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Why Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness” is a joke

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Recently, Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley, who traveled to the United States this week to speak at Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum, told Al Jazeera that, “In Bhutan even the street dogs seem to be smiling.” Article 9 of Bhutan’s constitution puts it simply: “The State shall strive to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness.”

To a lay person, being happy means having clothes to keep warm during the freezing Himalayan winter and having money to buy medication when a family member is sick. To this person, Gross National Happiness might mean living in a house with family and working the farm, instead of living in slum by the side of the road doing unpaid, compulsory labor for the government.

Click here to go through the full content.

C. 2010 GlobalPost. This excerpt is reproduced with permission.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Some folks are never content. Regardless of how beautiful the day, they will always notice cloud. No matter how great a job you do, they are the ones who will pick on slight flaws and bring to your attendion. They think they are perceptive when they are a pain in the neck.

    These writers who think Gross National Happiness is a joke are increasingly becoming themselves a popular jokers. How naive can these writers be, to think that people who read their article are but foolish?. They want to make readers believe that people in Himalaya live naked during freezing winters. Despite their knowledge that health care are provided free in Bhutan, they want to make people believe that Bhutanese citizens are charged with outrageous medical bills.

    Watch PM’s address one more time and understand them. He did not claim 100% of people in Bhutan are happy. He said that Gross National Happiness is rather a developmental philosophy in Bhutan that can be added as public policy elsewhere to pursue happiness.

  2. Gross National Happiness is just a romantic concept. GNH doesn’t have many takers in Asia. I wonder how it can be feasible in west. The King, Jigme Thinley and his coterie are promoting this concept only to eye wash the International Community. A great deal of public money is being wasted.

    Genuine democracy is the basis for the happiness. But, every one knows that democracy in the real sense is still absent in Bhutan. Only a handful of Bhutanese believes in Gross National Happiness. Even the members of Royal family, who otherwise enjoy lot of privileges in comparison with common man, don’t support GNH.

    Who will believe in GNH promoted by the regime that has created discords amongst its peaceful citizens in the first place?

  3. Lotus Flower:
    It is hard to believe your claim that medical care in Bhutan is free. Somebody has to pay the bill somehow. Here in the United States, health care is not free to all. In Canda, health care is free to all but working people must pay almost 15% of their income to pay for “Free Health Care” for everyone.
    Bhutan is one of the most poor countries in the world, so how the Government of Bhutan is able to provide free health care to its citizens?

    I intend to visit Nepal and Bhutan in near future, and I will investigate that issue. I will believe when I will see that.
    I have heard in Dhamak, Jhapa area, Dr. Bhumpa Rai treats all of Bhutanese refuges free of charge. I salute Dr. Bhupa Rai for his great services to Bhuatanese community.

  4. Primary Health care in Bhutan is free but not accessible to all- remote villages does not have health care centers. Particularly health care sevice is poor and negligible in the remote villages where more than 70% of population are living in agrarian villages. Only urban towns have health post/hospitals. Majority of the Bhutanese have to come to Siliguri and Assam for treatment even for basic treatment and medical investigation.30% of “In and Out” patient ward of all the private nursing homess in Siliguri are booked by Bhutanese on regular basis.
    Is Healht Care free in Bhutan??

    Tika

  5. ABUSE OF GNH

    Dear Friends,
    I cannot stress enough that the Bhutanese in exile need an uniform, constant and consistent message that needs to go out to the people like the world leader Forum in Columbia Univ. where the Bhutanese PM delivered a colorful speech on GNH; and also in the UN. It is our duty to make aware: Gross National Happiness, Whose Happiness? The VIP audience are exactly the type of people we need to convince with the Truth behind GNH and other superficial slogans of Bhutan. Once the world knows the truth about GNH, they will not buy it on the face value as propagated by the Bhutanese government. Until then, the world will tend to believe the one that makes the best case of presentation.

    I was surprised to see RP vai’s article in the Global post titled: Why Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness” is a joke. Is it fair to say that this article makes the VIP audience/Readers/propeonents of GNH feel that they are Jokers? Do you think they take interest in it to read and support support our cause? who do you think they will support between the self deprecating Bhutanese government and overtly reactive Refugee leaders?

    We are lacking both strategy and approch here. It would be a great favor to our people, if RP Subba’s power of the pen tilt towards INVOKING this question: Gross National Happiness, Whose Happiness? in the minds of world leaders, rather than alienating them.

    In the first place we cannot deny the fact that the onset of Democracy is a positive force working for our people; and the unique Concept of GNH is a good idea. We must be mindful that any good idea coming from bad people doesn’t mean always bad.

    It is valid that a lot of refugee leaders take credit for starting or prompting democracy in Bhutan through much sacrifices. Now they should work towards the pursuit for perfection. One thing they cannot do is take the credit and critisize at the same time. You cannot have both ways.

    Both the democracy and the GNH are not given to our people due to our ethnic heritage. We can make a strong case as to how the GNH is being abused to promote the hidden agenda in “One Nation, One People” policy. How the govt is promoting GNH by kicking out unhappy people? How the the same government that says GNH is more important than GDP, is transferring the economic power of Lhotsampas into King’s favorite ethnic groups? Remember the Royal Kidug of the lands of the evictees given to other people? who owns those properties now? If it is not the greed of the better and the best properties owned by our people, what is it that the RGOB wanted? All the rest of the slogans (GNH, Last bastion of Himalayan Buddist, Greater Nepal, Illegal immigrants, tradition/culture, at the brink of extinction, the insidous methods of ethnic persecutions etc) are the carefully invented tools to fulfill that greed (transfer of economic power from the Lhotsampas to other groups or you can call it a redistribution of wealth to one ethnic group at the cost of the other even against the principle of such a great Buddhist religion! (GNH= God Never Heard)

    By the way, the RGOB’s campaign did not end with eviction of one hundred thousand refugees. It was just a beginning of their agenda as our people outside/inside Bhutan are the witness to it for last 20 years.

    Perhaps, I will anger some people with this comment, but it is meant to look at the real world in a new perspective!
    Thank you
    Dick Chhetri

  6. First of all Hats’ up to Subba & TP Dai also to T.N Rizal in Telegraphnepal.com

    King Jigme Singye’s policy of GNH backed by Dasho Karma Ura & Jigme Y Thinley is nothing but a propaganda to hide the real facts of cruelty done to the southern Bhutanese. It is also to divert the people’s (especially the foreigners) attention from the policy of “One Nation One People” so that the outsiders will think that he has done nothing to southern Bhutanese. Had GNH really being coined from 1970’s the problem wouldn’t have arise firstly. Secondly if this was done with good intention the problem would have solved by now……southern Bhutanese inside Bhutan as well as in the camps would not have to suffer for this long uncertain years! Till today thousand of southern Bhutanese are deprived of citizenship card, SCC (NOC), landless, stateless in their own birth place. “THE REAL POLICY IS STILL VISIBLE, INTACT DESPITE BEING A DEMOCRATIC COUNTRY”. (IF THIS IS FALSE ALLOW INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST & TOURIST IN THE SOUTHERN DISTRICTS OF THE COUNTRY).

    By now even a laymen has understood the real intention of the regime’s policy to have one culture and only one society i.e ngalong (the westerner) in Bhutan and few others who really prove to become a horse so as to show to the outside world. The foreigners are treated like a ‘GOD’ with full facilities while in the country and while leaving the country with full of gifts as well as cash in dollar to gain their sympathy and also to get financial support.

    Happiness in my view is something which comes automatically within oneself and let others knows themselves that a particular country is a happiest one on earth….if a people in the county are happy then I am sure the outsiders will one or the other way comes to know. No one has to go outside and give false lecture that we are happy in Bhutan… what a shame Mr. Thinley??? Its ok animals don’t feel shame no matter what it does???? Do you think foreigners are foolish like you, who don’t understand the Bhutanese tricks of propagating GNH??????? Who is the Joker????

    So Mr. Thinley your lies regarding GNH, illegal immigrants and the so called “In the name of Survival are all rubbish I am fed up hearing please stop it and keep within yourself because we know that you along with yours trusted dogs are the happiest living being on this earth by getting extra looted properties and hard owned sweat of poor innocent villagers in the south. Wow after doing all this you are selected as the president of “BUDDHIST SOCIETY” what an irony Mr. Thinley??????????????????? Hats up to you’re so called “Buddhist Philosophy” and the masters in New Delhi who supported your presidency.

    In this present world if a simple & innocent villagers raises voice against atrocity that also unlimited/unbearable he/she becomes ‘ngolop’ terrorist, Jaga and what not……further he/she will get prision term ranging from minimum six to twenty years… if you don’t believe go and check in chemgang jail and jails around the country.. How many innocent people are there?????????????????? Wow what a great Bhutanese judiciary system??? Yea after all truth is always bitter………. At the same time if power full people like Jigme Singye Wangchuk, Jigme Y Thinley, Dasho Lhakpa, Dasho Tshering Wandga, Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk, Dasho Dago does anything they will be appreciated and rewarded for their misdeeds too. You don’t believe ask masters in New Delhi.

    I know who cares even if I write thousand pages facts & truth regarding Bhutan since each country has its own interest but Bhutan being a member of UN and Bhutan being a signatory to number of UN treaties and UN being a powerful body must ask Bhutan to take the responsibility of the innocent people and take back the genuine Bhutanese immediately with full citizenship rights and guarantee of returning looted properties to the right full owners otherwise people around loose faith in UN system too.

    The writer is from BHUTAN the capital city of GNH.

  7. In response to “It is valid that a lot of refugee leaders take credit for starting or prompting democracy in Bhutan through much sacrifices. Now they should work towards the pursuit for perfection. One thing they cannot do is take the credit and critisize at the same time. You cannot have both ways.”

    Refugee “leaders” take the credit for initiating the movement for democracy in Bhutan. Rightfully, of course. They have never claimed that democracy has been established in Bhutan, and therefore do nto take credit for it. The pseudo-democracy that is in place is not something the ‘leaders’ started a movement for. Thus the credit to initiating the demand for democracy and thus the criticism of a situation which is not even remotely democratic.

    The refugees take issues with anyone who claims there is democracy in Bhutan, because that is blatantly false.

  8. Gross National Happiness, whose happiness?

    Dear Lotus Flower,

    One bad choice of a title by our amateur writers won’t change the facts and realities on the grounds of Bhutan. Though I openly shared my frustration with this kind of radical approach in writings, I as one of the live victims have the obligation to tell you the truth. I wish we had better communicators on our side to bring you the other side of Bhutan as eloquently as the Prime Minister Jigme Thinley did on GNH. But due to the pain of sufferings, the anger punishes itself and we find hard to tell you the truth. I guess our people are psychologically, physically subdued as a result of living in the sub human conditions for 20 years. Hope you will try to understand as much as possible.
    Unfortunately we are not talking of medical bills here. We are talking of the same government of Bhutan that promotes GNH now, imposed “One Nation, One people” policy in 1990, mandated the dress code, tradition and culture on our people of different ethnic heritage (Nepali speaking Bhutanese) in an effort to create a homogeneous society and eliminate the misfit. That was just the beginning.

    The fertile land, cash crops and booming economy in the Southern Bhutan generated by our hard working people, and the important positions held by our people were the main targets.

    How they manipulated?
    I
    The government followed the above policy with yearly national census in Southern Bhutan, which in practice was to denationalize as many of our ethnic people as possible using various insidious methods and evict them after seizing their properties. Or simply refuse to enumerate them in the national census registry making them stateless overnight.
    II
    The RGOB surveyed and expropriated the lands belonging to the Southern Bhutanese and forced to give better parts of their properties to other ethnic people brought in by the government to resettle.
    III
    The government sent army/militia to the remote villages and arrested rich and influential people in a highly ethnic profiling, tied them up, brought them in the market and beat them in the public until they signed the so called voluntary migration forms or put them in the prison.
    IV
    The government branded the people who resisted the one nation, one people policy as Ngolop meaning antinational punishable by the law of the land; and their relatives as accomplice to the antinational. Thus, they deprived them of equality, barred them from citizen’s rights with multiple bindings in the bureaucracy and red tapism. At the same time government authorities went to the villages and scarred the people with intimidation and threats
    V
    Lootings, rape, torture, incarceration followed as the people fled the country enmasse as a result of which one hundred thousand Bhutanese were rendered refugees. And, as the eviction continued, the people from king’s favorite ethnic groups will note down the addresses of the land, buildings, other properties and stand in a long queue to meet HM the king asking for Kidug (Royal Gift) of the land that belonged to the evictees, and of course the king will grant them showing his generosity. Then the local govt would change the name of the village, landmarks and institution erasing the history of Lhotsampas in Bhutan.

    What is more striking irony of the Buddhist Nation that says in the international media, “It is a sin to fell down a tree in Bhutan”; “Even the stray dogs seem to be happy in Bhutan” and claims to practice a non violent religion is carrying out these dreadful acts just to fulfill their greed and transfer the wealth from one ethnic group to another. Did Lord Buddha said, “it is also a sin to tell a lie”? Well in GNH, God Never Heard!

    Cover Up
    After Bhutan evicted almost 20% of its ethnic citizens, it started this propaganda campaign to cover up their acts. They started by blaming the victims. In reverse tactic, they claimed themselves as victims at the brink of extinction. They branded Bhutanese refugees as illegal immigrants. The government changed their strategy of from direct violent approach to “slow, secret and systematic ethnic persecution”.

    Then came the concept of GNH. If I told you that Bhutan is trying to maintain Gross National Happiness by kicking out unhappy people, will you believe it? Obviously you don’t. There are few other national slogans on Bhutan:
    The land of Gross national Happiness
    The Land of Peaceful Dragon
    The Kingdom in the Clouds
    The Shangri La
    But where is Bhutan, the “Bird of two wings soaring into the sky”?. I remember the same man, PM Jigme Thinley came in 1987 (when he was a zonal Administrator in Eastern Bhutan) to deliver this message to the Sherubtse College where I was the student, and said, “Bhutan is a Bird of two wings soaring into the sky” referring one of the wings to our ethnic people which was about 40-45 percent then. Now, after the onset of democracy and the concept of GNH, our remaining 25% people inside Bhutan are treated as second class citizens.

    Therefore, Mr. Lotus Flower, if you really believe there is jewel in the lotus of your heart, you must realize that we the Bhutanese refugees are not just the pain in the neck, but are human beings with heartaches due to murder of human rights in Bhutan.

  9. Gross National Happiness, whose happiness?

    Dear Lotus Flower,

    One bad choice of a title by our amateur writers won’t change the facts and realities on the grounds of Bhutan. Though I openly shared my frustration with this kind of radical approach in writings, I as one of the live victims have the obligation to tell you the truth. I wish we had better communicators on our side to bring you the other side of Bhutan as eloquently as the Prime Minister Jigme Thinley did on GNH. But due to the pain of sufferings, the anger punishes itself and we find hard to tell you the truth. I guess our people are psychologically, physically subdued as a result of living in the sub human conditions for 20 years. Hope you will try to understand as much as possible.
    Unfortunately we are not talking of medical bills here. We are talking of the same government of Bhutan that promotes GNH now, imposed “One Nation, One people” policy in 1990, mandated the dress code, tradition and culture on our people of different ethnic heritage (Nepali speaking Bhutanese) in an effort to create a homogeneous society and eliminate the misfit. That was just the beginning.

    The fertile land, cash crops and booming economy in the Southern Bhutan generated by our hard working people, and the important positions held by our people were the main targets.

    How they manipulated?
    I
    The government followed the above policy with yearly national census in Southern Bhutan, which in practice was to denationalize as many of our ethnic people as possible using various insidious methods and evict them after seizing their properties. Or simply refuse to enumerate them in the national census registry making them stateless overnight.
    II
    The RGOB surveyed and expropriated the lands belonging to the Southern Bhutanese and forced to give better parts of their properties to other ethnic people brought in by the government to resettle.
    III
    The government sent army/militia to the remote villages and arrested rich and influential people in a highly ethnic profiling, tied them up, brought them in the market and beat them in the public until they signed the so called voluntary migration forms or put them in the prison.
    IV
    The government branded the people who resisted the one nation, one people policy as Ngolop meaning antinational punishable by the law of the land; and their relatives as accomplice to the antinational. Thus, they deprived them of equality, barred them from citizen’s rights with multiple bindings in the bureaucracy and red tapism. At the same time government authorities went to the villages and scarred the people with intimidation and threats
    V
    Lootings, rape, torture, incarceration followed as the people fled the country enmasse as a result of which one hundred thousand Bhutanese were rendered refugees. And, as the eviction continued, the people from king’s favorite ethnic groups will note down the addresses of the land, buildings, other properties and stand in a long queue to meet HM the king asking for Kidug (Royal Gift) of the land that belonged to the evictees, and of course the king will grant them showing his generosity. Then the local govt would change the name of the village, landmarks and institution erasing the history of Lhotsampas in Bhutan.

    What is more striking irony of the Buddhist Nation that says in the international media, “It is a sin to fell down a tree in Bhutan”; “Even the stray dogs seem to be happy in Bhutan” and claims to practice a non violent religion is carrying out these dreadful acts just to fulfill their greed and transfer the wealth from one ethnic group to another. Did Lord Buddha said, “it is also a sin to tell a lie”? Well in GNH, God Never Heard!
    Cover Up
    After Bhutan evicted almost 20% of its ethnic citizens, it started this propaganda campaign to cover up their acts. They started by blaming the victims. In reverse tactic, they claimed themselves as victims at the brink of extinction. They branded Bhutanese refugees as illegal immigrants. The government changed their strategy of from direct violent approach to “slow, secret and systematic ethnic persecution”.

    Then came the concept of GNH. If I told you that Bhutan is trying to maintain Gross National Happiness by kicking out unhappy people, will you believe it? Obviously you don’t. There are few other national slogans on Bhutan:
    The land of Gross national Happiness
    The Land of Peaceful Dragon
    The Kingdom in the Clouds
    The Shangri La
    But where is Bhutan, the “Bird of two wings soaring into the sky”?. I remember the same man, PM Jigme Thinley came in 1987 (when he was a zonal Administrator in Eastern Bhutan) to deliver this message to the Sherubtse College where I was the student, and said, “Bhutan is a Bird of two wings soaring into the sky” referring one of the wings to our ethnic people which was about 40-45 percent then. Now, after the onset of democracy and the concept of GNH, our remaining 25% people inside Bhutan are treated as second class citizens.

    Therefore, Mr. Lotus Flower, if you really believe there is jewel in the lotus of your heart, you must realize that we the Bhutanese refugees are not just the pain in the neck, but are heartaches due to murder of human rights in Bhutan.

  10. I don’t agree with Dick Chhetri that we should have uniform messages or views on GNH. Views can be different. We can challenge GNH from different angles, as a political gimmick by Bhutan regime, a propaganda design to seek support for regime’s policies, a distorted version of dependent economy, as a coverage for regime’s most inhuman policies and atrocities against Lhotshampa, a very good concept propagated by wrong people who are human rights violators and who should be asked what is GNU (Gross National Unhappiness)? Of course messages should be cosistent. Can JYT prove there is no GNU among Bhutanese living inside and outside the country? If he can prove with facts and figures may be one can believe him or his propaganda of GNH is simply joke.

  11. Chhetri Dai,
    No doubt that you are 100% right, the same ‘cruel policy’ is still intact in the land of GNH. After 20 years also there is not an inch shift in policy of RGoB towards southern Bhutanese if one really looks into it properly through microscopic lens, one has to travel southern Districts (Dzongkhags) for the proof with camera.

    “ARE THE CONCERNED AUTHORITY LISTENING THIS FACTS” if not please my prayer to do so before it is too late…………………………!!!!!

  12. Dear Dick,
    In my opinion, there is no bad or good choice about the title of this written article. It depends how you interpret, base and reflect the ideas on the write-up to the real life situation. If so, is the title of the article ´The Kingdom besieged´ by JT correct or professional? I think this is amateurish too! .
    What I line with you here though is that this article unlike RPs earlier ones is not written convincingly enough to retaliate to Jigme Thinley´s blathering. You may be also correct that we do not have many persuasive or eloquent writers we always wish. The southern Bhutanese have been always superior in Science or Maths or economics but never in English except just a few in the entire commune.This tradition goes on now. The reason could be either we have a very versatile, profound and mature spoken language or simply we do not give a damn to better the English language. In doing so, unfortunately, we are in a crucial situation whereby we are not good in written Nepalese, we cannot write or understand Dzongkha, and we are poor in English. For me, there is serious identity crisis!
    Comparatively, the Northern Bhutanese are better English speakers and writers. Just compare the BT and the BNS forums for example and feel it instantly. Having said that no doubt, JT is one of the best veteran and compelling Bhutanese-speakers; not to forget the Prime minister of a BEWILDERED nation where all the eyes are focussed on! Therefore, in our present situation, it may be tricky to find a challenger to show to these focussed and bemused eyes the other side of the GNH in an international forum like that of Colombia University. BUT why do we have to become crybabies and beg people like Lotus flower to understand us? Now since most of us live in the best English speaking Countries like the US or Australia, why don’t we bring into play our time to write better convincing English rather than being irresolute to choosing a title of an article

  13. Dear Tika Acharya:
    Thanks for presenting the facts on “Free Health Care” issue to the readers.
    I feel sorry for the villagers living in rural areas who have to travel far away to seek medical attention.
    I am fed up with dirty politics of beautiful Bhutan and Nepal. Poverty is the real enemy, not any head of State or politician. Nepal was a monarchy, but now it is a democratic country. Democracy has chaged nothing in Nepal and the people of Nepal are still poor and the Government of Nepal is still dependant on India to survive, economically. Bhutan Government also receives money from Indian Government for its survival.
    I think Bhutanese refugees issue has been resolved already since the majority of Bhutanese refugees in camps in Nepal already have left for USA and other countries. Now both countries, Bhutan and Nepal need to focus on illitracy and poverty.
    I think Dr. Bhampa Rai should be invited to take over as the new Prime Minister of Bhutan and Mr. Tek Nath Rizal should be appointed as the new President of Bhutan. The current King should stay and he should allow all of Bhutanese refugees return to Bhutan with dignity and respect. I think that will solve most the problems in Bhutana and Nepal.

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