Waiting for the King


Bhutan recently held its second round of general elections. Is the government in Thimphu serious about extending full citizenship to the Lhotshampas who remain in the country?

There had been a minor celebration that afternoon at Raj’s house in central Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. A few relatives had gathered to eat cake together – the remains on small plates were still visible in the kitchen when I joined them for dinner in the evening. The reason for their shared joy was a small, off-white card, resembling that issued by any bank. Only this one had the name and picture of Raj’s uncle Vivek on it, and the essential letters CID: Citizenship Identity Card.

Vivek had been stateless for more than 20 years. As many other ethnic Nepalis in Bhutan, he says he lost his Bhutanese citizenship during the uprisings of the early 1990s. Two of his brothers and his parents were amongst the estimated 80,000 people who left the country at that time. They are in the US now, after having spent two decades in a camp in Nepal. For Vivek, missing his close relatives was just the beginning of his troubles. Soon after they fled he was registered by census officials as ‘F5’ (a non-national man married to a Bhutanese woman), and until now all attempts to revive his citizenship had been in vain.

As a result, Vivek had no access to any government job, his children had no access to higher education, the whole family needed a special road permit to travel through the country, he was denied a loan and he lost the right to his family’s land and property in south Bhutan. Time lost cannot be regained, so the kitchen celebration was a bitter-sweet one – even more so because some of those present were still waiting for their luck to turn around. Like five-year old Anuj – Raj points him out: “He is my nephew, born stateless. Both his parents have a CID now, but he does not. We don’t know why.” Such cases highlight how arbitrary the nature of the granting of citizenship in Bhutan can be, with the power to do so still vested solely with the King.

Editor’s note: The article originally appeared in the Himal Southasian on October 28, 2013. A part of this article has been reproduced here with kind courtesy of the magazine. The full texts of the article can be read from Himalmag.com

[The author is a freelance print and radio journalist from the Netherlands. She has been living in and travelling around South Asia since 2008 and can be followed on Twitter @alettaandre or on [email protected], and the report was supported in part by the Postcode Loterij Fonds for journalists by Free Press Unlimited.]


  1. Hi Aletta, I am so happy and delighted to go through your great article, which, I hope, will definitely play a crucial role to highlight the untold story of the voiceless people of Bhutan – Lhotshampas, who are living stoically within the country or just scattered across the globe for no choice of their own.

    Leaving ones original birth place on someone’s coercion is really painful, which you have rightly highlighted in your article. It is the true story of a large number of patriotic Lhotshampas and our Sarchokpa friends, who have to flee into exile looking for safety, security and means of survivals, and spent their most valuable lives in the refugee camps for decade’s worth for nothing.

    Publication of your article in a magazine like HIMAL is appropriately a right place to draw the attention of Bhutan and international communities, who always ignored to help find a solution acceptable and agreeable to the parties effected, concerned or interested. It is a widely read magazine in south Asia, which gives coverage to the most analytical stories on the human rights, politics and socio-economic situations of the world affairs.

    Congratulation for your great work. Please keep on writing more such stories in the greater interest of justice and peace.