Article 106 of the Charter of Tibetans in-Exile provided an autonomous status to this office. Accordingly, the Auditor General is directly appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  The first auditor general assumed his/her responsibilities on September 23, 1991.

The Office of Auditor-General is responsible for auditing accounts of all the CTA departments, and their subsidiaries.   It also audits the accounts of most of the public institutions like the co-operative societies, trading concerns, educational institutes, hospitals, health centers, and so on.  It further evaluates the efficiency, propriety and management performance.

In short, the Office of Auditor-General functions as a watch-dog on the Central Tibetan Administration.  However, shortage of staff impedes OAG to complete audit of the entire branches. Out of 383 such organizations, the Office of Auditor-General could handle only 181 organizations.

Overview of Sino-Tibetan Dialogue

An Overview of Sino-Tibetan Dialogue

It has been the consistent position of His Holiness the Dalai Lama that the question of Tibet must be resolved peacefully through dialogue with the best interest of the Tibetan people in mind. His Holiness already engaged the Chinese commanders in Lhasa in dialogue in 1951, immediately after China invaded Tibet, and held talks with Mao Zedong and Chou En-lai in 1954 in order to avoid confrontation and bloodshed. Following his flight to India during the bloody suppression of the Tibetan national uprising of 1959, His Holiness continued to call for a peaceful negotiated solution, but in the years of radical communist reforms and the so-called Cultural Revolution, the Chinese leadership was in no mood to dialogue.

The death of Mao Zedong and the end of Cultural Revolution ushered in a period of liberalization and open-door policy. The new Chinese leadership took a bold step of reaching out to the Tibetan leadership in exile. Towards the end of 1978, Li Juisin, the then head of the Xinhua News Agency in Hong Kong (de facto embassy of the PRC) contacted Gyalo Thondup, elder brother of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and invited him for a private visit to Beijing. Thondup, in turn, sought the approval of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and visited Beijing in February-March 1979. There, he met a number of Chinese leaders, including the paramount leader Deng Xiaoping on 12 March 1979. Deng told Thondup that "apart from independence, all issues can be discussed". He even invited the Tibetan leadership to send delegations to Tibet and see things for themselves. As a result, the exile leadership dispatched three fact-finding delegations to Tibet in 1979 and 1980. To the bafflement of China, crowds besieged the delegates wherever they went and poured out stories of "hell-on-earth" tragedies that had befallen on them and their families over the past two decades.

In 1980, Communist Party Secretary Hu Yao-bang made a historic trip to Tibet and recognized the mistakes that had been made by his government and announced major changes in policy, including the withdrawal of most Chinese cadres from Tibet. In 1981 the Chinese government expressed its willingness to allow the Dalai Lama to return to the "Motherland" (to China but not to Tibet) but refused to acknowledge the need for any political negotiations, thus attempting to reduce the Tibetan issue to the conditions for the Dalai Lama's return. Two senior Tibetan delegations were sent to Beijing for exploratory talks in 1982 and 1984, respectively. They insisted the issue was not the Dalai Lama but the welfare of the six million Tibetans and proposed earnest political negotiations on a status short of independence for the entire Tibetan people, comprising the three provinces of U-tsang, Kham and Amdo. But hopes for substantive talks came to an end with the firing of Hu Yao-bang (among other reasons, for his willingness to address the Tibetan issue) and the turning back of announced reforms.

The Tibetan leadership was then left with only one option: to appeal directly for the assistance of international community. Addressing the United States Congressional Human Rights Caucus on 21 September 1987, His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced his Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet. The five points are: (i) Transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace; (ii) Abandonment of China's population transfer policy which threatens the very existence of the Tibetans as a people; (iii) Respect for the Tibetan people's fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms; (iv) Restoration and protection of Tibet's natural environment and the abandonment of China's use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste; and (v) Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples. 

His Holiness did not call for a restoration of Tibetan independence in this speech, rather he implied that a solution that would not require separation from the People's Republic of China (PRC) and would be based on cooperation. China's reaction was negative, and its criticism of the Dalai Lama blunt. This precipitated large-scale demonstrations in Tibet, which were violently repressed by the Chinese armed forces. The cycle of resistance and repression culminated in the declaration of martial law in March 1989. Despite the worsening situation in Tibet, His Holiness persisted in his efforts to seek dialogue with China.

On 15 June 1988, His Holiness the Dalai Lama elaborated on the fifth point of his Five Point Peace Plan in an address to members of the European parliament in Strasbourg, and laid out a framework for negotiations with the PRC on the future status of Tibet. In what came to be known as the Strasbourg Proposal, His Holiness called for the unification of the three provinces of Tibet and its transformation into "a self-governing democratic political entity founded on law by agreement of the people for the common good and protection of themselves and their environment, in association of the People's Republic of China." The essential characteristics of His Holiness' proposal were that Tibetans would govern themselves and be responsible for their internal affairs under a democratic system and leaders of their choice, while the government of the PRC would be responsible for foreign affairs and would be permitted to maintain a limited military presence in Tibet for defence purposes only. 

Beijing 's reaction to this and subsequent initiatives was mixed at best. On 23 June 1988 China's foreign ministry issued a press statement, saying that the PRC would not accept Tibet's "independence, semi-independence or independence in disguised form". But, a few months later, on 21 September the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi told the representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama that its government was interested in direct talks with the Dalai Lama. A press statement to this effect was issued the following day which said, "The talks may be held in Beijing, Hong Kong, or any of our embassies or consulates abroad. If the Dalai Lama finds it inconvenient to conduct talks at these places, he may choose any place he wishes." However, no foreigner, the release further added, should be involved and that the new proposal put forward by the Dalai Lama in Strasbourg could not be considered as the basis for talks. The Tibetan leadership reacted on the same day by issuing a press release, which stated, "Though we have different views and stands on many issues, we are prepared to discuss and resolve these through direct dialogues".

On 25 October 1988, the Tibetan leadership gave a message to the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi, proposing Geneva as a venue for talks. The Chinese government rejected the Tibetan choice of venue and blamed the Dalai Lama of insincerity. Refusing to accept the negotiating team proposed by the Tibetan leadership, Beijing said it would rather talk to the Dalai Lama in person.

On 28 January 1989, the Panchen Lama, one of the most influential Tibetan leaders in Tibet, passed away suddenly, and under mysterious circumstances. On 7 February China invited His Holiness the Dalai Lama to attend the Panchen Lama's cremation ceremony, due to take place on 15 February. Because of the short notice, His Holiness was unable to accept the invitation. Nevertheless, on 21 March 1991, His Holiness the Dalai Lama offered his assistance in the search for the reincarnation. Similarly, in his address to YaleUniversity  on 9 October 1991, His Holiness the Dalai Lama made a proposal to visit Tibet in the company of some senior Chinese leaders and international media. This visit, His Holiness said, would help him to ascertain the situation inside Tibet and persuade the Tibetan people in Tibet not to renounce non-violence as a means of their struggle. 

In December of the same year (1991), His Holiness the Dalai Lama asked for a meeting with the Chinese Premier Li Peng during the latter's visit to New Delhi. Thereafter, on 26 February 1992, the Tibetan leadership released a document, entitled Guidelines for Future Tibet's Polity and Basic Features of its Constitution. The document states that the present Tibetan administration-in-exile will be dissolved the moment the Tibetans in exile return to Tibet, and that His Holiness the Dalai Lama will then hand over all his traditional political power to an interim government. The interim government, it explains, will be responsible for drawing up a democratic constitution, which will pave the way for a direct election of the new government of Tibet. Even this failed to interest the Chinese leadership. 

Under the circumstances, the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies, elected representatives of the Tibetan Diaspora, passed a resolution on 23 January 1992 stating that the Tibetan administration-in-exile should not initiate any new move for negotiations with China unless there was a positive change in the attitude of the Chinese leadership. 

In April 1992, the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi contacted Gyalo Thondup and told him that the Chinese Government's position in the past had been "conservative", but that it was willing to be "flexible" if the Tibetans were prepared to be "realistic". He invited Thondup to visit Beijing once again. But when Thondup met the Chinese leaders in Beijing in June 1992, he was treated to a litany of accusations against His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He did not hear anything signalling flexibility in Beijing's stand. 

His Holiness felt that the accusations indicated the Chinese leadership's lack of understanding of his views and stand on the Tibetan issue. His Holiness, however, renewed his efforts to open dialogue by sending a personal letter and a detailed memorandum to Chinese leaders, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, in September 1992, reiterating his preparedness to accommodate China's interest and calling for negotiations. At the end of that memorandum His Holiness stated: "The time has come now for the Chinese to show the way for Tibet and China to live together in friendship. A detailed step by step outline regarding Tibet's basic status should be spelt out. If such a clear outline is given, regardless of the possibility or non-possibility of an agreement, we Tibetans can then make a decision whether to live with China or not. If we Tibetans obtain our basic rights to our satisfaction, then we are not incapable of seeing the possible advantages of living with the Chinese."

His Holiness also decided to dispatch a three-member delegation to China to clarify his views. Beijing accepted only two members of this delegation. In June 1993 the delegates discovered in Beijing that the Chinese leadership's hardline attitude towards His Holiness had remained unchanged.

On 4 September 1993, His Holiness the Dalai Lama issued a brief press statement and released to the press the text of his letters to Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. His Holiness once again unequivocally called on the Chinese government "to start negotiations without delay and preconditions". His Holiness reiterated the Tibetan willingness to negotiate a "reasonable and just solution within the framework formulated by Mr. Deng Xiaoping" and clarified: "I have never called for negotiations on independence of Tibet." On numerous occasions since then, His Holiness made clear that he was not seeking independence, but "genuine autonomy for Tibet within the framework of the Chinese Constitution." This stand His Holiness most recently reiterated in the 10 March 2005 statement: "I once again want to reassure the Chinese authorities that as long as I am responsible for the affairs of Tibet we remain fully committed to the Middle Way Approach of not seeking independence for Tibet and are willing to remain within the People's Republic of China."

His Holiness the Dalai Lama's tireless efforts were amply recognized with the award of the 1989 Nobel Prize for peace. Many other awards were bestowed on the Tibetan leader, but the Nobel Prize and the overwhelming reaction to it demonstrated the international community's recognition and support for His Holiness' steadfast commitment and activities in pursuit of a peaceful negotiated solution to the suffering of the Tibetan people.

On 27 June 1998, US President Bill Clinton and President Jiang Zemin held a live televised joint press conference in Beijing. During this TV appearance "broadcast worldwide" Clinton asked Jiang to open dialogues with the Dalai Lama. Jiang replied, "As long as the Dalai Lama makes a public commitment that Tibet is an inalienable part of China and Taiwan is a province of China, then the door to dialogue and negotiation is open." The Taiwan issue surfaced this time as a new pre-condition to negotiation.

Then again, in a written interview to the French daily, Le Figaro, on 25 October 1999 President Jiang Zemin repeated all the earlier pre-conditions and added: "The Dalai Lama must truly give up his advocacy of independence of Tibet and stop his activities to split the motherland; and declare the Government of People's Republic of China is the legitimate government representing whole China."

Over many years His Holiness did his best to engage the Chinese leadership in an honest dialogue. Unfortunately, a lack of political will and vision on the part of the Chinese leadership resulted in their failure to reciprocate the numerous initiatives of His Holiness. Finally, in August 1993 the Tibetan leadership's formal contact with the Chinese government came to an end.

Since then to September 2002, the two sides did not have any formal and direct contact. It was only on 9 September 2002 that Beijing hosted a four-member Tibetan delegation, headed by Special Envoy Lodi G. Gyari. During the visit, the delegates met a number of Chinese and Tibetan leaders both in China and Tibet. As outlined in the press statement issued by the delegation on their return from Beijing, the purpose of the visit was two-fold: One, to re-establish direct contacts with the leadership in Beijing and to create a conducive atmosphere for direct face-to-face meetings on a regular basis; Two, to explain His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Middle Way Approach towards resolving the issue of Tibet. 

In order to sustain the new contact, the same delegation visited China and Tibetan areas for the second time from 25 May to 8 June 2003. The visit followed the changes in leadership of the Chinese Communist Party as well as of the Chinese Government and had given the delegation the opportunity to engage extensively with the new Chinese leaders and officials responsible for Tibet and relationship with the leaders of the Tibetan people in exile. In Beijing the delegation met with Ms. Liu Yandong, head of the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China, Mr. Zhu Weiqun, deputy head, Mr. Chang Rongjung, the Deputy Secretary-General, and other senior officials.

The Tibetan delegation had the third round of meetings with their Chinese counterpart in Beijing in September 2004. At this meeting, both sides acknowledged the need for more substantive discussions in order to narrow down the gaps and reach a common ground. This was followed by the fourth round of meetings that took place on 30 June and 1 July 2005 at the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Berne, Switzerland. Special Envoy Lodi G. Gyari and Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen, accompanied by three senior assistants, Sonam N. Dagpo, Ngapa Tsegyam, and Bhuchung K. Tsering, met with Vice Minister Zhu Weiqun and his six-member delegation. Vice Minister Zhu declared that their direct contact with the Tibetan delegation had now become stable and an "established practice." He also conveyed to the Tibetan delegation that the Central leadership of the Chinese Communist Party attached great importance to the contact with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan side put forward some concrete proposals that will help build trust and confidence and move the ongoing process to a new level of engagement aimed at bringing about substantive negotiations to achieve a mutually acceptable solution to the Tibetan issue.

Meanwhile, in order to resolve the issue of Tibet on the basis of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Middle-Way Approach, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) has made every effort within its power to create a conducive atmosphere for negotiations and taken a series of confidence-building measures. The CTA is committed to take these steps till the issue of Tibet is resolved through a negotiated settlement in the best interest of both the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.

For further information on the overview of Sino-Tibetan Dialogue, read the following article: Snow Lion And Dragon: Can They Coexist In Harmony?