The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Last resort for refugees

By Swami Devi Bhakta Lamitarey

A simple man in lion cloth, who was once thrown out of the first class compartment in South African train because of his racial identity, compelled the mighty British Empire to retreat from the Indian sub-continent, and eventually leading to the collapse of colonial domination around the world. He was not armed with muscle power or sophisticated weapons. He had humility, passion for truth, and unshakable faith in peace and justice. He conducted morning and evening prayers to seek God's blessing; he practiced the philosophy of wining hearts and minds of the people through forgiveness. He fought for communal harmony: for him religion had no place if it created suffering to people; he sided with the downtrodden, calling them Harizan, people of God.
A man who had equal respect for all religions, who had built impeachable rapport with the Christians as well as the Buddhists, but he was a religious person without a religion. Eventually, the mighty British empire submitted at the humility of the Mahatma; India was given freedom on August 15, 1947.

Similarly, Martin Luther King experimented with the philosophy of non-violence. America had no heritage of Buddha or the karmic theory of rebirth, which gives solace to sufferings here on earth by giving the hope of a meritorious life hereafter.

Martin Luther King paraded thousands of satyagrahis in the streets of Washington DC, demanding equality for the black Americans at jobs, school enrollment and ownership of land and properties. He succeeded to change the minds of the Anglo Saxon, and secured the rights of the Black Americans.

The notorious apartheid regime of South Africa was defeated not with armed struggle but with the passive movement of the innocent native Africans. Nelson Mandela, embraced the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi to give direction to the South African Congress, and that really won the hearts and minds of the international community.

Understandably, there were youth activists posturing violence, but it was never used in a mass scale. It is like Newton's law of motion: every action has equal and opposite reaction. If violence is used to defeat an enemy; sure enough, you can expect a similar response. And it is going to take a long time to bring peace and stability as we have seen in Darjeeling district. The principle of non-violence is not dead; it is being well applied by the noble laureate, Ang Sang Su Ki, of Myanmar. She knows very well that resorting to violence will entice the military junta to import more weapons and to strangle the voice for freedom and liberty with more draconian measures.

The human rights and democratic struggle in Bhutan did not start with proper planning and in-depth consideration. It was an emotional response to the racial policy of Bhutan which restricted the Lhotsampa population the use of Nepali language, practice of Nepali culture, and arbitrary disenfranchisement of citizenship rights of Bhutanese people, particularly those of Nepali ethnicity, during the census re-enumeration exercises of 1988. The peaceful protest movement of 1990 was preceded by the decapitation of Kailash Dahal and Balaram Giri, and that was perhaps done with the influence of tea garden politics as the earlier activists had taken shelter at Garganda Tea Estate.

Quite possibly, the brutal massacre of the satyagarhis by the royal government in 1954 in Sarbhang had left a deep scar in the minds of Bhutanese people about the practicality of peaceful resistance in a reactionary and feudal society like Bhutan. It required tremendous effort and soul-searching evaluation to convince the refugee youths to profess faith in peaceful struggle for establishment of human rights and democracy in Bhutan.

In the 1990s Bhutan People Party too had given a call for satyagraha movement. Later Bhutan National Democratic Party had announced launching of satyagraha inside the country if Bhutan failed to repatriate the refugees with honor and dignity.

Finally, the elderly citizens of Timai camps took the lead, that also at a time when there were no agitation activities in the Bhutanese movement. They have decided to organize peaceful activities under the banner of satyagraha movement. After organizing a year-long sitting dharna at Timai camps, the elderly citizens have managed to receive support of Bhutan National Democratic Party, Bhutanese Refugee Representative Repatriation Committee, and Druk National Congress (kuenley) to continue with their peaceful struggle.

On 17 December 2005, the elderly citizens organized mass demonstration at Mechi Bridge (Indo-Nepal border), where a delegation of Indo-Bhutan Friendship Society, under the leadership of former Union Minister Shri Satya Prakash Malvia, addressed the gathering of 3000 strong refugees where it was emphasized that the only way for the refugees to reach Bhutan was to follow the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi. Other speakers were from Gandhi Peace Foundation, prominent individuals and social workers from India.

It might sound ridiculous to reactionary individuals to believe in peaceful struggle when the barrel of the guns are setting the tone of the political struggle in Nepal, the host country for the refuges during the last 15 years. The youths are in the forefront to question the relevance of Mahatma's philosophy for ushering changes in Bhutan.

The peaceful wait of fifteen years has not delivered anything, and the reactionary forces in Thimphu have not relaxed a bit to show cultural tolerance towards the Lhotsampa community. Nevertheless, it would be unfair to bundle everyone in the same basket. Bhutan is avowedly a Buddhist country and there are people who have the concept of moral rights and wrongs. Except for some cabinet members, the vast majority of the Bhutanese people are worried about the state of present impasse in finding an amicable resolution of the refugee problem.

Therefore, it is time for everybody to rally around satyagraha Movement, giving unconditional support to the effort made by the elderly people of Timai camps. There is a need to move out from the camp politics: do adequate lobbying in Bhutan, India and abroad.

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