Anti the dragon


from postI have a copy of the declaration of a Bhutanese organisation called the United Revolutionary Front of Bhutan (URFB). Its aims are general in nature, but they concentrate on two major aspects. They are, one, to empower the people as the sovereign power and, two, to restructure Bhutan as a multi-ethnic republic based on the democratic principle of proportional representation. These are lofty political objectives, and the movement will in all probability be crushed by the autocratic monarch.

Bhutan is a multi-ethnic kingdom with seven major groups or tribes of population. They are Ngalong, Sarchhop, Khempa, Doya, Brokpa, Kurtepa and Lotshampa. The last one is a collective name given to different Nepali-speaking people. There are four major languages — Dzongkha (the present official language), Khempa, Tshangla and Nepali. The Bhutanese population is about 770,000, out of which 170,000 are living as refugees in eastern Nepal. The Lotshampas, including the refugees, comprise about one-third of the total population.

Bhutan was once ruled by a benevolent monarch Dorje Singye Wangchuck. But Dorje was succeeded by his autocratic son Jigme who has altered what his father had started and made Bhutan a more traditional system. Dorje had initiated some measures of modernisation including granting some democratic rights to the people and an electoral system. He had introduced a citizenship system in 1958 which recognised the multi-ethnic feature of the people and accepted the children of foreign married Bhutanese spouses as citizens of Bhutan. He had ordained an education system which recognised various languages including Nepali as a medium of instruction. Dorje had prepared a foundation for a gradual but permanent transfer of power from the throne to the people’s institutions. There was inter-communal respect and mutual trust. The government was in favour of political pluralism.

However, Jigme Singye Wangchuck altered the total process of modernisation. His policies became racially discriminatory. He was biased exclusively in favour of the Ngalong community. He not only made the Dzongkha the national language for official purposes, but also the compulsory medium of education for all communities. Other languages including Nepali were denied national status. All the students and people on official work were required to wear the national dress which was very heavy and warm, too torturous for the southern plains which are hot for most of the year. Jigme changed the citizenship law to be very restrictive and did not recognise the spousal of external marriage as the basis of legitimate Bhutanese children.

The government became not only repressive but used brute force to expel Nepali-speaking legitimate Bhutanese citizens from Bhutan. Documents establishing the legal ownership of property were forcibly seized and destroyed so as to declare them illegitimate. People were physically forced to sign papers declaring “voluntary” renunciation of Bhutanese domicile. It was a total attempt at ethnic cleansing, only seen in savage societies in some dark chapters of human history. It has become transparent that the ethnic cleansing was done at the behest of King Jigme. Recently, Jigme has used two gimmicks to show that he is not a power hungry king. He has “abdicated” in favour of his son, and he has conducted an election. But close observers have said that that election was a sham. Jigme’s son is a dummy while real power still rests in the hands of Jigme.

This is the background for the emergence of political opposition like the said URBF. It has given rise to new hopes and new leaders. Such an open air for political action is not feasible inside Bhutan. In this sense, the refugee camps are better than the land of Bhutan for resurgence for change. As a member of the United Nations, Bhutan is supposedly a sovereign country, but its foreign relations are handled by India and Indian advice and guidance is provided for several institutional aspects of the Bhutanese government and administration. Bhutan gets aid for development from India. As such, India not only knows what is going on inside Bhutan, but Bhutan also gets India’s nod for several of its repressive actions. India has not constrained Bhutan from being brutal to its people. For example, all the Bhutanese refugees travelled to Nepal through India “without being noticed”, but when they try to go back to Bhutan to seek rehabilitation, they are halted at the Indo-Nepal border.

Nepal has tried its best to settle the refugee issue and has engaged in mutual discussions with Bhutan, but India has refused to get involved. India could do a lot, but it is pretending non-interference. This non-interference has proved to be more damaging than positive interference for change. India played host to the Nepali Maoist leaders and brokered the 12-point peace deal among the agitating parties for chasing out the Nepali monarch who was far less repressive than Jigme. So it is difficult to understand why India is letting the rabid king bite his innocent people. It is high time India reversed its role vis-à-vis Bhutan. The UN could also play a more active role. But it has limited its role to providing some logistic support to the refugees. The U.S. and other powerful countries could play a very big role in pressurising Bhutan to rehabilitate the refugees. But instead, the U.S. volunteered to resettle 60,000 of the refugees.

In this scenario, the URFB will prove to be too feeble to pressurise the monarch to yield. All the progressive Bhutanese elements will have to unite under one mission — to establish democracy with human rights. Rehabilitation of the refugees will be one major step in this direction. These forces can learn from the recent political history of Nepal. Our king could have saved his throne by recognising the legitimate rights of the Nepali people for self-governance. Jigme can also learn from Gyanendra that adamancy may prove to be too costly. As a writer, I wish the URFB all success in attaining its lofty goals.

(The article has been reproduced from The Kathmandu Post and the writer can be reached at [email protected])


  1. The writer needs to do a good research before coming with this shit report and baseless allegation.Firstly do a good basic research on the names of the kings of Bhutan..u have alien names in this report..Bhutan has always been very peaceful and happy under its monarchs! AND It still is very happy and will remain happy for ever.
    WHAT REALLY MADE ME FALL OFF MY CHAIR IS THE LAST POINT WHICH STATES “These forces can learn from the recent political history of Nepal. Our king could have saved his throne by recognising the legitimate rights of the Nepali people for self-governance. Jigme can also learn from Gyanendra that adamancy may prove to be too costly”
    you are asking us to follow Nepal..HAHHAHA i am laughing my ass out.if I remember it right.Nepal’s monarch was massacred in its own country and the country is currently being ruled by a terrorist group right..Nepal has lots to learn from Bhutan..infact the whole world needs to learn from Bhutan..


    Published: April 14, 1991, (New York Times)

    THIMPHU, Bhutan— The last of the once-isolated Himalayan Buddhist kingdoms is fighting for survival, victim of a South Asian population explosion that is changing demography on the roof of the world.

    Over the last six months, a campaign of violence and terror by small bands of ethnic Nepalese guerrillas in southern Bhutan, most of them Hindus based in India, has shattered the peace of this small mountainous nation.

    The militants’ campaign is couched in the language of democracy and minority rights, but the goal of the movement is free access to the underpopulated forests and valleys of Bhutan for those of Nepalese origin.

    While there are about 600,000 Bhutanese, there are 32 million people of Nepalese extraction in overpopulated Nepal and India. Many prefer to be called Gurkhas, and they are heirs of a warrior clan who dream of a Gurkhaland stretching across the Himalayan foothills. The King Is a Modern Man

    Bhutan, now ruled by a modernizing King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, had for 1,300 years of independence been the land of the Bhutia people, a group similar to Tibetans in language, culture and religion. Bhutanese say that over the last decade, illegal immigration across an unprotectable border with India has reduced the northern Bhutias to a fast-dwindling majority that is now about 60 percent.

    “If this continues, we are done for,” Foreign Minister Dawa Tsering said.
    Bhutan’s predicament raises questions about the rights of small, distinctive cultures to protect themselves by closing borders and introducing regulations on national dress and language.
    The Bhutanese see that as the other side of the more common separatist demand heard from Eastern Europe to Kashmir.

    Half a century ago, Bhutan was not alone among the Himalayan Buddhist states. There was Tibet, where Buddhist teachers known as lamas dominated society and often government. There was Sikkim and Ladakh.

    Tibet, crushed by Beijing in 1959 and absorbed into China as a region, is being remade by Han Chinese. Ladakh and Sikkim have been absorbed by India. In the forefront of Bhutanese concern is the fate of the Sikkimese, against whose ruler New Delhi plotted until he was finally overthrown in 1975 with the help of disaffected subjects, most of them also ethnic Nepalese.

    The King has personally taken charge of Bhutan’s national defense and efforts to counter rebel assertions of human-rights abuses. He says he is prepared to abdicate if he cannot end the insurrection peacefully.

    “I have little to lose when what is at stake is the survival of the Bhutanese people,” he said in an interview at Tashichleo Dzong, the monastery-fortress that is the center of religion and Government in Bhutan. Symbol of Bhutanese Culture

    The 35-year-old ruler had just returned from the south, where dozens of Government properties have been blown up or burned, bridges destroyed, and buses and trucks hijacked.
    At least 38 policemen or soldiers have been killed or wounded, the King said, and 168 people kidnapped for ransoms as high as $30,000.

    Because the King is the symbol of Bhutan’s culture, the Nepalese make monarchy the focus of their movement, along with the regulations imposed on all Bhutanese citizens in 1988 requiring the wearing of national dress.

    The King, dressed in an embroidered silk kho, the national costume, said tiny, landlocked Bhutan is neither an economic nor military power, “so the only factor we can fall back on, the only factor which can strengthen Bhutan’s sovereignty and security is our identity, our different identity. We are really the last bastion of Himalayan Buddhism.”

    Bhutan’s per-capita income shot up to nearly $400 last year, higher than in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.

    “We have free education and health care, and plenty of land,” the King said, adding: “The whole of Bhutan has become fertile ground for economic refugees. It has become the promised land.”
    The nearby Indian hill stations of Darjeeling and Kalimpong are controlled by Gurkha movements, the largest of which is the Gurkha National Liberation Front. Leaders of Bhutanese movements, including the Bhutanese People’s Party and the Bhutanese Students’ Union, operate from that region. To those people, the ethnic Bhutias are the regional minority.

    The militants have benefited from the backing of political parties to the left of the Communists in the Indian state of West Bengal and in Nepal.

    Reproduced courtesy of New York Times.