Bhutan Imprisoned My Wife

Ganga Ram Nepal, 87, originally from Samdrup Jongkhar district in southern Bhutan currently lives in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, chronicled the journey of his life along with the cause of his forceful expulsion from Bhutan. Rup Pokharel of Bhutan News Service wrote this essay based on his actual narratives.

For most countries in the world, Ganga Ram Nepal’s age for him would be an honorary moment for all his contribution made to build his country. He would have been granted social security, medical care, and most importantly, the honor of course but his country of birth simply expelled him out of the country instead. Fortune must have favored him; he eventually landed in the country, the United States of America where he has most that he deserves.

Ganga Ram Nepal, narrator of the story. Photo Courtesy: His Family
Ganga Ram Nepal, narrator of the story.
Photo Courtesy: His Family

Ganga Ram Nepal tells his story:

I was born in 1929 as a third child to my parents at Goshi, Dagana district in southern Bhutan. My early childhood began befriending with the hills and hillocks, cattle and farm. I didn’t know and I did not try asking my father either, why he decided to move to Surey in Sarbhang district (now they call Sarpang). I was just 15. There was no road and we had to walk or ride a horse. It sounds to me like an ancient tale recollecting the journey I made in my life. I have traveled a lot.

I got a basic literacy skill in Nepali from my father at home along with learning farming and making domestic animals as my friends. I started working for Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) since I was 18 as a Chaprassi (check post guard) for the local government. After around 23 years of stay in Surey, we decided to move to Daifam in Samdrupzongkhar. At the request of Mandals Dip Bahadur Nirola and Tulshi Pradhan, we changed our mind in 1966 and moved to Neoly, Bhutan.

Although there were some schools run through some of the monasteries in few districts like Ha, Bumthang, and few others, there was no any school in and around Dalim block in Neoly. It was since mid-1960s formal schooling for the children enlisted in the national plan. In Dalim, first, I started meeting families in the village and encouraged them to educate. After then, we started teaching alphabets in one small house to children around. Some of those kids later became doctors, teachers, and high officers in different fields.

In Neoly, I worked as a tax collector, Baidaar, at irrigation project and at Public Work Department (PWD). In 1978 I was elected as Mandal (block in-charge; many villages make one block) of Dalim Block ( Pemathang-current name). This position is now called as gup.

In 1984, Surya Man Khadka, mandal of Daifam block and I were the two mandals given audience by the fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck during the Hindu festival, “Dasain” in Thimphu. That was not my first meeting with the king, though. While I was in Surey in Gelephu, many times I had assisted the third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, prince, and other royal family members during their hunting tours. We had to go around the forest to maneuver wild animals towards the open place where their majesties could shoot from the safe place.

I was mandal till 1987. Because of my age, I was asked to handover the job to another person. Yet, unofficially I continued helping people and the government. Unfortunately, the 1988 categorization census for Dalim residents was conducted from my house. I found the census officials categorizing people into different F- Groups as they like.

The genuine documents of many people were taken in the pretext of verification and then were damaged. Many people started seeking my help to ask the officials about their documents. The officials made different stories every day and then finally refused to give back saying that the documents were found fake and destroyed.

A cash crop orchard Ganga Ram recalls planted in his land. Photo Courtesy: His Family
A cash crop orchard Ganga Ram recalls planted in his land.
Photo Courtesy: His Family

I was the first person to report about the mishandling of documents of the people to the councilors, (chief advisors to the king in Bhutanese context) and National Assembly members representing southern districts in Thimphu. Officials taking the census were randomly placing people into different categories.

It was the same cause that Sita Mothay died by suicide in Tshokana, Chirang (Tsirang-current name). Mothay died for she was a foreigner married to a Bhutanese citizen because that placed the family members to different categories: Her husband was F-1, a genuine Bhutanese Citizen whereas she was categorized in F4, a non-national woman married to a Bhutanese man. Their children had uncertain future as they were born to a foreign national. Mothay’s case became one of the representative cases of the Lhotshampa (southern Bhutanese) issue of the 1990s.

The people’s appeal – underlining indiscriminately making genuine citizens into non-national by the Dzongdas (district administrators) and census officials was submitted to the king by their representatives based in Thimphu. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck decided to visit the southern districts to listen to people’s concern in person. The message from His Majesty’s visit was sent to the district administrator in advance for making an arrangement of a public gathering to hearing the people’s grievances.

However, there were some ploys orchestrated by the district officials before the king’s arrival. All the officials were mobilized in the district by the administration to warn people for anyone in case happened to speak to the king filing complaints, then the complainer would be sent beyond Sarbang (the boarder) with their beddings. This means that the complainer would be expelled from the country. The officials informed the people about the king’s purpose to visit the district was not to hear any complaints but wished to hear people saying – ‘we are happy and everything is running well’.

There was no place to hide the fear. People had to speak what they were told. And, they did.

It was then, the king ordered Tek Nath Rizal’s immediate arrest after reaching Thimphu. It was the result of misinformation. I doubt if the king knows the reality even today. If anyone says – the laws of Bhutan are practiced in the true spirit that will be a miracle. Still today I don’t believe. Those officials they themselves did not know what the law interprets- if it existed. Officials in the field make the laws and enact in Bhutan depending upon the type of people they serve. And, moreover, it is like a culture.

Take for example, my own case. The locally made laws made me non -national. I am one of the living witnesses of the entire cause in Bhutan. The local government officials targeted me for no reason that I know of. While, there were some good officials in the district as well as in Thimphu, who used to caution me, give updates on what was being planned.

Since late 1990 I started feeling insecure. A social worker in the locality and Mandal, Bhakta Bahadur Pokhrel was arrested and murdered in the prison. Few of the witnesses who saw him breathing his last must be still alive somewhere. I spent sleepless nights for months after his death with the flashback.

Nepal recites holy book at his residence. Photo: His family
Nepal recites holy book at his residence.
Photo: His family

My mother was 103 years old and one of my sons was disable. More than me, I started seeing them vulnerable and insecure. I decided to take them to a safer place until the situation gets better. I took them to India and left under the care of a friend of mine.

It was my luck and my wife’s bad luck; a group of army raided my house one day. I was in India then. They inquired about me and searched every important document in my house. They arrested my wife, Lila Maya, the reason, let Bhutan government knows. She was imprisoned for 17 days and released.

She was kept in the cell next to where -Kali Bahadur Budathoki and Dilliram Katwal were imprisoned. They were the witnesses. She reached home with marks of army boots and canes on her body. She was on the same clothes that she was wearing when she was taken from home but all torn. I couldn’t imagine the sense of humanity in the settings of Bhutanese officials. She was not in the position to tell me what all had happened to her. She died of leukemia, later, in 2001 without letting me know what they all did to her in the prison.

I was asked to fill out Voluntary Migration Form (VMF) after my wife was released.  I was asked to fill the form and receive money from the government for the land. I asked those officers, how a non-national can own land in the country. Poor they, they had no answer. “This is the order from the higher authority”, were the words they were with. I denied filling out the form. They warned me to think in next few days and left. For me, the ancestral 38 acres of land, the herd of cattle, and crops in the field became of no value before the lives of my family members.

I decided to leave before they force me to fill the form and make me sign. I don’t know exactly what was the content in the VMF- the people who could read Dzongkha later interpreted me some parts of it saying, ‘I am leaving the country on my own will. I have no any bad feelings towards the government. I am in sound mind handing all my properties to the government after receiving the total cost it worth’.

Finally, I ended up in the refugee camp in Nepal with my family members. I lost my mother, wife, two sons and a granddaughter in Nepal. I am not emptied with the loss though; I have still five sons and four daughters and many grand children.

I had left the country with a hope to return one day and die in the land I was born.

The circumstances landed me in this country that I had never dreamt of. Meanwhile, those memories keep haunting me. My inner soul still is walking towards the dream I had, the dream of dying in the land where I have spent eighty percent of my life. I know, I cannot make it in my remaining days; yet, hope is still walking through days and nights. Nevertheless, I have everything; I am well cared, and am getting proper medical treatments, my sons are working and making their good living and my grand children are getting their education. I am happy for these good things at least.