Lhotshampas – the true citizens


Dr Bhampa RaiThe ethnic Nepalis have been living in Bhutan from as early as 1624 AD. Since then, people have lived in Bhutan as Gorkhas followed by an official declaration of Lhotshampas to those living in the southern part of the country in 1958.

Bhutan’s first organized census of 1964 as a preparation for admissions to the United Nations also helped to mobilize citizens between the ages 18-56 years for national infrastructure building in different regions. The local administrations were fully involved in the census, and the National Assembly resolved to maintain strict vigilance over the first countrywide census. The Royal Advisory Councilors were assigned to supervise the census and ensure coverage in all the regions. It was thus carried out with due verification and certification by the councilors to avoid unanticipated flaws.

Bhutan’s Home Ministry established the Department of Registration, which decided to issue Citizenship Identity Cards to all Bhutanese nationals. So they conducted a second organized nationwide census in 1977 based on the evidences of the first census (1964-71) and distributed citizenship identity cards to all Bhutanese nationals in 1981.

However, the Bhutan government promulgated the Citizenship Act of 1985, which came into force in the 1988 census. It came as a shock to the Bhutanese citizens as the requirements of 1988 census were far to accept. It required that for a person to be qualified as a Bhutanese national, both parents had to be Bhutanese. The old criterion of fatherhood was no longer valid. Worst of all, since this act was given retroactive implementation, all children born between 1958 and 1988 to non-Bhutanese mothers were declared as illegal immigrants.

In the meantime, the census operation required families to produce land tax receipts of 1958, and all those who could not produce the documents of 1958 were listed as illegal immigrants. Their citizenship identity documents had been seized by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which came into existence in 1968.

Interestingly, contrary to what the government has alleged the Lhotsampas with, no Bhutanese can be registered for citizenship without owning some landed property. The stronger part of the law is that without the approval of the King, any person occupying a vacant land shall be illegal and punishable by confiscation and imprisonment. To be specific, the Lhotshampas issued with the Citizenship Identity Cards are genuine and bona fide Bhutanese citizens. The changes brought about by the fourth monarch have severed the farsighted vision and achievements of his noble father, who had put wholehearted trust and confidence in the Royal Advisory Councilors, District Administrators and Parliamentarians, all of who represent the people and the government simultaneously.

It is also noteworthy that the regime’s atrocities are not confined to Lhotshampas only. The Sharchokpas, inhabitants of mostly the eastern part of the country and followers of the Nyingmapa tradition of Mahayana Buddhism have been also perpetually suppressed and deprived of their social, economic, cultural and traditional rights.

At one point, the pro-democracy forces from eastern Bhutan organized a peaceful demonstration in support of human rights and democracy in 1997. But people were rewarded with the armed repression and ruthless acts of the officials. Sixteen institutes of Buddhist learning of the Nyingmapa teachings were closed and the students were sent back to their homes. A monk was shot at point blank by the district chief, who went unpunished, while the Chief Abbot was imprisoned for eight years. Many others faced rigorous prison terms for merely raising their voice for the right to freedom of their own religion.  Some people were even made to flee the country to join their relatives in the refugee camps in Nepal.

Amidst this entanglement, Bhutan began campaigning to world community of its “Gross National Happiness” with per capita income of US$ 835 (2002) on a population of little over 650,000. Following pressure from various donor agencies and the international community, Bhutan expanded the cabinet by ten ministers in 2002,  eventually proclamation of  flawed ‘Constitution’ and dawn of an incomplete democracy in 2008.

Despite India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru’s Paro public address in 1958 that assured Bhutan a sovereign state, and Smt. Indira Gandhi’s statement on Bhutan not to compare its status with that of Sikkim, the regime continued to look at its Nepali-speaking citizens with suspicion and evicted them in the early 90s.

The bilateral talks between Nepal and Bhutan to resolve the stalemate could yield nothing but pushed the issue towards uncertainty. Thus began the resettlement program in 2008. Although nearly 60,000 Bhutanese have been resettled in different western countries, the remaining population is still waiting to get repatriated. Personally, I strongly believe that third country resettlement is not a permanent solution as it was never a choice of Bhutanese people.

Still, the greatest responsibility lies in India, the world’s largest democracy, to help repatriate with honour, the interested Bhutanese refugees to their land of origin.

The writer is chairperson, Bhutanese Refugees Representative Repatriation Committee; 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


  1. dr.bhampa rai,
    you have given the details of what happened in 1990s in bhutan. it is very nice to know the whole chronology.
    apart from this i heard there are many more nepali bhutanese in bhutan at present time also.
    why they didn’t leave the country in 1990?what prevented them?
    many are already gone to different western countries for resettlement.
    do you think these people will also push for repatriation from those countries?
    since nepal and india are not able to convince bhutan when the refugees were/are in jhapa for repatration but do don’t you think the western powerful country can make bhutan comply with refugees’ demand of retatriation?

    i wonder how this complexity can be solved.

    till then all the best.this is my humble opinion puzzling to myself.

  2. “Despite India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru’s Paro public address in 1958 that assured Bhutan a sovereign state, and Smt. Indira Gandhi’s statement on Bhutan not to compare its status with that of Sikkim, the regime continued to look at its Nepali-speaking citizens with suspicion and evicted them in the early 90s.”

    India did try to Sikkimize Bhutan in the early 90s. Read this article from the New York Times.


  3. Rai Dai has rightly pointed out the fact that, Nepali came into to Bhutan in1624AD as Gorkha.
    But he failed to present the facts in positive manner.
    Yes, Gorkha visited Bhutan long before 1624AD with the British official team for the short period not once but many many times as porters .
    Yes, group of nepali so called newar (skilled workers) were sent by King Gorkha of Nepal to work for Temple construction in Bhutan for the short time due to good relationship between Gorkha King and Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel..
    Finally, the large number of Nepali from Nepal and adjoining India brought into Bhutan by the GREF(Dantak) a team of Indian Army Engineering team to construct motor roads in Bhutan between 1958 onwards.

  4. i don’t know the date but people have said that the people of nepali origin were requested by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel to settle in southern part of bhutan. this served two purposes:
    1.southern foothills were infested with mosquitoes,animals esp.elephants, so that nepali settlers could clean the forest and work as farmers.
    2.these nepali people would teach their counterparts bhoteys who were living in the jungles. did not know proper methods of rice plantation. very lazy, only drinking alcohol and making civil wars. the hard working people of nepali origins were seen by shabdrung himself when he visited nepal of that time. shabdrung paid 50paisa to nepali king at that time to bring a group of villagers.shabdrung had a very good relation with nepal at that time.(nepal was a gorkha kingdom n not as nepal).shabdrung signed a ‘agreement’ with the gorkhali king that these subjects would be treated equally like other bhoteys of druk gyalkhap.these types of documents were said to have been confiscated by bhutanese officials in 1990 problems.

    this is what i heard from other people. if anyone can throw some light in this.


  5. but i believe that the GREF brought people of nepali/bengali/bihari and others tribes to work in road constructions after 1960s and not to populate the bhutanese land. however,few would have made their home by a contract of marriage and stayed back. otherwise the villages from east to west was existing as it is.
    my thoughts

  6. Thank you Dr. Rai for bringing this great source of lively information to the public. Keep on exploring in and exploding out the hidden history of Bhutan and the dirty little secret of 4th king, Jigme singye Wangchuck.

  7. Okay,.. Nepali came into Bhutan before 1624 AD. Bhutan fought 14 wars with British India in southern Bhutan and 32 wars with Tibet in north/east Bhutan before 1950.

    We have names of many Rajas/Dev rajas, chipons, and leading personalities in the history of Bhutan including the outsider Sindu Raja in Bumthang and Bajrag raja(came for hunting) in Mongar .

    We have prominent leaders from west, east, central Bhutan and even southern part of Bhutan was under the leadership of these leaders i.e. Samdrupjongkhar under Eastern leader,Gepelhu,Dagana,Chirang under Central leaders and chukha/samtse under western leaders.

    Yes.. after 1950.. these Bhutanese leaders nominated few Nepali sardar like Newlee Baje,Om pardhan’s father in Samdrupjongkhar & Gurung family in Chuka/samtse. to collect the tax and look after the administration on their absence.

    I have observed our friends frequently highlights the name of Late Masur chherti as freedom fighter.But in fact he was ordinary sardar in the border area, a hard worker, therefore his service was recognized by the Bhutanese leaders, but Masur undermined the friendly gesture of Bhutanese leaders as weak leadership and tried to take over their leadership in south with the support of Nepali leaders Late B P koirala ,ex.PM of Nepal.

  8. Whoever speaks or whomever of we speak or any one speaks does not matter much when the facts spoken are false. Any conscious and human personnel with wisdom should realize that everyone is born free by birth, has inborn right to speak, and practice their daily life activities. There are no concerns that anyone without wisdom can speak whatever. Let them speak false and speak false again. So, that his life also ends with false. I really appreciate Dr. Rai’s write up except he saying the presents of Gorkhas in Bhutan were after 1624 A.D.
    However, a person does not have to live a centaury to be a citizen of any country. I know Gorkhas’ sweat and blood has adorned the roads, bridges, and other infrastructures in Bhutan free of cost in the name of Begar (Unpaid work devoted in the name of country).

  9. K. S. Bardewa, that is your perception, don’t be foolish imagining every individual should agree with your perspective.

    If you ever have gone through world history, you would find tons of allegations and misinterpretation over freedom fighter and revolutionaries by their autocratic regimes and those bureaucrat working around the regime. What is the difference with you ?

    Do you know Aung San Suu Kyi? Bureaucrats like you and the Burmese regime tries their best to disqualify this lady with immeasurable allegation and falsification, but the people history will speaks the truth about this lady.

  10. Sonam Ashang,

    There are many languages in Bhutan, we have different language in our respective area/villages. But 95% of the Bhutanese can write and read our National language in all the regions of Bhutan except some pockets of southern Bhutan dominated by Nepali origin.
    You proudly say that, nepali have been living in Bhutan since the time of Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel,
    We should feel shy to make such claim, 90% of Nepali in Bhutan failed to learn National language during the past 300-400 years.
    World history will never tell lie….so you need to dig out the names of Nepali leaders in the political history of Bhutan before the year 1950.
    You can find names of Nepali warrior/freedom fighters/political leader’s active role in the history of many countries like,India,British India etc but I have never find single name of Nepali in the history of Bhutan.

  11. Yes I support Bardewa and would like to bring one more question to our Nepali friends.
    In Bhutan every communities have their own language and dresses. But 98% of our Bhutanese population supported ONE NATION, ONE PEOPLE policy in 1990 except handful of Nepali people and revolted against the Government ,brunt down our national dress and National flag and left Bhutan and today they are proudly called Bhutanese refugee.
    Today they are seen wearing National dress in front of international community, try to learn/speak National language in order enjoy free facilities provided by the international community in the name of Bhutanese.

  12. “Try to learn/speak National language in order enjoy free facilities provided by the international community in the name of Bhutanese”…….. Really?

    Please, my friends don’t twist the questions, let me repeat again- What made Wangchuck dynesty to kicked our people out just because they asked to speak and learn their mother tongue?

    Come on guys it is 21st century, and you are still arguing about “one nation one people” policy which could not make a logical sense .

    If the policy really apply in Bhutan- how we got those landlords and millioners, how we got land scam and corruption, why we have to bow down for the people in power, while, the other side of story, how we got our fellow Bhutanese struggling for survival- why not a single pain medication for them, why our children are suffering from malnutrition ? Wearing a custom and speaking a language would not reflect “One nation One People”, my dear!

    It is the value you hold and shared, not the dress code and language you forecast!

    Try to respect and love all like a human, it hold the power of One Nation One People. Be changed with changing world!

  13. Sonam,
    Plez, remember when you are pointing one finger to others, your rest fingers are pointing towards you.
    Lets talk about the fellow refugees who are still living at the Nepal camps in pathetic condition.
    Please bring our own community/refugees (house) in order before making comments to other sides.
    Give them equal rights and opportunities in the field of education/health and abroad settlement like you cunning people are taking advantage in the name of Bhutanese refugees.
    Now 20 years is enough.. you should feel shy to talk against the Bhutan Government.In fact we were happy there in Bhutan under the King Wangchuk than living here in refugee camps for the past 20 years.

  14. “Give them equal rights and opportunities in the field of education/health and abroad settlement ?” — I am confused, what do you mean by this ?

    My dear, Dorji Mokthan(faked Mokthan), don’t be a semi naked commenter. You have no ideas, what result the reseattlement process and how it is functioning.

    I am sorry for you, my dear ! We all know you are fake Mokthan- in fact you are no other than the cousin of Jigme Singye Wangchuck. We feel your lies and the confusion of shamefulness on you. Because you are related to the regime who did one of the heinous crime “ethnic cleansing” from the land so called Gross National Happiness. Shame on you and your uncle – Jigme Singye Wangchuck!

  15. Sonam Chang..baa,

    Did you notice innocent and poorest of poor are till suffering in the refugee camps in Nepal with poor basic facilities like education/health care and sanitation and you cunning foxes are enjoying the luxury life style in the foreign countries.
    Why you did not give first preference to the poorest of poor refugee group for foreign settlement ?
    You must be related to Koirala family of Nepal so you are providing refugee documents to the genuine Nepali citizen to go abroad in the name of Bhutanese refugee.

  16. Mr. K. S Berdewa, i don’t think you have gone through Bhutan’s History is depth,do know that Nalong are also the immigrants from Tibet.Almost all the ethinicity now living in Bhutan are immigrants.Why are you saying only Southern Bhutanese ?

  17. Dorji (but not Mokthan), Once more let me explain you in plain English, if you still keep arguing in this topic- I have to be informed that, you have all rights to disagree, if you agree on me.

    By the way, innocent and poorest of poor are still suffering in the refugee camps, I do know that and it is the bitter true. But resettlement process is open for all genuine Bhutanese Refugee. It is their choice either to move to third country, or to return back to the home land if any chances.

    What I want your to realize is -Instead of repeating your senseless argument, give me your answer- Isn’t the Bhutanese government responsible to realize their mistake and to honestly return their people back to Bhutan ? Isn’t it a shame for your uncle(Jigme Wangchcuk and Thinley to claim GNH, while having 1/6th of Bhutanese population living the life of refugee?

    To get the best answer, you better ask your uncles there at Thimphu (who did ethnic cleansing in the history of Bhutan), to understand the complexity and the immeasurable effects of long lasting refugee situation, and the out come from neglecting the minority of Bhutanese from the mainstream Bhutanese Society.

    In other word- people who were betrayed and tortured by Bhutanese regime are now molding, armouring, and equipping themselves in Western Society, you just keep watching what that means to the future of Bhutanese regime.

    Good Luck!

  18. Tulsi ji,
    I was waiting KS Bardewa to clear your doubts about the migrant issue but he seems to be not interested to reply you.
    Yes Nalong are also migrants.. but not like Nepali and more over they came into to Bhutan when Bhutan was not a united country. They played active role in the History of united Bhutan.They accepted Bhutanese dress/culture and Tradition whole heartedly .
    Do you know any Nepali leader/s in the history of Bhutan before 1907 ? no .. no.. So we should not forget that, we are late migrants and entered into Bhutan in large number between1915-62.

  19. Mr. Dorji’
    My Issue is concerned about immigrants. So you all are.You’ve Bhaccepted.And now think about the people of eastern Bhutan,They are earliest settlers as compare to you.From your view point people of eastern Bhutan should have more rights in that land.Think about the shah dynasty of Nepal, they had a History of 240 years rule in Nepal but now, people uprooted them.and don’t forget that one day wangchuck Dynasty will be uprooted by people living in that nation.make your vision wide and think whats going on around the world. All ruthless and cruel leaders are thowrn out of power.Almost all the people living in abroad and in eastern region of nepal are real Bhutanese. Best of luck Mr. dorji.

  20. I am confused with tulsi ji, in Bhutan I do not see caste system,and regional group like east,west,south etc etc.. like in nepali.. we bawan/chhetri down look kami, and damai, we still do nt eat/drink from the hand of kami damai caste and not even allow to enter our house and sit along.
    So the old saying goes “jas.. lay mo.. ho kadcha tas…lay
    hath chad..cha”(who puts hand and harvest the honey will finally eat the leftover honey in his hand) so the Wangchuck dynasty.

  21. Mr. fake Ganapati,
    you guys can fool the world but not a ordinary people like me.For your kind information i know everything about Bhutan.Why r u not raising your voice when more than 5000 sq km area of our country is being taken by china in the north.don’t u feel shame keep bugging about Nepali speaking Bhutanese issue when southern part annexed to indian and north to china.47000 sq km area is now only 39000 sq km.iam much more confuse with broker (dalal) of our country.you saying is too old and unappropriate.Nepali speaking bhutanese are not against the nation and people but they raise voice against tyranny,cunning,cruel and bais dictiator.But one day this absolute monarchy will come to end.it is shameful to messup with the names of Nepali speaking people since u are also an immigrants from Tibet.Don’t forget this bitter truth.