Months of Incarceration in Retrospection

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Prior to 1990 Democracy Movement, I was working as field engineer in irrigation project in Gelephu in southern Bhutan, under the Department of Irrigation and Flood Control, funded by the UN agencies. As a public servant under an absolute Monarchy, one was required to remain away and abstain from politics. I was a person more inclined to my profession and least interested in politics. I had a small contended family with a farm, livestock, a concrete house and cardamom plantation.

With the ban on Bhutanese Nepalese culture and imposition of dress code and etiquettes of northern Bhutanese on the Lhotsampa [southern Bhutanese], everybody was hurt. The imposed dress code was suitable for the people in the north living in colder region. For people in the south with hot and humid climate and 99% of the population living as subsistence farmers, the dress code was a bane. Gradually, we began to hear about Lhotsampas being mistreated, including, the harassment of women by the Police. Their hair was forcefully cut short against their wish and tradition. Books on Nepali language being taught in the school were dumped and burnt publicly.  All these events naturally led the demagogues to take to the streets – resulting in peaceful demonstration.

In my entire life I had never seen a protest program. On the day of protest in Gelephu, I was in my office chamber working with my colleagues in the Dzong, the district headquarters. The public servants were asked to stand behind the Police, while the Police stood behind the Army, if there was need to clamp down the protest. So we did not move from the office building. However, word came around that protesters would search and beat every individual who were upholding the dress code by wearing the ethnic dress of the Drukpas. Initially, I hid myself in the office toilet. When the air began to rant with slogans and whole environment became overwhelming, I took off the Drukpa dress, borrowed a trouser from Bengali [Indian] colleague – leaving him in his shorts. Then clutching the Drukpa dress under my armpit, I walked out into the streets. I walked in the procession to avoid being targeted by the protestors. After a while, we reached a spot where protestors, as a mark of protest against the imposition of dress code, began to dump and burn the Drukpa dresses. I didn’t want to burn mine, as it was beautiful and expensive, which I had only recently bought with my monthly salary. As the protest program continued, I walked away from the area and went  home.

Bhanu Adhikari. Photo Courtesy/Vikram Adhikari.

The government started to mobilise the army and began to crush the protest. Soon the project I was working in was closed. Other various projects in the district were closed too. Later, schools and hospitals were closed, converting them into torture-centres-cum-prison-cells. When the project was closed, I was transferred to Punakha in northern Bhutan. While in Punakha, I was unaware of the protests that were going on in Sarbhang a town close to Gelephu. When news did arrive from Sarbhang, I found out that many project officers (many of colleagues) had been arrested. My family was beginning to worry about me. Beset by the developments, I grew anxious about the situation of my wife and daughters who were still living in Gelephu. So I decided to drive to Gelephu to see them.

On my way to Gelephu, I was arrested at Sarbhang at 9 pm on 9th December 1990 by Police Officer, Chandra Gurung. When I explained my family situation and asked the reason of my arrest, the officer blabbered and gave no reason. I was taken to the Sarbhang Police Station and confined in a room for two nights and a day – not allowing me to drink water for the whole period. They interrogated me – but I had nothing to say. In reply, the officers would suggest that I knew why I had ended up in detention and that I should confess in specific detail, why I wanted ‘democracy’. As ordered by Chandra Gurung, I gave a written statement about myself to him. Two days later, I was transferred to Gelephu. During the transfer, my hands were taken to the front and handcuffed. And while walking around I was handcuffed at the back.

When I reached Gelephu, I found the local hospital converted into a joint Police-Army barrack cum prison cells. And almost all the project officers, I knew, were there along with other public servants and some local government officials. I was not kept with them. Instead, I was taken to the house of Deputy Superintendent of Police, which had been converted into cells for solitary confinement. It had five rooms. I was kept in one of them and there wasn’t a toilet. It was a dark cell with its windows painted black – barely letting in the light during day. The winter of December 1990 was very cold. My hands were tied behind all the times. The door of the cell hardly opened. When it did – it was only to push a plate of rotten rice and lentils with more water to render it bland. I was given tiny plastic container to empty my bowl and to urinate. At night I was taken outside to wash the container and that was the only time I was allowed to drink water.

Several times, police officers used to take me into the bathroom outside my cell and made me stand there. They would leave the water tap slightly open to make water drop continuously filling the bathroom floor. I wasn’t supposed to close the tap and used to get wet and soaked in the cold winter days. Tired of standing, I used to take off my shoes and sit on them. There were other officers who felt that such punishments were inhuman and they would bring me back into the cell. Sometimes at night, I heard wails and cries of people adjacent to my cell when being beaten and tortured.

Soon they began to interrogate me at night while I was still in the solitary confinement. They would mercilessly beat me for hours asking me – why I was in prison? When I could not tell the reason, I was beaten until I said – I knew the reason. They would tell me that I should confess as to what I wanted from the protest program. And if I didn’t respond, they would beat me until I did so. To avoid further beating, I had to make up my own story, the way they wanted me to tell, saying that, I knew the leaders and was vigorously involved in the protests.

Sometimes at the night, the officer would enter my cell. Sitting beside me he would say, “Have you heard that the wives of several project officers were raped?” Another one would come and say, “There is a Dasho (high officer) coming from Thimphu, who beats people ruthlessly to death – did you meet him before?” In this manner, I was mentally tortured on a regular basis.

After 28 days of physical and mental torture, I was transferred to a hospital complex that had been converted into Army barrack. While being transferred to the army barrack, I was handcuffed and accompanied by two policemen through the streets. I was not allowed to speak to bystanders whom I knew. One Police officer said, “Have you heard, a person working in your department was killed here?”

In the army barrack I was taken into a small room. There was blood on the floor and blood spots on the wall. They apparently looked fresh. It was a torture cell with different torture instruments, such as, ropes and bamboo sticks of different sizes. The cell was divided by a small curtain. On one side of the curtain the prisoner was kept and tortured. And on other side, roosted meat and alcohol was kept on the table. After every torture session, the torturing officer used to go to the other side to devour roosted meat and alcohol, and come back and torture again. In most occasions, it was army Lieutenant Rinzin Dorji who use to interrogate and torture me. The other high official that tortured me was Colonel Rinchhen, whose nickname was ‘Tiger’.

As I was sitting in the cell, officer Rinzin opened the curtain and came in. He began by asking – why I was there in the cell. When my answer was not what he wanted to hear, he began to punch me and bang my head on the wall. After awhile he stopped hitting me and asked me to write the confession. I wrote confessions after confessions, but he did not accept them and demanded to write again. He again started to torture me by clamping my calves. Later he hung me down from the hook in the ceiling. Next the officer began to drive in pins beneath my fingernail. While the blood flowed, he sat there holding my hand and hitting with duster driving the pin in. He would demand me to confess, but reeling under pain, I could only cry.

In that state of agony, I wrote 11 pages long confession. Little later, they brought the typed and tempered version of my statement and read out in front of my colleagues in presence of Dr. Kinzang Dorji, the Zonal Officer. To protect his in-law, Som Bahadur Tamang, Dr. Kinzang said that I was responsible for influencing co-officers to involve in politics and that I should be further interrogated. On special instruction from Dr. Kinzang, Colonel Rinchhen started to torture me. My hands were kept horizontal and a long wooden beam was tied to them. I was then ordered to rotate around along with the beam. Next, they wanted to hang me from the ceiling, with my hands still tied to the beam. As the officer was about to tie my leg to hang me down, he was required for another task and he left – giving me a little relief. On that occasion, I was tortured for over 13 hours beginning form early hour of the day into the night. After that I was taken into solitary confinement and probably it took three days to become fully conscious.

I was then transferred to a common cell with around 60 prison inmates. The room was crowded and the condition very unhygienic. We could hardly get enough space to sleep. Later we were transferred to a semi-underground prison with around 100 inmates. It was a huge garage converted into a prison by digging its floor 4 feet deep. A mud staircase led into the prison. Only at the time of receiving food we could see light. Other times, it was pitch dark.

In this semi-underground prison, I began to fall sick. I suspected malaria. When I became unconscious, I was taken to hospital. I was diagnosed with both malaria and tuberculosis. I lay unconscious most of the time. My hand and leg were still tied to the hospital bed with handcuffs. As my condition deteriorated, the doctor advised for referral to Thimphu hospital. My wife was called to inform about my transfer to Thimphu hospital and I was taken to Thimphu.

In Thimphu I was kept in TB Ward, which had become a prisoner ward, with many prisoners ending up there. While I was still fragile and undergoing treatment, I received a notice of my release. After 28 months of incarceration, I was finally released on 28 March 1993.

I came back to my home village. I was still sick. The school was closed and my children were idly staying at home. There no scope of employment. All businesses were closed. Even if there were employment scope, I wouldn’t be given No Objection Certificate (NOC) required for job entry. I couldn’t travel beyond Gelephu, because my citizenship card had been seized. Later I went to the Police camp to get my belongings. Luckily, I got back my citizenship card. The police constable, who had taken my fine watch, was still wearing on his wrist, but said that it is lost. I avoided arguing with him. The village around me had shrunk, and many families started living closer together for protection. I could sometime observe the village headman taking around Drukpas from north showing the lands belonging to evicted southern Bhutanese. Everyone suspected that the headman was accumulating commissions by helping to parcel off lands belonging to evictees.

One day I was going to Gelephu town to get some medicine. On the way, my neighbour’s wife called me and told in tears that her husband has fled to refugee camp in Nepal for fear of rearrest. After buying medicine, I went to the village headman’s house. He told me that an officer from Thimphu was coming to check on people who have been released from prison and find out if they had left the country. If they hadn’t, they would be re-arrested. I was overwhelmed by the fear of re-arrest.

On 10 November 1993, I fled from Bhutan and journeyed to refugee camps in Nepal, where Bhutanese were housed and looked after by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Within a few weeks, my wife and children followed me to the camps.

(As published in “Refugees from the Land of Gross National Happiness” by Bhutanese Advocacy Forum- Europe. Adhikari shared this story with Avishek Gazmere and Jogen Gazmere in South Australia.)

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The first and unique of its kind, the column “Untold Story” will continue to carry stories of suppression we had faced back home in Bhutan. It might sometimes look fiction in nature but they are real stories. BNS encourages you to contribute your “untold story” about the suppression you or anyone in your family/neighborhood faced. Anything such as physical or mental torture, imprisonment, rape, harassment, among others  will become an untold story. We also kindly request you to contribute related photographs, if possible. If you are confused whether or not your story is an untold story, always feel free to correspond with us prior you start writing it. Please remember that it has to be a real story, not a fiction. We highly encourage you not to exaggerate anything but remain focused on the real happenings while writing untold story.

– Editorial Team, BNS ([email protected])

25 COMMENTS

  1. The heart breaks and tears rolls down, when I go through the sufferings and pain inflicted to the fellow citizen by the most brutal regime of the world.I salute all those people who underwent vicious pain and sufferings for the want of change which is long awaited by the citizens. But, it is sad to note that the desire change is still long way to go.
    I could not contemplate the extent of ill treatment meted to the people.Nevertheless,every one of us underwent some degree of pain and suffering from the hand of the brutal regime.
    Bhanu Dai, I appreciated your efforts for bringing this untold story which could naturally unfold the barbaric act of the regime who claims tall in Human Rights Protection.
    Thanks
    DB Adhikari

  2. Indeed, Bhanu has suffered a lot at the hands of ruthless barbarians. There may be many such cases which needs documentation. Let’s all collect through BNS, edit them and publish as a book. I volunteer to help in editing once the collection is done. Say 10 stories from 10 different people in various blocks and districts. I am sure that such stories will go to volumes. They will also compliment as stories of torture to the great book of Dasho Rizal – Torture – Killing Me Softly. Anyone can contact me in [email protected]

  3. There are many other cruel stories like Bhanu Adhikari faced and struggled in his life I like to request to Post to all those who faced in their lives so that my generation and coming generation will know and work to ruin the cruelness from around the globe and all the other Bhanus do not get this kind of trouble in the life
    Eventually good to know this remarkable sad story please if any other have this kinds of other stories please share with all of us
    Jai Desh bhote mares

    Devicharan Adhikari
    from:- Beldangi 3 A3 70 now Lexington, Kentucky, USA

  4. Bhanujee,
    very sorry for trouble you have been through.i hope we all will one day get the peace of mind.when our country becomes a full democratic state. when our fellow citizen are treat equally. then we will take revenge to those people given u tragic punishment to our brothers n sisters.
    Taradahal
    from australia melbourne.

  5. The story here seems a bit exaggerated if not by a huge measure.I wonder if he would be treated like this at all.If the media is to be respected and from what i have read about Bhutan it is totally contradictory.During the militant flushout operations and the time of total madness with hot blood army looking out for terrorists we had expected news of rampant tortures,rape, murder or any inhumane treatment but to the worlds surprise it was completed in total humane way.I am wondering if this is at all true as stated herein for a country is wont to carry out many inhumane actions during its worst time but if even during times like this it is not soo then i wonder if it was true for this in the story purported here.People are not easy to be mislead and so are the world.Just don’t scare away the generous resettlers for your future brothers in nepal with false stories for they may think you all are but a bunch of crooked nitwits looking for easy lives in our country.

  6. Billy,
    Do you have any concrete evidence that this didn’t take place in Bhutan? I can pointedly say you are the great stooge of the RGOB and your style of writing shows that you are the die-hard supporter of the cruel regime. You will definitely regret for this.
    Didn’t you see the recent example in Egypt, how the dictator had to bow down at the will of the people. They are the most powerful agent of change and I think the countdown started for the fall of the regime in Bhutan.
    Don’t try to portray as a westerner and speak the false to hoodwink the international community.

    Keshav
    USA

  7. Billy,
    since you have brought out the issue here can you please point out which part of the story was not true .I am sure you know about bhutan and what we went through.It really hurts to read your comment .please do not think we are weak community .We have survived through the most difficult phase of our lives .If you are saying we are making up stories please open your eyes and search the evidences yourselves.I hope as a human being you will not come up with this type of comments which hits the heart badly.
    please

  8. Only idiot will question about the integrity whether the govt, torture any southerners after the uprising in south Bhutan in 1990. The world knows what was the degree of torture in bhutan.Billy, why do people leave everything and come to the concentration camp like situations in the refugee camps in nepal if nothing was done to the people?

  9. Never knew although we spent 2 decades together the story that is so heart rending, Anyway hope god will help you restore you. For Billy better be out of this discussion because you add fuel to the fire to the hearts of people like bhanu and more who went though these bad history of torture.

  10. Bhanu dai, tears flooded when I read the story and also reminded me the day that both of my innocent parents were beaten and imprisoned for no reasons by the vicious Army Officer of Bhutan.There are many heart-breaking stories to be explored.
    I truly believe that in human form comes the Devil. Billy Jin can be an excellent example of it.He is not a sentient being.

  11. You can continue telling your sad stories in mediocre writing , you can even enjoy the “resettlement” to countries you would otherwise only have visited in your dreams, but know that your sad stories with end with you, fading inconsequentially into a posterity that will remember you only as poor Nepalese who were sent back to their pathetic roots.

  12. Hats off for the comment of Billy and Ryan.
    ram rai…If you make fire, be ready to get fuel as well.

    I am sure many of the people who have posted in this website were not even born or just a kid when the southerner rebelled against the monarch in the early 90s. so most of the story here are more than exaggerated. coz most people those were evicted from the country were illegal settlers in Bhutan.So any body who goes against our sovereign monarch must be punished…. The peaceful country was destroyed by those so called southern Bhutanese.. The RGOB did the right thing of evicting those people…otherwise it might ve proved threat to the harmony of our nation…

  13. yue gi bum, you have done the right thing in acknowledging/reporting about the source of the problem by saying “The RGOB did the right thing of evicting those people”. If our PM also says as you do, the path will be opened for the Bhutanese to come back and re-occupy their place, probably under UN protection (as RGoB will not favour their move this way).

    Are you committing suicide by telling such truth? Nay: you are liberating from the bondage of darkness and curses… congratulations for your love of truth.

  14. yue gi bum, you have done the right thing in acknowledging/reporting about the source of the problem by saying “The RGOB did the right thing of evicting those people”. If our PM also says as you do, the path will be opened for the Bhutanese to come back and re-occupy their place, probably under UN protection (as RGoB will not favour their move this way).

    Are you committing suicide by telling such truth? Nay: you are purifying your soul and liberating from the bondage of darkness and curses… congratulations for your love of truth.