A glimpse on GNH Conference


Yet again exiled Bhutanese in Diaspora have proven that their struggle for justice continues. For rulers in Bhutan, the Vermont-based recently concluded Gross National Happiness (GNH) conference might have milked out a lesson that their “lies” will henceforth be limited only within Bhutan.  

Conference details
This June, a group of six Bhutanese from Atlanta, Georgia, a team from New Hampshire and a group  coordinated by Harka Khadka from Vermont participated in the GNH conference held from June 1-3 at Champlain College in Vermont. It was the first GNH conference ever held in the US. The speakers came from different walks of life and various places. One of the key note speakers of the conference was Karma Tshiteem, the Secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission in Bhutan.  

Although it was a three day conference, because of the time and economic constraint, we managed to register for only half a day on June 2. In support of local organizations and friends, we demonstrated with placards and banners as a small group outside the conference building.  

The local media coverage of the protest, as quite expected before, was in a praiseworthy way; thanks to them. The second day proved more productive in terms of the advocacy of our issue. A local TV channel (channel 17) arranged for us an interview/discussion session in the morning. Six of us, Parangkush Subedi, Harka Khadka, Tika Acharya, Pashupati Timsina, Damber Timsina and Gopal Subedi participated in the panel discussion. That done, some of us who had registered for the conference went to eat lunch with other participants in the conference (registration fee covered the lunch expenses) while some of our friends staged a banner rally outside the conference building.   

A white board reflecting points discussed by the protest participants. Photo/Author
A white board reflecting points discussed by the protest participants. Photo/Author

A panel discussion on the indicators of GNH started off in the afternoon followed by a short question and answer session. Following a presentation on the indicator of GNH focusing on psychological well-being by Karma Tshiteem, a question was directed to him by one of our fellow Bhutanese from the audience. The question reads, ‘Thanks for allowing us to participate in the conference. Mr. Tshiteem is a Bhutanese from inside Bhutan and I am a Bhutanese living in exile, however both of us are the sons of the same soil-Bhutan. We like and support GNH concept as a development philosophy, however, without addressing the refugee issue, it will become incomplete. Mr. Tshiteem, my father, 86 years old who died two years ago was born and brought up in Bhutan; my family like many other Bhutanese possesses 1958 land tax receipt. My family was categorized as genuine Bhutanese during the verification process. Given all these evidences, why doesn’t the government of Bhutan allow us and other exiled Bhutanese to return to Bhutan? Why doesn’t the government of Bhutan consider for national reconciliation solving refugee problem once and for all?’ Mr. Tshiteem declined to answer the question stating that it was not the appropriate forum. A certain level of discomfort was obviously visible in him while the audience looked curious at the brought of a new story. 

We registered a topic entitled, ‘GNH, Bhutanese refugees and national reconciliation’ for the open space Technology session, in which the participants volunteered a relevant topic for a small group discussion. We began having informal talks with Sonam Ongmo (New York based freelancer) and Tshiring Tashi (co-author of the book ‘Bold Bhutan Beckons, Inhaling Gross National Happiness’) over a short break. Our informal chat converted into a friendly discussion where many Americans and folks from other countries including a gentleman from Singapore keenly participated. While at times we had disagreement over some issues, the idea of national reconciliation was seen with utmost interest by Tshiring Tashi among others.

Looking forward
We focused on how to resolve the long standing crisis rather than exchange of words over the past grievances; the idea being, regardless of what happened in the past, now it’s about time to start fresh to come to terms. There is a whole generation of Bhutanese who were born in Bhutan, brought up in exile but have become victims of the unfortunate development in Bhutan beginning late 80s. They have no idea about the Southern Bhutan problem. Twenty years have passed and no permanent solution has come into sight. It’s about time to see the crisis with a different approach. Some of the great ideas we came upon discussion were: intellectual circles should begin writing positive messages in the media that reflects no or less anger, building people to people contact with a positive attitude, make an effort to reach out between groups from both the sides and approach to resolve the issue peacefully. Upon talking to Tshiring Tashi and Sonam Ongmo, I got a feeling that the younger and educated lot inside Bhutan is more open to discussion to resolve the crisis; however, both the sides should approach the crisis with a positive attitude and in a respectful tone. They were of the opinion that if the Bhutanese in exile become less aggressive and more conciliatory towards solving the problem, Bhutan government might be willing to come to the negotiation table. This gives us a point to ponder upon that, regardless of how much of injustice we had to face, the more we cry over the past we can’t reach anywhere with the movement unless we approach it with a different angle to come to terms. We will have to lobby for the following points for national reconciliation as was also presented by us in the GNH conference. 

  1. Repatriation of willing exiled Bhutanese to Bhutan with honor and dignity
  2. Recognition of the resettled refugees as Non-resident Bhutanese. There are many Eastern and Western Bhutanese in the US who could take a lead role in the future
  3. Permission of the political parties in exile to participate in 2013 election and letting human rights organizations to function from inside Bhutan
  4. Promotion of inclusive democracy with equal opportunity for all

Our presence in the conference has given a clear indication to Bhutan that no matter what, Bhutanese in exile will make an effort to peacefully make their voice heard to the world community in the International forums. For Bhutan, to ignore the refugee issue would be to tarnish its image further in the international community, therefore, it should make an effort to solve the crisis at the earliest to pre-empt any untoward political upheaval in the country from residual political force operating from outside the country. Not only will Bhutan benefit by repatriating willing exiled Bhutanese and recognizing the resettled Bhutanese as Non-resident Bhutanese, it will then make sense for Bhutan to rightly claim as the proponent of the concept of Gross National Happiness. 

Subedi, one of the participants of the protest program, can be reached at: [email protected].


  1. Hi gopal,
    I read your article with interest. It is very informative and well written.
    I hope to see more articles in the future.
    Will u think the RGOB will reconcile? I think restitution of property must be encouraged.
    db Adhikari

  2. Hai Gopal,
    Thanks for posting the article based on the recently concluded GNH at Vermont.I must appreciate all the participants for representing the Exiled Bhutanese.
    I personally feel that we may be missing our track at some points.I have the reservations for the points raised:

    1.Repatriation of willing exiled Bhutanese to Bhutan with honor and dignity
    Why repatriation to willing Exiled Bhutanese only?? If I am not wrong all those over 110,000 Bhutanese ,Scarificed part of their life in the cramped refugee camp calling for dignified repatriations to their original homesheds.Over the years many opted for TCR and this doesen’t mean these people are not willing to repatriate.
    2.Recognition of the resettled refugees as Non-resident Bhutanese. There are many Eastern and Western Bhutanese in the US who could take a lead role in the future
    One one hand we are calling for repatriation and on the other hand we make a demand for the status of “NON RESIDENT BHUTANESE”.Do these contradict one another? This may give a wrong signal on our campaign for dignified repatriations,establishment of human rights and democracy…. and so on. I think it is too early for NRB status.But It would be wise enough to to press for revision of the existing citizenship laws of bhutan that encourages dual citizenship.(For those who get naturalised citizens in the country of residence and want to keep their bhutanese citizenship intact).
    3.Permission of the political parties in exile to participate in 2013 election and letting human rights organizations to function from inside Bhutan.
    Without dignified repatriation and with no presence of political parties (formed in exile) inside Bhutan,participartion in 2013 General Election is a distant dream.
    Whatever may be the case we need to focus on our future course of actions.
    1. We need to communicate,discuss thoroughly for our presentation if we are making for a campaign against the regime.Bhutanese use sweet diplomacy in dealing with the exiled lots.We can make it clear from the bhutanese JVT team visiting k/bari camp,they come down to the ground for digging the informations they badly need for their propaganda.Same thing might have happened when the team had informal face to face chat with this Sonam Ongmo, which made her to comment in one of the article on GNH.I think we need to be very catious in dealing with such people ,be it a freelancer or a official Bhutanese team member.

    My suggestion would be to be very careful with the press,I could realise some slip of tongue during the Group’s interaction with the Radiowoman.This make s a big difference in the effectiveness of our campaign.

    I am sorry friends for making comments, I appreciate the efforts made by the team to show our presence and counter the regime with their propaganda.