Editing Rizal’s Jail Journal


In a talk program a year ago, I met Tek Nath Rizal, the Bhutanese human rights leader. The program titled “India’s Role in Refugee Problem” was marked by slim turn out and the late-arriving speakers. Nonetheless, a Maoist leader gave a fiery talk in which he instigated the Bhutanese refugees to take up arms against the monarch. “We ended the feudal monarchy in Nepal. Now, we should work for the same in Bhutan,” Maoist leader CP Gajurel had said: “The revolution must be launched in the very country. We’re ready to help. But, talking about it from exile and stressing on human rights issue will not help solve the problem.”

The audience seemed unsure of what to make up of this ‘revolutionary rhetoric’.

Rizal's book front cover

Then, it was Tek Nath Rizal who spoke in a soft, lilting voice which at times sounded like he was almost crying. Indeed, it was a cry for help. “It was India which helped Bhutan come out of its isolation,” Rizal had said: “So, it must play a positive role for our repatriation.” Dr. Anand Kumar, a professor from JNU (India) assured that the Indo-Bhutan  Friendship Society, after lobbying for the release of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi (Indeed, her husband late Michael Aris has left behind three books on Bhutan), would focus on Bhutan. These all then sounded quite optimistic. But, recalling them a year later, I feel that they were one of such sweet talks that yield nothing.

After the end of the program, I met Rizal in the parking lot, where I congratulated him for his book Torture Killing Me Softly which I had reviewed at Nepal Monitor as well as Kantipur Daily. I also told him that though the book chronicled his harrowing jail experience in Bhutan, it could have been written better. I offered my help in case he would work on a revised second edition.

I also have another memory of meeting Rizal. In the summer of 2007, I was working on a cover story on the Maoist insurgency in Bhutan. After talking to his son who invited me to Rizal’s residence in Dhobighat, Lalitpur, I left my office at Nepal Weekly magazine. While in Ring Road, heavy rains started to lash. I was drenched by the downpour when I made it to Rizal’s residence. On the ground floor of that four-storey building with red bricks, his pictures from a visit to Switzerland adorned the walls. But I got almost nothing for my story. All he said was if refugees were forced to wait endlessly, they will take up arms. Nevertheless, the story titled “People’s War in Bhutan” was published in September 2007 as a cover story at Nepal Weekly (It’s another story that the Maoist movement which was based on the refugee camps fizzled out due to lack of support base and factionalism in the party).

Then, in spring last year, I received a call from Uttam Dhungel, Rizal’s aide. He asked me if I was still willing to work on the book. As I discovered later, Nityananda Timsina, a journalist-friend who had just arrived in Nepal after completing his postgraduate study in Europe, had begun the work on it.

One morning, I went to see Rizal in his residence at Mountain View apartments in Hattiban, a cluster of residential homes in Lalitpur district. Rizal welcomed me into his abode, a two-bedroom apartment where he, his wife Kaushila and a housemaid lived. Several pictures adorned the walls of the living room: It had a picture of Thimpu of 1960s, a framed map of Bhutan, framed pictures of late BP Koirala, poets Bhanubhakta Acharya and Parijat, and a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi.

I would leave my apartment at Kaushaltar (Bhaktapur) and head off to Hattiban via Ring Road, a routine that continued for several months. In the summer months last year, I spent many days in Rizal’s residence where we would start work in the morning, calling it a day in the late afternoon. I found Rizal a kind hearted person who deeply believed in human rights, justice and freedom. As an author of the book, he scrutinized every detail, correcting it meticulously, questioning me whenever he noticed an awkward sentence or a phrase.

During the day, food would be served and occasional break would be taken. Tea arrived constantly and most of the talk hovered around a country (Bhutan) I had never been to. But, for Rizal, Bhutan and the Bhutanese was all that mattered. His heart danced when he was asked to recall the bygone days in his home country.

I would go through the chapters first. Then, I revised them, rewrote them and showed the final version to him. All through these processes,  I made sure that the author was satisfied with the outcome. My idea was it was his book and his story, and I was there to help him tell it better.  And, what a tale he had!

Devi Maya displays a book authored by Tek Nath Rizal at IOM transit/VPM

The Nepali-speaking society (what is now pompously called Diaspora) be that in Bhutan, India, Burma or Nepal, has so far relied on oral tradition of story telling. Grandmothers tell stories to grand children. There’s  very little literature in the form of lived experiences and testimony coming from the refugees. I thought: An account of a decade-long  jail term by a leader of the movement would serve as a historical document for future generation of Bhutanese as they scatter around the globe under the third country resettlement program.

What genre does the book fit into? With the blurred boundaries and experimental writing in vogue, it’s hard to classify a work. But, Torture covers a number of genres: memoir, autobiography, narrative non-fiction, and above all, a witness account.

Here’s an evocative paragraph from the book:
It was drizzling and the night was pitch-dark. We walked in silence. As they marched, the constables’ boots pounded on the road, its sound penetrating deep into our ears. At times, the stones tossed off by the boots hit on my ankles causing severe pain. Worse, the guards with their heavy boots, recklessly pounded on my feet. Failing to keep pace with the marching soldiers would fetch me extra penalty. So, I struggled to move my shackled legs as quickly as I could. The constantly blowing wind further exasperated the precariousness of our journey. Drenched to the skin and chilled to the bone, I stumbled along the slippery road. The sole voices echoing in my ears were waves of the river Wangdichhu generating its own rhythmic noise, the rustling of the trees in the breeze producing mystic sound in the adjoining forests, and dogs crying and whining at full throttle.

The book now looks elegant with good cover picture (thanks to Amrit Gurung), a nice blurb and the author’s brief biography. It has been updated, revised and re-written. Map of Bhutan, a subtitle (Bhutan Through the Eyes of a Mind-Control Victim), the reviews of first edition and an afterword have been added.

What about the mind-control? Initially, I was skeptical about it. At times, I even thought that my association with the book which had an almost impossible story—that of a cutting edge technology employed by an isolated, hermit South Asian kingdom—will diminish whatever little reputation I had earned.

Judging by how authoritarian regime functions (Burma, Iran, North Korea comes to mind), it’s not entirely impossible. But then, as I have written in my review, the onus to prove it lies on Rizal himself.

(The writer is a Nepali journalist and has been regularly reporting on Bhutanese refugee issue. He blogs at http://deepakadhikari.net)


  1. The above paragraph is true in sense that Mr. TN was imprisoned in Bhutan and
    is in his worse health condition now. It is also true that Mr. TN got trust and love from each and every Bhutanese . Even today the same amount of love is for him.But he is naglecting the detainees, his friends in his detaintion period. He is naglecting those who were proving support for his release. We Bhutanese are very unlucky in this , He never open his mouth for the sake of those prisoners who are struggling for meal in the refugee camps.We helped and praised him to do better he did too but finally the result , Only his name and his family are in his book. That book is very useful and good , if he had written some of the facts in the jail about his jailmates it will be more demanded.

  2. Hi Deepak Adikari ji,
    Seems your are well know writer in Nepal and you support TN very well. I agree to your article sir but Do TN ever mention his fellow cell mate who are suffering now in refugee camp without a day meal; forget about identity.
    I hope, You know this well. So, i want you to request and publish article on behalf of them; You can make difference in their life. TN is having great life in ktm and no worries for him. I saw Devi maya holing his book but it seems that she was ask to hold by some to take picture.
    Therefore, Deepak ji…hope now your in ktm and may be your are member of journalism union there. Please do visit them and publish their story…we Bhutanese will be greatfull you buddy.

  3. Deepak jee,
    I truly enjoyed reading your rizal’s jail Journal.I am regular visitor of this site. I appreciated the way you helped rizal to improve his journal.I am happy that you have been our friends and well wishers in the common struggle to establish human rights and democracy in Bhutan. I wish you good luck and wish to see more researched articals on Bhutan.


  4. Deepakji,
    I am your regular customer on Bhutanese issues. Your contribution is praiseworthy and will continue to be, I hope.
    I haven’t yet read the journal that is discussed here but presume to be as healthy as the Author’s previous masterpiece.
    But before I could grab a copy, the short narration that you presented above made me think twice. Doesn’t it sound too fictitious?
    My sincere ‘thanks’ for coming up with a wonderful topic for the Bhutanese.

  5. Hello Guys!
    Put off all your mere theoritical stories! Nothing gained but thousands of hurdles had have been crossed practically and almost all the nations know more than we express than any of us about Bhutans’ politics or situation …thats why we were fed for nearly 20 years! Who the hell had that courage to write all the articles and publish which cost not so much even if we were the camp! But our friends and so called netas never stop to disturb the mentality of the innocent public in the name of Democracy and Bhutan while shouldered taken high risk by all the donor countries. We need to update ourselves and stop fooling the innocent public in the name of Democracy but try our best to build individually our future and be matured in social and economy within the community..Its beyond our dream to challenge with Bhutan’s politics which had have been shouldered by great India and some of the nations……Lets learn to make good credit instead of becoming false leader even in the abroad which had been tasted by each and every one of us!

  6. Our Leader T.N.Rizal was trying to break the nuts of King Jigme but now started to learn politics through write ups after 20 years coz he might be going out of money…Its realy a great wonder why he remained underground while we were in the refugee camp since many of us could not see his face properly. Just beating the bush doesn’t work but need great sacrifice and full knowledge of Politics! How many nations know him except some Bhutanese and Nepali leader? I wonder why he never come into public but just wondered outside the refugee camp without any proper co-ordination and program with the public! No one till now qualify for the true leadership which will never fulfill throughout the exile life but gradually forget and integrate with the new environment….Now BNS has to bring all the different updates of how we can make long lasting life in abroad…I wish for the same….

  7. Dear Adhikari jee,
    Wonderful job for bhutanese refugee,but Mr Rizal who is against the refugee & their issue.So Adhikari jee ,it is not wise to run after Rizal who cannot survive with out the banner of refugee,let him die with thurst n hunger.We never heard Rizal speaking on behalf of refugee, always talks about his own personal matter & his families in media.

  8. Mr. editor and Mr. adhikariji please read the comments of the readers and try finding the cause that affected the dignity of our leader Mr. Rizal.It is 100% true that Mr. Rizal being the leader, always talked for his own, not for the humilated bhutanese lives.We the Bhutanese, who are in the exile are on his behalf, and did a lot for him too. But what did he give .He provided nothing accept to run away from the true paths.I remember the days when I was young and working as an active member of the crisis, but the leaders, to whom we trusted were not in condition to create one uniformity and work only for the nation not for the self purposes. I know the leaders can do nothing for the nation and the subjects, they go on trying for their survibal. That’s all.
    If the leaders including Mr. Rizal want the support from the community they should forget creating misunderstanding each other ( that means should not quarrel or be farsighted only focusing the needs and to create peace and harmony first and go ahead. Then we will be always on their side.

  9. Give Peace an Chance! Never throw stone in the dark or gain useless fame in the society and the nation as a whole. Ours is the culture who can be no.1 or go ahead of another by hook or crook! Now in the third country mushrooming more and more leaders with no principal but to push innocent forward without proper aims and objectives or determination. It may be very wise to publish a huge book on BHUTANESE IN EXILE OR CAMP for nearly 2 decades or in the third countries so that our stories be published at a time but should now and then make unnecessary exaggerations where no one did nothing for the benefit of public except donor agencies in the camp. We fear to go ahead and sacrifice our lives but greed of power, position and wealth in the name of innocent public. The world has seen our commitment and innocence in the field of politics and the very reason of our displacement. Rather request everyone to speak the voice of the people rather than the voice of so called selfish leaders who sold the name of innocent and goes for selfish motives. BNS should should always regard and respect the voice of the innocent rather speak false assurance of selfish leaders!

  10. Our multi-cast politics never ends with peaceful solution from a very minor to high level politics. It should be the curse of commitment of sati system as well as bondage system in ancient peiod. Most probably the hinduism based politics is too dirty which cannot be digested by the international community as it has been proved by many incidents and disaster. The recent massacare of King Birendra, many indian prime ministers including Mahatma Gandhi and all are the prey of cruel and tyranical theology of hindu based politics which did left behind in the bhutanese community leading the death of R.K.Budathoki and all. The mushrooming of leaders in our community from the camp itself has given continuity even in the resettled nations including USA,Canada,Australia, etc. Its very sensitive situation for all of our innocent people that if the tongue is slipped the life will be slipped of all if so called self proclaimed netas try to go in their baselass interest and against the interest of donor countries. We forget our bitter yesterdays within no time and feel pride of ourselves as born netas or the citizens of new countries. Everyone has to keep in mind to completely abolish the dirtiest part of our community, i.e. caste system and other dirtiest attitude towards innocent. The very root of disaster lies in our culture which ends in great disasters and never give up such culture. We need to think of all the nations around the world and go ahead with modern and advanced ideology instead of ancient period politics which never lead anyone in lasting peace and progress.

  11. After all these years of living in the Refugee Camps, People are still able to write and talk about the Bhutanese episode, If you continue to do that, atleast your English will improve and when you are resettled somewhere in my country, I can come and lend an ear to your sad story.