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People without a nation

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Prolonged Statelessness: A Slow Poison

Keeping citizenship and census pending for generations has been deeply ingrained in the system. Civil liberty is not guaranteed by the fledgling democracy of the Kingdom. After one generation of stateless people is bred, it multiplies, and that gives the authority of Home Ministry reason to criminalize these generations of being illegal immigrants who entered through porous border.

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.

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.

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: for comments)

Courtesy : Myrepublica, July 28, 2010


  1. I think this is a very big lie. People of Nepalese origin in Bhutan are happy and comfortable. With such baseless writings of yours, you will only make their life more miserable.

    To know the true story behind the refugees problem, please read this blog:

  2. May be Ajit Rai is happy and comfortable but not all southern Bhutanese. He should not generalize. Southern Bhutanese still feel deeply hurt and humiliated because they are not allowed to read and write their mother tongue in democratic Bhutan. The Hindu culture, religion and traditions of southern Bhutan are being slowly swallowed up by Buddist religion and culture. Huge amounts of government money are being spent to intimidate people in south into learning Dzongkha which is not the language southern Bhutanese speak. You have played enough now please stop it. What refugees are telling is what actually happened to them and can be corroborated with the prevailing situation in southern Bhutan. In actual Bhutanese government has seriously and flagrantly violated the very goals and objectives of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, the decisions of World Conference on Human Rights and resolutions of World Conference against Racism which recognize the fundamental rights and freedoms of all people all over the world including their social, cultural and lingual rights. Bhutanese government has no rights, I repeat no rights, to destroy southern Bhutanese language,culture and identity. It must respect cultural pluralism and let its people freely practice their religion, language and culture no matter where they live and refrain itself from anti-people policies.

  3. Suraj Thapa, your view is completely dangerous. If you hold such a view, there is complete no need for you to call yourself Bhutanese. Have you not heard saying, “When in Rome, do like the Romans do”. If you want to be a Bhutanese, you have to respect and accept the traditions and culture of Bhutan.

  4. Raju ji, we are not living in Roman medieval age of brutality and feudalism, we are in the 21st century where enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and liberty are considered as the landmarks of a civilized and democratic society. Please don’t misunderstand me I am not saying one should not respect Bhutan’s culture and traditions, what I am saying is Bhutanese government must respect the culture, language and traditions of southern Bhutanese people. I don’t understand what justification is there to destroy the language, culture and traditions of southern Bhutan. Why do yo want to prescribe only one culture for Bhutan where there are people with diverse racial and cultural backgrounds. My views are not dangerous but what Bhutanese government is doing is not in keeping with democratic norms and principles where every individual and group is free to practice their language and culture. You can’t claim to be a democracy with such restrictions on people’s culture, language and traditions.

  5. Suraj Thapa, I guess you have not been to Bhutan at all. If you come and have a look, we Southern Bhutanese are free to practise our own culture and religion. There isn’t any restriction. Tradition Bhutanese dress code is now necessary only while going to the Dzong or offices. And Nepali language is not taught in schools in order to accord the same level as other languages in Bhutan besides Dzongkha which is a national language. You talk of feudalism, but I guess Bhutanese system far ahead in terms of freedom and liberty compared to the advanced system of Nepal which is reeling under lawlessness, murders, robbery and dirty politics even at the very top of the political spectrum. What do you?

  6. Good for you if Bhutanese government allows you to practice southern Bhutanese culture and traditions. But I strongly object your comparison of Nepali language with dilalects spoken in Bhutan. Nepali is a language with a vast and rich literature recognized by world universities including Indian universities and it forms part of global lingual studies. You can’t compare your Dzongkha with Nepali language because it is still in primitive stage and is being developed and promoted with government spending. You are making a big mistake by trying to defend feudalism in Bhutan. You should be truthful. Ths Bhutanese society presents a unique example of inequality and division between high and low, rulers and those being ruled over and it is being imposed on people who have to bow before every government official from a clerk to gup to drungpa to dzongdas, dashos, lyonpos, kings, queens, prince, princes and so on. The variety of scarfs/kamneys basically tells who is who in power, politics, authority and wealth and distingushes a poor and deprived Bhutanese from Paro, Haa, Samchi, Mongar, Tashigang, Shemgang, Pemagatshel and other areas from these feudal lords. Don’t you think this is a glaring and rediculous example of inequality and discrimination. This is not a democratic practice. People are supposed to be the rulers in democracy, but where in Bhutan? Do you like me to bow before you and just obey and not ask questions?

  7. According to linguistics, no language can be said to be superior than another. All languages have expressions for which no equivalents could be found in another language. The only difference is that languages with more speakers get the upper hand simply by the virtue of having more users. So, your assumption that Nepali is better than Dzongkha is a fundamentally WRONG assumption.

    Moreover, Bhutan has always been ruled by the people speaking Bhutanese language, and not Nepali language. Dzongkha was used in the Dzongs – the power centers that guarged Bhutan’s sovereignty for centuries. As such, Dzongkha has the right claim to be a national language. Let Nepali be for Nepal. We don’t want it.

    You talk of different levels in Bhutan. But levels exist in any country, be it Europe, India or America. In Bhutan, at least every one has the opportunity to reach higher levels by dint of their own hard work and intelligence. If one wants to wear orange kabney, one could do it by becoming a minister. That chance is open to all Bhutanese. But in your caste system, people are classified into different levels by birth. Now, what do you have to say about this??

  8. My argument is show me the proof in which university in the world Dzongkha is taught except at Simokha? Tell me how many people world over speak Dzongkha? I once travelled to eastern Bhutan and where I found villagers do not speak Dzongkha. They won’t understand a word of it. Do you think I am telling a story, no that is the truth. Even today most of the eastern villagers donot speak Dzongkha, I repeat Dzongkha. Tibetan which is the origin for Dzongkha is better understood and taught in universities not Dzongkha. Basically Dzongkha is not a separte language. It originated from Tibetan because people who came to Bhutan in earlier history were Tibetans. Now don’t say it is not true. I am not saying don’t make Dzongkha as the national language what I am saying is have courtesy to respect a language which is spoken by more than 50% of Bhutanese people. For your kind information Bhutanese refugees originated from Bhutan and not from Nepal. They have nothing to do in Nepal. They would have never come to Nepal if they were not forcibly evicted by royal military and police. Who told you the prsesent ministers and dashos worked hard to reach their present positions? You are ignorant and naive. But I know how they reached their positions. Do you know the backgrounds of present mninisters, their family history?

  9. Dzongkha is taught in colleges under the Royal University of Bhutan. Is it not a university in the world too?

    You may take pride in Nepali being taught in few unknown corners of dark classrooms attended by few strange Nepal-enthusiasts in some unknown universities. Bhutanese hardly envy that. You are always trying to show you are better and Bhutanese are no good. In psychology, such actions arise from what is known as ‘inferiority complex’. I guess it is time you get some good counseling.

    Now, you say that Dzongkha is a dialect of Tibetan. Again, this is a factual error. I do not argue that Dzongkha and Tibetan are not related, but they are not mutually intelligible. You just ask the speakers of Tibetan and Dzongkha if they can understand each other. They are accepted by linguists as two separate languages. I think Nepali is more related to Hindi than Dzongkha is to Tibetan. If you say that Dzongkha is a dialect of Tibetan, Nepali can very well pass a dialect of Hindi.

    All the history and information of Bhutan you have is the distorted ones fed to you by refugee leaders and supporters. In Bhutan, Dzongkha is now understood by almost everyone. Even the Lhotshampas are quite good at it, not to mention the Sharchops who are not different from the Ngalungs culturally and enthnically (see how they look similar and how they wore same clothes, celebrated the same festivals as the Ngalungs). As for the current set of ministers, who didn’t get elected due to his own abilities. Now, do you assume that even Thakur and Nanda Lal didn’t get their posts by virtue of their abilities?

  10. I don’t agree with you. The truth is Dzongkha originated from Tibetan and Shabdrung who introduced it in Bhutan was a Tibetan monk, a migrant who took refuge in Bhutan from religious persecution in Tibet. After Shabdrung his followers came to live in Bhutan and the original inhabitants, Monpas were pushed to eastern parts. You should know Bhutan is known as Monyul long before Drukyul. All Ngalungs are Tibetan descendants. Do you deny that? I am not denying there are similarities between Hindi and Nepali languages because they originated from Sanskrit. But you are denying you have no links with Tibet. Sharchhops are entirely different from Ngalungs, please accept that, OK? Dzongkha is forced upon them. Few Sharchhops who managed to get higher positions are trying to pretend they are Ngalungs but they are not. Given the chance of refrendum in Bhutan in favor of languages majority will vote for Sharchhokha which is so overwhelmingly popular and not Dzongkha which is imposed on people. Thakur and Nandalal are southern Bhutanese but they can’t open their mouth in support of their own language and culture. They are just humble servants of royal government and not the true represntatives of people. You can never defeat truth no matter how hard you try truth will remain as truth. And it is true that royal government of Bhutan continues to deny fundamental rights of learning their mother tongue to the children born in southern Bhutan. It is no democracy, it is hypocricy and shame in the name of democracy.

  11. Chapter closed. You argue based on hearsay and refugee propaganda, while I argue based on facts and accepted theories of linguistics, sociology and anthropology. Readers will make up their mind about who is correct after reading our comments.

  12. I have nothing to do with refugee propaganda and I am not anti-Bhutanese government because I gain nothing. I am one of those few supporters of political change and democracy in Bhutan and I have the highest regards and respect for those who worked make it happen, who worked for the democratic constitution of Bhutan. This transition is not a propaganda but a will of the Bhutanese people expressed jointly and freely that they want to live in a society free from fear, intimidation and political persecution, that they will be governed under the rule of law protected by the constitution, and that the new changes will bring them more economic prosperity and individual freedom. It was a landmark transition from absolute monarchy to democaracy in Asia infamous for violence and blood shed. I have the highest faith in the current leaders of Bhutan that they will make Bhutan a vibrant democracy, will be guided by the wellbeing and welfare of all the people of Bhutan irrespective of their racial, ethnic and lingual backgrounds. But in the last two years nothing much has happened, I have not seen any political debate in the Bhutanese media to empower the poor Bhutanese people and strengthen democracy, respect for diverse cultures and languages, no significant strategies and plans to uplift the life of the poor and increase in their household income, no concrete plans to address the needs of jobless and also lacking is the participation of Bhutan in global affairs. I have seen current prime minister going around and talking about GNH giving the wrong impression as if Bhutan is rich and prosperous but in actual it is not true. Bhutan is still one of the countries listed as LDCs (Least Developed Countries)by the United Natons. GNH as a philosophy is absolutely right that is the ideal stage if a nation can aspire and reach in pursuit of its people’s maerial and spiritual development. But for a poor country like Bhutan we need genuine efforts to increase the real gross income of its people by actually coming up with statistics showing the real needs of the people. Personally I feel while the message of GNH need to be spread as Buddhist way of viewing life and living it in the pursuit of development but at the same time leaders must put in more efforts to secure and generate more international funding which can create more infrastructure, more jobs and more income. Let’s not stop debating and talking on any issues, please donot consider the issues raised as an offence, everybody is concerned with the success of democracy in Bhutan and peace and happiness of the Bhutanese people.

  13. Suraj, I think you know nothing about Bhutan.You are very far from Bhutan.If you know nothing about any subject materials try to make a habit to ask with other person who knows.Don’t write any hypothetical sentences in this website coz this media has its own reputation.we don’t have right to kill the reputation of this media

  14. Suraji,would u mind to open the history of every states of U.S.A.?Can you put any one example of Nepali or sanskrit school in U.S.A.?Are all those Nepali speaking people in U.S.A learning nepali laungage overthere?.Is there any Nepali speaking people working in white house? but lots of nepali speaking people are working in parlimentry house of Bhutan. some of them are minister too.How would you satisfy with Govt Of Bhutan? What kind of democracy you need in Bhutan?.If you give me the answers of my all questions i would be highly greateful to you.

  15. Mr Raju, be sure that Bhutan is not a private property of any dynasty.If it’s a country it must be a home of all ethnicity those who are born in Bhutan.If it’s a territory of any country it must be a home of some tribes of people only.So, Mr Raju …. what you want to do?
    Do you want to say Bhutan is a country or a territory of a country?.It’s your choice.A country must have diplomatic relationship with at list 30 countries.Does Bhutan have diplomatic relationship with even its big and border attached neighborliness country(CHINA).In future if something dispute will happen between Bhutan and China about their border how can they solve their problem without any diplomatic relationship or they will hire their owner?.

  16. Dear Raju, Ajit_rai, and Suraj Thapa,…..If you really love beautiful Druk youl(BHUTAN),why don’t you speak about the sovereignty and the border of Bhutan?
    .Do you know that? after 50 years there will be no more Bhutan in the world map.
    And the Bhutanese people are gonna to be a tribal of the state.If you don’t know about it ask with your immature king.He knows everything even than he can do no thing becoz he is in the diplomatic prison of India.If you need supportive documents of my view go and ask with the severely extinct IndoBhutan border pillars.There is no border between Bhutan and India from Singhee to Kalikhola.Before 1987 sano Pinkhuwa was under(sarpang) Bhutan. Now 90% of sano pinkhuwa falls under (assam-bodoland)India.One day Dzonkha will become a tribal language of India like Uhkhumiya of assam, Nagamise of Nagaland and Manipuri of Manipur.So don’t be too late to protect your sovereignty and Kingdom. It is not a time to speak about democracy and Gross National Happynese for Bhutanese people becoz your nationality’s and sovereignty’s death is very near

  17. moni,
    little knowledge is dangerous… do u have any proove to justify your claim that a country needs to have diplomatic relations with at least 30 countries to be pronounced as a country(Absouletly crap, r u insane) and remember that Bhutan is a member country of United Nations(if U r wise enough this should convince u with the dought u have regarding the soverginity of Bhutan)

  18. dear moni,
    little knowledge is dangerous… do u have any proove to justify your claim that a country needs to have diplomatic relations with at least 30 countries to be pronounced as a country(Absouletly crap, r u insane) and remember that Bhutan is a member country of United Nations(if U r wise enough this should convince u with the dought u have regarding the soverginity of Bhutan)

  19. dear moni,
    little knowledge is dangerous… do u have any proove to justify your claim that a country needs to have diplomatic relations with at least 30 countries to be pronounced as a country(Absouletly crap, r u insane) and remember that Bhutan is a member country of United Nations(if U r wise enough this should convince u with the dought u have regarding the soverginity of Bhutan. if u have little knowledge please make sure u dont comment.

    thank you, your well wisher


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