Nehru’s Non-Alignment Dilemma: Tibetan Refugees in India

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The circumstances of Tibetan refugees in India in the 1960s attracted international recognition. The question of their asylum provoked domestic debate about India’s relations with China and had implications for India’s vision of non-alignment, particularly regarding how human rights and self-determination would be brought together in the changing post-colonial world. Ultimately, the Indian government led by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru focused on the Indian state’s right to grant Tibetans asylum and assistance, with limited involvement from the international community. Public opinion in India called for the refugees’ right to self-determination in Tibet. Simultaneously, the Nehruvian vision of non-alignment was undergoing a change from its immediate post-colonial form. The Indian government tried to draw a clear line between those displaced by India’s own decolonisation and by Partition, and a crisis that was a thorn in the side of Sino-Indian bilateral relations in the bipolar world of the Cold War. The 1960s can therefore be seen as India’s reframing of the term ‘refugee’ to reflect its own interests domestically and internationally.




Kapoor, R. (2019). Nehru’s Non-Alignment Dilemma: Tibetan Refugees in India. South Asia: Journal of South Asia Studies, 42(4), 675–693.

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