Lankan columnist misinterprets Bhutan’s ethnic cleansing


Rohan Samarajiva, a noted columnist for the Lanka Business, has given wrong interpretation to Bhutan’s state-sponsored ethnic cleansing that took place in late 1980s and early 1990s.

In one of his articles published by the Lanka Business Online Monday, Samarajiva mentioned that thousands of Bhutanese citizens had to return to Nepal from southern Bhutan when they failed to provide enough documentation regarding their residence and property ownership in the country.

In his comparison between Bhutan and Sri Lanka, the columnist said, “Many in southern Bhutan could not provide documentation to establish the required length of residence and property ownership and had to return to Nepal. This resulted in refugee camps that held 107,000 people at the peak.”

Samarajiva, who recently completed his trip to Bhutan and probably had opportunity to meet senior government officials, is associated with dozens of national and international organizations and forums. He is founding Chair and CEO of LIRNEasia. His curriculum vitae readily available in the web have revealed that he also edits various six academic journals.

His clarification
In an E-mail response from Colombo to the Bhutan News Service, Samarajiva claimed that “authorities” gave the statement he mentioned in his article. However, he didn’t name who those authorities are.

Rohan Samarajiva (courtesy : Samarajiva’s twitter page)

“The sentence is based on widely available information and is the stated reason given by the authorities,” he stated adding, “As can be seen from the content of the article, my interest and expertise is in economic matters. I doubt if anyone will cite me as an authority on internal political issues of Bhutan or Nepal.”

Samarajiva, who claims himself as an ICT policy and regulation think tank active across 12 emerging Asian economies, however, accepted that the issue might be debatable (among Bhutanese refugees).

“It was not my intention to either initiate or aggravate a debate.  The article was published for a Sri Lankan audience.  I am surprised it has aroused interest in Nepal,” added he.

In another instance, Samarajiva, who has typically appreciated the Bhutanese model of democracy and Gross National Happiness, also claimed that citizens (hinting to the southern Bhutanese) were penalized when they declined to obey the national dress code.

Seniors criticize
Dr Bhampa Rai, who chairs the Bhutanese Refugee Representative Repatriation Committee, termed Samarajiva’s version of Lhotshampas’ evection from Bhutan as “ridiculous and bogus”.

Talking to the Bhutan News Service over phone, he threw a request to the columnist to read books and reports on the Bhutanese refugee issues.

He questioned, “How can a Ph.D. fellow from our neighboring country attempt to give injustice to over 100,000 of Bhutanese citizens by wrongly interpreting the crux of Bhutanese refugee problem?”

Meanwhile, RP Subba from Virginia of the United States commented that the writer seems to have been a little over impressed by Bhutan’s spiraling economic growth.

“He is lamenting that that his own government has let them down,” he said, “The writer’s figure, which he quotes that 107,000 people who could not provide documentation to establish the required length of residence and property ownership and had to return to Nepal is wrong.”

We must correct him, Subba said, “How can he be so objective when the Joint Verification Team of Nepal and Bhutan has produced a different result?”

Another senior member of the community from Canada, Tika Adhikari, told Bhutan News Service that the matter was a vivid example of Bhutan’s fabricating tactics while trying to project a wrong image for creating confusion.

“He should have consulted the UNHCR, Nepalese leaders, and others who are knowledgeable on this issues. It is not just a question of registry of land or people but we were former Bhutanese citizens,” he commented. “Does he know that Bhutan stripped peoples’ citizenship by its ad hoc actions?”

Chairperson of the Bhutanese Welfare Association in the United Kingdom, Durga Giri, doubted if the columnist was actually knowing that family members of the same household are both inside the country and in the refugee camps in Nepal.

“Had it been only because of documentation issue as claimed by him, rest of the family members inside the country would have been easily evicted long back,” expressed Giri.

Vidhyapati Mishra from Nepal contributed to this report


  1. Sounds like a bribed columnist. It is like many police and army officials from the neighbouring state of Assam and Bengal bordering Bhutan were bribed during 1990s and onwards. That was done locally without their knowledge to the Central Government of India. I think same thing might have been done to Mr. Columnist.

  2. Attn to Mr.Columnist,
    My humble request to Mr. columnist to collect enough information before you jot down about some thing especially about sessitive political matters. As far as i know Shinghales (I beleive you belong to) from Srilanka are expert enough to judge from one side against Srilankan Tamil minority. If you could ask 107000 exiled bhutanese in the camp to produce valid and original Bhutan’s citizenship card ,I rekon you would wounder, You would find in each of them.

  3. Dear Rohan Samarajiva,

    Following are the articles by Emanthi Marambe, a fellow investigative journalist who has written various investigative articles on Bhutanese who were the victim of ethnic cleansing. She has met personally to many Bhutanese and published her articles.

    Below are the links for your reference and enlightenment. Contact her and get knowledge and dont stay ignorant on such ethnic cleansing issue.

  4. Dear Rohan,
    as we are the victimized people of Bhutanese Government I say nothing more than you are also the VICTIMIZED noted columnist; just jotted down without proper knowledge of Bhutanese people and its politics. I hope you will do research on our issues and bring facts behind playing games of Bhutanese goverment not only to Bhutanese and its neighbour but to the International communities. That’s what to be a noted columnist.

  5. all those who visit bhutan either enjoy an audience with the king or the PM or with high level officials and come out to say that lhotshampas are illegal immigrants in bhutan. the heavy gift and money that the throne and the government has in hand to manipulate the facts and let these columnist write is nothing new.
    even now all the bordering indian officers in assam and bengal are gifted routinely by the government !

  6. Dear Samarajiva,
    Please don’t get embarrassed by these maligned comments. You have done justice to the Bhutanese. The so-called refugees and their leaders have misinformed the international community. The UNHCR and other aid agencies are very well aware of these people, which is why they have been sent to third country.

    Your visit to Bhutan gave you insight why these people should not be in Bhutan.

  7. Lotus Flower shame on you? How much effort, corrupted and bias people like you would implement- The truth never extinct, rather get strengthen. Truth may be hidden, but never and ever be eroded.

    You might be glad that you were able to manipulate some cheep and greedy writer and reporter to express on your behalves, but don’t forget – The child of Bhutanese Refugee is now armoring in the land of freedom to nude you, to prevail the hidden truth and to get justice.

    Welcome to all Bhutanese refugee, you deserve to get Justice. Future is on your hand,go ahead!

    Man were created equal.

  8. Quote “….Your visit to Bhutan gave you insight why these people should not be in Bhutan.” unquote

    Lotus flower is correct here that UNHCR / aid agencies knew and recognised the people evicted from bhutan and re-settled them in such a huge numbers successfully as bhutanese refugees are quite hard working, sincere and obedient to instructions (clearly bhutanese way which LF also accepts).

    About the columnist, his only visit and discussions with the King, and or other bureocrats will tilt him to one side. Mr Samarajiva should have visited eastern and southern dzongkhags to assess for himself about the situations there. he should not have just written what has been told to him. If he had come to Trashigang, i would have narrated him my understanding of the scenario, as i was present while so many events took place that ultimately resulted in eviction. Then it was up to him to judge or balance and then report or write.

    so, what he as reported has been appreciated by those who have fed him, no wonder.

  9. To dear columnist,Mr R.S,
    We must thank you for that baseless article about Bhutanese Refugee and ethnic cleansing.It is not more than a hearsay.Of course, you mentioned that is based on conversation with bhutanese authority but who? Is it based on conversation only or hospitality too? We wonder sometimes bhutanese refugees are called anti nationals, terrorists,economic migrants, even indians and so forth . Now new theory by our learned columnist from Sri Lanka , the land of sinalese and tamils. Thank you for enlightening BNS readers with new inventory.Keep visiting Bhutan for more such enlightening stories about Bhutan & bhutanese.Keep it up with good fortune.

  10. If you want to make money and visit Bhutan for free, approach as a writer to Wangchuck and its bureaucrats at Thimphu. Tell them you gonna write on their behalves- dam, you make a lot of money.

    It looks like Bhutan invest more on defending their bitter history, than providing pain medication to its public. Is this their model of GNH ?

  11. What Samarajiva wrote is the truth he knows. Narrate the truth we know but why slander him. Seems to me that our leaders everywhere are on the look out for such opportunities in the hope of legitimizing their own positions. If you are a leader, narrate the truth you know in a way that the world believes it. If you hold no authority over it, it is very unlikely that you can gain credibility by attacking others at every opportunity.

  12. To Mr. Samarajiva Can you please asked the Oldest Possible Documents of Land Tax and others that stand as the proof of being a genuine Bhutanese from Royal Govt. of Bhutan.
    Ones you collect them, can you please take trouble to email me your postal address or give me your valid e-mail id. I shall attached/post you all that my parents brought from Bhutan as residue of confistication.
    @Mr. Ratan Gajamer. Can you please take time to find Mr. Samarajiva and help him a copy of the CD that AHURA – Bhutan have prepared.
    Dear Mr. Samarajiva having appreciation about the power of your pen, I feel you need to exercise your brain.