Ethnic cleansing in Bhutan and US rehabilitation
By Hariprasad Adhikari
To put an end to this long agony, Bhutanese refugees called for the influential governments and bodies of the world with special request to India, as a leader of South Asia, to voice concern against such inhuman policies. But officials and leaders of either parties of the government or opposition did not show their interest publicly to help repatriate the Bhutanese.
It is a well known fact that the legal ethnic cleansing against the Bhutanese of Nepalese origin in their motherland Bhutan is in the peak of its sinister process and progress. Around 150 thousand people were evicted from their ancestral homeland (Bhutan) during the early 90’s and was compelled to seek international protection and support against the atrocities and injustice faced. Consequently, these people have been languishing in the Bhutanese refugee camps in Eastern Nepal under the supervision of United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
At the beginning in 90’s, these homeless Nepali Bhutanese tried their best to seek asylum in the adjacent provinces of Bhutan such as Assam and Bengal in India. Unfortunately, officially, these unlucky people were doomed from getting the opportunity to get refuge in their Devbhumi Bharat.
With a calculative design to commence the ethnic cleansing in Bhutan, the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGOB) began to provoke its citizens by imposing the code of conduct, the so-called discipline (Diglam Namja). The Code of conduct instructed behaviours as to how to speak with the Government official, what to wear and which language to speak so as to get distinguished as a Bhutanese from people of other countries of the world, how and what to eat (Arian or Nepali Bhutanese are restricted from having beef and pork traditionally in their culture but the served feast of government included these) etc. Further, married couples with either spouse from India or Nepal or abroad were restricted to live in Bhutan. They had to have a written order from the RGOB permitting them to reside. The sale and purchase of landed property were barred under different pretences. As a result, the common villagers began to feel unsecured and terrorised under the administration of RGOB and its newly enforced laws. Following these sufferings and on being summoned by Bhutan People Party (BPP) formed in exile at Siliguri Bairagipara of West Bengal, more than lakhs of people from entire southern Bhutan came into the streets to demonstrate against the RGOB’s inhuman policy. These protests became the launching pads for the RGOB to begin ethnic cleansing through martial law. The imposition of martial law on October 1990 is still a nightmare to the Southern Bhutanese.
As intended earlier, the RGOB enforced the scheme of “Volunteer Migration Form (VMF)”. Under this scheme, innocent people were summoned in the Dzongkhag (District administration office) and forced to fill the form at gunpoint, where the form stated that the people were also taking certain amount of their properties along with them as given by the RGOB. In case of non-acceptance of the government offer, the person concerned were warned to bear the whole responsibility of mishappenings during the patrolling by militia and army who were deployed to maintain the so-called law and order according to martial law.
Prominent people of the community were imprisoned and tortured with vigorous punishment such as beating by cane stick until he or she was unconscious or started to vomit blood from mouth. Arrested people were sent to construction sites to break big boulders and ordered to make gritty from them as was ordered to Nelson Mandela by the then racist government of South Africa while in his 27-year long prison during the period of apartheid. Such atrocities became normal routine for government all over South and Eastern Bhutan. Not only this, such was the hatred of RGOB that they did not prevent themselves from destroying material things of Southern Bhutan. For instance, houses in Lalai (attached to Bagmara village of Kokrajhar district in India) and Hillay village (attached to Mude village of same district in India) were burnt and other thousands of houses were ordered to be erased by the Chief District administrative officers in Sarbhang, Chirang and other parts of southern Bhutan. Later, many orphan children, victims of rape by army officials during eviction are born in refugee camps in Nepal. The horror of that martial law was similar to the trauma of separation of Pakistan from India in 1947.
Subsequent to eviction, the personal land of Nepalese Bhutanese has been distributed to those who were the supporters of the RGOB’s atrocities. The names of villages are changed to some other names meaningful to Drukpa language. For instance, village Lalai before 1990 is now (Umling), Danabari (Chhuja Gang), Surey (Jigmiling), Lamidara (Minte Gang) etc.
The King, during eviction of southern Bhutanese, acted in a similar fashion. He visited places to meet with people and told them not to leave the country. But, the next day the Dzongdah (chief of district) and the superintendent of police arrived with orders to evict the same people whom the king had met. That was the reality of making 150 thousand people homeless and stateless in 16 years.
To put an end to this long agony, Bhutanese refugees called for the influential governments and bodies of the world with special request to India, as a leader of South Asia, to voice concern against such inhuman policies. But officials and leaders of either parties of the government or opposition did not show their interest publicly to help repatriate the Bhutanese refugees to their mother land. They always made the pretext that the time has not come for the Indian leader to interfere and speak on the Bhutanese democratic movement. Consequently, though unwillingly, Bhutanese of Nepalese origin are on the verge to accept the proposal of America and English speaking country to resettle in the foreign lands to put and end to the humanitarian trauma of injustice.
(The author is a former National Assembly member of Bhutan and can be contacted at B 3/84, Bhutanese refugee camp, Khuduna bari, Jhapa, Nepal, e-mail- firstname.lastname@example.org)