GNH and Unhappy People

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SB-Subba-small-220x144The obscure concept of philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) of fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuk is much propagated by none other than the Prime minister of Bhutan Jigme Y Thinley like religious philosophies by many Hindu and Buddhist gurus. So much so that it even mesmerized the Secretary General of the United Nations and elated to adopt 20th March as the Universal Happiness Day. The accolade has been bestowed without realizing the practicality in the country of origin, and as a matter of fact a day of happiness set aside for the world which is marred by hunger, diseases, xenophobia, racial prejudice, discrimination, human rights violation, civil and religious war every second.  It’s a state of mind that neither be felt, smelt, touched, tasted nor has shape and size measurable to quantify. It is invisible and intangible as its obscurity. Yet it gained immense importance thanks to clever and smart salesmanship of Jigme Y Thinley.

It is said that the hollow philosophy was conceptualized by king Jigme Singye Wangchuk in 1972 itself when he was 17 years old. What a genius! but took  more than two  decades to make GNH public, after forcing out about 1,10,000  Bhutanese who served him with unfaltering dedication and loyalty from their ancestral homeland in 1990s and making them to suffer as refugees.  What a mockery! Of course it is a custom in Bhutan to talk in retrospect of many things including the laws. Even king Jigme Singye Wangchuk’s marriage was said to be secretly solemnized with four ladies and sired four children before making public only in 1988.

 Although the GNH-philosophy successfully caught attention of the International community, people in Bhutan, the birthplace of GNH are yet to experience and enjoy the Happiness in true sense. Perhaps, for people of Bhutan, it is just going to remain an idealistic philosophy and as rhetoric. The so-called GNH is based on four platforms: 1.Economic development 2. Cultural promotion 3. Environmental preservation, and 4. Good governance

Impact of GNH and four platforms
We have seen the first so called democratically elected government led by Jigme Y Thinley completed 5 years of governance and mulling up for another election. In five year’s period, people are more suppressed, oppressed and subdued their voices rather than enjoying democratic aspirations of freedom of expression, press and assembly as people in country of GNH other than dissent in silent and disgruntle in quiet. JYT once said even the dogs in Thimphu were smiling. That probably was mistaken for the snarl on his foolish imposition of autocratic governance and blunders of self aggrandizement, nepotism and corruptions stacked above his height. In what area have his government succeeded to commendable achievement?  If we talk of economy, the country is indebted with more than 5 billion deficit. Country is still a donor dependent country. There are about 23% people living in poverty and the government could not do much to alleviate but claimed it to have reduced to 12% and can reduce to 5% as if by magic touch given another chance. There is acute Indian rupee crisis, which was never the case before. On the cultural side, perhaps the government was able to send some teams of mask dancers to few countries to perform and show some monuments of Dzongs and monasteries.

Melting glaciers and danger of bursting glacial lakes are always causing sleepless nights while some ambitious hydro-projects are going to submerge vast area of forest, the home of hundreds of varieties of flora and fauna and displace populations rendering no alternative rehabilitation. If one talks of good governance, it was blotched by rampant corruption, nepotism and rich becoming richer including JYT himself with one Mercedes, two Landcruisers, two Prados, a Crown, a Hilux and one WagonR, Besides, his son drives the most expensive car, Hummer. Yet he was presenting a clean image outside without qualm of shame of abusing authority. His commitment of serving the people with equity and justice remained rhetoric coupled by deepening disparities.

Belying the GNH propaganda, the propagandists were busy in land grabbing and engaging their relatives in acquiring lucrative businesses and contracts. They have huge amount stash in hard currency (Indian currency) at home and deposits in the bank which could last for generations who comfortably live enjoying GNH, whereas, the poor struggle daily for hand-to-mouth sustenance and livelihood but their labor is aggregated in GNH falsely taken by the gullible International community. Draconian law like tobacco act was enacted and innocent people for carrying few packets of tobacco for self consumption was considered heinous crimes and sent to jail but a murderer like Lakpa Dorji walk free enjoying all government emoluments. Thanks to gratis of king Jigme Singye Wangchuk because he has hatred towards Lhotsamaps (southern Bhutanese), and Sarchhops (the eastern Bhutanese).

Census and deprivation of rights
There are about 80,000 southern Bhutanese, the relatives of refugees living without nationality and citizenship. They were categorized in different census category just because they happened to be the relatives of refugees, Nepali speaking and are stateless people. There are also about 5000 Tibetans who chose to stay in Bhutan, when about 5000 fellowmen were deported to India in 1980s living without census for more than half a century. All were deprived from participating in first ever democratic vote held in 2008 and are going to face the same in general election to be held in July 2013. Not only deprived of voting rights, they are deprived of all government facilities and opportunities. To avail any government opportunity, one has to obtain No Objection Certificate or security Clearance from the police. It is denied except to whose census is clear and categorized as F1 (genuine Bhutanese).

The census issue is hitting hard on many Bhutanese in the south and in the east, where the identification of the fugitive father is required by law to grant citizenship to children born out of wedlock. There are some hundreds of students who are not given right to enter the colleges after graduating grade 12, and former civil servants whose census was dropped that are always kept under suspicion and scrutiny. They are grossly marginalized from the mainstream of every social, economic and political process in the pseudo-democracy of Bhutan. It is worth mentioning that Bhutan has a constitutional provision allowing only the King to grant citizenship and land to any, if so required.

The resettlement of the refugees from the camps in Nepal is a clean chit to ethnic cleansing policy of the Royal government of Bhutan (RGOB) headed by fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuk.  The international community being apathetic towards the plight of the 80,000 ethnic Nepali southern Bhutanese and about 5,000 Tibetans give moral boost to suppress and enact laws that are  not in conformity with International covenants and conventions. These people have to live with mental, psychological and social stigma, unhappiness and trepidation of unknown future.

Religious intolerance
There is intolerance for the freedom of religion. Sixteen Nyingmapa shedras in eastern Bhutan closed in 1997 after the demonstration by the monks and public in demand of democracy, human rights and freedom of religion remain still closed and in dilapidated conditions. The monks were arrested and some are serving life term, stripped of their robes and some were conscripted in the army. The Ningmapa head, His Holiness Dodrup Rinpoche presently residing in Sikkim is persona non-grata in Bhutan.  His followers travel to Sikkim to pay their respect. Similarly, the 10th incarnation of Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel born 2003 in a simple family in eastern Bhutan, is considered person of no entity after extradition from India. He along with his parents were kept confined in Chirang district but presently lives in Thimpu. He is supposed to be the guardian of Kagyupa Budhism, the main national religion of Bhutan.

The Royal Government of Bhutan is clever to allow construction of a Hindu temple in Thimpu but teaching of Nepali is still banned in the local primary and middle schools.  Claiming to be the paragon of tolerance and compassion, the Buddhist government of Bhutan has not promoted the construction of new Hindu temples unlike the construction of Buddhist stupas. Most existing temples in southern Bhutan are simply neglected or in dilapidated conditions. Christianity is banned, Christians persecuted and imprisoned and yet blow the trumpet of religious and spiritual approach to GNH as an important yardstick of achieving happiness rather than the materialistic quest.

GNH posing a political gimmick
The abstract and vague GNH concept suddenly came to fore to catch and divert the attention of International community with this new but utopian idea with a hope to assuage the concentration and mounting pressure on the government to address the refugee problem and pave way for fair repatriation. Had Nepal government been more assertive in the bilateral dialogues as Bhutan government and if the verification team of Nepal had their own result of findings on the basis of circumstance, testimonies and documents of the refugees, perhaps 75% of the Bhutanese refugees would have the ‘right to return’ unconditionally.  Unfortunately, this could not happen as Bhutanese team manipulated and maneuvered the Nepali team with their clever, smart and superior diplomacy and hospitality, so much so that the Nepali team concurred to the unilateral result of the Bhutanese team and illogical conditions of repatriation. The protracted nature of the issue opened avenues supporting Bhutan government relieving it from onus of taking back single refugee and creating diaspora of southern Bhutanese, whereas southern Bhutanese living in Bhutan are perpetually under the yoke of suppression, oppression, harassment and discrimination. The lands left behind by the exiles are allocated to the northern Bhutanese under a resettlement program, which itself is not free of nepotism and favoritism.

Increasing youth frustration and unemployment
The youths are so fabulously praised by the king and the government as future citizens, the pillars of future Bhutan. On the other hand, the government has not been able to provide jobs so that they could be absorbed in the income generation and nation building process. There is increasing youth frustration of unemployment coupled by increasing anti-social activities like drug abuse, alcoholism, HIV/AIDS, criminal acts as sexual assault, gang fights, murder, burglary and thefts including religious monuments and artifacts. There is increasing rural urban migration looking for GNH and creating urban population pressure and impact on social and economic infrastructures.  The government has failed to create enough job opportunities in commensurate to number of graduates passing out every year in thousands and equal number or more school drop outs or unable to continue studies for various reasons. The sons and daughters of influential elites take up few available government jobs. Only lucky poor who can excel in Royal Civil Service Commission examination (RCSC) climb the ladder of bureaucracy to enjoy GNH. Southern Bhutanese who cannot produce security Clearance that is deliberately denied from police has no chance even to sit for RCSC examination.  There is no social welfare scheme for unemployment or old age pension to compliment the GNH.

One-sided view
The alacrity of the International community to hear on one side exaggeration and lies of the Royal Government of Bhutan has and is bolstering it to frame stringent rules affecting the lives and happiness of the ordinary people. There is no respect for human rights and are some alienable rights are blatantly violated.  As a matter of fact and very sadly enough, the International community led by the super power USA, which espouses for Human Rights and Democracy in the world remains stoic, apathetic and is with the violator. However, it is to be seen for how long the International community, along with the biggest stakeholder of refugee resettlement, will take side and back up and how long the Royal Government of Bhutan can smother the nefarious acts. History cannot be erased and justice cannot be denied. Truth will prevail. It is just matter of time.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in the writing are purely of SB Subba and do not reflect any of BNS. Subba can be reached at :  [email protected]