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Gelephu panic and Government’s silence: 2018 elections is too far to come

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Thimphu was still in celebration mood. All schools, government offices were on national holidays throughout the nation to commemorate the birthday of the His Majesty the King, Jigme Keshar Namgyal Wangchuck, on February 21st, 22nd and 23rd. Though His majesty’s birthday falls on 21st of February, this year nation observed holidays for two extra days.

Beautifully decorated one of the birthday celebration venues
Beautifully decorated one of the birthday celebration venues

This year’s birthday celebration was different and more blissful for the nation. In the same month, February, coinciding with His majesty’s birth nation has welcomed the new heir to the throne born to the royal couple. As high as the prime minister to the lowest  as a farmer got audience to meet His Majesty and offer Dhar as a token of love towards the His Majesty. This year they were fortunate to offer Tashi Lekdhar for the Royal Birth of His Royal Highness The Gyalsey at the Lingkana Palace.

While, all the royal family members, high ranking officials were still in the celebration mood in the capital city- a village in southern border-Bhur in Gelephu Dungkhag (district subdivision) – was in the cloud of fear. At around 7:30pm on February 22, a group of people some dressed in Royal Bhutan Army uniform kidnapped three villagers and took them to an unknown destination.

Gelephu Clock Tower
Gelephu Clock Tower

On Feb 23, two suspects were reported to be apprehended and interrogated. They are believed to be Meches- a tribe in an Indian state of Assam. And, they are reported to be released. Three people- a class 10 student, a local driver and the third one- a helper at a piggery farm were abducted. One among the three, the helper in a piggery farm, reached home the next morning. Whereabouts of the other two remained unknown till then. This has become almost a routine, where someone gets abducted from outside Bhutan and the kidnappers demand huge amount of ransom. Some people might pay by selling what they have. There is no guarantee of the return of the loved ones.

In this case, the family borrowed Ngultrum 2 million from relatives and friends to meet the negotiated ransom.  Handed to the kidnappers and got their loved ones back in the morning of February 28, 2016. Interestingly, like in some of the Indian movies- poor farmers brave to relocate their dear ones and bring back home from the captivity and the government silently backs up. This encourages further gambling upon the poor from the ends of those wrongdoers. Happiness has return for pro tem to the family, but years it is going to cost for them to clear the debt amounted at no fault.

Instances of kidnapping in and around Gelephu are not new anymore. The fate of an eleventh grader student from Norbuling Central School, and two other drivers abducted in 2014 is still a mystery. Parents and relatives of those victims have now run out of tears. Their hope is withered. They have gone so penurious that if anything happens to them or to their families, they have nothing left (literally). Mental stress and emotional breakdown is costless. Hope to see their dear ones is still a living dream. Road to the happiness and celebrations for those families is a far cry. Appeals were made for several times to the government. Patience is more than two years old!

Gelephu is the same Dungkhag that was administered by Dungpa Pema Wangdi till recently, against whom the court has labelled 21 charges along with around 70 counts for multiple cases of abuse of authority. It was almost impossible for the residents to expect anything better from the administration’s end. But, the change in the administration too has made no difference.

Rinzin (name changed), one of the residents, who moved to Thimphu seven months ago says, ‘ I was making good living. My children were excelling in the school. I sensed the situation getting worse day by day. I may be wrong to blame the government, but what I saw was, round the clock, everybody is insecure in and around Gelephu. No one knows if the bread owner returns home in the evening or a child reaches home safely from the school. I had to choose between the two- face the worse or think for the safety of the family. I opted the later.’

Norzin (name changed), is another farmer this scribe could talk to. ‘My ancestral land lies proximal to the Indian boarder. For so long the open boarder remained a boon. I have equal friends outside the border. We share farm laborers during the time of cultivation and the harvesting the crops. We visit each other’s families during festivals and celebrations. I don’t know why? I don’t know who disturbed peace. I too feel insecure these days.  Where should I go? Who might buy my land- even if I decide to sell? I have only hope rested on the government and I am hopeful it does.’

‘For the past two three years, the country celebrated peace in the capital city. We, the people living in and around the Gelephu, are searching the lost peace in the countryside. I myself cannot define the state of good governance in the nation.  But, I am optimistic towards the future of the Gelephu town’, says one of the fresh graduates who is planning to start some type of business after he failed to get a job even after hunting for a good year.

Gelephu Town-one of the bussiness hubs of the country.
Gelephu Town-one of the bussiness hubs of the country.

After the incident people can see the presence of the security patrol along the Sarpang-Gelephu highway and around. This is certainly going to add some level of relief to the residents. Continuity matters. Safe return of all those, remaining, abductees with no cost to the families already in shock is deemed the prior obligation of the government.

The office of the prime minister is silent till this piece is being prepared. Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, who remained updating his Facebook page on other issues of celebrations and his every visits – remained mute at this pathetic cause, matter of citizens’ security concern. Political parties, who visit people around the elections with Lollipops, remained so distant as if it was not the matter of their concern. In other words, it is not the time of the elections to climb the ladder to the power. They (political party leaders) missed ‘A for Ace’ card by not responding towards peoples’ problem in need. For them 2018 elections is too far to come.

People this scribe talked to have a common message to convey to the Prime Minister and the cabinet ministers including the National Assembly members representing Sarpang Dzongkhag. Celebration in the capital city is over now- at least think for the safety of the people in need- We will not ask about the developmental projects to ease the lives of people anymore! Developmental activities are not the priority to the government in this area- because it is not safe for the investment!!

A high level visit to these villages might allay the pain in the hearts of those sobbing family members. And, the assurance for non-occurrence is one of the options to lessen the Gelephu panic.

     Note:  The views expressed are solely of the author and doesn’t represent that of BNS.  -Editors

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