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Bhutan: A Nation of Silent Sufferers!

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A Pardesi in Paradise, by Dr. Govinda Rizal movingly describes the author’s extraordinary journey, the quest for identity, equality, and justice. The pages in this book repeatedly remind readers of a story of injustice, anguish, and worries, struggle for survival, search for acceptance and contradictions. And yet, this book is a cover story of thousands of the expelled Bhutanese who are outside Bhutan. Whether as a representative story or as a memoir of an individual, this book excites curiosity aroused by the smart use of flashbacks, dilemmas, scarcities, fears, and paradoxes.

The narrative structure is simple and easy to understand. The book is authentic at its core and the stories are narrated in a most eloquent manner. It gives readers a heartfelt sense of what it is like to grow up in the dictated environment, and the pains of statelessness and living a refugee’s life full of dire situations.  Rizal strives in these pages to ground his ideas on the Royal Government of Bhutan’s two faces. On the one hand, the RGoB is branding Bhutan as a peaceful and the happiest country in the world and on the other the same government has evicted over 110,000 of its own citizens from the country. The royal claim of happiness is at the expense of thousands of innocent citizens who were uprooted from their homes. Bhutan is truly a nation of silent sufferers!

Rizal presents the arguments that, wherever they are, Bhutanese are always guided by optimism and hope, and sincerely look for better ways to combat real problems with limited resources. They survived in refugee camps against the RGoB’s will. The RGoB wanted these people to disappear in India or Nepal after the eviction, instead, they organized in seven refugee camps in Nepal under the aegis of United Nations despite unyielding life and death situations. Now, many of these people, once rejected and abused by the RGoB, are living a dignified and productive life in many developed countries where they are contributing to their communities.

Readers  can analyze this book through different lenses: political movements in Bhutan; violent suppression of people by the Bhutanese regime; controlled and guided life of people who are still inside Bhutan; the making of a refugee; invaluable contributions of leaders in organizing refugee camps, pseudo-democracy in Bhutan; life after third-country resettlement; uncertain future of those Bhutanese still in the refugee camps in Nepal; and more.

Rizal has analyzed the Bhutanese refugee issue so thoroughly that after reading A Pardesi in Paradise, one can have a better understanding of the RGoB’s underlying motives in removing its own citizens. The author has offered his firsthand experience of the important milestones of the journey of a refugee through various events and stories. A reader can feel how the RGoB instigates its exceedingly insolent and wild army and militia in southern Bhutan to evict the people and confiscate properties with the single goal of erasing the heritage and footprints of lhotshampa from Bhutan.

People have not yet forgotten the fundamental mission of erasing the identity of some sections of Bhutanese from the country by the RGoB. In 1927, Pashupati Adhikari, the village headman of Lamidara, Chirang was badly beaten up and finally banished from the country simply because he raised voice against the excessive land tax (Strawn, 1993). When J.C.Gurung and S.B. Gurung formed Jai Gorkha Solidarity Front in 1947 for political change in the country, they were kicked out of the country along with their fifteen party cadres (ibid). Mahasur Cheetri of Bhutan State Congress was allegedly packed up alive in a leather bag and thrown into Sunkosh River to die in 1951 when he raised voice for democracy (ibid). Thousands were expelled from Bhutan and hundreds were imprisoned and killed in 1990 democratic movement.

H.H. Dodrupchen Rinpoche of Nyingmapa Sect was put into detention in 1997 simply because his followers sought RGoB’s noninterference in religious practices. In all the political movements in Bhutan, the RGoB always used excessive military force to suppress people’s voice. In 1953, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck used the first national assembly of Bhutan to convert southern Bhutanese from Hindus to Buddhist but this move was not popular (Dhakal & Strawn, 1994). King Jigme Singye Wangchuk imposed the requirement to wear Drukpa clothing, Gho and Kira, across Bhutan soon after he ascended the throne in 1972 and branding them as national dress of the kingdom.

Much has been said and written on Bhutanese refugee issue but many of these documents and literature contain imbalanced and misleading information on the issue. The RGOB shrewdly portrayed in international communities its innocence in generating refugees while shifting total blame on the refugees. Rizal’s book helps to fill these voids. The author not only described the refugee issue but he has also provided a comprehensive insight into Bhutan’s system of governance and the Bhutanese political crisis.

Rizal referred Nepali-origin people living in southern Bhutan as “Bhutanese” and the population of the northern parts of the country as “Drukpas”. He revealed the discrepancies in the treatment of these people at different times by the RGoB for its own political gain. A Pardesi in Paradise outlines the innumerable struggles of evicted Bhutanese in exile. The author discussed the refugee-making-story of the Bhutanese regime. He described the historical development of the refugee problem and various tactics adopted by the Bhutanese regime at different times in expelling its own citizens from the South and the East.

A Pardesi in Paradise prudently reveals India’s indifference from the beginning in the Bhutanese democratic movement for its own benefit. India’s role in this regard is mysterious. When it was hosting thousands of Tibetan refugees, the largest democracy did not allow a single Bhutanese refugee to take refuge in its country, nor did it allow them a way back home. It always stood negative, aloof and indifferent toward Bhutanese people’s aspirations for inclusive democracy and constitutional monarchy. India apparently views Bhutanese democratic movement as an infiltration of ethnic elements and it does not want to disturb the ethno demographic balance in the region. In other words, India always fears that if there is true change in Bhutan, it would add fuel to the ongoing Gorkhaland movement in the hills and instigate Sikkim.

The writer has precisely illustrated that in the evolution of creating a one-track language and culture, Bhutanese rulers enforced that all people of Bhutan must renounce their own heritage and instead accept the Drukpa culture and traditions. Advancement of the national language, Dzongkha, obviously took center stage at the expense of other languages.

The book takes readers through the chronological illustration of the regime’s disguised intent of depopulating its own citizens from banning Nepali language from school curriculum as early as 1980 (Van Driem,1994), adoption of Greenbelt policy in 1984, forceful imposition of ‘one-nation-one people’ policy in 1989, targeted census in the south in 1989, and various other discriminatory policies (Mathew,1997).

The author mentioned how Bhutanese were classified into seven categories (F1-F7) in the 1988 census and its aftermath. The wound caused by the RGoB’s discriminatory and forceful efforts of eviction planted lasting negative impacts in the lives of these refugees. Rizal highlighted the magnitude of the mental health crisis in this population caused by the forced migration. He mentioned the death of Sita Mothey by suicide in Bhutan as well as many others in the diaspora due to depression, anxiety, alcohol misuse and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the government’s atrocities and evictions from their own country where they lived for generations. The author detailed the pang of family separation after the 1951, 1990 and 1997 democratic movements.

This memoir contains a plethora of information on Bhutan and the Bhutanese but the author failed to mention the contribution of ten leaders including Tek Nath Rizal and Bidhyapati Bhandari, two Bhutanese representatives of the Royal Advisory Council of Bhutan who approached the 4th Monarch to nullify the discriminatory policies in 1988. The author extensively discussed various movements launched by the Bhutanese inside and outside the country for establishing human rights and democracy in Bhutan at different times. Yet he failed to lay out the root causes of their failure. There are a few typos and it is expected that these can be improved in the future edition.

There is no doubt that the author has proven to be a transformational leader–one who can bring people together, through his various innovative projects while he was in the refugee camp. However, in these pages, the author did not mention what should be the future course of Bhutanese in the diaspora. The author justified his sagacity in coining the title of the book, A Pardesi in Paradise by highlighting his bitter experiences of statelessness from his own country of birth Bhutan to any country; no matter how developed his adoptive country is, he bravely expressed his sense of receiving treatment as Pardesi, a term adapted from Nepali “an outsider”.

Mr. Khatiwada lives in New Hampshire. He can be reached at bhagirathkhatiwada@gmail.com

References:
  1. Strawn,Christopher (1993). Falling Off the Mountain: A Political History and Analysis of Bhutan, the Bhutanese Refugees and the Movement in Exile (unpublished dissertation submitted to the University of Wisconsin.
  2. Dhakal, D.N.S and Strawn, Christopher (1994). Bhutan: A Movement in Exile, Jaipur, India.
  3. Van Driem, George. (1994). Language Policy in Bhutan. Bhutan: Aspects of Culture and Development. Gartmore: Kiscadale Publications. Retrieved from http://himalayanlanguages.org/files/driem/pdfs/1994LanguagePolicy.pdf
  4. Joseph C., Mathew (1997). Ethnic Conflict in Bhutan: Political and Economic Dimensions, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.

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