Census and Citizenship issue: a life in limbo

By Buddha Mani Dhakal, Louisville, KY

Sarki Dhan Rai never got chance to attend school in his village in Lokchina.

His father, Hasta Bahadur Rai, died when he was five years old. His mother, Tham Moti Rai,  who raised three kids, two sons and a daughter  died in 1985. The three orphans had no one to take care of thereafter.

Sarki Dhan, Birkha Maya and Birkha Dhan did not see any purpose to remain in the village after they became orphans in such tender age.

A copy of official letter he received from Home Ministry. Photo Courtesy: Sarki Dhan
Copy of letter from Registration Dept. of Home Ministry to Chhuka Dzongda. 
Photo Courtesy: Sarki Dhan

The three siblings did all kinds of odd jobs to fend for themselves. Going from one place to another in Bhutan became their Hobson’s choice , but never left the country to find other greener pastures.

 Now, comically, Rai and his family of five are ‘stateless’ in their own county of birth.

They were dropped out of census record in 1993, because they could not attend that census enumeration of Lokchina Gewog in person. They even did not realize that it was mandatory to be in the village at the time of census, as they had left it long ago to find a living. Per him, he then was working in Paro as a laborer.

Rai is a taxi driver, married to Nir Maya Tamang from Lamizingkha (Kalikhola) and has three kids. Although his wife is still in F1 census, the kids are listed under his dropped census record.

The Rai family is struggling to get their Bhutanese nationality reinstated, and the process of appealing and re-appealing has taken ever. They have been commuting from one office to another, oscillating back and forth from King’s secretariat to the Gup office in Lokchina Gewog or to the Dungpa office in Phuentsholing.

A letter with little hope he received 13 years ago. Picture Courtesy: Sarki Dhan
A letter with little hope he received 13 years ago.
Picture Courtesy: Sarki Dhan

According to Rai, his original citizenship (ID number 0303574) card was taken by immigration officer at Wangchhu check post on the ground that he had not renewed his census status. He has obtained the citizenship ID in the village from census team.

Sarki Dhan  is now weary of all futile petitioning and gathering evidences of his Bhutanese nationality.

He said to BNS from an undisclosed location in Bhutan, “I have done everything possible and required to straighten the census record and get back my citizenship card. I have appealed four times to the HM Kings- once to the fourth King and thrice to the fifth King. I even got a brief audience while HM was in Lokchina last year for the Dashain Teeka ceremony. Everything seems to fail.”

The pernicious effect of Sarki Dhan’s foiled census record traversed to his sister’s family. His elder sister married to a man from Trongsa, (now divorced), is a bona fide Bhutanese (F1 category). She has been put in the same limbo of citizenship. The three children born to them are now regarded illegally registered in the census record of Home Ministry.

The problems created by census dropout are in manifolds. Sarki  is not able to renew his driver’s license, and he is provided with a permit to travel, that too requires renewal. He is worried about the education and job of his children in future.

The Rai family did not own land and lived as sharecroppers since their father’s time. He did not know whether his father was registered under landless (sukumbasi) list. The original Thram number and house number assigned to their landholding went to elder brother of his father, depriving them of all fixed property.

“People like us do not get justice in Bhutan. There are so many others who have similar cases of foiled census like me, but no one likes to talk about that because of the deep fear that looms everywhere,” he said in a telephone conversation.

According to the Nationality Law of Bhutan 1958, any person shall be considered Bhutanese citizen, if he/her father is a Bhutanese national and resident of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Alternatively, a person shall be Bhutanese national if he/she is born within or outside Bhutan provided his/her father is Bhutanese national at the time of his/her birth.

But, according to the Citizenship Act 1985, a person whose both parents are citizens of Bhutan, shall be deemed to be a citizen of Bhutan by birth.

Also, citizenship by registration defines a Bhutanese citizenship on the basis of census record maintained by Home Ministry, for any person who have lived in Bhutan on or before 31st December 1958. Though this date is arbitrarily set, several people like Sarki Dhan have been denied full citizenship status even when they proved of their domicile in Bhutan from early 1930s.

Sarki Dhan has documents to prove himself a Bhutanese in all of the above clauses, except that he was dropped out of census in 1993.

Images of the required land Tax receipts. Picture Courtesy: Sarki Dhan
Images of the required land Tax receipts.
Picture Courtesy: Sarki Dhan

To support Sarki Dhan’s case of census, status of 1958 land tax receipts and ancestral domicile in Bhutan, Lyonpo Om Pradhan, advocates in his book ‘Bhutan: Roar of the Thunder Dragon– “These receipts were never meant to be retained as proof of citizenship or indicate a person’s date of arrival in Bhutan. If proper identity cards were issued at that time, things would have been far easier…”(page:159).

Rai’s family have never been out of the country. Neither they had involved in any anti-national activities or engaged in illegal business. This is mentioned in the affidavit provided by Tshogpas –elected local officers- Makulal Rai, Dal Sur Rai and Som Raj Rai in April 2003.

When he did not return to his village in Lokchina for census in 1993, the officials would have thought Sarki Dhan absconded. But he was uninformed and unaware of the ongoing census. Per him, he was working in Paro as laborer then. He was not given chance to correct it later.

Copy of the affidavit he received from the Tshogpas. Picture Courtesy: Sarki Dhan
Copy of the affidavit he received from the Tshogpas.
Picture Courtesy: Sarki Dhan

Providing citizenship to general people is a royal prerogative in Bhutan.

Article (6) of the constitution of Kingdom of Bhutan mentions-

6.4: The grant of citizenship by naturalization shall take effect by a Royal Kasho of the Druk Gyalpo.

6.5: If any citizen of Bhutan acquires the citizenship of a foreign State, his or her citizenship of Bhutan shall be terminated.

6.6: Subject to the provisions of this Article and the Citizenship Acts, Parliament shall, by law, regulate all other matters relating to citizenship.

The copy of an appeal made to the His Majesty the King. Photo Courtesy: Sarki Dhan
The copy of an appeal made to the His Majesty the King.
Photo Courtesy: Sarki Dhan

Rai appealed to the king for kidu on citizenship as per this provision in the constitution. Kidu means “wellbeing” of the people that is fundamental responsibility of the Bhutanese monarch, having been a traditional “royal prerogative”. It is now enshrined in the Constitution of Bhutan, is stated in the Royal Forums. The fourth and fifth kings had ordered the lower officers to consider the case. But there is deaf ear on his appeal to the highest court of appeal too.  However, he is not acquiring citizenship by naturalization, neither he has citizenship of another country.

Despite ample evidences of his father and grandfather’s domicile in Chhukha district, taxes paid to the government predecessor to the fourth and fifth kings, and the local government officials verifying their Bhutanese origin, Rai is not yet served justice. The officials at census department and Home Ministry seem adamant to correct his record.

 He sees, at least, a dim light at the end of the tunnel. He is tirelessly praying  for a benevolent  breakthrough from His Majesty the King.