Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen!
I feel greatly honored and privileged to stand in front of you all today and say a few words about the Bhutanese and their struggle for existence in the third countries.
Bhutan, a tiny country, situated between the emerging superpowers of India and China, hailed by some as ‘the last Shangri-La’, has generated one of the highest numbers of refugees in the world in proportion to its population, which unfortunately, is still an unknown fact to many. Since 1991 over one sixth of Bhutan’s people have sought asylum in Nepal, India and other countries around the world.
The vast majority of the refugees are Lhotshampas, the southern dwellers, followed by the Sharchops, the western dwellers two of Bhutan’s three main ethnic groups, who were forced to leave Bhutan in the early 1990s. There is ample evidence, as documented by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations that the expulsion of large numbers of these people was planned and executed with meticulous attention to detail. However, not only the southerners were targeted, but anybody who stood up and voiced against the atrocities of the cruel regime, got punished and evicted out of the country. Over 105,000 Bhutanese have spent more than 18 years living in refugee camps established in Nepal by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
When a string of measures, such as the Citizenship Act, One Nation one People Policy, The land Act, ban on the study of our Language and culture, to name a few; were passed by the legislature in 1985 that discriminated against its own citizens, the people organized a series of public demonstrations for which the participants were branded as “anti-nationals”. While the “One Nation, One People” policy imposed the language, dress code, and customs of the northern Bhutanese on the entire population, the Citizenship Act ridiculously stated that, anybody who could not produce a land tax receipt of the year 1958 was denied the citizenship. The question here is not about the relevancy or the authenticity of the government policies, everyone should have accepted it any way, but the question is; why did not the king or the ministers wear the same dress as an office secretary or a sweeper? Why can’t the common people wear the same colored robes and scarves as the ministers do? If a non native English speaker became the president of America and passed a bill imposing language ban, other than his own language, how much would it be digested by the people of America? Ours was a similar case.
The crackdown on the southern Bhutanese continued as the government began closing schools and hospitals in the southern districts in an attempt to force out the Nepali origin people.
Several thousands of Southern Bhutanese were imprisoned, and more than 2000 tortured, according to Amnesty International. Very few of them were formally charged. Thousands fled to India and Nepal as a consequence.
Political discrimination and ethnic victimization by the Bhutanese feudal system is not new. In fact, the rulers so cleverly formulate the laws and statutes that criticism of government policies is automatically prohibited. The rise of people’s voice has always given them fear and insecurity and put their ambitions at stake. From the arrest of Tek Nath Rizal in 1988, to the recent arrest and imprisonment of Prem Singh Gurung, a Christian activist; incidences of arrests and inhuman treatment to the minorities in Bhutan, on the basis of political or religious beliefs, has remained routine. Gurung was arrested for screening movies on Christianity and has been sentenced to three years’ in prison by a District Court; on charges of attempting to promote a civil unrest.
Tears roll down our eyes when we reflect back at our past. The stories of rape, torture, assault, humiliation and inhuman treatment by the government puppets might sound like a fiction in the ears of the outsiders, but every victim will speak the truth. Because of the poor technology, the atrocities and incidents could not be documented properly, but that does not alter the truth and should not change the reality. A country who is selling the concept of Gross National Happiness in the global market has more than two thirds of its population unhappy. The premier himself have been very successful in wood winking the international community and his recent statement, while addressing the students of top notch universities in the US, that even street dogs in Bhutan smile, is more than ridiculous. Yet the statement is true to some extent as street dogs are among those few creatures in Bhutan who enjoy full freedom and therefore they are happy.
While we must praise Bhutan for its attempt to coin the concept of GNH, we should not fail to realize on the other hand, that an attribute like happiness is not measurable physically; neither can a mathematical model define it. The concept of GNH is derived from the teachings of Lord Buddha, when he said that where there is agreed there is no happiness. But Lord Buddha also taught Ahimsa. He said, in one of His Eight Fold Paths, “Do not earn your living by harming others. Do not seek happiness by making others unhappy.” Where does this line with the GNH and people’s eviction? The greed that Lord Buddha defined 2,500 years ago is now a healthy economic competition and in any such competition, one has to loose and the other has to win. The foundation of GNH is laid with Greediness as the base and happiness on the apex. Both attributes are situational. One can easily imagine that the graphs of any of these attributes will have peaks and gorges so inconsistent, that no statistical tool will be able to predict the trend. The GNH commission holds the greediness of people around the world especially that of America, accountable for the ongoing recession, ignoring the fact that they are able to make their two ends meet due to our tax dollars. So who is benevolent and who is greedy is not really a difficult thing to distinguish.
Let me pause here and come back to our lives.
We are fortunate among the unfortunates, that we got an opportunity to settle ourselves in these beautiful countries where beautiful people with beautiful hearts live. We are out of words to express our gratitude for the tremendous help we have received to make our lives easy. However, we cannot remain complacent with the comfortable life we have here while our counterparts are still trapped in the hands of the inhuman beasts, and it becomes not only our responsibility but more of a duty to continue to fight against the tyranny so that people living inside Bhutan enjoy the same rights as we do here. We must come forward to speak and tell our stories to people, without losing hopes, pursuing our dream of the distant future, while keeping in mind that a thousand mile journey starts with the first step.
We are in a much better situation now than we were a couple of years back. Our voice was confined within the bamboo huts then, now it can go up to the white house if we stand together and have a common voice. We must develop a scheme of documenting the untold stories as they get unfolded in the international arena. We should not be shaken and the truth must win.
I know we are going through a difficult time in a new environment. But there is nothing to regret and therefore we should not feel discouraged. We have achieved, with in this short period of time, more than what others have done, and trust me, the Bhutanese community will achieve greater success in the times to come. We are not just a community of abused people; rather a deprived group of talented, hardworking and action oriented people. We have the energy, the potential, the quality, the motivation and the capacity to go forward. All we need is a platform, a base to start with. We did go through some extreme difficulties in life, but at every instant we learnt to be tough. Albert Einstein had rightly said that refugees, when traveling from one country to another, not only carry a bag of rugs, they carry brains with them. We believe that success is not merely a matter of luck; it is a result of hard work backed by determination and perseverance.
Having said that, I would like to call upon the young and energetic students of the University of Richmond to take up a research study on the Bhutanese youths, for which I promise to support you with bits and pieces of resources, that you might need, at my capacity, to help strengthen our community. On a final note, I would like to thank, through this platform, each and every one involved in nurturing and mentoring the Bhutanese community, for their selfless contribution and meaningful dedication. Let our gratitude be heard and thankfulness be accepted. I am saying this on behalf of every Bhutanese around the globe and from the bottom of my heart.
Let me make some hay while the sun is still shining. If you, your near and dear ones, your friend, or anybody who you probably know, is planning to visit Bhutan in the near future, I have something to tell you. Bhutan has been very careful and delicate about opening up to tourists, fearful that mass tourism could have a negative impact in a fragile social and natural environment. Bhutan is truly beautiful to visit specially for those mountain lovers. Bhutan’s beauty and the sense that one has of being privileged to be there make it attractive. Tourist literature also tells you the last Shangri-La is a spectacular, sublime jewel of the Himalayas. However, tourists in Bhutan will not be made aware that thousands of Bhutanese people have had to flee from persecution in their own country, and that thousands more live in Bhutan in fear and insecurity. Do not get deceived by its external beauty. If you are interested in Human Right, we ask you to be curious about the hidden side of “Shangri-La”.
Thank you and God bless you all.
(Edited for grammatical errors and the usual format of BNS, this is the speech delivered by Dhruva Mishra on March 3, 2011 in the premises of University of Richmond, Richmond-Virginia. Mr. Mishra, a lecturer of Mathematics at a Community college in Richmond and a Marketing Manager in Virginia based IT Company, was invited to speak about the Bhutanese refugees, their history and their present resettled condition, by the student group of the Amnesty International, Richmond chapter. He can be reached at [email protected]. However, the opinion expressed here is solely of the writer, where BNS editors have no say.)