Entering Bhutan through the Phuentsholing border is an amusingly contrasting experience. The bumpy road of the Indian town of Jaigaon burdened by the chaos of people, auto-rickshaws, vehicles and muddled shanties suddenly ends at the border gate. What follows is an orderly serenity manifested by broad clean roads with parking spaces, identical architectures with similar signboards and people dressed alike.
A taxi driver dressed in the traditional ‘national dress’ – Gho or Bakkhu – welcomes me to Bhutan. He introduces himself as Shakti Gurung. A mixed stream of emotions churns inside me with the soothing breeze and altered landscape. Had I not visited the ‘refugee camp’ in Jhapa district of Nepal just a few days ago, I would also have taken the beauty at face value like many tourists in Bhutan.
Phuentsholing to Thimphu is a four-hour drive on meandering mountainous road mostly covered in haze due to sudden rise in altitude. This haze, as one looks at history, Bhutan has been able to maintain in its politics and policies toward the refugees. Or, at least it tries to with the help of the altitude of privileged platform provided by India.
Rising further into Bhutan, closer to the center of power, Thimphu, closer to Tibet, the land from where the present ruling family (and the ruling class of people?) originally came in the sixteenth century, the mist seems to clear away. Southern Bhutan, geographically similar to hilly regions of Nepal, is home to the people of Nepali origin. These people who migrated to Bhutan about a century ago from different parts of Nepal were suddenly deprived of many privileges by a very stringent citizenship rule in 1985. The Gorkhaland movement in India, the uprising for democracy in Nepal and the expulsion of people of Nepali origin from Bhutan happened in the same chronological neighborhood. And for people who try to interpret events in history through intentions involved, this is not a mere coincidence.
The Gorkhaland movement in India, the uprising for democracy in Nepal and the expulsion of people of Nepali origin from Bhutan happened in the same chronological neighborhood. For people who interpret events in history through intentions involved, this is not a mere coincidence.
SKEPTICAL DEMOCRACY OR JUST AN OUTER FAÇADE
Looking at the outer façade, it is hard to realize the price paid for uniformity in culture and politics by the ‘people’. The uniformity in architectural landscape, which provides Thimphu city its uniqueness, comes from stringent rules regulating constructions. The exclusivity of culture and tradition comes with the ‘legal’ compulsion for Shakti Gurung to wear the completely wrapping attire in the hot weather of the southern plain. When I realize this, I suddenly stop admiring it. And, I believe, anybody with slightest idea of democracy will not appreciate this.
These regulations are a result of the ‘one-people, one-nation’ policy. This was also the root cause of the expulsion of the people of Nepali origin from Bhutan 20 years ago. Policies of the monarchy are always aimed at strengthening its roots in the country, be it on foreign affairs or internal matters. The people of Nepali origin were seen as a threat to the monarchy in the years to come. Hence, this shrewd political ante under the shroud of the ‘one-people, one-nation’ policy was propounded by the king. With the convenient ignorance and comfortable numbness of the southern neighbor, it was executed to perfection.
PEOPLE TORN APART: WITHOUT A NATION
Although two of the ministers in the first elected democratic government of Bhutan are of Nepali origin, many people of Nepali origin who still live in Bhutan whisper about the injustices. The stringent rule for jobs, where a no-objection certificate (NOC) is mandatory is one such example. If any member of the family was ever involved in any anti-government (read anti-monarchy) activity, you will not get the NOC. The vague definitions of such activities, left for the interpretation of local authorities at their own discretion, further makes things difficult for people like Shyam Bahadur Darnal.
Shyam is a friend I met in Delhi. After graduating in Bhutan, he moved to Delhi, completed his MBA and worked in a multinational for over five years. His father, after 20 long years of service to the government of Bhutan has now left the job without pension because of problems in documents. Shyam has come back from Delhi to support his family.
The café in Thimphu where I met him is run by a couple in their early thirties. The woman is of Nepali origin and the man is a Bhutanese. “I got a job so easily in Delhi. I used to in fact hop jobs without any insecurity. Here, in my country, it took me four months to get a NOC.” He takes out his frustration. There are other reasons too. The property that belonged to his father has been nationalized by the government. The documents were still with his grandfather when they left the country. (His father was the only one from the family who stayed back, being in a government job.) His grandfather is dead now; his grandmother lives in a refugee camp in Nepal. His uncles have moved to the USA and Canada, conveniently accepting the third-country settlement after two decades of exile. And Shyam’s father now cannot prove his ownership over the property.
Almost one sixth of the population of Bhutan was expelled due to many reasons. They are still living in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal where the population now has reached more than a 100,000. Many of the youths in the camps are people who have never known any life other than that of a refugee. The Bhutan government continues to give a deaf ear to the issue with an audacity beyond its capacity. Lyonpo Khandku Wangchuck, a minister in the government was unbelievably shameless to remark: “We are a peace loving Buddhist country. We can’t even get rid of street dogs. How can we do this to fellow human beings, our own citizens? They are all volunteer emigrants.”
Whatever be the play of words, whatever is the force behind the unacceptable behavior of the nations concerned and wherever they may be sent for resettlement, till the time they come back to Bhutan, they remain people without a nation. Things are not any better for people who are still in Bhutan.
(The writer can be reached at: email@example.com for comments)
Courtesy : Myrepublica, July 28, 2010