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.
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.
“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.
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