Prolonged Statelessness: A Slow Poison

 BNS special report

A year older to 1958

Krishna Bahadur Rai was born one year older to the birth of Nationality act of Bhutan 1958, in the same village of Phuentsholing where he lives today.  House number DD/01 allotted to him and land Thram number 163 still holds good, according the statement of Tshogpas (elected village representatives).

Census Department’s letter

His census record was deleted from file in 1995, after the census officials found he could not prove himself to be residing in Bhutan since 1958, or that his father had lived in a joint family prior to 1958 in the Dhamdara village.  His father Harka Bahadur Rai lived with his elder brother Jahar Man Rai at the time.

In 1993 a national census was carried out to scrutinize the lhotshampa population of Bhutan to ensure that they live in Bhutan on the basis of their evidenced ancestral domicile on or prior to 1958. This census exercise betrayed Krishna Bahadur Rai and his three daughters. The census also maneuvered to nullify the earlier records of their citizenship.  This exercise arbitrarily snatched the older citizenship ID cards like the case of Sarki Dhan Rai.

The documents speak volumes

Krishna Bahadur Rai came in contact with BNS, so his case in the spotlight. But the list of such stateless people suffering silently with no real future to live as Bhutanese is pretty long. Sources in Phuentsholing told BNS that a deaf ear and blind eye continue to fall on their trapped life and no one dares to discuss the issue publicly.

Verification by Tshogpas

According to the documents received/secured by BNS, the Tshogpas (elected local representatives) do not hesitate to validate the Bhutanese citizenship of the Rai family since their grandfather’s domicile in Dhamdara village.  However, the fat monthly salaries and perks from the government prevent them to actually represent the people’s voice and advocate on behalf of such genuine cases.

Verification of mother’s origin

In another quite convincing supporting document signed by three Tshogpa of Dhamdara village, Harka Bahadur’s mother, Chitra Maya Rai is in official record (Dhadda) of Duti as the daughter of Raj Bir Rai who is recorded in 1958 government file number 117. This is sufficient proof that Krishna Bahadur Rai came from all Bhutanese stock of ancestors who lived on or prior to 1958 in some remote hamlets and far flung villages of south that government did not take care to notice.

A document also speaks in volume of treachery of subterfuge used by the authority. In an appeal letter dated 2/11/2002 to the Dungpa (the divisional head of Phuentsholing) Krishna Rai inquired of his status change to F-5 (a category of citizenship) when he was unable to present himself the first day of census. Then the officials deceived him saying ‘F-1 and F-5 meant same thing’. That is too farce a language to be used by any person in authority of Home Ministry to make one citizen or non-citizen.

He is also alleged to have received the land compensation that the government allowed in 1990s to those who filled out the voluntary migration forms. Krishna Bahadur Rai claims he never wished to move out of Bhutan and never received any such cash remuneration. But the district authority and Home Ministry is adamant that he took the money for emigration.

One cannot rule out the suspicion of foul play on Krishna Rai.  This claim is not contested in any court yet.

Royal prerogatives overridden:

Appeal to HM King

The paradox of Bhutanese law is that decisions pertaining to all matters of land and citizenship cannot be made by any official lesser than the King himself. It is a royal prerogative according Bhutanese constitution. The King offers kidu to his subjects as may be desired. Meanwhile, the census officers are not direct deputations of the Royal office (secretariat), rather and very often the part-time employees of Home Ministry. But illiterate villagers of Krishna Bahadur’s breed do not have right to question them, nor do they have the gut to contest their decision outright.

Despite appeal to His Majesty the King explaining inability to produce documents of 1958, Krishna Bahadur and his three daughters are living in Bhutan as stateless wanderer. His inability to prove their Bhutanese origin is simply understandable: the family of his elder uncle, Jahar Man Rai(father’s elder brother) retained all documents the family had, while he remained oblivious of this quagmire he might fall into after 30 years of his living as independent Thram holder.

Appeal to HM King

 

It is very absurd to ask why two brothers of same parents should be put into two different brackets of census when one has all the common proof of their residence in the same village. Where is the common sense of those enumerating officers?

Sarki Dhan’s census record was foiled in 1993 as he did not know about it, while Krishna Bahadur Rai was degraded to F-7 when he was still in the village, attended the census enumeration and his proofs secured by next door cousins.

Glib talk, false assurance:

While the present government, including the prime minister, has expressed its apathy to any issue of the land and census/citizenship, His Majesty’s secretariat is flooded with appeals for reinstatement of citizenship or requesting land kidu. But one source says, “Many might deserve kidu, but my family need the birth right to be citizens of the country we are living in for centuries.”

Sarki Dhan Rai with his     wife and the  taxi             Photo:Sarkidhan

“The secretaries in His Majesty’s office can turn you away with their glib talking. They even say to keep the phone charged, that they may call anytime,” Sarki Dhan Rai muses over his experience.

Krishna Bahadur Rai also mentioned about a penalty of Nu. 10,000 that his son in-law Dil Bahadur Magar had to pay when police found him with no valid documents.

Scanning through and finger on each sentence to read carefully the documents of Krishna Bahadur Rai, one can see erroneous language, facts and dates. These errors could be typo as Krishna himself is completely illiterate to proofread and correct them, or the person who he paid for writing, did it carelessly without any obligation to read and explain what has been written. In an appeal to HM, with his wobbly signature and a revenue stamp affixed, the sentence – I paid the taxes until 1997 and discontinued by the government from 1988- is too loud to overlook.

In another letter signed by Dungpa Karma Tshering Namgyal to the Gup of Phuntsholing gewog (June 7, 2003), the sentence – As ‘desired’ by the dzongkahg HQ Chukha… shows the whims and fancies of local administrators they exercise upon their subordinates and grossly demean and distort the information supplied by any voiceless citizen.

Conclusion

 Going by the circular of Royal command for conducting a nation-wide housing and population census, one can surmise that Bhutan did not have authentic data on population, while people like Sarki Dhan, Krishna Bahadur have been deliberately disregarded.

Living with a fate of being stateless for decades without any authentic reason is life lived half-dead. Weaknesses from the end of incumbent government in relation to the identity of the people demeans the essence of good governance. The proposed national census on Royal command scheduled for three days starting May 30, 2017may shine the lives of those people living in shadow of hope for decades. The lack of proper record keeping of the census in the past and fielding inexperienced temporary staff in the decision-making process at local level should have created the list of stateless people numbering over 40,000.