Home Op-Ed Opinion Imbroglio of Bhutanese Hindu diaspora: an Indian perspective

Imbroglio of Bhutanese Hindu diaspora: an Indian perspective

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Imbroglio of Bhutanese Hindu diaspora:  an Indian perspective

Bhutan is the only country in the world to measure happiness with its Gross National Happiness Index. But, its ethnic minority are deprived of their inalienable human rights by the Bhutanese government and are living as refugees in many countries. Their plight has been unaddressed by the International community till now. As per official data, twenty percent of Bhutan’s population belonging to Nepali-speaking Hindus who were forcibly evicted in 1990 due to the ethnic-racial policies of Bhutanisation.

For having asserted their human rights to practice their faith, mores and customs, they were termed as terrorist and being threat to security of the country by the  Bhutanese government. Under various pretexts, the ethnic minority was evicted and was forced to flee the country.  At present, they live as refugees in Nepal and in India. In Nepal, given its political instability and third-world country status, they could not determine to resolve the issue. As a result, they continued to live in camps in the Jhapa and Morang districts of Nepal for the past twenty one years.

When the refugees were having many health hazards due to lack of basic amenities in the camps, on the face of humanitarian crisis, the international communities came forward with the third country resettlement programme. Under the scheme, some of them were able to emigrate to the following countries such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Norway, Canada and so on. In the case of India, when the refugees were fleeing Bhutan, it allowed its territory for the safe passage of the Bhutanese  into Nepal. Some of them were allowed to settle in Siliguri and nearby districts of West Bengal and Assam. Though India is a member in the executive committee of the UNHCR, it has not ratified any of refugee conventions or protocols.

The Bhutanese Hindu refugees are living without any refugee status in India unlike the Tibetan refugees. They are not having any welfare benefits in pertaining to  refugees. They work as casual labourers in the unorganized sector so that they could meet their basic needs. It is very disturbing to say that India has been indifferent to the plight of the Bhutanese Hindu  refugees though it has very cordial relationship with Bhutan for so many years. India has been saying that it is a problem between Nepal and Bhutan.

They should engage in sustained dialogue among them to solve the impasse. In the last 21 years, the governments of Nepal and Bhutan have gone through sixteen rounds of talks but these have not led to any conclusion as yet. Nepal and Bhutanese refugees themselves strongly feel that India should step in to resolve the issue. But, India sticks to its ‘hands off’ policy so far. As said earlier, Bhutan and India relations have always been warmth. Bhutan sells its surplus hydro energy to power deficient India.

In return, India has been giving its helping hand for the economic development of  Bhutan. In order to update the 1949 Bhutan-India friendship treaty, a new treaty was signed which is known as Bhutan-India friendship treaty 2007 which reaffirms or fosters the relations of friendship and neighbourliness between India and Bhutan. The Indian political parties which are having considerable influence in this part of region have failed to act as pressure group to sort out the crisis of  Bhutanese Hindu refugees.

Having left out in the lurch, Bhutanese refugees along with some political parties formed the’ National Front for Democracy’ for their repatriation on 28th May,2007. For about 15,000 Bhutanese refugees in order to leave for Bhutan reached Mechi bridge which is the Nepal-Indo border, but, they were refused to pass through Indian territory by the Indian government security officials. Apart from refusal, they were manhandled by the Indian security establishments. In the scuffle, one young refugee named Sherbahadur Shiva died and  some of them  were injured. India agreed to provide compensation for those who were injured and faced death after negotiations. But, India has not honored its agreement so far.

Under this circumstance, India had a chance to press its ever friendly neighbour Bhutan for resolving this crisis. Instead, it suppressed the uprising of the refugees for asserting their human rights. Recently, India recognized that Bhutanese Hindu refugee problem is an international issue which is a welcome sign from its earlier stand. New Delhi should step in to  end the issue given its stature  as emerging world economic power. If need be, India could use its ‘smart power’  to convince Bhutan.

After achieving independence from the British, India formed non-alignment alliance with many Asian and African countries. India helped many Asian and African countries to achieve freedom from the colonial regime through non-alignment alliance. In the same way, the primary task of India   at present is that it should help some Asian and African countries to  achieve democratization in the respective Asian and African countries. In the absence of democratization, the ethnic minorities whose varied interests are being muzzled under the majoritarian ethnic or religious nationalism. As a result of this, there have been ethnic conflicts or strife-torn since independence in many of the Asian and African countries.

Bhutan is one such country where the democratization has not yet happened. Recently, it proclaimed that Bhutan is a democratic country from the monarchial form of government in 2008. Despite dawn of  democracy, the monarch is  still holding its grip over power and it deceives the people their inalienable rights. The true sense of democratic values are yet to crystallize in the governance of the country. For the sake of economic interests, India should not ally with the ruling elites of Bhutan, it should persuade Bhutan to find a solution to the plight of the Bhutanese Hindu refugees.  India had already missed the many opportunities which came it its way to end the dead lock.  It is an imperative task ahead of India to resolve the long due issue. But,the solution should be acceptable to all the aggrieved parties India could alone solve the problem being a close neighbour and more influential country in the region. Let India help the Bhutanese Hindu refugees to lead a dignified life in their homeland. Let us all show our solidarity for the hapless Bhutanese Hindus in defense of their human rights.

The author is Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Analysis ; the article is based on a presentation at the Symposium on ‘Bhutanese Refugees: The Tragic Story of the Forgotten People’ by Human Rights Defense (India) in New Delhi on 14 July 2012

15 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Dr. Mahalingham,

    Thank you for taking time to express your opinion.

    If only there was at least one Dr. Malingham from India to put his pen to work a decade or two ago, the Bhutanese Diaspora would not have needed the word “imbroglio” to describe our situation (I am not saying that the responsibility rested/rests solely in the hands of Indians or the Indian Government). What could have the Bhutanese done? Unlike the Tibetans, the Bhutanese refugees are not so blessed with a charismatic leader who is innate with both the aura of a political leader and the spirituality of a divine head. At least the Bhutanese people have proven that we are equally or often even more resilient than other refugees of the world. The 20+ years of exile has not disrobed us of our heritage nor defeated our zeal to prosper. We are the people who have learned to find happiness from within the simplicity of our refugee lives. I personally do not think that we need a symposium or bilateral talks to discuss what and how our rights were abused. Our generation of Bhutanese children who have not set foot on the Bhutanese soil is a living proof of everything gone wrong (no finger pointing here). What we now need is not a description of what happened, but a description of how we will stop from allowing what has happened to happen again. Democratic nations should guide the emerging democracies, emerging democracies should learn from mistakes made, resettled refugees should prove to their new homelands that their decision to adopt us did not go in vain, repatriating refugees should secure that they are welcomed back. All these will only happen when we know how to achieve what we want for now and in the future, but not when we keep digging the past and lament on what went wrong. Everything went wrong. Just my thoughts!

  2. Dear Mahalingam,
    Thank you very much for speaking along side the Bhutanese refugee plight. Indeed well-hearted South Indians like you feel the pain on misery of expelled Bhutani Hindu fellows. But mostly the ruling class Indian-colonial mindsets of North Indian and Bengali babus are supporting the genocide. Politics in Nepal has been fully infected by this colonial mindsets, so it can not think about the refugee plight. Goodwill of the people like you from India, Nepal, Bhutan and rest of the world would be the strong voice to solve this long protracted suffering.
    Thank you.
    Mahesh Kumar Thapa
    Sikkim

  3. well, i appreciate ur writing ( tho late). Now my generation of youth have not seen bhutan. The 20+ years have created a big gap. I hear even in bhutan, a generation of southern bhutanese were OUT of education. The children who were just school going or were about to be enrolled in schools in 1990s were deprived of schooling. So they may be now an uneducated youth or farmer. They still live in a suppressed / oppressed society. So now my relatives will always be backward for some time to come.
    I presume now India plays a positive role to advice the bhutan government to not to expel the remaining ones and allow them to live as a dignified citizen.

  4. Dear Sir,
    You are good. Your opinion is good.
    But, good people have little place in the world today.
    Those who are able to suppress and kill are qualified by legalities of big nations.

    These rulers listen only the voice of bullets and bombs. They do not listen the cry of victims. They do not read our appeal or memorandums. It has been proved.
    Even M K Gandghi would not have achieved Indian freedom without Subash Chandra Bose’s action.

    If some brave does this benevolent work will solve the problems of Bhutan.

    Cowards have no entry to the world today.
    I will support such great man and woman who does such noble work.

    Do you believe in this? If not what will bring the solution?

    I remain yours sincerely.

  5. Dear mahalingam,

    You have written one side of the story,therefore I would like justify the facts as under :-

    You are repeatedly using word Bhutanese Hindu…so I fear that you wanted to bring religious color to get supports from majority Hindus of India in order to create misunderstanding between innocent people of Bhutan and India.

    It is unfair to………. ……high light Bhutanese Hindus only refugees,plez note that there are Buddhist and Christian also.

    You have not mentioned..how the agitation was motivated by out side force…………? How many innocent people were killed and kidnapped by the so called todays…. ..refugee leaders and their team…………….who refused to join them at the beginning of agitation in Bhutan?.

    My family is victim of such ……….crime committed by Nepali leaders during agitation in side Bhutan.Our mistake……….. was.We refused to join the agitation. They looted my house
    assaulted my old aged parents,kidnapped my brother and taken to terrorist camps in across the border in India and killed.

    They destroyed the community services like schools, hospitals………… and bridges to create fear in the mind of innocent people with the supports of out side force.

    The success in Nepal movement, the taking over ofSikkim by the Nepali leaders and Gorkhaland agitations in Darjeeling encouraged some disgruntle peoples of our
    Bhutanese of Nepali origin……… to act against the Royal government with a hope to create greater Nepal in future.

    Mahalignam sir…… do you know ..why Indian leaders and Indian government supports Bhutan government ?

    Coz………..They have long drawn plan of creating greater Nepal by bringing together Kalimpong/Darjeeling/part of jalpaiguri(doars regions/part of Assam(North-east),Sikkim , I mean also dividing part of India in long run.

  6. This write-up has nothing new. But one fact is incorrect.

    No fleeing Bhutanese was ever allowed to settle in India. The West Bengal and Assam police and the CRPF were instrumental in ensuring that every fleeing person was dumped at Kakarvitta border. Only person to officially seek residence was Rongthung Kuenley for which he had to stay in Tihar jail and then city-bound in Delhi for a decade incarcerated by the ever friendly “Indian democratic system”. Few who live in India do so illegally and at their own risk.

    And Sonam Lama is right that the exiles are not just Hindus but Buddhist and Christians too. However the rest of his tirade reeks with Thimphu propaganda like all ardent “citizens” still continue to believe and do.

  7. Mahalignam sir…… do you know..why Indian leaders and Indian government supports Bhutan government ?
    Coz………..They have long drawn plan of creating greater Nepal by bringing together Kalimpong/Darjeeling/part of jalpaiguri(doars regions/part of Assam(North-east),Sikkim , I mean also dividing part of India in long run. by Sonam Lama.

    This is revelation of interesting part of the story. However, it is imperative to question whether there is evidence to such plan or it is a name to some perceived threat. If there is such plan, we do well to act against it as a nation so that we are not included there. Victimizing innocent people/citizen in the name of any plan real or unreal to which the Bhutanese are unaware is seeking cause and shelter for atrocious activities.

  8. Mahalignam sir…… do you know..why Indian leaders and Indian government supports Bhutan government ?
    Coz………..They have long drawn plan of creating greater Nepal by bringing together Kalimpong/Darjeeling/part of jalpaiguri(doars regions/part of Assam(North-east),Sikkim , I mean also dividing part of India in long run. by Sonam Lama.

    This is revelation of interesting part of the story. However, it is imperative to question whether there is evidence to such plan or it is a name to some perceived threat. If there is such plan, we do well to act against it as a nation to be excluded from it. Victimizing innocent people/citizen in the name of any plan real or unreal to which the Bhutanese are unaware is seeking cause and shelter for atrocious activities.

  9. भूटानकेा मानव अधिकार एवं प्रजातान्त्रिक अान्देालनलाइ भारतले समर्थन दिन्छ भन्ने कुरामा म विश्वास गर्न सक्दिन । किनकी सन् १९९२ देखि नै यस समस्याकेा दीर्घकालीन समाधानमा भूटानीहरूले भारतीय नेता सित बारम्बर निवेदन गरेका हुन् । तर भरतीय नेताहरूले भूटान सरकारकेा मात्र अाँखा चिम्लेर समर्थन गरे । यहाँसम्म की भारतीय मीडियाले समेत भूटानकेा पक्षमा लेख्ने गरेनन् परन्तु शरणार्थी भूटानीहरूलाइ नेपालका नागिरक हुन् सम्म भनेकेा कुरेा जग जाहेर छ । अहिले भूटान भित्रकेा प्राकृतिक श्रेात जम्मे भारतकेा परेाक्ष हातमा परेकेा अवस्थामा नेपालीभाषी भूटानीले गरेकेा भूटानकेा प्रजातान्त्रिक अान्देालन र शरणार्थीकेा स्वदेश फिर्तीमा भारतले के सहयेाग देला र ?