Being at the heart of a volatile South Asia, India has been the home to refugees from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Myanmar, to name a few.
Edward Snowden, by applying for asylum in India, has joined the over 3,500 other asylum seekers awaiting official response on their status. According to the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, there are over 1.8 lakh refugees residing in India.
A proper legal framework addressing the issue of refugees is absent in India. Allowing or disallowing those seeking refuge is “purely political,” said D Suba Chandran, director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, a think tank based in New Delhi. “Not having a proper national law for refugees in black and white gives India leeway,” he added.
Historically, India has had a liberal policy of granting asylum to people whether they be from Afghanistan, Nepal, Tibet-- people who have escaped political persecution.
The most well-known example is the Dalai Lama, who escaped to India in 1959. Since the early 1990s, former Afghanistan president Najibullah's family has been staying in Delhi with a monthly allowance and security.
For Snowden, asylum here would be a long shot. India is far more interested in its relationship with a strategic partner such as the US than one individual.
Brahma Chellaney, professor, Strategic Studies, at the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi based think tank, agrees with Chandran. “Granting or rejecting asylum is always a political decision of a government. The US has deported its own citizens on charges of terrorism,” he said.
The question of whistleblowers being protected under law is academic. “In a democracy all its citizens have constitutional freedoms.
No person, even a whistleblower can be denied such freedoms – he has the right to a fair trial,” said Chellaney.
But in reality, whistleblowers in India have it bad. RTI activists have been murdered for exposing scams across the country.
“Whistleblower protection in India is not a grey area, it’s an open area – if you want to find out who has exposed scams, you can,” said Chandran.