Language and politics: Dzongkha issue


With the the election campaign in full swing, the candidates are speaking to the electorates by means of common forum hosted and broadcasted by the national channel BBS. It is a part of candidate-voter familiarization process whereby the aspiring candidates are required to speak only in Dzongkha regardless of whether the voters understand or not.

Dzongkha is the national language and it is accepted by all Bhutanese whatever linguistic or ethnic background they belong to. However, the national language, as have been asserted and implied, is not the lingua-franca of most people in the south and east. Even in the south west region an ethnic community in minority speaks a different language.  For most southern districts like Samtse, Chhuka, Tsirang, Dagana, Samdrupjongkhar and Sarpang it is Nepali(Lhotshampkha) while in the Eastern districts of Trashigang, Tashiyangtse, Samdrupjongkhar, Pemagatshel it is  Sarchhopkha(Tsangla) and in Shemgang it is mostly Khengkha.

In Samtse, the need to use the local language(Nepali) for campaigning is more urgent and impelling. As the district of largest voters, Samtse candidates cannot afford to lose the votes without making themselves clear. Same is the case for Trashigang and Samdrupjongkhar. For candidates in Samdrupjongkhar, they ought to be at least bilingual, fluent in Nepali and Sarchhopkha.

While opting out of common forum, the candidates in Samtse have hoped to ease out their process of campaigning going door to door or in smaller groups in the local venues. Doing so,  they can talk in Nepali or in informal dzongkha in case of the voters not understanding Nepali.  In Dewathang, both PDP and DPT candidates could not resist speaking in Sarchhopkha for the  common forum too, according to Kuensel. One of the candidates is reported to have said, ‘There is no harm in speaking in Sarchhopkha when majoiry do not understand what we say in dzongkha.’

Looking at the utterly poor dzongkha of Rebecca Gurung, the DPT candidate of Pugli, one can only sympathize over the popularity of dzongkha as the national language. Most probably, Lila Pradhan and Madan kumar Chhetri did not want to go public the same way as Rebecca.

While the Royal government has taken a motion to transform the original local names of villages and districts in the south to sound more like dzongkha, the actual language people speak as their mother tongue is still Nepali. This name changing motion is intended to promote the assumed domination of dzongkha language in the traditional inhabited roots of Nepali speaking people.