The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dzongkha Braille at par with Unicode

22 September, 2010 - With Dzongkha Braille now at par with Unicode in all its symbols and signs, visually impaired students in the country would now be able to read and write words that were not possible before.

Learning Dzongkha for the visually impaired first started orally at the national institute of visually impaired (NIVI) in Khaling.
Officials from the curriculum and professional support division (CAPSD) said that Dzongkha Braille code saw several “developments” since it was first developed in 1984. The development of a software that could translate any Dzongkha letters into Unicode first and then into Braille helped to a large extent.

“But the Dzongkha Braille lacked some signs that are in Unicode and we needed to bring the Braille code at par with Unicode,” CAPSD’s assistant program officer, Kuenga Dorji said.

A recent workshop in Bumthang has now brought the Braille code at par with the Unicode, said officials. They developed new Dzongkha Braille codes for all signs and symbols of Dzongkha Unicode, and made sure that the new code development would enable the visually impaired to read and write tantric words of religious texts, that sometimes have more than two words on one another.

Based on the Braille that consists of patterns of raised dots, of up to six, arranged in two lines of three dots each, the Dzongkha Braille code was also developed in the same format within the six dots.

“While the codes for Dzongkha alphabets are developed according to the phonetics such as ‘k’ for Dzongkha ‘ka’ and ‘g’ for Dzongkha ‘ga’, we developed an indicator for those Dzongkha characters that have more than one letter and for the letters those are written opposite, such as opposite ta and da,” Kuenga Dorji explained.

The workshop also finalised a Dzongkha Braille code guidebook for standard usage of the code.

“This will not only enable all Dzongkha Braille learners and teachers to use systematically, but will also enable the visually impaired people to have better access to Buddhist literature and philosophy,” said Kuenga Dorji.

Braille was first introduced for Bhutan in 1973 when the national institute for the visually impaired (NIVI) was established.

By Samten Yeshey

Friday, September 17, 2010

Torture in Bhutan

Tale of Terrible Torture (Exclusive)
17 September 2010
By Pabitra Gautam
It was past midnight, the 22nd of November 1990. I was sleeping with my children at home. Suddenly, I was woken up by the sound of banging on my door. When I opened the door, I was chilled to see my husband, Hom Nath Gautam and step son, Deo Dutta Gautam in handcuffs arrested by Major Chachu, accompanied by a dozen policemen. They were arrested from our own cattle farm, located at a distance from home, where they were sleeping for the night. Major Chachu said that my husband and son were being taken for questioning to the police station and would be sent back home the next day.

They were taken to Goshi High School, which was converted into detention-centre-cum-army-barrack. I was not allowed to see my husband and son while they were in detention. I got the information about my husband, only after Mani Prasad Ghimirey was released from the detention centre, where my husband was kept.

According to Mani Prasad, my husband was interrogated regarding the donation made to the Bhutan People’s Party. Out of extreme fear and weakness, he could not answer promptly to what had been asked. The army began to kick him randomly and mercilessly with their boots. When he denied the allegation of donation, he was made to squat on the floor and was hit on his neck and shoulder. When he continued to deny the allegation, he was further beaten with a wooden baton and whipped until he began to bleed. Then, the police hung him by his legs from the hook in the ceiling. He was hung for the second time – even when he was bleeding from his nose.

Late Gautam. Photo Courtesy/Family (HERE)
Thereafter, beating with wooden batons, whipping, clamping and electrocuting became a routine. He was usually tortured at midnight. The most common practice was to clamp his thighs with wooden poles, while policemen stood at the far ends of the pole and jumped. It often resulted in losing consciousness out of extreme pain and bleeding. Once he regained consciousness, he was beaten again. After 12 days Deo Dutta returned home, but my husband continued to be detained.

After three months of continuous torture, he was taken to Damphu, an adjacent district, where he was kept overnight and tortured again before transferring to Chemgang jail, near the Capital, Thimphu. At Damphu, he had already lost control of his urinary bladder and rectum. He began to vomit blood and pass blood through stool. While in Chemgang, my husband was given very little food to eat and made to do heavy work – like carrying stones and constructing the prison house without any rest. They were whipped and ordered to run down the slope with heavy iron shackles. Due to continuous torture in Chemgang, he began to bleed heavily and completely lost his appetite. Yet, he was not given any medical attention but was compelled to work and was tortured as usual. When his health aggravated further, his friends requested the prison authority and he was admitted in Thimphu hospital. I was never let to know about his deteriorating health condition.

Back in the village, I worked hard to bring up my children all alone. My eldest son Chitra was 10 yrs; daughter Dhan Maya – 8 yrs; son Mohan – 6 yrs; daughter Khaga Maya – 4 yrs and youngest son Khem was 2 yrs old. The story of torture of my husband, narrated by his prison inmates, made me cry all day and night. I often used to hide or hold my tears back, fearing that my children would be distressed.

Few months after my husband’s arrest, the army began to patrol the Emirey village especially at night. Each day became a nightmare for the women and children, for all adult males were either in prison or had fled the village fearing arrest. My children were afraid of the sight of the army in uniform and they used to cry and run away. The village headman, Lok Nath Bajgain, had shifted his office to the army barrack housed in Goshi School. He used to circulate the orders received from Home Ministry to evict people from the village. The army came every day and asked for chickens or goats to take for free. Although I had supplied them with rice and dairy products, I refused to give away my two goats which I had rearing for several years. Despite of my repeated requests, the army ultimately took away the goats without paying for them. The villagers were forced to meet all the expenses of the army in the barrack.

Even after one year of my husband’s arrest, I was still unclear about his whereabouts. One day the district council member, Mukti Nath Chamlagain, came with some army men and asked me to fill up a ‘voluntary migration form’ to leave Bhutan. He said that my husband would be released as soon as the form is filled and deposited in the district office. I signed the form with the hope that I would get my husband back soon. Mukti Nath told me to come to the block office at Emirey the next day to take photograph with my husband. But as I reached the block office, there was Mukti Nath with a squad of army waiting to take my picture. Mukti Nath said that unless I get my photograph taken to complete the process to leave Bhutan, my husband would have to bear continuous torture and would never be released. I insisted that unless he was released, I alone would not be in a position to handle the kids and leave Bhutan. I told them clearly that only my husband would decide what we would do next. They tried all possible ways to get my photograph taken, but I kept on insisting that I would do it only with my husband. At one point, I met the village headman who said that I would not have to fill up the form. If I leave Bhutan, my husband would be released. It was unexpected, but this gave me some hope.

Once again, Mukti Nath came to my house with army men and told me to be ready for the photograph. As I refused again, an army officer pressed a gun on my head and said, ‘If you leave Bhutan, your husband will accompany you at the gate (at Indo-Bhutan border)’. However, I gathered some courage and said, “You called me several times to the block office assuring me that I would see my husband – but he is never there. So now, how can I be sure whether I will find my husband or you (army) at that gate?” The officer got angry and hit me with the butt of his rifle. I collapsed immediately and fell on the ground and hit a big stone with my back, and my head struck against a peeple tree. I became unconscious. When I regained my conscious, the army had left.

One day, we got a notice from block office to report immediately. Accompanied by another woman, whose husband too was in jail, I reached the block office. Again, we were led to the same army squad and were asked to complete the form by letting them to take our photographs. Pestered by continuous mental torture, I shouted at them saying – ‘Bring our children right here and kill us together instead of calling and lying time and again or else, take us to where our husbands are’. Fortunately, the village headman, heard it and told us to go back home.

The village was haunted. In the night, the army heavily patrolled the area. I could never go out even for a nature’s call, while the children used to do it in the house itself. Every minute, we feared of being arrested, beaten or sexually abused. The worst of all, Emirey residents had to send their girls and women, according to a circular sent through the village headman, to the army barrack at night. As far as I can recall, at least eight girls and women, one of whom was only 13 years old, fell prey to such a routine. Most of them were married, whose husbands were either in jail or had left the village. One of them returned only after a week from the barrack. I too narrowly escaped the routine!

As I received a call to attend the army at the barrack, the assistant village headman used his wit to save me. As planned, I carried two of my five children and whisked away to hide in nearby shade, where straw was stored for the cattle, while he slept at the courtyard of my house with his friend. At night, around 10 pm, the army came and inquired why they failed to send me to the barrack. The assistant headman said, “We have been waiting for her to come in, but she hasn’t been around here. We’ll wait for her till morning and when she comes in, we’ll bring her to the barrack’. The army was convinced and went away. As the army would return tomorrow, the assistant village headman said that he would not be able to save me next time risking his own life. The next day, he also read out a letter sent from the district office that if I failed to leave the house the army would set it on fire.

Following this, I had no option than to leave the house where I had spent almost half of my life with my husband and where my children were born and were growing up. That day, I neatly cleaned the house, set the cattle free, lit the evening lamp, and left home before nightfall, leaving all doors open.

I carried my youngest son on my back and kept walking, with other children, until I reached my relative’s house in another village. I stayed there for one month with them. However, my relatives constantly feared that the army would come to know about me and they would have to face severe consequences for sheltering me. So I left that house too and sheltered at the house of another relative at another village. I carried a pair of clothes each for my children and nothing more. While staying in my new shelter, I again received a letter from the district office calling me to complete the voluntary migration form. I ignored three such letters.

Then one day I received a message that my husband was released. I was also told that he was sick and was in the care of Mani Prasad Ghimirey. With my children, I rushed to see him and reached there in the evening. However, when we reached the village and met my husband, he was struggling on his death bed. He could not eat or drink anything. When we lost hope of his survival, we decided to perform Baitarni (a religious ritual performed for one’s easy exit from the physical world). After 13 days, he passed away in his relative’s home. The well wishers and relatives in village gathered for his funeral. While his corpse was being tied to the coffin, a letter was received from the district administrator office which required me to report to his office immediately to complete the voluntary migration form.

Traditionally, a wife would mourn the death of her husband for 13 days, confined in a room, cooking on her own, isolated from the people around, except from underage children. But due to reasons of insecurity, I began to mourn his death, in the courtyard of Mani Prasad Ghimirey, who had already left the house following threats. In the freezing winter, only with a piece of white wrapper on my body, I spent seven days with my children.

When Mani Prasad sent one Adhikari escort, I set out with him for another village called Alekatahare. I carried my youngest son, Khem on my back, tied a white piece of cloth on my waist and walked with my children for the whole day. We had nothing to eat or drink. After walking for few hours, my four years old daughter was exhausted and could walk no more. So I carried her on my shoulder and kept walking without rest. Since I had refused to take photograph to complete the voluntary migration form, there was constant fear of being arrested or shot by the patrolling army. A dark cave, in the middle of the forest became our shelter for that night. It was a dreadful cave and my children were scared of snakes. But, it was safe as we would be hidden from the patrolling army. The escort shared a little of his beaten rice. We had to walk for one more day to reach Alekatahare on foot. The next day too, we carried out the similar journey hiding from security forces and spies. We found a cow shed by the evening where we spent that night amongst the hip of straw. We ate the remaining bitten rice for dinner.

The next day, we reached Alekatahare, where Mani Prasad was preparing to flee to India. He was waiting to rescue me, after I completed the 13 days mourning for my husband. When we reached Alekatahare, I still had two days left to complete the mourning. At Alekatahare, villagers helped me by collecting necessary materials to perform the final ritual of mourning on the 13th day.

After completing the final ritual, we had to flee from the village as soon as possible. I neither had money nor any other resources. And I did not have any knowledge as to where we were heading to. In the next few days we reached Kali Khola, a place near the Indian border. Mani Prasad made all arrangements, including the fare, for his family and mine to flee from Bhutan. We waited in the open lawn for three days before we boarded an Indian Truck at 6 am to flee from Bhutan – eventually reaching the refugee camp in eastern Nepal.


Religious Council decides: Politics without religion

Chhoedey lhentshog lists those who can vote

Religious personalities above politics
Voter Eligibility 17 September, 2010 - A lam, who holds a lineage but is not associated to any monastery, or has no disciples under him, who engages in civil activities or a namesake lam can participate in the elections.

On the other hand, a lam, who holds a lineage, leads a religious establishment, who is married but has disciples under him, receives stipend or salary from the government, who, although not registered, pursues an earnest spiritual practice, will be considered above politics and not participate in the electoral process.

This is indicated in the latest list drawn by the chhoedey lhentshog, a commission for religious organisations.

With the constitutional objective to keep religion above politics and to protect and preserve the spiritual values and heritage, the commission, in line with the 2007 religious organisations act, has drawn definitions of different religious personalities and their eligibility to participate in an election.

The commission identified 14 religious personalities that included, among others, gomchens, anims, trulkus, khenpos, latruels, pujariyas and pundits.

According to the list, a caretaker or an astrologer, who is registered with a religious organisation will be considered above politics, while a tsampa, who lives in the village and goes for occasional retreat, knows how to read and write, lives and dresses as a layperson, is allowed to participate.

Anims and gomchens, who are ordained, receive stipend or salary from the government, or if not registered, live in a retreat and pursue dedicated practices will be considered above politics. Pundits, who are recognised or certified and receive monetary assistance from the government, are also considered above politics.

A namesake trulku, who engages in civil life, is allowed to participate in an electoral process, while an enthroned trulku, who presides over religious institutions, receives monetary assistance from government; or the recognised trulkus, who do not own an institution but practice religion, will also be considered above politics.

Member secretary of chhoedey lhentshog and the director general of the culture department, Dorji Tshering, said the commission was yet to finalise whether the religious personalities, who now work as civil servants, will be considered above politics.

“We will take the matter to the next commission meeting,” he said.

The commission had first met in April 2009 to draft the list, which promised clearer interpretation on the eligibility of the religious personalities.

The election commission had drawn their own definitions for the last election.

“We did not take the ownership of the religious organisation act then,” said Dorji Tshering. The election commission had later approached the chhoedey lhentshog for more detailing.

About four meetings were held followed by a special sitting before the list was finalised.

By Kesang Dema

Let there be food

17 September 2010
Food and nutrition security policy in the pipeline

Although Bhutan’s national average energy consumption exceeds 2,500 kcal a day, in the worst-off areas, this figure does not even reach 1,900 kcal. Average consumption of protein, vitamins, and miner­als is even further below what is required for good health, according to the draft Food and Nutrition Security Policy (FNSP), 2010.

The policy lays down differ­ent aspects of availability of and access to food, utilization of food and stability of these dimensions of food and nutri­tion security.

According to the concept of food and nutrition security, a country is food and nutrition secure if it has enough good food readily accessible to its people who can make good use of it, and if all these condi­tions prevail for all people.

Recently drafted by the ag­riculture and forests ministry, the policy says that hunger and malnutrition reduces Gross National Happiness and undermines Bhutan’s ability to achieve the millennium development goal of halv­ing hunger, malnutrition and poverty by 2015.

Once approved, the policy will legally bind the govern­ment to ensure that every Bhutanese has physical, social and economic access to suffi­cient, safe and nutritious food.

The Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM), 2005, pointed out that food inse­curity was one of the causes of poverty in Bhutan. VAM is World Food Programme’s comprehensive study on pov­erty reduction and geographi­cal distribution of food and nutrition.

Stressing the urgency to address food security issues, Tenzin Chophel, the chief policy and planning officer of the agriculture ministry, said that maintaining food and nu­trition security corresponded to national security for a small landlocked country vulnerable to geo-economic relations.

He said, “The past and pres­ent policies related to food are mostly geared towards promoting agriculture growth and do not provide adequate enabling environment to address food and nutrition security in a comprehensive manner.”

FNSP will help establish a legal basis for Bhu­tan National Food Security Strategic Paper (BNFSSP). “Once FNSP is approved, we would like to revisit the BNF­SSP,” said Tenzin Chophel.

However, food and nutri­tion security faces many challenges.

The main Bhutanese cereal, rice, comprises about 60 per­cent of the total food demand in the country and its impor­tance in the Bhutanese diet has increased from 40 percent in 1999 to 60 percent in 2008. The domestic production can meet only 48 percent of the rice demand.

A study conducted by the agriculture research centre in Wengkhar in Mongar Dzong­khag showed that around 51 percent of the total rice consumption in 50 of the 69 gewogs in the six eastern dzongkhags was imported.

Out of 8,883 acres of wet­land in the six dzongkhags, around 1,192 acres have been laid fallow in the past 10 years, according to the study. It pointed out that, if this trend continued, Bhutan would have no wetland in seven decades.

The draft policy points out that growing population, increasing urbanization, competing land use objec­tives, loss of agriculture land to development and chang­ing economic structure and consumption patterns call for continued emphasis on food security.

According to the 2009 UN Human Development Report, Bhutan’s internal migration rate, at six percent, is the high­est in South Asia and the ur­ban growth rate, on average, is more than seven percent.

This has led to the decrease of work force in the agricul­ture sector and under-utiliza­tion of established infrastruc­ture in rural areas.

Malnutrition, low food availability and poverty are predominantly a rural phe­nomenon with higher con­centrations in the eastern and southern parts of the country, according to the draft policy.

A team of officials from the GNH Commission, who had visited some of the most vul­nerable villages in the country under the Rural Economy Advance Programme (REAP), had reported that some vil­lages had to face food short­age for five months in a year. Accessibility and irrigation were pointed out as the main challenges for those villages.

The policy has been presented to various stake­holders. Once the agriculture ministry receives comments from the stakeholders, it will be assessed and presented to the GNHC. The policy will then be presented to the cabinet.

By Pushkar Chettri

Bhutan Observer

Slavery in the full swing

Security clearance (of another sort)

Clearing for Safety: The roadside is cleared of bushes twice a year

Sarpang-Gelephu Highway 17 September, 2010 - The coming of autumn, when leaves turn brown, brings worries to local leaders of the four gewogs in the southern district of Sarpang.

It means it is time for them to clear the bushes and undergrowth on either side of the 32-km Sarpang-Gelephu highway.

The people of the four gewogs of Bhur, Dekiling, Sompangkha and Gelephu, through which the road passes, have to clear the bushes 150 ft to the north and 300 ft towards the south of the road, twice a year. This is done for security reasons, because of the porous border shared with the Indian state of Assam that has a few insurgent groups.

“The residents have to contribute labour, ranging from four days to seven days in June and October, to clear the epitorium bushes,” said Dekiling gup Gomchen. “But since they are paid only Nu 35 to 40 a day, it’s difficult to convince them to work.”

“Who’d want to work in such heat for Nu 40 a day?” said a farmer from Bhur gewog. According to the father of three, they get Nu 200 when they work in the fields; but, when they are contributing labour to clear the highway bushes, they are paid way less than the daily wage rate of Nu 100 a day.

Gup Gomchen told Kuensel that the dzongkhag had allocated Nu 700,000 as a budget to clear the bushes and, when the budget is divided between the four gewogs, it is not sufficient to pay the wages.

A villager from Darjaythang said the national council candidate for the dzongkhag told them that they will not have to contribute labour to clear the bushes last year, but they still had to work this year. “People refuse to cooperate because of that,” a gup said.

Gups from Sarpang say that they have raised the issue in the gups’ conference and also to members of parliaments, when they were in the dzongkhag for the midterm review. The matter was even discussed in the dzongkhag yargye tshogdu (district development committee meeting).

Sarpang dzongda Kunzang Wangdi told Kuensel that the dzongkhag could not tender out the clearing work because of security reasons. “But we’d asked the gups and tshogpas to look for communities, who are willing to clear the bushes for Nu 700,000 if people don’t want to do the work, but no one has come forward until now,” he said.

The government is looking into the possibility of developing the roadsides into pastureland, according to the dzongda. “The ministry of agriculture had sent investigation teams twice,” he said, adding, “Until that happens, people will have to contribute labour.”

The dzongda said that although the dzongkhag understands the inconveniences the farmers face, the gravity of the problem depends on the farmers themselves. “If they work with sincerity, they’ll get Nu 100 a day,” he said. “The farmers here come to work at 10 am and leave by 2 pm.”

By Tashi Dema

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bhutanese in Atlanta


Why New Alliance?

14 September 2010
By RK Dorji
I was arrested in 1997 by the Government of India at the behest of Royal Government of Bhutan in Delhi. I was imprisoned for 14 months at Tihar jail. On 12 June, 1998, I was released on bail by the Delhi High Court. However, my bail conditions required that I had to report to the local police station twice a week and I couldn’t go out of Delhi. My arrest itself was against Indian law. I was booked for not posessing valid travel documents. In fact, at the time of my arrest, I had a valid travel document issued to me by the Government of Nepal. In addition, the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 1949 doesn’t require Bhutanese citizens to have visa or travel permit to travel to India.
Despite politically fabricated and motivated charges against me, the extradition proceedings dragged on. The positive side to all the misery that I was subjected to was the assurance of the Indian democratic spirit and the rights of individual finally prevail when the Government of India dropped the extraditions case against me on April 21 of this year.
After the end to a torturous judicial journey of 13 years, the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Society, an organisation promoting friendly ties between the people of Bhutan and India, wrote a letter to the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck.
It was mentioned that, “In view of Bhutan instituting a democratic system of Government, it is logical that the Royal Government of Bhutan allow Mr. R.K. Dorji and those of his party members who are presently in exile, into the country without any preconditions. They must be allowed to participate in the democratic process of Bhutan so that they can contribute towards the building of a healthy democratic order in Bhutan. We believe that the Government of India will also most certainly facilitate and assist the reconciliation process”. A copy of letter was sent to the Prime Ministers of India and Bhutan. Besides, I also wrote a letter to the King presenting the need for both of us to work towards reconciliation and including me and my party into the polity of Bhutan. No reply was received.
The purpose of my visit to Nepal
After dropping the false, fabricated charges against me, the Government of Bhutan is now trying to treat me like an animal, which has been released and left to the elements, after years of confinement. I am no animal. I am a human being. I have the rights of human being. And this indifference of the Bhutanese government is not acceptable. I have been imprisoned for struggling for the establishment of democracy in Bhutan. I will continue to strive for democratic rights and justice as is enshrined in the Constitution of the Bhutan. Since travelling might be required often, I went to Nepal to renew my travel documents.
In Kathmandu, Nepal, I met Mr. Teknath Rizal, the noted human rights campaigner of Bhutan and Chairman of People Forum for Human Rights in Bhutan, Mr. Balaram Poudel, President of the Bhutan Peoples’ Party and Dr. D.N.S. Dhakal, Acting Chief Executive of the Bhutan National Democratic Party. During course of discussion, they stressed on the need for a new alliance amongst us for pursuing national reconciliation, inclusive democracy and the repatriation of exiled Bhutanese to their country. Incidentally, all these are long-standing organisations have a great deal of working experience. On the 22nd of August this year, we agreed to work together. I agreed to upgrade existing Druk National Congress (DNC) party office at Kathmandu, Nepal, which hereafter will also coordinate all the activities of the Bhutanese in the exile. This office is in addition to the existing DNC contact office and Indo-Bhutan Friendship Society’s office at New Delhi, India. We unanimously agreed to work on following basic points. i.e.:
1. The exiled political parties and the exiled Bhutanese must be permitted to participate in the forth-coming elections.
2. The Bhutanese refugees must be repatriated with honour and dignity, and must be allowed to participate in the political process. To call upon the international community to pressurize Bhutan to take back its citizens.
3. The immediate unconditional release of all the political prisoners in Bhutan who have been in prisons since the early 1990s.
4. To promote and strengthen the existing bonds of friendship at the people to people level among the citizens of Bhutan, India, and Nepal, which hasn’t been promoted to the desired level thus far.
5. To extend thanks to the international community and all well-wishers of the Bhutanese democratic struggle and seek continued support and solidarity.
The Alliance
The alliance entrusted me to lead the unified democratic movement. Our activities will be peaceful. All we want is constitutional rights which are granted to us by the Constitution of Bhutan, promulgated in 2008. We will keep the Government of Nepal informed and also seek their assistance and support in our initiatives. A delegation of the alliance will also meet the Government of India sometime in December to seek assistance to facilitate our repatriation and safeguard our democratic rights in Bhutan. We will urge the Government of India to assist us because the Government of India is the largest donor to Bhutan, and Bhutan and India also enjoy excellent friendly relations. India in fact has the responsibility to facilitate our repatriation and reconciliation so that its friendly neighbouring country, Bhutan, is not plunge into instability and unrest. The delegation will meet the International Community to garner our support and to pressure the Government of Bhutan to accede to our demands.
This alliance is unlike before and is beyond the realm of refugee camps politics. The follower of Bhutanese refugee’s issues would note that there are some 52 organisations in the Bhutanese refugee camps alone. What confounds one more is that individuals of one organisation will also be holding seats in more than three other organisations as well. In spite of such confusion, I would welcome any organisation which might feel they were left behind by the alliance. However, merely declaring interest to join the alliance won’t do. Those interested to join must demonstrate their commitment and ability to contribute to the alliance before joining.
The alliance wants to make certain other matters clear. First, to our Bhutanese brethren inside Bhutan, we want to bring caution to the misinformation by some with vested interests to interpret our work as negative. Our work is to strengthen the sovereignty, democracy, independence and peace in Bhutan, not the contrary. We want to reiterate the respect we have for the institution of Monarchy. We however, want democratic rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Bhutan. Every Bhutanese must recognise the fundamental truth that democracy is the right of the public and not just the right of a single individual. Democracy is for everyone – students, teachers, civil servants, the army, farmers, businessmen and others, and also for the King himself! In short, every citizen needs democracy in their life to lead their life in honour and dignity. We know that democracy in the real sense is absent in Bhutan. Therefore the time has come for us to seek our democratic rights granted under the Constitution.
We want to reassure our friendly neighbour India, that we will always value our excellent friendly bonds existing between us. We are optimistic that the Government of India will hold talks with the Government of Bhutan to enable us to return to Bhutan and lead the life of democracy loving citizens in Bhutan. We are also optimist that the United National Organisation, democracy-loving citizens and the democratic countries of the world will support our truthful initiatives and inalienable rights.

(Dorji is President of Druk National Congress)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

No slaughter house, members decide

September 10: The Dzongkhag Yargye Tshogdu (DYT) members in Samtse said “NO” to the proposal for the construction of a slaughter house in the Dzongkhag. This was decided in the 108th DYT meeting which ended on Tuesday.

The Dzongkhag Livestock Officer said that there was a need to open a slaughter house in the Dzongkhag. He said due to lack of standard slaughter house and meat processing unit, residents purchase meat from across the border. “The meat purchased from across the border is doubtful in terms of quality and safety.”

He added that the department is planning to construct a high standard slaughter house.

Some of the members supported the issue but most of the members were against it.

They, however, agreed that there was a need to open a meat shop but they will not support the opening of a slaughter house.

After extensive deliberation the members decided to vote. Eighteen members were against the opening of the slaughter house while 11 members supported it.

To this, the meeting decided not to open a slaughter house.

Source: BBS

Friday, September 10, 2010

No Objection Certificate for rain

By Govinda Rizal
“Did you get your NOC?’’

Jamyang asked me this whilst closing his umbrella, then proceeding to the police head quarter.

“No, not yet,” I replied. I knew Jamyang through a few encounters. For the first time I saw him in Thimphu.

One of my brothers, Hem was studying in Khaling. Once Hem came to Thimphu with his class mates during their educational tour and stayed with me. I was showing him around the campus when an officer drove near to us, stopped his car and asked us if we knew anyone from Khaling School. Hem started talking to him. The man was Jamyang. He had his nephew in Khaling School and wanted to send gifts as well as money to him. Hem agreed to help him and as a token, Jamyang gave us some cheese pieces and some ngultrums (currency). We considered him a generous person.

Months later I met him in a school auditorium, when he came to watch a drama, “King Gesar of Ling”. I was one of the door keepers. He arrived late and was without a seat. Feeling pity on the good man I got him a chair. This was my second encounter with him.

I again met him at the police headquarters in Thimphu. He was also there to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC), in his case for his relative. We exchanged formal greetings and he asked me if I had received my NOC. I told him it was ready on the officer’s table. He was pleased to hear my response however he had to wait a further two days. During that period I was in the police office. An NOC is a document provided by the department of police only to those who, and whose family members, had never been found to have said something that the king or the government had disliked. It proved innocence as well as loyalty of a family to the throne. It was mandatory to possess it in order to receive benefits as a rightful citizen.

I requested the NOC for an interview. My NOC was ready some time ago however they had delayed it with a question. I would stand at the end of the queue for the NOC, when my turn came and the officer asked me to wait. I was again made to join the end of the queue. Every time my turn came, I was asked to wait for some more time. Finally, I took the corner for my place and frequently requested for my NOC. Time changed, days changed and people changed, their ways of interrogation changed but neither did they change their one question, nor did I change my answer. The only fault they could find was my second name matching a leader’s surname. The authorities wanted to know my relationship with Tek Nath Rizal, a prominent figure they had in their net.

In two days, Jamyang got the NOC. He talked to the officer about me and in return taught me an affirmative answer to their question and left.

Some familiar and many unfamiliar people came to the office. As some received their documents while others didn’t, I could see the happiness and desperation dividing my school friends and country fellows.

That week, I experienced awful rain in Thimphu. From morning till evening I had to stay in the police office expecting them to give me NOC, which was ready on their table. After the office closed I had to walk the flooded streets searching for hosts to host me free for one more night.

I was eventually given the NOC on the day of the interview. It was too late for the purpose. By being a nomadic guest for about a month, I had demonstrated my parasitism to all the people I knew who were from my village and others who were not from my village. They had hosted me several times and I could not force myself to gatecrash any more. I decided to return to Gayglegphug which took two days to reach.

Two days after receiving NOC I was back in my village heading towards my home from a bus stop when a storm began to welcome me treacherously. My umbrella was a weak shield against torrential rain. I took the shelter at a local school, which had been closed for a year. Rain came with such a force as if to move the school building from its location. The corridor was too narrow to shed the downpour that went directionless like the wind. The only place I could squeeze myself into was a narrow corner between the closed door and the thick wall. Unlike in Thimphu, the lightning and thunder in Gayglegphug are wild.

After hours of waiting, the rain became less forceful but did not stop. I removed my shoes, carried them over a heavy back- packed bag, covered with an umbrella and walked towards home. Aiming to avoid attention from people in their houses I walked faster through those country paths. In other places I walked slower in order to reach home later. I wanted to reach home later to hide my defeat of receiving my NOC late. Rain still continued, followed by a bitterly cold wind.

When I reached the place where my house used to be, an incredible apparition of nothingness blurred my vision. To my unpleasant surprise, there was no house and not even a sign of a house in the place where it had once stood. In the areas where the beds, kitchen and ovens used to be, there were tall broom grasses growing, freshly planted. Then, I realized, my parents were no longer in the country, and proof that a house had existed was erased completely.


“Do you have some ropes?” asked Dhimal Dai.

“I am not sure; I will have to ask my parents”, I replied.

“Look around and give me some if you have”, he insisted.

“Look around and just take it”, I replied.

Dhimal Dai, a good neighbour in the newly established asylum seekers’ camp in Beldangi in Nepal, wanted a string to tie his flapping plastic sheet strapped between two bamboo woven nets that gave him a roof.

I did not know where the items were kept in my hut. I was a chronic guest in my hut. I had a bed and a book rack made from bamboo, and a few books and papers. My mother would cook and serve me. Sisters arranged my clothes and hung them besides my bed. My sanctum in the prized hut was made up of bamboo walls, plastered with soil and newspaper pasted on top of it. We lived in a matrix of tiny, beautiful huts. They looked like freshly painted huts on grey soil background with a few tall trees. The slums were panoramic to see but were not so pleasant to live.

Rizal writes his 'untold story'. Photo/Shanta Rizal
No sooner had the above conversation ended, when my parents came home running, breathing louder than athletes after a marathon. It was an afternoon in early September 1993, when a storm began to hover over the bamboo huts. In times of storms, the people did not evacuate as they never had a safer place in the neighborhood to resort to. My parents took out a coil of string and began tying the ends of the roofs to bamboo poles and to stones on the ground. The children were outside running wild, their guardians running closely behind. The clouds grew dark and swirled. It was eerie to see kids playing outdoors. It was an opportunity for them to take a satisfying bath in the natural shower.

The storm soon became worse and the loosely tied roofs began to seek freedom from their places due to the increasing wind. People struggled to hold the roofs from being blown away by the wind. Lightning began to throw flashes and flames. If it had not been for the lightning, the afternoon was as dark as night. The wind and rain disturbed all forms of hearings. The plastic roofs amplified the rain’s beating and the wind’s howling. Within minutes, roofs were taken away; floods began from inside of the huts. Narrow spaces between the huts were filled with twigs and leaves from the trees; bamboo sticks from roofs and the walls. Although a few huts could retain their roofs, most of them had been blown away.

After about two hours the world was different. Cloud was gone, blue sky looked down sympathetically, and the sun peeped from the distant west. Birds were back on the trees and there were pools of water on the ground. People began to remake their disturbed roofs. I wanted to explore the true might of the catastrophe. Shoes were useless, we had no boots and slippers would not accompany our feet for the second step through the muddy soil.

Jewan, a relative accompanied me. We decided to travel with our bare feet to see the destruction. We walked across the camps.

“A complete devastation”.

To rebuilt huts, most of the owners had to restart foundations. There was nothing we could do. We talked with people, whosoever we met, on the range of destruction. Half way through the camp, we had to cross a small canal. There was a short bamboo bridge to cross it. When we were on one side of the bridge, ready to step on it, a big branch fell down from a tree and hit the bridge. We were saved by seconds- a narrow escape. We returned to our respective huts. Father had repaired the roofs to his best ability. There were papers scattered everywhere.

“Check if the papers on the floor are important”, father told me.

I found newspaper cuttings, which I had conserved as important, scattered all over the flooded floor.

There was a thin clean paper floating on the muddy water, it was my NOC.


Source: BNS

Fears of 'demographic inundation' behind Bhutan's refugee crisis

By Matt O'Brien
Contra Costa Times

Special Sections
Bhutan: A Journey from Conflict

Sep 4:
A journey from conflict: The Mainalis adjust fitfully to new life in OaklandVideo: Mainali family journey Part III and IVBhutanese refugees' road to America started in the Bush administrationSlide show: Bhutanese Refugee Education and Camp Life"U Start Again": Bhutanese refugees get crash course in American lifestyleSlide show: Cultural Orientation Class for Bhutanese RefugeesVideo: Cultural orientation class for Bhutanese refugeesPhotojournalist notebook: Reflections on a visit to Bhutan and NepalAug 28:
Part I:
Exiled from their homeland, Bhutanese refugees find new homes in the East BaySlide show: The Mainali Family JourneySlide show: Southern Bhutan: Home of the Lhotshampa peopleVideo: The Mainali family journey Part I and IISlide show: Kingdom of Bhutan Hosts 16th SAARC SummitTHIMPHU, Bhutan -- From their isolated perch in the heights of the Himalayas, the leaders of Bhutan looked upon their borderlands in the 1980s and saw a problem.

Their authority and traditional way of life, preserved by centuries of reclusion from a changing world, were threatened, they felt, by people they had allowed to migrate into the Buddhist kingdom for more than a century.

These newer people were a minority but could soon become the majority. So the monarchy sent a message and promised to enforce it: Fit in or get lost.

Members of an ethnic minority of Nepali ancestry that had planted roots in southern Bhutan in the late 19th century, and grew in numbers with continued migration throughout the 20th, were cataloged, counted and forced to prove their citizenship. New laws mandating Bhutanese cultural practices added to the chaos.

In the tumult, up to one-sixth of the people of Bhutan -- which now claims a population of roughly 700,000 -- fled the nation in the early 1990s for refugee camps in nearby Nepal. Bhutanese officials dispute the refugee numbers recorded by human rights organizations but acknowledge the tumult.

"It was a national tragedy that happened," said Prime Minister Jigme Thinley. "It was a very sad event, and I hope that it will never recur."

Tens of thousands of refugees from Bhutan are now migrating to the United States and seven other nations that welcomed them, bringing renewed worldwide curiosity to a problem that the Bhutanese would like to put behind them.

Bhutanese authorities say they sympathize with those who were stranded for 19 years in refugee camps, but do not take blame for what led them there. They offer three sometimes contradictory explanations for what pushed out tens of thousands of Lhotshampas, the name for Bhutanese people of Nepali descent.

One was simply that the Lhotshampas were too many in number, failed to assimilate into the dominant Bhutanese society and left when the government made cultural assimilation a priority. A second is that many of the Lhotshampas were illegal immigrants, regardless of where they were born, and Bhutan was acting within its sovereign powers to evict them. A third is that Lhotshampa activists secretly plotted to turn their people against the king in a power grab and needed to be stopped.

All of these explanations are lumped into what Bhutanese call the "ngolop problem." Ngolop means anti-national or traitor.

"This is a very, very vulnerable, fragile county and there were designs to undermine the credibility of this country," Thinley said. "And when this was exposed, some of them chose to leave."

Many of these 108,000 exiled Bhutanese are now finding new audiences to dispute Bhutan's official version of events. Most of them are coming to the United States. They are sharing 20-year-old stories of alleged discrimination, repression and violence in Bhutan with new neighbors from Norway to North Dakota, Australia to Alaska.

Many refugees still want an apology from Bhutan and a chance to go back to their native land. Bhutan says they are lying about their mistreatment to uninformed foreigners -- and that many of the refugees never set foot in the remote kingdom. The government refers to them as the people of the camps, refusing to use the term refugee.

"Listening to the victims, one doesn't always get the truth," Thinley said, speaking in the parlor of his home in the hills above the Bhutanese

Click on imgae for larger version capital, Thimphu.

Thanks to America and seven other countries, a "dignified human solution" has been found, Thinley said. The people of the camps are being resettled and have a chance for a better life.

"The U.S. has to be admired. For a country like the United States to show interest, and then to go to this extent to alleviate, to help communities of two remote parts of this world, is admirable," Thinley said. "I see this as a redemption of the good that exists in our society, especially in the West."

Case closed?

To some, that means the case is closed. The refugees found new homes and relief from their long plight. But for those in exile, a new place to live is not the same as the acknowledgment of a wrong -- refugees believe their mass expulsion was a flagrant violation of human rights.

"They were expelled in a little-noticed but very real ethnic cleansing exercise," said Terry Rusch, director of refugee admissions for the U.S. Department of State. Rusch made the comment in a June speech to a crowded refugee conference in Sacramento.

In testimony last year before a United Nations review of its human rights record, Bhutan described its restrictive nationality and citizenship laws as the only safeguards against the nation's greatest danger: a "demographic inundation" that threatened its survival as a nation state.

Today, the mass movement of uprooted Bhutanese to the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe is one of the largest organized resettlements in the world, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. More than 30,000 Bhutanese refugees have moved to the U.S. in the last 2 1/2 years, including hundreds who have created a burgeoning Bhutanese community in the East Bay.

In dozens of interviews with refugees in the Bay Area and eastern Nepal this year, those who were old enough to remember have vivid memories of a peaceful life in Bhutan and a sudden, traumatic exodus. Bhutan denies that the vast majority of them ever belonged in its nation, and has not welcomed any of them back.

"And as to why they left this country," Thinley said, "the causes are something that will be truly difficult for many people -- unless they do a serious study -- to understand."

A kingdom besieged?

"I can see the kind of brutal logic of what they did," said Oxford University professor Michael Hutt, speaking of the way Bhutan's royal government managed to flush out so many Lhotshampas in a few short years.

A tiny nation wedged between the giant powers of India and China, the leadership in Bhutan had reason to be worried about its vulnerability, said Kinley Dorji, Bhutan's secretary of information.

Bhutan is about half the size of the state of Maine and has fewer people, most of them scattered in rural valleys across a pristine and mountainous terrain. Its biggest city, the capital, Thimphu, is no more populous than Berkeley.

The nation became the last surviving Himalayan Buddhist kingdom when India absorbed neighboring Sikkim in 1975. Travelogues wistfully describe the Buddhist realm, where most residents wear centuries-old clothing styles, as an idyllic, romantic place, the "Last Shangri-La." Bhutanese call their homeland Druk-Yul, the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

Bhutanese who admire their king and their unique Buddhist culture were disturbed by what had happened in nearby kingdoms like Sikkim, where migrants from Nepal slowly became a majority and a Buddhist monarchy disintegrated as India annexed the formerly independent land.

"In the past, Bhutan, Sikkim, they were all Tibetan stock, people like us," said Dorji, a former journalist, as he twirled the lid of a teapot on his desk in Thimphu this spring, naming a list of extinct Himalayan societies. "But now they've all disappeared because the Nepalese have migrated eastward. The entire belt is Nepalese-speaking. They are moving into the hills, migrating into the hills."

Bhutan's southern border is a crooked line where the peaks and rushing rivers of the Himalayas careen into the lowland Duars of northeast India, flattening into a vast, sweltering plain. When they ruled India, the British recruited migrants from Nepal to work in the region's tea estates, and many of them stayed put, contributing to a Nepali-speaking population that numbers in the millions in northeast India, Dorji said.

Bhutan also encouraged migrants to populate its mostly uninhabited southern belt that borders the Duars. The people were needed for labor and also to create a buffer zone to prevent British or Indian incursion into Bhutanese territory in the 19th century, Hutt said.

The Nepali-speakers of southern Bhutan came to be known as the Lhotshampas, which means people of the south. For decades they had little contact with the Drukpa people -- the king's ethnic group -- of the high altitude northwest or the Sarchop people of the east because no roads led up through the mountains to the heart of the kingdom until the 1960s. Lhotshampas could not own land up north and the few Drukpas who descended to the south were shepherds looking for seasonal grazing grounds.

So for decades, Lhotshampa farmers remained culturally separate from northern Bhutanese. They spoke Nepali and did not know any Dzongkha, the language of the north. They never wore the national Bhutanese dress -- gho for men and kira for women -- in part because the thick, highland attire was not designed for the humid south.

A gradual integration

Despite their differences, the Lhotshampas, over several decades, had been gradually integrating into the fabric of Bhutanese society.

The modernization of the Bhutanese school system beginning in the 1960s helped bring together otherwise isolated regions, and many Lhotshampas excelled in the schools. Harvard-educated D.N.S. Dhakal was one of several Lhotshampas who earned a royal scholarship to study abroad.

"Those were the golden years," said Dhakal, leader of the exiled Bhutan National Democratic Party. "There was no problem. Life was nice. I am from southern Bhutan and I was given the opportunity to study abroad."

Northern traditionalists, however, remained worried about the Lhotshampas, whose population has always been disputed but was estimated to range between 25 percent and 50 percent of Bhutan by the late 1980s. The fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, referred to his people as an "endangered species."

The Bhutan monarchy's approach for decades had been to maintain its traditional society by promoting integration. To encourage a unified nationality, the royal government gave 10,000 Bhutanese ngultrum, the national currency, to any couple that married between ethnicities. Some took advantage of the grants, though many Lhotshampas, abiding by the Hindu caste system, were reluctant to marry outside their group and sought spouses from outside the country.

Not everyone felt the integrationist track was working. Sonam Dendup, who attended school in the southern, Lhotshampa-majority city of Gelephu as a child in the late 1980s, remembers classmates who did not feel Bhutanese.

"They used to praise the king of Nepal, not the king of Bhutan," said Dendup, who is now a government worker in Thimphu and is not a Lhotshampa. "The students belonging to Nepali ancestry didn't have attachment to this country. They never had that kind of belongness to this country."

Nandalal Rai, whose ancestors migrated to Bhutan from Nepal in 1921, did not grow up wearing the highland gho -- a mix of robe and kilt -- or elaborate Bhutanese boots, but he now wears both proudly as an elected member of the Bhutanese government.

"I never had doubt in my mind who I was," he said. "I always thought I was a Bhutanese."

He joined the Royal Bhutan Army as a teen. When the Lhotshampas, his own people, demanded more rights in 1990, he was a major tasked to quell their street protests. Now one of the highest-ranking Bhutanese politicians of Nepali descent, defenders of Bhutan often point to him as proof of an equitable society and government. He remembers the strife as an "identity crisis."

"They felt they were still Nepali," Rai said of the exiles, who include members of his extended family. "They were still for Nepal. This problem was not started by the nation. The problem was started by the people themselves in their minds."

Tensions grow

Hutt, the Oxford scholar, said if the Bhutanese elite waited longer, continuing to promote gradual integration, more Lhotshampas might have partnered with northerners in the inevitable modernization and democratization of the country.

Instead, in the mid-1980s, the monarchy launched steps that would sharply alter Bhutan's trajectory, and drain the country of up to one out of every six residents. A census was held that stripped thousands of their citizenship by putting people into seven different categories.

Dick Chhetri, a Bhutanese exile who lives in Alameda, was among thousands of Lhotshampas who had been climbing the ladders of Bhutanese society, only to see everything fall down.

"The southern Bhutanese were becoming an economic power," said Chhetri, president of the Bhutanese Community Support Organization in America. "They had the best land. They were becoming a powerhouse of knowledge and skills. And they were becoming more liberal, democratic, with influence from across the border, by the modernization there. (The government) thought these people would slowly overtake Bhutan and they would lose their identity, instead of integrating, welcoming them, making the government more powerful."

Census teams arrived to every village, demanding Lhotshampas show 30-year-old tax documents that proved they had been citizens since at least 1958. Not everyone had kept them, even if they had, in fact, been born in Bhutan. A group of bureaucrats, all originally from the south, was asked by the king to investigate. They toured the south and wrote a letter to the king protesting the census process but were jailed, and some were charged with attempting to incite an uprising.

The uprising did eventually happen -- in fall 1990, in towns across southern Bhutan, Lhotshampas took to the streets in protest. Their grievances ranged from the census to the northern Drukpa clothes they were forced to wear at school and work as part of a new "One Nation, One People" policy. They called for democracy and representation.

"In Bhutan, our intention was very clear. We wanted our cultural rights," Dhakal said.

There were scattered incidents of violence, most attributed to militant activists who opposed the government.

By 1991, the environment was so toxic that Lhotshampas began to flee in large numbers. By 1992, Amnesty International reported more than 80,000 Bhutanese refugees had entered Nepal. Some say the Bhutanese police or military visited their homes and forced them out with the threat of violence or imprisonment. Others were encouraged to leave by dissidents, or to join family members who already fled. Still others signed voluntary departure forms and gave up their properties, later saying they did so under duress or confusion.

"It was a case of legal ethnic cleansing," Dhakal said. "Legal ethnic cleansing is when you pressurize indirectly. You threaten them. It was a very selected, calculated eviction."

The government argues it was merely enforcing its citizenship laws, and that many of the people who left did so on their own accord. Thinley blames forces outside the country with "evil intentions," not the Bhutanese government, for spurring the exodus, though he declined to be specific.

"Many were beguiled," Thinley said. "Many were betrayed and misguided by people with wrong intentions."

Into the camps

Chhetri tried to stop fearful Lhotshampas from leaving, especially his own family members who lived in the south. He was working at the time as a pilot for Druk Air, the sole Bhutanese airline.

"I went home and basically told my brothers, my father, my in-laws, I told them, 'Don't sell anything, don't sign anything, don't buy anything.' If anybody tells you, 'You have to leave,' just tell them you'll wait until winter when it's dry," Chhetri said. "People came to know I was trying to stop people. My brother told me I might be arrested."

And getting arrested for political activity would potentially place Chhetri and his relatives in one of the noncitizen categories, the categories that could get them kicked out. On his way home to the village near where he grew up, Chhetri said he was called "jaga," an ethnic slur, after officials demanded he show them some identification. Chhetri said he objected, and got attacked.

"The government had let discrimination get out of control," he said. "Most of the Bhutanese people are good people. I lived with them, went to college, to school with them. But when the king, the moral of the country, tells them to do so, they'll do it."

India did not allow the refugees to stay, so they were trucked to the border of Nepal, which accepted them. Before the United Nations took over the relief efforts in 1992, thousands of refugees lived in makeshift, riverside camps where illness and death were common. It is now a popular belief in Bhutan, fueled by official government statements, that poor citizens of India and Nepal sneaked into the camps for the free food and shelter, and now comprise a large percentage of those who are refugees. Those who have worked with the refugees say those allegations are wrong.

"They've been censused and verified and recorded so many times," Hutt said. "If they hadn't been from Bhutan, somebody would have noticed by now."

Bhutan's last diplomatic visit to the refugee camps happened in 2003, when a verification team comprised of Bhutanese and Nepali officials interviewed residents of the Khudunabari camp, one hut at a time. Camp residents remember welcoming the delegation with hospitality and open arms, hoping that this would lead to their repatriation. After they finished, however, the Bhutanese team held a meeting at the camp's biggest building and announced that just 2.4 percent of Khudunabari's more than 12,000 residents were "genuine refugees" from Bhutan who might be eligible to go back. Most of the others might have been living in Bhutan but had renounced their citizenship by voluntarily leaving, and another 24 percent were not in any way Bhutanese, the report claimed.

"This provides the most incontrovertible evidence substantiating that many people in the camps in eastern Nepal are not from Bhutan," said Bhutanese diplomat Doma Tshering in a written statement this year.

Camp residents were infuriated, and, according to multiple accounts from people who were there in 2003, chased the Bhutanese diplomats out of their camp. Bhutan says their representatives were attacked. They never came back to finish the count.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has categorized all of the camp residents as genuine Bhutanese refugees, said official Bimal Babu Khatri. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been visiting the camps to re-interview each refugee who wishes to resettle in the United States.

"I really believe that entire villages were emptied out," said David Derthick, an American official for the International Organization for Migration who has worked with refugee populations for decades. "That's different from the way it happens in other parts of the world. In other places, older people hunker down (rather than flee their country). It's astounding to me how many people are over 90 (years old) in the camps."

Today, after being isolated from the world's attention for two decades, these refugees are sharing stories that differ sharply from the message Bhutan's leaders have crafted about how the Lhotshampas left Bhutan. Yet in their search for reconciliation and redress, Bhutanese refugees don't have a dynamic leader who can rally international sympathies to their cause, as the Dalai Lama has done for the Tibetans, Hutt said.

Many Bhutanese refugees have praised Bhutan's transition to democracy two years ago, but resent they cannot be a part of it. It is likely, Hutt said, that their resentment will die out as the refugees adjust to their new countries.

In some ways, that means Bhutan won, Hutt said.

"The situation the Bhutanese governing elite wanted to create has been created," Hutt said. "They can democratize, reform, without the danger of the Nepalis becoming the major group."

What they created was a "manageable minority" in Bhutan, Hutt said, a Lhotshampa population about 100,000 people smaller and less inclined to create a stir -- and another community of new Americans.

Reporting for this story was funded by a fellowship from the South Asian Journalists Association.

DRUKPA: A term (which translates to "dragon people") that many Bhutanese use to describe themselves, though it usually refers to the ruling ethnic group from northwestern Bhutan, who are also known as Ngalongs (not to be confused with ngolop -- see below). The other main ethnic groups are the Sarchops of the east and the Lhotshampas of the south.
LHOTSHAMPAS: Bhutan's term for the people who live in the south of the country. The word is often synonymous with Bhutanese people of Nepali descent whose families migrated to Bhutan from the late 19th through the 20th century. Most, but not all, Lhotshampas practice Hinduism. Buddhism is also common. Tens of thousands of Lhotshampas fled the country in the early 1990s.
NGOLOP: Bhutanese person who is considered an anti-national or traitor against the kingdom. In Bhutan, the "ngolop problem" is a phrase still used to describe the Lhotshampa exodus and political rights movement of the early 1990s.
DRIGLAM NAMZHA: A code of etiquette and dress for Bhutanese Buddhists which includes the wearing of a gho for men and a kira for women. In 1989, the government began more strictly imposing the code on Lhotshampas.
KIR: An ankle-length, cylindrical dress worn by Bhutanese women, usually with a long-sleeved blouse and short jacket.
GHO: A thick cotton robe for men which is tightened at the waist so that it resembles a kilt. The outfit also includes large white cuffs, knee-high socks and formal shoes or boots, though some men wear sneakers instead.
MAHAYANA BUDDHISM: The state religion in Bhutan. The monk hierarchy continues to play an important part in Bhutanese society, though their role has diminished over the past century.
DZONGKHA: The official national language of Bhutan and the language of the Ngalongs. Other languages spoken in Bhutan include English (the primary language of instruction in the schools), Nepali and Tshangla.
King Jigme Singye WangchuCk: The "Fourth Dragon King" reigned from 1972 until 2006, when he abdicated to his son and launched the kingdom's transition into a constitutional parliamentary democracy. He was the head of state during the refugee crisis of the early 1990s. His family's dynasty and the Bhutanese monarchy began in 1907.
KING JIGME KHESAR NAMGYEL WANGCHUCK: The "Fifth Dragon King" of Bhutan is the current monarch who presides, without the absolute power of his father, over a newly democratic kingdom. The 30-year-old has never publicly commented on the refugee crisis and was a child when it began.
PRIME MINISTER JIGME THINLEY: He became Bhutan's first elected prime minister in spring 2008. He was also prime minister twice before Bhutan became a democracy. The Penn State alum has worked for the Bhutanese government since 1974 and defended the monarchy's crackdown on the Lhotshampas in a 1993 essay, "A Kingdom Besieged."

From a Paro resort to the national stage

19 August, 2010 - She is slim, tall, beautiful and an upcoming star in today’s Bhutanese cinema. At just 22, Tandin Bidha, the young actress has already acted in seven movies, has another three in store, acted with veteran stars and has been nominated for best supporting actress for the national film awards.

The cheerful actress from Paro has always been into acting. “I was always passionate about joining the film industry although I didn’t have any professional training,” she said.

Her interest and acting skills were showcased in the many plays and skits she participated in as a student in school. “I’ve played a number of roles and in different capacities,” she said.

In 2005, she was discovered by director Tshering Wangyel, who offered her a supporting role in his film ‘Home Sweet Home’. “That’s how I got the opportunity to become who I am now,” she said, with a smile on her face. “I always want to thank my aunt Passang Om through whom I met director Tshering Wangyel.”

Later, she was introduced to the Bhutanese audience as a lead actor by Talop Wangchuk in his movie ‘Ya Ma So’. She said. “I can never forget this in my entire life.”

“I know I belong in the film industry,” she said. “The best part of being an actress is you become responsible for a character you play in a movie.”

Vivid, young and energetic, the actress reveals she wants to be known as a versatile actress by the people, when she her days as an actress is over. “I’d love to be the sweet girl next door and also a hard core fighter but always with decent role,” she laughs. “But that doesn’t mean I am choosy. As long as the script is good, I don’t mind playing anyone dramatic in the movie.”

While she says she is not choosy, she prefers roles where she does not have to cry a lot.

She considers herself a responsible daughter and an actress. She’d like to be able to inspire people through her roles. “I can now advise people and family and they actually listen to me,” she laughs.

At home, Tandin is helping her father with his business. “I’m looking after my families’ resort in Paro whenever I don’t have a tight schedule,” she said.

Tandin said her life has changed ever since she joined the cinema world. Being once known only as Tandin Bidha in her corner of Paro, she has a nationwide fan following now that appreciates her. “I’m proud of myself because now they like me and I have thousands of fans,” she said. She derives her inspiration from all deserving actors and actresses in Bhutan.

The young merry actress thanks all her friends, who always encouraged her to become an actress; and who believed she was born talented. Before signing out, she stops to say that the film industry needs more intellectual and highly professional talents, so everyone must take a chance. “Passionate, interest and high determination is all you should have to become an actress,” she stops.

Yangchen C Dorji

First private Dzongkha weekly launched

A brand new newspaper with a reader-friendly language

Druk Neytshuel: The seventh newspaper hit the stand yesterday

30 August, 2010 - At a time when the quality of Dzongkha is being questioned and discussed in every possible medium comes an opportune attempt to apprise Bhutanese of their national language.

Beginners can take a plunge into the language, starting with the alphabets illustrated in elementary pictures and interpretations.

Students can refer their Dzongkha textbook contents in a simplest elucidation. Those who need help with essays and application writing can allude to tutorials. Office-goers can stay abreast about events unfolding around them in most comprehensible Dzongkha.

In short, it is Dzongkha in its highest reader-friendly form, or so the first private Dzongkha newspaper, Druk Neytshuel, promises its readers.

As for the first issue launched and distributed free yesterday, the 24-page paper lived up to their words. With an apt main story questioning the varied spelling use on signboards, the paper carried stories on diverse subjects in an easy-to-read and easy-to-understand Dzongkha.

“This is Zhungkha in its simplest form, with slight inclination towards Wangkha, spoken popularly by people of Thimphu and Punakha,” the paper’s chief editor Chungdru Tshering said. “Everyone can speak the language, but a very few can read and write it. We’re trying to be as colloquial as possible.”

Apart from news updates, a well-organised section on driglam namzha, religion, economy, sports, community news and environment maintained a neat presentation on fresh topics.

The highlight was the section titled “Gup Of The Week”, an attempt to bring communities in the limelight by profiling the leaders and exposing problems prevailing in each gewog.

The free issue, which has taken on well with the readers, will come for Nu 10 starting next week.

“Compared with the Dzongkha issues of other private papers, this paper is on a different level all together,” Sangay Tenzin, a monk with the Thimphu rabdey, said. “It appears more serious than the previous ones, who, at times, give us an impression that they’re functioning just so to adhere to government policy, and not out of a genuine interest.”

One of the Dzongkha newspaper editors said the standard of the language and the news quality was impressive for a starter. “They should maintain it,” he said.

A few, however, felt the need to standardise the spellings of names and places and objects, as it read different in different newspapers.

The weekly paper, comprising a team of five reporters and two editors – graduates from the institute of language and cultural studies and former monks – feeds on 4 pages of advertisements in Dzongkha, and also caters to English ads in its inserts.

“We started off two months ago, with an intention to emulate government’s policy of promoting and preserving the national language,” Chungdu Tshering said.

By Kesang Dema

Where tradition discounts education

Empty schools in two villages speak of separate priorities

Old Habits Die Hard: A family on route to its summer residence

Merak-Sakteng 23 May, 2010 - It’s different in the highlands of remote Sakteng in northern Trashigang. Walking to the dungkhag, visitors encounter droves of cattle herded by young school-aged children.

Rarely are these children in the company of their parents while herding cattle, which is just one of their responsibilities. They even carry material for developmental projects in the gewog from the nearest road in Phongmey, which is a day’s journey by foot. Their latest task was to carry material for the erection of a mobile tower and its barbed wire for fencing.

With so many children out and about, the community schools in the gewog are in want of students.

Community schools in Thrakthri and Joenkhar villages have only five and nine students each in class PP. “We’ve gone into the villages and talked the parents into sending their children, mostly the over-aged ones to school,” said principal Yeshi Dorji of Joenkhar community primary school.

The community school did not have any enrolment in 2007 and currently does not have a class two section. Teachers are worried about next year. “We’ve carried out a survey and found out there are none for enrollment next year,” he said, adding that the children that are in the villages are just two or three years old.

Other teachers in Sakteng said that many parents were withdrawing their children from school. According to the teachers, some parents were not allowing their children to continue studies after they complete primary education.

The elders of the villages, however, think differently. Parents do not send all their children to school and, even if they do, they usually withdraw them after they reach a certain age. Only the young ones are sent, while the older ones stay at home to assist them.

“If we send all our children to school, who’ll take our place and carry forth the traditions and culture we’ve long cherished and lived by?” questioned Sonam Tshomo from Tholong, Sakteng.

Sonam Tshomo is in her early fifties and has seven children, of whom only two attend school in Joenkhar. Her 13-year old daughter follows her with a herd of oxen and horses to collect ration and other essential commodities from Phongmey, a tradition that has been followed for a long time.

Meymey Karchung, 53, from Merak, lives with two of his sons in Thrakthri. Both dropped out of school after Class VII. The elder is only 18 years old and is married with a daughter.

“It’s difficult to handle more than 40 cattle, so I had to keep my sons out of school to help me,” said Karchung. “Moreover, we can earn if we rear the cattle, whereas sending them to school incurs expenses and I can’t afford that because I have nine children.”

Though the number of children in a family has relatively declined, most brokpa families still have more than six children, according to village representatives.

Another villager had a different opinion. “Our government said tourism would greatly benefit the Sakteng brokpas. Now, if all our children go to school and are employed elsewhere, then there would be none left to continue our culture,” said Norbu, another brokpa. “Tell me then, why would tourists want to come to our villages?”

Moreover, Norbu said that there is an increasing need of manpower, because each year the livestock increases. “There are at least five new calves born each year, so the need increases,” he said, adding that a brokpa’s son is the best brokpa.

Tashi Phuntsho, a teenager, had to give up school, as he was the eldest in the family, and remain home to shoulder bigger responsibilities. His two younger siblings go to school.

Sangay Tshering, 15, from Thrakthri village, likes attending school. But attending to his family’s need comes first. Sangay’s village is about a six-hour walk away from Phongmey. The villagers depend on livestock and crops. He frequently walks to Phongmey to get rice and other essentials.

But Sangay is not bothered by not being able to attend school. He said that he will soon marry and have a family. When his children grow up, he would want his children to listen and obey him like he obeyed his parents. “I know my parents want me to become like them,” he said. “I’m happy as a brokpa.”

By Tshering Palden
Feature: Kuensel

India asks Bhutan Govt to tell the truth

Govt. asked to clarify

Bhutan lottery follows the protocol, rules and regulations of an agreement signed between the two governments
Kerala Controversy21 August, 2010 - The Indian external affairs ministry has sought clarifications from the Bhutanese government on the operation of Bhutan lotteries in Kerala, following a complaint from the Kerala government, after the issue went through a heated debate in the Kerala assembly last month.

According to Indian media reports, the ministry of home affairs in India took up the matter with Bhutan through their ministry of external affairs. The minister of state for home affairs, Ajay Maken, was quoted as saying that the ministry received two representations from the Kerala government, one regarding the name and address of the promoter appointed by the Bhutan government and Sikkim government.

There was an uproar in the Kerala assembly when the opposition leader, Oommen Chandy, accused the finance minister TM Thomas Issac on the operation of lotteries in the state, saying that the central government was in favour of those running lotteries, and the state had limited powers to regulate promoters of lotteries, especially from Sikkim and Bhutan, according to media reports.

Chandy demanded a comprehensive probe into the issue, particularly the recent government decision to allow two more draws per day to Bhutan lottery in the state. While Bhutan lottery officials refused to comment on it, sources said that Bhutan lottery had replied to the queries sent by the external affairs ministry through the Indian embassy in Bhutan. The reply was also routed through the finance ministry and foreign and external affairs ministry of Bhutan.

Sources told Kuensel that Bhutan lottery was asked to clarify under what government of India rules and regulations Bhutan lotteries was sold in India, tax deducted at source applicable on the prize of Bhutan lotteries won by Indian nationals, contact details of the office of Bhutan lotteries in India, in case of discrepancies, among others.

While operation of lotteries is banned in most Indian states, Bhutan lotteries are sold in West Bengal, Maharashtra and Kerala, through agents.

Bhutan lottery, according to sources, follow the protocol, rules and regulations of the trade, commerce and transit agreement signed between India and Bhutan in 2006, apart from following the lotteries act of 1998 and lottery regulation rules of 2010 of India.

The Kerala finance minister was also quoted saying that, under central government rules, a lottery promoter could conduct 24 draws per day and that the state has no power to refuse advance tax remitted by the promoter of lotteries outside Kerala. “The government had acted in accordance with the supreme court and high court verdicts on this matter,” he told the Indian media.

By Kinga Dema

Purity of gene pool goes down with the hybrid process

A male hybrid golden langur with hybrid traits in Dunmang Tsachu, Zhemgang

The Golden Langur29 August, 2010 - The endangered golden langur (trachypithecus geei), which is native to Bhutan and some parts of the neighbouring Indian state of Assam, could be under threat of extinction from crossbreeding with the capped langur, according to a Bhutanese researcher.

“The crossbred offsprings are very fertile and can produce further offsprings easily and that could erase the golden langur species,” said Dr Tashi Wangchuk who has studied the conservation of golden and capped langurs in Bhutan. “The golden and capped langurs hybridise naturally in areas between the Dunmang tshachu in Zhemgang and Riotala (near Kartigangchu) in Trongsa.”

Cross-bred into extinction?
Pure capped langurs are found east of Dunmang tshachu, while pure golden langur extend west and north of Riotala.

“The hybrid process could probably be due to human settlement,” said Dr Tashi. “After settling, people started building bridges across the Chamkhar river, where the langurs used those bridges to cross to the other side and grouped together,” he said. “Earlier, the river acted as a barrier.”

The capped langur traits (black colour) are more dominant than golden traits (gold colour) and the phylogenetic (study of the closeness/relatedness of genetic codes) clearly shows that male capped langur are the ones moving into golden langur troops and siring the hybrid offsprings,” states Dr Tashi Wangchuk’s report, which was submitted to the critical ecosystem partnership fund (CEPF) that funded the research. “Because of this, golden langur could disappear as a distinct species,” his report states.

Hybrids in Dunmang

Dr Tashi said the hybridisation process cannot be stopped, unless all four bridges across the river are removed but that, he said, was not practical. “Therefore, necessary monitoring at the hybrid zone, study on the stability of the zone should be done,” he said.

“Keeping guard at the bridges could also reduce the problem,” he added. There are about 4,000 golden langurs in the wild in Bhutan and about 1,000 in Assam.

The golden langur with a very restricted range is confined to western Assam in India and Bhutan only. However, because of deforestation, occasional poaching and loss of habitat in Assam, Bhutan has become the last bastion for their survival as a species, according to the researcher.

Dr Tashi Wangchuk has recommended further research to assess the extinction threat to golden langurs from hybridisation with capped langurs as “genetic introgressions tests can provide more definitive answers, which are easily quantifiable and measurable, rather than visual colour observations”.

But he also cautions that other conservation threats to golden langurs have not diminished.

The Gonphu-Panbang highway being built through the royal Manas national park will open up the area to large scale development. The planned mega hydro projects along the Mangdechu and Chamkharchu degrade the habitat of langurs from “near pristine” to “at risk”, his paper states. “It’s important to keep in mind that there are fewer than 4,000 golden langurs left in the wild, and the present rate of development and habitat loss and alteration could result in the gradual loss of the species over the next 50 years.”

By Tandin

Bhutanese bags gold

All India Karate Independence Cup19 August, 2010 - A 24-year old Bhutanese, working as a relationship manager in one of the local banks, picked up a gold medal at the All India Karate Independence Cup, which was held in Kurukshetra, Haryana, India from August 13 to 15.

Ugyen Wangchuk, a second dan in karate, got past seven contestants to win the gold in the 60-65 kg category. The contest drew about 1,000 participants from all over India; and one from Bhutan.

This is the second gold medal the relationship manager, who runs a karate club in the capital, has won. Ugyen won a gold in the individual kumitee (fight) in Sri Lanka last year.

Ugyen, who is in New Delhi at the moment, will be travelling to Udaipur in Rajasthan to participate in an international tournament that kicks off on August 21.

“I was scheduled to be back in Bhutan on August 16, but the organisers insisted I attend the international championship,” he said.

The tournament will have participants from Japan, Germany, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal and Bhutan. Ugyen says he was obsessed with martial arts since childhood. It was during his college days that he got the chance to learn karate at the Darjeeling Karate Association. “Bhutanese people love martial arts, because I think we are from the Oriental race,” he said.

By Kuenga Tendar


Seminar on “Moving towards Organic”, its opportunities and challenge for Bhutan

9 September, 2010:

Dr. Vandana Shiva, seen right, was the main resource person at the one day seminar on “Moving towards Organic”, its opportunities and challenge for Bhutan, conducted by the national organic programme under the Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture and Forest organised a Hon’ble Minister, Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) graced the seminar as the chief guest. Member of Parliaments, Representatives from JICA, NGOs, ministries, head of Departments, media and the Resident Representative of UNDP attended the seminar.

Lyonpo said that going organic was not as easy as it seems and that it had more to it than just shying away from the use of chemicals. He said that although the policy objectives of Bhutan for organic agriculture were very good with all the required incentives’ for the farmers, questions like what products to be made organic? What kind of inputs to be utilized? And where to sell the organic products, still requires to be carefully addressed. Lyonpo also added that labour constraint being a key issue in the Bhutanese agriculture sector, the linkage between food security and the use of chemicals has to be carefully examined.

Hon’ble Minister, Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, MoAF

Dr. Vandana Shiva, a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award who was the main resource person for the seminar is in the country on Hon’ble Prime Minister’s invitation to share her knowledge and experience on organic agriculture. She is a philosopher, environmental activist, eco feminist and author of several books and over 300 papers in leading scientific and technical journals. Dr. Vandana Shiva has fought for changes in the practice and paradigms of agriculture and food. Intellectual property rights, biodiversity, biotechnology, bioethics, genetic engineering are among the fields where she has contributed intellectually and through activist campaigns. She will be working with the Royal Government of Bhutan for the next 3 years sharing her expertise in the field of organic agriculture. This visit was upon the initiative and invitation by the Hon’ble Prime MInister with request to advise Bhutan on the journey towards Bhutan becoming an Organic Sovereign country with a Brand Bhutan that was organic.
The seminar discussed on science of organic farming including biological alternatives to agro-chemicals and issues in the transition from chemical to organic farming. Later she talked about crop production, soil fertility and plant health management challenges in farming in view of food security and sustainability. She also explained the economics of organic farming especially the sustainability of farm families explaining that it was important to measure the total output of the farm or unit land and not just yield per unit area of one crop as in a biodiverse organic farm the total output and the net income earned after taking away the cost of production was usually higher than one high yielding crop. Marketing challenges especially when there is little premium or quantity, certification issues and marketing options for Bhutan were also discussed.

Dr. Vandana said that with the growing awareness and understanding about consumption of products with chemical content amongst the people and the ever rising cost of production, the world is now slowly moving towards organic farming. She said that the GDP only measured commercial transaction and overlooked many negative drawbacks on society and the environment. She also added that a one way extraction form the soil is also a form of desertification and that the well being of the society and the environment depends on the emphasis on organic agriculture as it has the potential to address many issues like public health, diseases pertaining to under or malnutrition and poverty.
Dr. Vandana also addressed the issue of WTO and its relevance to rural and local economy and how if Bhutan joined WTO would make Bhutan much poorer and be tied by various conditions which comes as a package deal. This would mean giving up the right to say no to GMOs, seed sovereignty and accepting to settle with cheaper imports which would lead to rural urban migration, development of slums, fallow farm lands and farmers not being able to sell their produce in the local market as they cannot match the cost of production.


Dr. A. Thimmaiah (above left) and Ms. Kesang Tshomo

Dr. A. Thimmaiah, Advisor, National Organic Programme talked on the status of organic farming in Bhutan. He said that addressing important issues such as poverty and food security was a major concern in Bhutan. He also added that the fact that the RGOB is taking up organic agriculture on a large scale with complete support to those interested was a huge step towards addressing the issues of food security and rural poverty. He said that with much effort and support from the RGOB and the MoAF availing information regarding the benefits for organic agriculture, many Bhutanese farmers has taken up organic farming seriously.
Ms. Kesang Tshomo, Coordinator, National Organic Programme made a presentation on the traditional farming practices in Bhutan which is slowly disappearing according to the survey carried out in several villages. Nevertheless she added that still many farmers do follow the traditional beliefs of farming practices. Other presentation on the status, history and trend of chemical usage in Bhutan and the use of fertilizer and the challenges in Bhutan for food security were also presented.

Reported by Tshering Wangdi, ICS Photos by Chodiup Zangpo, ICS

Source: MOA