Dzongkha: an emerging issue


In the following paragraphs, my expressions might sound contemptuous to Dzongkha, but I am not posing myself as xenophobic. If I have to name my three best teachers, one comes to my mind is Dzongkha lopon (teacher) Yonten Phuntsho, at Jigme Sherubling High School. I leave it to the readers to comprehend the motive behind extremist decision, radical enforcement, conspiracy to thwart public appeal, and the disaster we are witnessing today.

Dzongkha, the national language, was gradually becoming the issue in most southern districts where Nepali speaking population was dominant.  Goshi Junior High School was not an exception.  Until 1985, English, Dzongkha and Nepali prevailed as major languages taught in junior high schools while by the turn of 1986, Dzongkha became inevitably compulsory to pass the common/board examinations of grade 6 and 8. A student sitting for the board exams in grade 6 or 8 could fail only in Nepali but not in English or Dzongkha, to get through.

This came along coupled by the scheme of Drigam Namzha, the compulsory Drukpa etiquette for all to follow.  Using Nepali in many official communication (which used to take place before) and public gatherings in presence of  high-level bureaucrats began to be viewed as opposing  Driglam Namzha. GJHS and other primary schools in Dagapela could not make a good result in 1986 owing to a large number of students failing in Dzongkha. That year, only 2 out of 37 students of GJHS in eighth grade, (5.40%) passed in Dzongkha.

Poor results across the whole dungkhag alarmed the teachers, students and the parents. They appealed to the Department of Education (DoE) to review the decision, suggested the DoE to allow the student to study both the languages and  both the languages be given equal importance as before 1985. The argument was not that Dzongkha should be taken out of the curriculum, but more improvements in teaching of Dzongkha were called and the department of education apprised of the situation by local leaders. The then National Assembly member, Mr. K.B Chauhan submitted agenda in the National Assembly (NA); he later found it omitted from the list and never given chance to present the issue of Dagapela community in the National Assembly.   The department of education turned a deaf ear to all the request and suggestion from local heads and the national assembly member.  In spite of allowing Nepali language in middle schools a major subject to score higher, teaching of the language was completely banned in 1989.

Soon after the September  uprising, all schools in dagapela were closed forcing about 2500 students ( of Namchela,Powgang and Dokap  and Goshi) to go without schools. It is only after the eviction thinned out the cluster of villages, Goshi school opened in 1994 as Dagapela Primary School in close proximity to  Dungpa office, but admission to commoner students was obdurately denied until 1998.  Primary schools in Dokap, Namchela and Powgang opened only in 1999 to allow access to education to the remaining public.

Premeditated eviction
I feel it relevant to recall some events in the history of eviction by the absolute monarchy headed by the fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuk and orchestrated by the avaricious and philistine cabinet members.  The King, fell puppet to the hands of these obsequious aristocrats, mostly posing affinity to the royals. He was brainwashed, misinformed and influenced to satisfy their insatiable ego and greed. It is a bitter truth that under the influence of such extremist group, JSW lost senses, imbibed hallucination of making Bhutan a Nepali-speaking-free country and ordered the carnage. In a meeting with Dagana Dzongda, army officers and Dungpa of Dagapela on March 1991, JSW vowed to uproot total Nepali speaking citizens from the country and ordered them to carry out the mission accordingly.

SHERIG SAGA further describes the condition of the school as quoted: “The school got its name as Dagapela Community Primary School after it was shifted to the Dungkhag Complex in 1994.  There were about 180 students from PP-VI with two regular teachers. In 1997, there were 378 students with only the regular teachers (two zhungkha language teachers and one general teacher).”

 Though Schools were reopened to show the community that government was doing something, discriminative attitude continued to linger around long after; separate classes were created for the children of Nepali speaking children and effective teaching and learning neglected until 2005. When the then crown prince, Jigme Geshar Namgyal Wangchuk visited Dagapela in 2004 he commanded some improvements in the school system.

Thanks to some international human rights group such as AI and ICRC, the perpetrators could not actually accomplish what they intended as to terrorize the commoners and compel them leave the country. AI delegates visited Bhutan in January 1992; their findings were published as given in quote:

“Amnesty International has collected testimony of arbitrary arrests, Ill-treatment and torture, particularly in the period after demonstrations in September 1990. It has also received reports of attacks on civilians; some attributed by the government to ngolops or “anti-nationals”, many of whom allegedly belong to the Bhutan People’s Party (BPP), an opposition organization founded in India in June 1990″.

Thousands of innocent civilians were arbitrarily arrested, brought to the RBA detention center and tortured. AI delegates visited refugee camp in Nepal in November 1991; its findings were given in the quote:

“The testimonies obtained from refugees in Nepal include accounts of various forms of ill treatment, degrading punishment and, in some cases, torture at the hands of the security forces. Beatings with canes, sticks, batons, chains, leather belts and rifle butts, on the back, head, arms and feet of detainees, were reportedly carried out. One woman said the saw her husband tied to a post outside in the jail compound and left overnight. Several people described being “kicked around like a football” and being made to “fight each other like animals”, apparently for the entertainment of army officers; these practices reportedly resulted in injuries to the prisoners’ heads and shoulders. Prisoners reportedly had their hands bound and were denied food and water, particularly during the initial stages of their detention. Some people recounted how on requesting water they were told to drink their own urine. On some accessions food, which was inedible, such as rice, which had been contaminated with glass or sand, was reportedly given to prisoners”.

 The catastrophe that happened in southern Bhutan in nineteen nineties, the darkest page of country’s history is the aftermath Royal fantasy. According to refugee camp registration record October 31, 1994 85,906 Bhutanese citizens had sought protection from UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) of which 30,527 were school going children.

Human Development Report 2011 in beautiful chart portrays adult literacy rate 53.6 %, net primary enrolment 93.7%, and unemployment rate in age group 20 to 64 years as 3.3 %. However, in Dagapela the story is different.  35% of ages 6 to 12 years old children are not in school, about 60% of children between age 13and 18 years have no schooling/not in school currently, adult literacy rate between ages 19 to 45 is about 25%, adult literacy rate among age 46 and above is 10%, unemployment rate in some blocks is as high as 65% but average unemployment rate of ages 20 to 64 stands 50%.

In the land of GNH, fear and intimidation looms over the sky, hatred, discrimination and uncertainty carry the day on the land, trifle smiles forced out by oppressor while GNH encapsulates the crime. “Truth alone triumphs, not falsehood” (Mundaka Upanishad); time has come to reflect that lies cannot stand the ultimate divine justice. My only humble suggestion is: uncover prejudice, disclose lies, PUNISH CRIMINALS, give justice to the downtrodden; let justice roll down the hills; let justice flow through rivers and streams; let justice echo across the valleys; let cool breeze of social justice blow through every house of every village; let justice shower over those who are suffering of injustice; let justice shower over the tombs of those victims who died in injustice. Let the teachings- righteousness and truthfulness of the Buddha prevail once again to save all Bhutanese.

(The writer, who graduated from Goshi Junior High School in 1987, served as Camp Secretary of Goldhap, and Primary Curriculum Planner cum Teacher Trainer at the Bhutanese Refugee Education Program (BREP) run by the Caritas Nepal. He can be reached at [email protected])


  1. Padam daju,

    You have set an example. Being a Dagapelain, I salute you, Shanti daju for regular updates on Dagapela. I was a child when my family was forced into exile. I was not know what Dagana actually looks like. Now, your write ups have opened my mind.

    BNS has become an exile media hub for all of us. I am still in camp, but still I love reading BNS. Your contributions to BNS should give an alert to all seniors urging them to start writing about their own place like what you have done for Dagana. This is how we collect history.

    Can’t wait longer to read your another post. Thank you Vidhyapatiji and others at BNS for promoting Padam daju’s articles.


  2. Hats up to you Padam sir, for refreshing our History. It would be fair enough if these types of well documented and lively article published in international publication like- NewYorkTimes, CNN, PBS, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, BBC online etc.

    How hard the bureaucrats of Jigme Singye Wangchuck try, Let us keep the history of Bhutan intact, pure and alive.

    Thanks you!

  3. You have written the obvious one, U took up the right thing that supports your points. It feels good that you still remember your past and also that you still care to write about Bhutan. It was truly an opinion.

    I would suggest you better write COPIES, you good at it. Acclamation are always easy to write and not so hard.

    ” looms over the sky, hatred, discrimination and uncertainty carry the day…” yes looms over the sky… valleys that smell of pines are still pristine and beautiful as always, were there creatures that existed like in your articles, it would be only chaos.

    I write to you::::—–(The writer, who graduated from Goshi Junior High School in 1987, served as Camp Secretary of Goldhap, and Primary Curriculum Planner cum Teacher Trainer at the Bhutanese Refugee Education Program (BREP) run by the Caritas Nepal. He can be reached at [email protected])

  4. As a little boy born and grown up in Dagapela Bhutan,i knew nothing about Bhutan,when i and my parents left Bhutan in 1992.still everyday i dream and wish to see Dagapela,my birth place and would like to know the fact why my parents left Bhutan.Your article has given me some knowledge about the education system around when i was born and the crisis that was created by the absolute monarch.Thank u dai for bring a real document and picture of Dagapela Bhutan

  5. A fantastic write up. They are all true and still hovering over and over in my mind the reminiscences of those days. Same was the situation in all southern districts of Bhutan. However, the percentages of statistics may differ. I am surer that the atrocities were still harder than those written in the article. I do not agree with you for keeping the fourth king innocent. He was the grand planner. I know he propounded the concept of GNH, one nation one people policy, green belt near Indo Bhutan boarder, and motivated his loyal bureaucrats to implementing those policies which impacted more than one hundred thousand Bhutanese to leave their land in gunpoint