Born in 1926 in Mameythang in Dorana block, Bikh Bahadur (BB) Gurung still has a memory of the immense harvest of maize from the cornfields in Banra, Sibsoo. The good harvest could not be stored just in one house, another shed for the store stood up, another three or four maize-stands made from chopped tree branches erected outside the house carried the hanging maize ears. The next year, people did not cultivate anything because of the bountiful harvest of the previous year. By the third year, nothing grew from the soil because of severe draught. There was famine everywhere, so people rushed out to neighboring Indian villages of Todey and Tangta. There came a saying out of this crisis: No food in Banra – Bindu, beggars in Todey – Tangta.
The Gurung family settled in Tashidin where new settlements had begun fresh. After logging and lopping, they settled to till the land started cultivating grains. Again, there was no mood to settle permanently in Tashidin, so migrated to Tanju of Dagana. At the time of eviction, BB Gurung was residing in Emiray.
His forefathers had migrated from Taplejung, a hilly district of eastern Nepal, to Chongthong Tea Estate that falls in Indian district of Darjeeling in the 19th century. From there, the Gurung family moved to Sibsoo, and finally got resettled in Emiray after dwelling for certain periods in Tashidin and Tanju of Dagana district. Bikh Bahadur became refugee for the second time when the regime evicted hundreds of thousands of southern Bhutanese in 1992. Having relocated from Timai to Beldangi-II Extension, legendary Bikh Bahadur resides in Sector E-1, Hut No. 57 with his wife Sankha Maya and kinfolk.
Bikh Bahadur joined the first historic people’s uprising against the state atrocities on southern Bhutanese campaigned in the name of ‘Jai Gorkha’ in 1946-1947. The atrocities had reached its peak following the death of iconic Garjaman Gurung. Including Gurung, 36 ‘Jai Gorkha’ campaigners got arrested in 1950 and locked-up in Dagadzong jail when the state authority decided to suppress the mass protest in Dagana. Those detained by the regime of the then southern ruler, Jigmi Palden Dorji, included BB Gurung, Motikhar Khatiwada, Dhan Bahadur Jimba, and Saney Bal, among others.
Of them, Jimba was very clever. During one of his punishment works in a forest he could manage to hide a rope that the prisoners found while they were taken for collecting firewood by the jail authority. The prison wall was very tall and thick. However, some three-feet above the ground there was a hole on the wall, although it was too small for any human beings to penetrate into for any possible attempts to escaping the captivity. Several attempts to make use of that hole for escaping the captivity failed, but Jibma kept on trying. One day, he succeeded in sizing the hole and got on the other side of the wall tying up his legs, probing them through the hole before pushing his body. The rope broke, and the Jimba’s dropping on the ground produced a loud sound. The sound alerted the inmates and developed in the added sense of fear of inhuman torture. The remaining captives decided to inform the authority about Jimba’s escape. A few days later, Saney Bal too managed to escape from the prison taking advantage of an open toilet. Frequent escape brought massive changes in the jail administration. The degree of punishment doubled, jailbirds were made to carrying heavy logs and stones without food and water.
On one fine day, prisoners were taken to a forest for carrying logs and firewood, being guarded by just single security personnel – Juthey. Taking advantage of just a security guard without gun, prisoners starting breaking chains tied on their legs with stones. Juthey tried to intervene into the situation, but the prisoners attempted to smash his head with stones – making him flee the scene for safety. One after the other, all the prisoners including Gurung unchained their legs, and escaped through the forest with handcuffs chained to their hands, and moved towards the Darachu River. Spending a night on the bank of the river, Gurung and two of his friends reached the house of Lama Dorji Wanchuck, who was personally known to Gurung. Initially, Wangchuck denied providing hospitality even for a night. However, he agreed to provide shelter after Gurung explained him their situations in nitty-gritty. The very next day, Gurung reached Emirey, but failed to reach his home after knowing that the district authority had deployed dozens of security persons to re-arrest all prison breakers.
A local blacksmith unchained Gurung’s hands inside a forest, where he spent days before fleeing to Kulkuley of Kalikhola. From there, he shifted to Dalsingpada of India. In a few days, his wife Sankha Maya too joined him with the help of his friends from back in the village.
The dignified return
When Bikh Bahadur was taking refuge in India, Wangdi Babu was Sub-Division Officer (SDO) of Dagapela Dungkhag. It was during his reign that the government notified all Indian clerks to quit Bhutan. The move created a vacancy of a clerk in his office as Indian clerks duo Rakesh Chhetri and Mohan Lepcha were laid off, and consulted all 14 mandals (village heads). The village heads unanimously proposed the right candidacy of Bikh Bahadur, and also informed that he was in exile in Dalsingh Pada. A special delegation was sent to bring Gurung back home as SDO Wangdi assured to finalize all legal formalities for his return. The government team met exiled Gurung in Kalchini, convinced him about the job and assured full security after his return.
His return to home in 1952 and a prestigious clerical job did evoke criticism among a section of people in the Dungkhag. However, SDO Wangdi’s protection was able to suppress voices from people. Wangdi defended the clerk’s position by declaring that the government decided to grant Bikh Bahadur an amnesty and accordingly released from an alleged house arrest. He served as a clerk for some 17 years, connecting peoples’ grievances with various SDOs.
In one instance, SDO Wangdi passed a biased verdict on a land dispute between villagers Nanda Lal Gurung and Dal Bahadur Kafley. Irked at Wangdi’s intended unjust, Nanda Lal filed a case against him in Sarbang. During that time, Dagapela was under the jurisdiction of Sarbang district. The case was settled amazingly as the district authority decided to terminate dictatorial SDO Wangi instantly and fulfill the vacancy by the petitioner himself.
Immediately after assuming his office, new SDO Nanda Lal decided to downsize the existing 14 blocks into just five and appointed new mandals. It was during this move that Bikh Bahadur was nominated as mandal for Emirey block. His contemporary mandals included Baliraj Gurung (Goshi), Ganga Prasad Gurung (Tashidin), Krisna Bahadur Tamang (Dorana) and Bal Bahadur Khatiwada (Suntaley). Bikh Bahadur served as Emirey mandal for some 17 years.
(The writer, who was born in 1954 in Samtse district and a former employee at Royal Insurance Corporation and Food Corporation of Bhutan, his wife Indira and their children spent 17 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before coming to Tasmania in 2008 as refugee. They are now rebuilding their lives and enjoying being part of an inclusive community).Editor’s note : Buddha Mani Dhahal (Kentucky, USA) has translated the author’s original texts from Nepali into English, while Vidhyapati Mishra (Kathmandu, Nepal) has provided additional research inputs to the article. The article will complete in two parts as the second half still awaits finalization.